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Yoga and the Dawn of Touch ‘Consent’ Cards

in YD News

flipchip-assist

Oh yes, yoga is popular. So are yoga injuries and egos and teachers giving wonky adjustments. Oh my. In response, the trend of voicing consent is also growing in popularity. Prefer not to be touched? Just say it and namaste it. And then trademark that bitchin’ slogan! (Kidding.)

Some yoga studios are now offering consent cards, like Toronto’s Kula Annex, which It’s All Yoga, Baby blogged about, and Yoga Journal picked up and posted about. The paper cards have two sides (as many cards often do) that read “Yes, Please” on one side and “No, thank you” on the other letting the teacher know the students’ preference on touching and adjustments.

Kula Annex’s director Christi-an Slomka shared her reasoning for the cards and the value of voicing consent:

“We can’t always know what someone has been through and if touch may be a trigger (especially when it comes without consent),” she continues. “Rape and sexual abuse can continue unchecked in a culture that doesn’t value consent. By demonstrating that consent is important to us, I believe we may be able to empower a shift in culture. Ultimately consent helps us to cultivate a safer space.”

As students we expect yoga teachers to ask before touching, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. And sometimes students are too shy to speak up. The cards take away the obstacle of announcing your preference vocally, which some may argue limits communication, but on the other hand, enables dialogue where it may not have occurred otherwise.

And these consent badges are catching on. There’s something called the Yoga FlipChip that is a discreet bamboo chip you place on your mat indicating “assist” or no that sells for $15 a pop and comes in its own pouch.

Taking this concept a little step further is Victoria McColm who created a product called YogAccessory. Essentially it’s a consent card, plus an intention booklet you can place at the top of your mat and carry with you in a cute and handy handmade fabric pouch. On her kickstarter page (she’s raising funds to put this into production) she states, “The YogAccessory empowers yoga practitioners to display consent for hands-on adjusts and tame ego in group yoga classes.”

yogaccessory-consent

Victoria came up with the idea while working on a resource website called Prevent Yoga Injury last year. She explains via the product website:

Throughout the year, I’ve heard stories from students who’ve been injured by well-intentioned, but perhaps poorly judged or executed physical adjusts from new and veteran teachers alike. Sometimes teachers don’t ask if their students want to be touched or not, and many students feel uncomfortable vocalizing their preference not to be touched to the teacher in front of the group. Group classes are getting larger and larger, so it helps the teacher better manage his or her classroom when a student’s preference is clearly stated at the top of their mat. There is also a growing movement in the yoga community to ensure that teachers gain consent prior to touching any student, especially those who may be participating in classes designed to overcome any sort of trauma.

We don’t know how much the YogAccessory will go for but it’s not a bad idea. There’s also nothing stopping you from scribbling your own YES/NO on a piece of paper. But then, having clear verbal communication with your teacher about your injuries, preferences and concerns isn’t a terrible idea either.

“Of course, the ultimate goal is to practice yoga without it – by finding a teacher with whom you’re totally comfortable and by taking control of that wandering mind,” Victoria concludes. Until then…?

By the way, those massive summer yoga festivals and wanderlustwhatchamacallits? They should be tossing these puppies out like free condoms at a Planned Parenthood rally.

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35 comments… add one
  • Ken

    Seems like you shouldn’t continue to attend classes from a teacher you don’t trust to do intelligent adjustments or assists.

    • Vision_Quest2

      You got that right. But you know what happened?

      I do believe classes changed also. They are much more hands-off, just like the gym …. (By gyms, I’m talking NYSC, not Equinox, btw!)

      ❤ ♡

    • Elizabeth

      Agree. I would not continue to attend a class like that.

      However, if it is my first class with a new teacher, or there is a sub I don’t know, I might unwittingly find myself with a teacher I “don’t trust to do intelligent adjustments or assists” as you put it.

      I have somewhat extensive training and practice in physical assists. I continue to study and refine my own best practices. I’m very careful to communicate when I assist/adjust. I also don’t dole out physical assists and adjustments like candy, based on part on my philosophy of teaching and based on part on the students I have in front of me (my classes are primarily populated with “regulars”). I wish I could trust that every teacher in front of me has at least the same number of hours of education I have in this area, but I know it isn’t true, especially with a brand new teacher but with veteran teachers too.

