As a Yoga Teacher teaching for 2 years and practicing since 2004/5, I really feel it’s important to talk about consent in yoga as this practice continues to grow globally.
Yoga Teachers are accountable to create a safe space for students to participate in classes.
And if students do not want to participate in a class – yoga teachers need to be respectful and not force poses. If students do not want to try or do a certain pose, it is not the yoga teacher’s place to go unannounced and adjust students without permission to ‘fit’ how a yoga pose looks in a text book or traditional yoga. Sure, you can physically see someone is capable but it is the student’s choice to move into a pose or flow or not. It is not a yoga teacher’s place to give unsolicited personal advice on nutrition, health, relationships or how to live. Is this me making up my own yoga as I go? No, this is something I have been thinking about a lot lately as I teach more and share more and practice more. I can share on my platforms my beliefs and it is up to the individual if they come with me on this journey or not.
2 years ago I began a 12 month contract in a domestic violence organisation and I learned so much about consent. Explicit consent which means a definitive ‘Yes’ to intimacy in personal relationships. Inferred consent, an absence of no, which people can think means yes. My time working in domestic violence taught me there is no such thing as inferred consent with intimacy, personal boundaries and relationships because obtaining consent is ongoing. This article on National Domestic Violence Hotline delves further into consent.
Yoga is obviously not a personal relationship but it is a space and place where you are vulnerable as in you carve out time, money, energy in your day to go somewhere to practice, possibly a studio or ashram or community park, and yoga is a spiritual practice. Is there anything more sacred than your spirituality – your heart and beliefs?
Research and investigation into the yoga community has shown teachers and gurus violating consent. Perhaps I was naïve and just looking at yoga through rose coloured glasses in my early years in yoga, but this really distressed me as I learned more about abuse in the yoga and other spiritual communities. It made and still makes me incredibly angry and sad.
For many years, yoga has been my space to go and rest. I am forever grateful for my teachers who have created this kind of space for me to practice, heal and build a genuine community that has supported me so much so that I decided to become a Yoga Teacher. There have been two teachers since 2004 who adjusted me without my permission and I never returned to their classes. My teachers that I practice consistently with have never forced a practice with me.
When I first learned of one my yoga teachers who was bullied by a Yoga Master and Guru who was a monk, I felt heartbroken for my teacher and I cancelled my yoga membership. On paper, our Yoga Master/Guru was patient, perfect, an advanced yogi in the teachings and learned in yoga, lived in India and travelling globally sharing the ancient teachings. Behind the scenes, I wonder. I struggled and thought – should I even practice yoga? Should I even become a teacher? What am I learning, practicing and teaching when people are getting hurt and violated in the most extreme ways? What am I supporting?
I did more research and found bullying, abuse and sexual violence has taken place globally in yoga. Last year Yoga Journal wrote an article called ‘The Conversation About Consent and Touch in Yoga’. Yoga has come under fire from yoga bodies and the authorities and public to be accountable and create a safe space for all people to practice safely. This is something I support wholeheartedly and will always advocate for teachers to ask for consent before working with or adjusting students without permission. Students and teachers must report abuse in yoga (and anywhere for that matter) to protect people.
The guru – student relationship is something I have been learning about and not comfortable with personally because sometimes studios, cultures and countries can elevate teachers/gurus to another level and turn a blind eye to abuse which I find horrific. Abuse is not acceptable whether you are a teacher or not. Teachers are humans and are not superheros.
Recommendations for finding the right studio to practice at
For people thinking about starting yoga, I recommend having a read through studio websites to get a sense or feel about the style of yoga that is taught. Also, meeting with studio owners and teachers before starting class. Yoga teachers often have online classes for you to join along with to see if you like their style and it’s a fit for you before you arrive physically to class. Let go of ideas around the perfect pose and listen for options in yoga poses rather than doing a pose that may risk injury.
Let teachers know if you don’t want adjustments, your body – your consent.
I teach with a trauma informed approach meaning I ask for consent to work with someone rather than assuming people are happy with adjustments and recommend this approach for my fellow yoga teachers. Teachers must ask for consent every time before adjustment.
Lastly, I do want to close the loop with my personal journey and decision to become a yoga teacher after I learned about abuse in the spiritual community. I believe in the ancient teachings of yoga and values of non-violence and this comes through in actions to students. Not just a warm quote to start and finish class in savasana. Yoga is not about abusing people and shrugging it off as a teacher’s right to abusing privilege, position and power. It is my duty to work towards stamping out violence in the yoga community as a teacher, as a practitioner and someone who believes in the gifts of the teachings. I also want to share about my beautiful teachers who have guided me and continue to guide me to heal, practice, learn and share. Further, my teachers inspire me to advocate for the good in yoga and to pass on the love and respect of this practice they gave to me, to my students.