Why Ask for Permission to Touch
When a yoga student arrives at a new class with a new teacher – they have no idea if hands-on assists will be used. For some students touch might be a nice added bonus, but for others it could feel uncomfortable or distracting or it may trigger past trauma.
Even when I teach infant massage in Baby & Me Yoga I teach parents to ask for permission to touch. Of course babies are not verbalizing at this point, but it is the intention of asking for permission that is important followed by reading baby’s cues.
When you book a massage – you are already giving permission for touch, but when you sign up for a yoga class – are you giving permission to touch?
How to Ask for Permission to Touch
Here are some of the ways to ask for permission to touch. See what works best for your style of teaching and your students. Let me know if you have something to add to this list.
- Consent Cards
This is my preferred option of knowing if a student wants to be assisted. I made my own cards that have a green hand on one side and a red square on the opposite side. The consent cards give students the choice within each class and also within each pose to have hands on assists or not.
I make it clear when I hand the cards out that it doesn’t guarantee hands on assists and that I don’t take it personally when people choose not to be assisted. I tell them that if I see that they have the red square up, then I know that they are choosing to have a practice that is more inward. I also let them know that they can change their mind at any time.
I clarify that my intention is to offer them a more customized class.
Want to order consent cards instead of making your own? Here are my favourite ones – made by yoga teacher, Molly Kitchen.
- Ask Permission for Each Assist
As you move around the room offering verbal cues and props you can ask each student, “May I offer a hands-on assist?”, which is useful when you didn’t intend to assist, but then decide to based on a question the student has or because an assist will clarify the pose.
Personally, if I attended a class where the teacher asked to assist all the time – I would feel like it was disruptive to my own flow.
I also would use encourage teachers to remember that some students may feel that they need to answer quickly or feel the need to say ‘yes’ to an assist when they may normally say ‘no’ with a more anonymous and thought out plan.
The most common use of this permission request for me is when a student verbalizes that they don’t know how to move their body into the pose. They often wave a hand and if I see that a quick hands-on assist will help – then I ask for permission to touch in the moment. When consent cards are used – this isn’t necessary.
- Asking Students Anonymously
Before you assist anyone you might move them into a child’s pose or downward dog and then ask, “If you would not like to have hands-on assists today – please raise a hand so that I know to leave you to your own practice.”
I emphasize that I will not take it personally and that at anytime in the practice they can change their mind and let me know.
I have used this most often within in a teacher training, but less now that I use consent cards. It is great if you don’t have consent cards or if you forget them and you intend on assisting. You just need to remember to really scan the room to see who doesn’t want assist and then you need to remember well.
Some people can’t move into downward dog or child’s pose and often if you ask them to simply close their eyes – then peeking is so tempting.
- Use Your Intuition
This is the last option for me in terms of permission to touch, but I have used it. If a student has been coming to my classes for a long time, I know them well and I know that they always have the green hand up on their consent cards – then I may decide to offer a hands-on assist.
I feel like I have strengthened my intuitive muscle and I also feel like I can read the energy of students. Sometimes this has led me to assist without any other consent, but I don’t think this is ideal. I don’t rely on this.
I also have to say that I have been to classes where this is the way teachers assist and I have mostly had wonderful experiences with it.
You may use consent cards and then use your intuition with who to assist in which posture and what assist to offer. Sometimes I see that someone has put their card with green hand up, but I get a sense that they feel uncomfortable in a pose. I might not assist them then or I may alter to give an assist that seems better in that moment.
- Advertise Your Classes with Hands-On Assists
After being in a training course that was all about hands-on assists to cue movement, relaxation and breath – I am seriously considering this option. I have not in the past with a weekly class, but I have in workshops.
For instance I sometimes host Gentle Yoga with Thai Massage Assists. Students who show up know that they are receiving assists for the entire class. People who don’t want to be touched – don’t sign up.
Imagine a weekly class of Yoga and Hands-On Assists. Your students would all be up for assists and you would be able to dance with the intuitive side of what assist, how much pressure, how long to assist and more.
If you want to learn more about assisting your yoga students with hands-on assists, verbal cues, pose awareness, props and more join me in any or all 10 modules of my 50-hour Art of Assists For Yoga Teachers. Each module is 5 hours and they can be taken in any order.
Photos taken by Dianne Brandon Photography and Beth Kawash. Thanks to Lisa Mosher and Maxine Iharosy for their beautiful yoga poses.