      • Vision_Quest2

        The philosophy and even the pace of the class, are the deciding factors.

        So, let’s talk about now … not a couple years ago. Now is when I’d gotten sick enough..

        By this I mean, too physically sick to do the slow, strong, intermediate-and-above-level practices which would contraindicate a few significant things, now there appeared before me a class so fast-moving and so physically accessible (just like YogaFit style classes at the gym!) that rendered those cards practically irrelevant.

        That’s the class I go to until that teacher moves away …

    • Karen

      The article quotes a studio rep explaining that they’re being sensitive to survivors of sexual trauma. The teacher may be the perfect embodiment of compassion and integrity, but if you are not in a place where you can bear to be touched, you are not in a place where you can bear to be touched. That’s just how it is.

      There are plenty of medical/psychological reasons a person may not be able to deal with being touched (ever, or perhaps just that day). A little known one is that people with ADD/ADHD often have periods where they are so sensitive to touch that the slightest contact can be painful.

      The point is, anything that facilitates clear communication around consent is A Good Thing, especially when it makes it so much easier for the people least confident and able to speak up.

  • $15?!! Wow! really? Made with bamboo or not.. do we really need to have another accessory to clutter the yoga room with? Some students can’t even keep their own space neat with their 1 block and strap and as a teacher I’m constantly having to navigate around people’s belongings like cell phones, purses, water bottles, towels and worse are eye glasses. Ok never mind about the extra accessory because the real issue is why these types of things are necessary? Doesn’t one go to a class with a live teacher to get guidance and help? Wouldn’t one want to get to talk to the teacher before class starts… especially if you’re new if there’s a sub in your regular class? Personally I think this creates further separation between teacher and student. As a teacher, I make sure I get to speak with everyone in class and if I didn’t get to, I always ask them if I can give an assist if I’ve never met them. It’s not always the teacher’s responsibility to figure who can be touched and who can’t. Students also need to be responsible and communicate with the teacher before hand.

  • Anon

    I go to class to learn how to better my practice and expect corrections. Sometimes verbal commands do not register for students, and when a teacher moves an arm this way, or a leg that way you have an “Aha!” moment and really get what they were trying to instruct. I’ve also had experiences where I thought I was reaching my limit in a pose, and an adjustment has shown that I could get much deeper into that pose.

    In my mind, this type of touch is a necessary part of yoga class. If teacher’s move away from this type of personalized attention you might as well stay home and take “classes” on youtube.

    Of course, we all have different backgrounds and if being touched really makes you uncomfortable I would suggest 2 things. 1) You are in the wrong class – you need to be studying with a teacher you feel comfortable with and trust. 2) If you aren’t that serious in your practice to seek out such a teacher, and you just do drop-ins occasionally, then convey privately to the teacher prior to class that you do not want any adjustments.

    • Vision_Quest2

      How about let’s calling “not being serious” what it really could be a question of: being underfunded and/or overscheduled … and finding most everything you need online, thankyouverymuch …

      I would use cards like this to prevent an upsale to private sessions I could ill afford, which happened as a tipping point to having been ambushed an aggressive adjustment, and not decided never to return to that teacher’s class right then and there!

      • Vision_Quest2

        I did finally decide never to return to that person’s class … but it had been too late … much too late.

        I had made enemies with the studio for a long while over someone who had just been looking at the short-term bottom line and trying to drum up more privates …

        Don’t yoga teachers want to teach sustainably rather than greedily?

  • Anna

    Wow, if I didn’t try to be neutral at the sight of that YogAccessory in a class, I’d say it was a bit overkill (and passive aggressive?). I’d rather spread a common message that it’s okay to verbally communicate.

    • Vision_Quest2

      Sometimes what you call “passive aggressive” may be the only recourse.

      I had protested against adjustments for years before I’d been ambushed into one!

