I had taken class from this instructor for over a year. I’d been adjusted hundreds of times. A firm lifting press of my hips in Downward Dog, a gentle shifting of my back in Twisting Warrior, and a calming squeeze of my neck in Savasana. I appreciated all of this attention because it felt good and helped me get deeper into poses, and the adjustments were always very professional.
But one day, I got an adjustment that has stayed with me for over 16 years. I was in Triangle pose, and I sensed the instructor walking behind me. I smiled and slightly closed my eyes as I felt pressure on my lower back and a soft hand on my hip. But then I felt another hand . . . on my left boob. I slowly looked up, and said, “Um, that’s not my shoulder.” Kathy and I laughed so hard we both fell backward onto someone else’s yoga mat, and almost domino-effected a few people in the process.
This little encounter was no big deal for a few reasons. Kath and I were friends and I knew this innocent groping was a complete accident. But more importantly, she was a woman. I kept thinking, what if this was a man? What if this little accident felt slightly deliberate and very uncomfortable? What if I felt like this was inappropriate or even sexual? What if I thought it was my fault, like I had sent the wrong message in some way?
I think about this accidental boob adjustment whenever I take or teach a class, and you should, too. When you go to a yoga class, you should expect to feel safe and respected. Yoga instructors should remain friendly and helpful, but absolutely professional in their teacher-student relationships. They have no right to make you feel uncomfortable in any way, especially when they touch you. And as a student, it is your responsibility to speak up if a touch, or a comment, or a glare doesn’t feel right to you, whether it’s painful, inappropriate, or makes you feel uneasy.
It’s absolutely OK to talk to an instructor during class. If they’re pressing on your hips in Child’s Pose and it hurts, or their fingertips are a little too close to your butt, or you just want some space — say so right then and there! If it feels weird to speak up, tell them after class, or you might prefer speaking to the studio’s owner if the issue seems more serious.
The point here is that yoga is supposed to feel good, physically and emotionally. You get to decide what that means. Maybe you’re OK with your feet being rubbed with lavender oil, and maybe you feel irked out when an instructor places one fingertip on your shoulder. If an instructor is doing or saying something that makes your experience less than blissful, don’t stand for it!
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Ericka McConnell