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Yoga & Consent: What You Need to Know Before Adjustments

Hands on adjustments can be a wonderful tool to help guide students to a safer alignment in a pose, but it can also be deeply triggering for students that do not want touch. Often this topic can be quite polarizing as some of us love adjustments, some of us hate them, and it’s ok to like, love, or hate them, but what is not ok is to ever touch a student without their consent. Using your hands on a student while you are teaching can absolutely be done, but there are a few things you need to do before you start physically adjusting students. 

Never touch a student without their consent. Ever. And remember consent can be revoked at anytime. 

Never touch anyone without their consent.

This applies to life in general and also in the yoga studio. Although we are often quite comfortable with our students, and want to use our hands to adjust, if someone has not given you their consent to touch them, do not touch them. Period. Would you touch someone without their consent at the grocery store? No? Then don’t do it at the yoga studio.

Allowing your students to opt in and out of hands-on adjustments before each class is a way to empower your students and let them have autonomy over their bodies, and build trust between you and your students.

Make it a pressure free space, in which you ask your students at the beginning of each class if they are open to hands on adjustments, or if they would prefer hands off instruction. Let them know that both are perfectly fine, and you want to teach them in the way that is best for them. Make sure when you’re asking your students that you do it when they cannot see one another to avoid peer pressure. Maybe you ask them at the beginning of class in child’s pose, savasana with eye pillows, or even easy seated with eyes closed. This way no one will feel embarrassed about their answer, or feel pressured by the rest of the class’ preference. 

Revoking Consent Any Time

Remember that this consent can be revoked at any time. Even if your student has frequently opted into touch, know that they can opt out at any time. Encourage a space of dialogue and support in your space that lets your students know that if for any reason they don’t want to be touched, that they just simply have to let you know and you will remain hands off until that consent is given again.

Remember, that students may be revoking that consent for any number of reasons. It is possible that they don’t enjoy your adjustments, or don’t find them useful More likely though there is something going on with them personally, like a new injury, a history of unwanted touch in their life, or perhaps a life change, such as early pregnancy or they just simply don’t feel like being touched that day. Those are all absolutely fine, don’t take it personally, just honor their request.

Mindful Adjustments

Use a light, but confident touch that guides students and never pushes, forces, or cranks on your student’s body. 

Once you have consent from your student to touch, it is important that you are mindful of how you are touching, and the intention behind your adjustment. Adjustments should be the last correction made after you have already given a verbal and visual cue for the correction, and when your student is positioned in a way that is not safe for their body.

Make sure you are only using hands when it is necessary for safety, or in some cases if you are doing nurturing adjustments to help your students further relax into resting positions (think shoulder press in savasana.) Try not to let your ego take over and resist the urge to adjust a student, just because their pose doesn’t quite look like yours, or because you haven’t touched that student in a while. 

When you do decide that an adjustment is desired and necessary, ensure that your touch is light but confident. Think firmer than you would hold an egg, but not strong enough to bruise a banana. Practice this tough on your friends and colleague and have them give you honest feedback, so you can improve.

Consider your energy as well. We all know what it feels like to be touched by someone that is clearly uncomfortable touching you. They don’t have to say a single word, you can feel it in their touch and that in turn makes you uncomfortable. Your students can feel your energy when you adjust, especially when they are practicing and are so tuned into their bodies. Make sure you are approaching your students with confidence, and always guide and lead students never pushing, forcing, or cranking on their bodies. When you use a light touch you are able to feel the feedback of your student’s body and notice if there is any resistance or when they have met their edge. This enables you to honor their body and never push past the point of safety.

Stick to non-intrusive areas of the body when touching, and always be aware of your body in relation to your student’s. 

A general rule of thumbs for adjustments- if it would be awkward to touch on a stranger at a bar, don’t touch your students there. Let me be a little more transparent with you. Under no circumstances should you touch your students, even with their consent, on the inner thighs, pelvis, glutes, stomach, breasts, front of the neck, or anywhere else that feels intimate, or potentially threatening. Even if your student has given permission for you to do hands on adjustments it goes without saying that they are opting into touch in places that are not intimate, or could potentially be misunderstood to mean something more than your intention of improving alignment.

It is best practice to stick to areas below the knees and above and outside of the collarbone. These spaces tend to be helping in alignment, but don’t feel too intimate or intrusive. 

While considering where you should be touching on your student’s body also contemplate where your body is in relation to your students when you’re adjusting. Make sure you are close, but not too close for comfort. Make sure your students can see that you’re coming up close to them to adjust so they aren’t startled or caught off guard by your touch. Make sure you don’t unintentionally put an intimate part of your body close to your student’s face. Finally keep in mind what part of your body you’re using to adjust and avoid using anything but your hands, and make sure you aren’t lingering too long with the touch. Do the adjustment and then move on. 

Ultimately, do what you are most comfortable with. 

Here’s the deal: If you’re not comfortable doing hands on adjustments, don’t do them. There is nothing that states you have to use your hands on students and recognize that your own comfort level and consent is just as important as those of your student’s.

For many teachers choosing not to touch at all is a wonderful option and you absolutely can still teach alignment, body awareness, and make adjustments within poses without using your hands on a student.

When you’re teaching you should feel comfortable and in your element, not be worrying about if your touch is ok, and if you should or should not do a certain adjustment. Just focus on your class, do what feels right to you, and share what you have to share. It’s as simple as that. The best choice for you is the one that you’re most comfortable with. 

If you’re considering using hands on adjustments, as something that you know and trust if they would be willing to let you practice on them. Ask them to give you honest feedback so you can improve on your touch, and allow you to troubleshoot any areas where you might be struggling. Educate your students on the importance of consent before touch, even by you, their teacher. Know that adjustments can absolutely be a powerful tool, but they are not the only tool.

Do what you’re most comfortable with and serve your students the best way you can both hands on and hands off. The point of a yoga class is to lead your student into a deeper part of themselves through the safe practice of asanas, breath, mindfulness, and self-exploration, not just the poses. So when it comes to adjustments, stick to what you’re comfortable with, always have consent, and practice as much as you can before you test it out on students to build a space of safety, trust, and openness between you and your students. 

Kelly Smith
Kelly is the founder of Yoga For You, and the host of the Mindful in Minutes podcast. She is an E-RYT 500, YACEP, and a location independent yoga and meditation teacher. She spends her days traveling globally offering trainings in restorative yoga, meditation, yoga nidra, writing blogs for beYogi, and recording meditations from her closet.
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