  • If teachers were to stop adjusting or correcting people and start assisting people then these cards become unnecessary. And it’s the teachers responsibility to ensure safety, not the students. We don’t need little flash cards. We need actual human interaction and some careful consideration about the fact that what many teachers think of as adjustment or correction are injurious.

    • Jenifer

      I agree here, particularly in regards to communication.

      I see it as three levels of communication actually.

      First, I communicate directly with the student, asking individually whether or not they want hands-on assists.

      Second, I communicate that with my staff — through the student notes section of our booking system — not only whether or not a person wants assists/etc, but also any special concerns or interests that they may have.

      Thus, any teacher or sub can simply verify with the student at the beginning of class (there’s a moment when we can have a private, quiet conversation in the beginning of class) that s/he does or doesn’t want assists and/or that s/he does or doesn’t have these issues or concerns at this time.

      Third, our staff communicates with each other. Not only are they able to use the notes system in our booking system, but we also meet monthly to go over the questions that students had, what their concerns and interests seem to be, as well as what we are seeing in classes “this is improving, that could use more work” and then from there, focusing our continuing education training on those elements that arise out of the direct work with the clients.

      This has really given us a cohesive process for making sure that we are meeting our clients needs going forward.

      When we discern a need, we develop skill around it by specializing our training in that direction. We adapt our teaching cohesively, and then we approach our students for on-going feedback about their results and experiences. And that gives us more information from which to work.

      It’s a truly gratifying process to see students as people (not numbers).

  • guest

    I have a different perspective on this. I was grabbed by the back of my hair one day, dragged down an alley, and raped. For a few years after that day, anytime anyone would touch me from behind, especially around the head/neck area, I would jump. Had anyone asked me in a yoga class after that day if I wanted an assist, I would chosen “no”, that is, if no one else could hear/see me. See, we were asked in a few classes I attended, but it was very publicly with the teacher asking the class at the front of the class, and looking for a rise of hands. I was always embarrassed to have attention brought to myself or to be asked any questions, so I would sit silently whenever a teacher would ask that question, and never refuse adjustments. But that turned out to be a good thing. I got used to the safety, and care of teacher’s touches. It was good for me. It helped me heal and trust touch from strangers again. Yes, I have had a too-rouch assist here and there, maybe twice in several years, usually from less-experienced substitute teachers. But I think that from an emotional/abusive perspective, touch can be a scary, vulnerable thing. But to feel it in the safety of a yoga class (provided the assist isn’t too rough), it can be very healing. I think that teachers need to take responsibility for learning safe assists, and also learning the feeling of a student resisting or feeling discomfort in an assist, but at the same time, in our culture, safe touch is very very important and it is very powerful and healing.

    • Vision_Quest2

      Wow … either an outlier or an undiagnosed case of Stockholm Syndrome in the house …

      • Vision_Quest2

        Look, yoga teachers are control freaks who could be greedy. I work at cross purposes to them, having a primarily home yoga practice, you know!

        • Frank

          “yoga teachers are control freaks.”

          Wow, that may be the most sweeping, insulting generalization I’ve seen in a while. I’ve learned from plenty of different teachers and some were mediocre, one or two were horrid, and the two I learn from now are pretty amazing. Some teachers are bad, yes, but to say that ALL yoga teachers are control freaks really just makes you look silly.

      • Lissa

        Are you really degrading this persons story of how yoga and proper assists helped her to heal from a severe trauma? I’m sorry that you have had a bad experience with adjustments, but many of the comments you have posted are simply rude. If you have an opinion about flipchips, yes/no cards, etc., then fine, but being demeaning, degrading, and plain mean is uncalled for. Furthermore, many of your comments have nothing to do with the theme of this post and seem to be ranting/venting of issues you’ve had with a particular studio. Calling yoga teachers “greedy” and “control freaks” is a wide generalization to make based on an unfortunate personal experience with 1 teacher at 1 studio.

        • Vision_Quest2

          I had a chance to think over what you replied to this thread, rather than the initial knee-jerk reaction.

