I attended a training last week with Donna Farhi who is renowned for her very student centred approach to teaching. We focused on the use of touch to assist students, working to maintain a tradition (albeit a modern one) of physical "adjustments" whilst navigating a path that could lead us down the territory of trauma or anxiety for a student. Times have changed since the days I had a teacher surprise me by standing on my back during a forward fold pose! At the time I felt inducted into this mysterious world of yoga, honoured that I was seen to be able to handle such a deep assist, and humoured by the novelty of it (laughing with my friends about it afterwards). However, I have since heard from many others who have sustained life long injuries as a result of receiving a physical adjustment that went too far; or psychological damage from inappropriate touching (the yoga world is not immune from #metoo). In litigious societies, we are seeing some teachers refusing to touch students, which to me invokes a sense of mourning. Having benefitted so much from both receiving and giving adjustments, I think it would be a real shame to not be able to offer it, especially as so many of the students I encounter, love this aspect of yoga.
So what to do? I've previously been taught to go in confidently and make the adjustment, no specific permission requested, perhaps a general statement at the start of class to say that its okay to refuse an adjustment. Some teachers I respect, ask permission to touch a student every single time, even when they know the students very well. Some studios offer students consent cards to leave by their mat ("Yes" on one side "No" on the other, without having to speak about it, which is useful if you don't know the students/teacher). I'm just opening up this conversation, hoping to coax out some views. At Inner West Yoga, I generally teach the same students week in, week out, so I get to know their practice over time and tend adjust as I see fit (not a huge amount, and usually more directive assists, rarely deepening ones). I am conscious though that I am relying a lot on my intuition which may not always be right. I'm keen to hear what others think.