Consent cards turn yoga studios into safe spaces

Consent cards make it easier for yoga students to indicate whether they welcome hands-on adjustment. Image credit: yogabysarah.com

Consent cards bring respect for personal space back to the yoga industry

Consent cards / Image credit: Yoga Standards Project / yastandards.comA couple of months ago, I wrote about my feelings about yoga. I was tired of the commercialization and the guru culture that permeates so many studios. While I loved how yoga made me feel and the health benefits, I had conflicting feelings about yoga culture. As yoga shifted from a physical meditation practice to a lifestyle, we compromised the intention behind the act. However, we also gained new practitioners — open to challenging themselves and attempting a new approach to wellness.

The yoga studio developed a reverence akin to a religious space and spirituality was often intertwined with exercise. As yoga studios began to spring up everywhere — just walk three blocks in any major city and see if you can’t find a yoga studio — we also became complacent to some of the more unsavoury practices going on behind those walls.   

As the #MeToo movement has grown, we’ve seen yoga studios called out as locations for sexual assaults. From those who gave their names to entire practices to specific teachers who performed handsy hands-on adjustments, yoga joined the number of industries where abuses of power were not discussed. By shifting the focus from the yoga practice itself by exalting those teaching it, the power shifts dramatically from student to teacher. That quiet spirituality we were asked to embrace became synonymous with not speaking up.

Fortunately, through exposés and public sharing, we’ve started to reclaim yoga studios as the safe spaces they were always intended to be. At a recent visit to a local Toronto studio, I was asked to take a Consent Card and place it next to my mat. One side featured the words “It’s OK to offer me hand-on adjustments during this class.” The other read “No thanks I’d prefer not to receive hands-on adjustments today.

This is how yoga students are taking their power back and silently informing instructors of boundaries and offering consent. By actively flipping the card to either side, the student is making a conscious decision whether or not they want to be adjusted. And for those of us too shy to tell an instructor they don’t want to be touched, they are ideal. For many students, their reverence for their teachers put them in vulnerable positions. Also, consider some of the trickier poses that we hold in class. I know there have been times where I’ve been in camel pose and seen an instructor walk by … and have thought to myself “just keep walking … just keep walking ….” Depending on the day, hands-on adjustments can go from being helpful to intrusive. For those of us protecting injuries, we are fearful that a simple correction may push us beyond a place of comfort.

As studios realize, like most industries, how easily power has been abused — the responsibility is theirs to protect their students. Consent Cards will not separate the teachers from the abusers, but they are a step in the right direction. We need to proudly take one at the start of a class and display it honestly. We also need to encourage all yoga studios to partake in this practice. After all, how can you focus on inner peace when you’re worried about being touched inappropriately in the guise of correction?


 

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Strip away the scandals and focus on the benefits. There’s a lot to love about yoga

woman on pink yoga mat with hands extended

Strip away the scandals and focus
on the benefits. There's a lot
to love about yoga

How could anyone who embraces fitness, wellness, and balance dislike a centuries-old movement-based meditation practice? Yoga is linked to so many health benefits including calming your mind, toning your body, improving flexibility, and finding overall happiness. Why do you hate yoga?

And the fact is that I don’t hate yoga. I just hate how it’s perceived and what it’s a short-hand for in our society.

Unfortunate associations

Choudhury bikram yoga classI hate the corporatization of yoga and its connection to affluence. To be a real yogi, you need the right four-way stretch fabric and a special towel made from bamboo and unicorn tears. Yoga clothing carries astronomical price tags and is often made in unsafe work conditions. I think we can all remember when the CEO of Lululemon was caught out fat-shaming and insulting the very people who bought his clothes. It’s embarrassing, but it was part of a larger snobbery that separated appropriate yoga bodies from unsightly ones.

I hate the gurus. There are teachers who use adjustments as an opportunity to subtly touch their practitioners in a way that crosses the line. What about the power-hungry narcissists and sexual assaulters who gaslight their students to make excuses for bad behaviour? Or the enlightened individuals who preach humility and charity with one hand, while pushing unnecessary classes and workshops with the other? They abuse the trust of people who just want to be a little better than they were yesterday.

But I love yoga

With yoga comes the acceptance that we are all different. Just like we all struggle in life with different things, you can leave it all on the mat. You can sweat, flow, breathe, or just lie down. Every practice is different. The expectations you set for yourself differ every time until you learn not to set expectations. You learn to be present and take each pose as a mini-challenge.

TrainingSpaces owner Laura Rantin at the Grand Canyon.For many people, it’s hard to get back to the root of yoga because of all the bullshit. All the fake gurus and the cool clothes won’t take away the fact from the purity of breathing and focusing on the stretch. When you relax into a yoga pose, you’re treating yourself to some quiet time. You can tune out the world and all its violence, terror, and cruelty.

It’s easy to get caught up in the yoga lifestyle and the nastiness of it all. It’s easy to find ways to hate yoga. But it’s even better not to. Because yoga was here before the moisture-wicking fabric, and the predators, and the cool bags with extra pockets. And there’s something that endures about something that connects you to yourself — and challenges you to be a better person … one breath at a time.

Yoga meditation pose

Has yoga been good to you?

Tell us about your experiences with yoga! Any good stories? Any bad ones? An instructor you found especially helpful? A pose or position that was particularly difficult? Let us know in the comments!