          Clearly, these cards are marketed at the wrong price point. Any persons who could afford overpriced yoga accessories, may not be dependent on a primarily home yoga practice for financial and logistical reasons.

          However they may have been traumatized in the past, or felled by infirmity; or otherwise not the normative, youthful, athletic yogi the teachers would rather have their classes’ full of … they can afford to throw money, if not verbiage at the situation and those rogue (yes, “rogue”! even THESE days) teachers against whom these cards would be a countervailing measure, perhaps.

          Therefore, there may not be:

          (1) an understanding for the need for these cards by students and teachers alike
          (2) a demand at a too-high price point
          (3) any safeguards at attempts to squelch the much-needed discussion that would/should ensue
          (4) an exodus to gym-style/mild/donation yoga by the rest of us who are fed up and leave you upscale yuppies to hash it out on your own
          (5) a community on all this, in the end …

  • yogatroy

    I begin all my classes with my students in childs pose and then ask anyone who doesn’t want to be touched to raise their hand. No one else sees them, and then we proceed with class. Keep it simple sweethearts!

    • Vision_Quest2

      I’ve watched similar in streamed classes: but it was a Hatha/Power type class, and the teacher had people raise their right leg if they voted “NO” to adjustments while they were in down dog.

      Long live the Internet. Not just competition to a yoga teacher, but a teacher’s teacher in its own right.

    • Paco

      Excellent idea!—most considerate, but please don’t call me sweetheart.

      :^)

  • Sati Suloshana

    I’ve been fantasizing about a yoga tank top with this on it for years! I don’t want subs, workshop assistants, and younger teachers who haven’t had any injuries themselves touching me. I permit my main teacher to touch me, but, frankly, I like voice cues better. They are easier for me to remember. I really dislike this trend. No reason these American, English-speaking teachers can’t use their words. They feel like they have to grab you. Sometimes it does come across as a control thing. They have their particular variation which they are teaching, you are in their class, & you are expected to do what they say. Whereas I have had a long practice, many injuries, and have a set of my own modifications. Also, while I look strong, I have low blood sugar and poor endurance. A push could create a new injury when I’m tired or haven’t had enough to eat, or am too warm because of another hated trend, excessively warm rooms. They are dangerous for the hyperelastic person.

  • philokalia

    I like the idea of markers on mats for people who do not want assists, but they don’t need to be so expensive. I’ve heard of studios offering stones or tokens to be placed by a mat to signify the same thing and it seemed to work well.

    Personally, I do not like anyone touching me or giving me assists unless I ask for help . I have spent a lot of time doing yoga therapy to repair injuries from pushing my own boundaries too far, and thus modify all practices to respect those limitations. I rarely attend public class, but the majority of public teachers who have adjusted me have not asked me if it was ok to do but simply stepped in, and most often are just trying to make me fit the form of a pose, which isn’t really the point for me. I rarely visit the same studio twice (work on the road) and it disturbs me that so many people will make manual adjustments to students they’ve never seen or spoken a word to before, sometimes intense ones.

    My own mentor/teacher is wonderful and designs my home practices to build strength in my weak areas and gradually expand tight areas, which enhances breathing and helps me to come into more expressive postures on my own, when the time is right. She has only ever used drawings and verbal explanations, and once the light touch of a finger to emphasize an area of the spine on another student. I look up to her ability to communicate well with her students and say the right things to trigger understanding, and strive to the same in my own practice. I have seen a view Anusara teachers on yoga glo who are also very adept at verbal descriptions and really appreciate that for a web-based class where you don’t have the benefit of a 3D experience.

  • Paco

    Oh, for the love of Yoga—what they really mean is “Con$ent Card$”.

  • Janya

    So much for “yoga is union”. The consent card people are trying to sell. Yoga industry is full of commercial possibilities. The studio owner is trying to avoid lawsuits. I don’t blame them. But what is YogaDork getting?

    • Vision_Quest2

      If this prototype gets funded, gets off the ground and mass-produced, and lower, to a more marketable price point, and thus succeeds; there will be another giveaway and more exposure for YD’s advertising and their cross-promotion of this card-set and other things.

