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