This thing called ‘Consent’

As part of Teaching Methodology, I’ve been talking about ‘Consent’ in my recent YTTs (Yoga Teacher Trainings) over the past few weeks. As an Indian yoga teaching in India). All I can say is that as a concept the whole idea of consent in the Indian culture, is sadly, just raising its head. In my observation, there are 2 major things at play here:

  1. The realization that an individual (as well as a yoga practitioner) has agency. (considering the rampant patriarchal bias), and,
  2. The status of a teacher in Indian culture – very elevated (all the more for spiritual gurus and, well, yoga teachers.)

In the Indian context, somewhere along the line, women have been objectified and the basic sense of body boundaries seems to have been lost. This is not the general rule – but socio-culturally, this has been an after-effect of patriarchy. And we see this in varying shades across economic strata.

For women (and yoga practitioners) to become aware that they actually do have a say in who can touch them, where, when and how much, how often, etc, is a new thing. Almost all women who come into yoga studios have a history of abuse, eve-teasing, being groped, cat-called, molested, sexually assaulted or even raped. Sadly, many of them have usually normalized the injurious and traumatic touch with a ‘cant-do-anything-about-it’ attitude. So teaching them about consent and that they can refuse touch is a big thing – novel approach, but much needed.

Even if it means saying no to touch – with sexual connotations or not.

Secondly, the Indian culture, even in modern education systems, largely place teachers on a very high pedestal. This is true even, or more so, for yoga teachers, who are confusingly seen as highly evolved beings who can do no wrong. The irony, of course, they also see them are individuals who possibly do not need to be paid for their seva. (“Wait, isn’t yoga supposed to be free?”)

Anyway, this is important in a yoga class setting, especially in an Indian yoga class context because many practitioners come in with both these beliefs – that they can’t say, ‘No’ to touch and/or manual adjustments if they feel uncomfortable and definitely not say, “no” to a yoga teacher!!

So the western yoga community has come up with this innovative tool, a prospective accessory that yoga classes may choose to use – consent cards – offered to practitioners in studios with the intention of allowing them to let the teacher know if they welcome hands-on adjustments / touch or not.

Image result for consent cards yoga
Picture Credit: https://kindyoga.com.au/

I’ve raised the concept of consent cards with my YTT students and they seem to be confused in how to use them – the application of consent is tough. I wonder myself how convenient they would be for me to use, because I can be very clear with making my consent or dissent known, but consent cards / stones, might be a distraction. Plus, and this is more important to note that a card can only give so much consent – further experience in the adjustment is only when it happens – how much adjustment is too much? When does the practitioner refuse the adjustment? Is it Ok to refuse adjustment after agreeing to it earlier or even after turning the YES face up?

Well, like all things consensual, the practitioner has the right to refuse manual adjustment or any touch at any point in time

I cannot stress this enough.

Here’s what I suggest teachers do:

Seek consent at the beginning of the class, and definitely during class if you want to offer an adjustment. But my #1 philosophy to train them in is – to simply avoid manual adjustments altogether.

Also, I feel that a 200-hr (RYT200 / YTT200) certification is just not adequate to fully understand manual adjustments and how to offer them because bodies are so different and yoga teachers learn a lot from experience and deeper training. It helps to learn from classroom continuing education as well as self-study and experience, about trauma-sensitivity, mindful teaching and the fact that people are not just their bodies, they are a body with a mind, a spirit and deep and rich emotional history to consider.

So, with the Indian context, I believe we have to address two things here.

Firstly, to educate our practitioners about boundaries and agency (though this doesn’t always come under yoga teaching), but it is important to empower them that way… and secondly, more importantly, to be sensitive to the fact that our society in itself is looking at change – and changing a culture can only happen by engagement, education and walking the talk.

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