My Horrid Hands on Experience and Why I Love Consent Cards
Always. Trust. Your. Gut.
I'll never forget a Hatha yoga class I took a number of years ago with my partner at the total beginning of my teaching trip. The classical yoga class was small and I had convinced my partner who doesn't like yoga to join. (Hey even teachers need some extra support and motivation from time to time - we're human too.) After the class had started, I knew I didn’t really love the teacher but stayed for the duration in order to not be “rude” or “waste $20”. Big mistake.
During a progression of forward fold with yoga mudra, a stretch for the shoulders, I let my palms splay apart to accommodate some intermittent crankiness from the target area. Before I could react, I felt pain shoot from my shoulder down to my hands as an unwanted "adjustment" was forced on me with insult added to injury the teacher said "BRING YOUR PALMS TOGETHER". Without thinking I retorted unceremoniously "DON'T fucking touch me" - swearing was perceived as a necessary outlet for the acute pain I was in at the time. (PS Adjustments should NEVER hurt… Pain is not a part of yoga). A moment in time where I was completely grateful that I was able to use my voice.
Despite my better instincts I stayed for the duration of class as I watched in horror at the adjustments being forced upon my fellow practitioners. The teacher forcibly twisted a man who appeared to be in his late forties by placing his arm across his chest from behind in half twist and pushed and pulled him deeper while his face reddened. In a twist of my own looking at the man behind me I prayed (probably the second time ever) that I wouldn't bear witness to a forcible injury. I intentionally gave what I can only describe as an intentional dirty look when the teacher came within any proximity of my partner who I deeply regretted convincing to come with me. I whispered “I'm so sorry I brought you here” to them half way through.
If I had known then what I know now I probably would have whistleblown on the whole incident and pulled the teacher aside with my feedback, pulled the studio aside and alerted them to my experience of recklessness. Power dynamics can be tricky things to navigate. I sometimes recall these incidents and replay how I might navigate them differently if I had known then what I know now.
What I know now is no teacher ever knows what is safe for a student without engaging in a dialogue - whether that’s flipping over a card at the top of a mat or saying “don’t touch me.”
It’s delightful to see that Toronto yoga communities are using consent cards, asking students for permission before adjusting, and generally giving people more informed consent about what they’re options are for their yoga practice. I recognized that although I was blessed in that moment with the ability to speak up for myself, I’ll always regret not having the ability to speak up for everyone else. It’s because of this I recognize that other practitioners might not have that same capacity and I want to make sure that I create that space for them to feel comfortable saying no. I know that if there had been consent cards at the tops of our mats, I would have flipped mine over and I wished my partner (and everybody else) could have done the same if they so chose.