  • Frank

    Here’s a simple solution: Instead of having giant packed classes, cut class size way down, AND ACTUALLY TALK TO THE STUDENTS INDIVIDUALLY. Why is it that the adult, free solution doesn’t occur to people? Yes, there are people with issues, but if they don’t trust their teacher, why are they learning from them?

    • Jenifer

      Don’t worry, lots of us do this. 🙂 I wrote about it in response to J Brown above. He and I are of the same mind.

      I know my student’s names, much of their history (in so far as they share it with me), and keep records so that my fellow teachers have access to it when the student books in for class (or checks in for class). They can then follow up and ask questions (such as, is this still an issue for you? do you know the modifications that are right for you for that? do you want hands on assisting or no?).

      Makes for a very professional work environment. 🙂

  • Karen

    Consent cards or tokens are a great idea for a lot of reasons (I mentioned a couple above).

    What isn’t a great idea is turning the important issue of consent into a cash cow. There’s no reason teachers can’t just pop a card or token by each mat and explain how to use it, and that the class is a safe space.

    It’s clear that a lot of people don’t have experience with how unwanted touch can affect people with a variety of conditions or experiences, and sadly that lack of experience translates into dismissiveness.

    That’s a shame because, while learning to trust a good teacher to give adjustments can be healing to survivors of trauma, those survivors can take anything from days to years to learn it. I’d a friend whose history of abuse was so severe that even several years into our friendship it was wise to ask for a hug, or to put an arm around her. And, having volunteered on a crisis line for some time, I’ve discussed callers’ urges to self-harm or take their lives enough times to know that someone else’s good intentions not only don’t prevent tremendous turmoil, but can inadvertently work to silence someone and drive them further into serious distress (“She came up behind me and hugged me, and when I flinched she was so upset that I covered up and pretended everything was OK so she wouldn’t feel bad, and then I came home and started cutting” is pretty standard).

    Life is sometimes complex. We can simplify it by accepting that everyone has the right to say who touches their body how, when, and where.

    • Vision_Quest2

      “Consent markers … because not every student wants to flop into child’s pose …”

      • Vision_Quest2

        I forgot to add, “with their eyes open and shoulders shrouded by a towel” but it would not fit on the button …

  • apollogal

    I also do not enjoy assists and adjustments, but I really enjoy attending live classes. The rhythm of the other individuals in the room gives me lots of energy. Having someone step into my space breaks that rhythm for me. I am more than happy with where my body goes in a asana during a class and like a flower my body will blossom into a deeper expression of the posture when it is ready. The studio I attend has a policy that instructors ask permission, but of course sometimes they forget to ask. When that happens I spend way too much time hoping that the instructor stays off my mat. I can tell when an instructor gets impatient because I have opted out, so I always try to thank them for the class and give them a big smile of genuine gratitude.

  • Caly

    Asking permission before doing hands-on adjustments or assists on a practitioner should be common practice. Because there is already a power imbalance in the yoga room, the instructor being the one leading the group, it is up to the instructor to make practitioners aware that hands-on manipulations are optional. The practitioner is the authority of their one body and mind; the instructor does not know the practitioner in depth from one day to the next. If a person needs hands-on help to go deeper into the posture, than it means the person’s body is not ready for it. Furthermore, no one likes to be surprised from behind by a hand moving their body, and practitioners should not have to be vigilant as to where the instructor is in the room every minute of the time as they need to focus on learning the yoga postures. An instructor will not know whether a practitioner has medical vulnerabilities, such as fragile bones, etc, and the practitioner should not have to explain “why” in order to have their physical boundaries respected. It can also be disempowering and pressuring to have nonconsensual hands-on adjustments done on oneself. Instructors need to err on the side of caution by seeking individual permission first because it is the practitioner who ultimately has to deal with the consequences afterwards.

  • Caly

    I would like to add that some people have “natural” asymmetries in their bodies, such as a slightly longer leg or arm, but unfortunately some yoga instructors will do an uninvited hands-on adjustment to force symmetry with a posture on a practitioner’s body, which would be inappropriate and may lead to future problems.

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