Hands-on assists have become quite the controversy in today’s day and age of modern yoga. Sadly, the conflict is result of the #MeToo movement. And the number of stories that came out of inappropriate touching in yoga classes.
Not long after the #MeToo Movement, Covid struck which meant yoga teacher training courses went fully online, making it impossible to teach something physical like hands-on assists. And even the courses that remained in person did away with hands-on adjusting. Because touching was generally frowned upon in that era.
What a wild few years we’ve been through, right?
In the aftermath of #MeToo and Covid, hands-on assists are starting to have a re-emergence. But not without questioning on whether or not physical touch in a yoga class is beneficial, necessary, or something to be left in the past.
This post provides a round up of pros and cons for providing hands-on assists in your in-person yoga classes so that you can decide what feels like the best option for you and your students.
The Pros And Cons Of Hands-On Assists In Yoga Classes
There are so many things to consider when you’re deciding on whether or not you’ll provide physical adjustment or assists to your students while you’re teaching.
It’s important to remember that should you choose to offer physical touch in your yoga classes, then you’ll want to make sure you’re properly trained and informed before you do so. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve asked for consent from your students first and foremost.
Don’t forget that in order to be the most effective teacher possible, it’s more important to first master the art of cuing, before worrying about how to physically adjust your students. After all, you’ll still need strong cues while you’re manually adjusting people.
Pros Of Hands-On Assists
- Couldn’t do it on your own.
- More sensation in the yoga pose.
- Deeper expression of the posture.
- Correct alignment in the shape.
- New understanding of the position.
- Physical touch builds trust.
- Expression of teacher’s confidence.
- Demonstrates teacher’s knowledge of the pose.
- Adds a new challenge for the teacher.
Remember, hands-on assists really only apply to in-person yoga classes, as online classes are typically done alone.
If you’re looking for a more comfortable entry into physical touch with your yoga practice, try my Partner Yoga series with your bestie, spouse, or partner.
Couldn’t Do It On Your Own
The biggest perk of hands-on assists in yoga classes is that oftentimes whatever is done to you in the pose allows you to get into the shape in a way that you might not be able to do on your own.
This is especially true in even the most simple shapes during the Warm Up section of my Partner Yoga series. I highly recommend trying them out so you can see how different something as simple as Child’s Pose can feel with the help of physical touch.
Oftentimes if we’re able to get into the pose in a deeper way than we could on our own, then we’re also going to feel more sensation. Of course more sensation is always the goal in yoga. And we’re never meant to feel pain, even if we feel challenged.
Since your teacher or partner is helping you to get into the pose in a new way, you’re likely also in a deeper expression of the pose than you’d be able to do on your own. This can be fun to feel in the body. Epecially if you’re feeling stuck in your progress in a particular shape.
Hopefully if you’re being adjusted, then the teacher is also doing so with correct alignment in mind. Sometimes hands-on assists can be something as simple as a small shift to the left with your front knee to get it to center, rather than some big movement.
Although the smaller adjustment might appear small to the eye, you can feel a big difference in the body when everything clicks into alignment. This can completely change your experience of the shape, as well as other related poses.
New Understanding Of The Position
Oftentimes as you physically explore a yoga pose, you’re able to gain a new understanding of the position. It can be really easy to move through sequences on auto pilot. Especially if you’ve been practicing for a long time to the point the movements feel like second nature.
When a partner or teacher provides physical touch to a familiar pose, you’re able to gain a new understanding of how this pose feels in your body.
Physical Touch Builds Trust
Physical touch is powerful. It has the ability to both build and break trust. I’m certain that any teachers reading this would use hands-on assists to build trust with their students, rather than break it.
Because physical touch is so sensitive and powerful, alike, it’s vital that you use that energy with care. Build trust with your students by providing firm, yet loving guidance with both your words and your hands.
It takes a lot of confidence to walk over to someone and place your hands on them in an assertive, corrective way. Hands-on assists have the ability to demonstrate the teacher’s confidence. Which is important when you’re holding space as the leader of the class.
Yoga teachers, confidence is one of the most important components to teaching in that it allows your students to feel comfortable to explore and open throughout the yoga practice. Check out how to battle imposter syndrome HERE, and how to build more confidence HERE.
Assuming that your teacher knows how to adjust the pose that you’re in, this kind of physical touch allows your teacher to show their knowledge of the yoga practice beyond only using their words, or demonstrating their own practice.
It can actually feel really safe to be in the presence of a confident teacher with deep knowledge of each asana. Because you know that if you’re doing something harmful or incorrectly- they can correct you both physically and verbally, without needing to demonstrate.
Add Challenge For Teacher
As with any profession, in order to grow as a yoga teacher, you need to continually challenge yourself. When you’re teaching full-time, it starts to feel like you can teach a class with your eyes closed without much challenge at all.
Learning a new skill, like hands-on assists, can help you to grow as a teacher by increasing your confidence, adding to your understanding of the postures, and building more intimacy with your students.
Cons of Hands-On Assists
- Makes students feel uncomfortable.
- Being touched without consent.
- Getting touched inappropriately.
- Providing incorrect adjustments.
- Causing injury.
- Not listening to students’ physically or verbally.
- Interferes with timing, pace, and cadence of the class.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely been touched in classes without the teacher asking for consent. Or, I’ve had a bad adjustment that simply didn’t feel good in my body.
It’s imperative that teacher’s ask you if it’s okay to adjust you at some point before they lay their hands on your body. And if they don’t, please don’t feel bad in speaking up (yes, even in the middle of a class). And let them know if you don’t want to be touched.
You always have the right to say now to physical touch in your yoga class. Trust me.
Makes Students Feel Uncomfortable
First and foremost, when hands-on assists aren’t done well, they can make students feel uncomfortable. This can happen even if you consent to being touched, and even if the touch itself is totally appropriate.
There’s a true art to assisting and adjusting people’s bodies. Which is why teachers need to learn before they try on their students. Check out this post on how to improve your hands on assists as a teacher.
Being Touched Without Consent
Teachers need to ask for consent before they touch their students. Always. No matter what.
Yes, there are times when people make mistakes and simply forget to ask in their classes. I’ve been there! These things happen.
As a student, feel free to speak up and say NO anytime. Or, provide your teacher with honest feedback after the class. So they can try to avoid making that same mistake again.
Getting Touched Inappropriately
One of the worst things that can happen as a result of providing hands-on assists in a yoga class is that there’s space for people to be touched inappropriately.
This is one of the most devastating things to happen in a yoga class. And should never happen for any reason. Please talk to a senior management person, owner, or law enforcement if this has happened to you at your yoga studio.
Providing Incorrect Adjustments
When a teacher hasn’t been properly trained in how to provide hands-on adjustment and assists, it’s possible for them to actually move you into an incorrect position. This can also be a result of not having adequate anatomy training.
Unfortunately it’s all too common for a yoga teacher to think they’re helping you by getting you deeper into the pose. But they actually end up hurting you.
Sometimes there’s a reason that we can’t go into that position on our own. And that’s because the body isn’t ready to yet!
Not Listening To Students Needs
When your teacher is adjusting you, feel free to speak up and let them know if you’ve had enough, or if you want more. Communication is imperative in any kind of partner yoga.
The truth is, even if you’re not verbally communicating your needs, your body will speak for you. A skilled teacher should be able to read the body’s cues of when it’s had enough. Versus when it can go a bit deeper.
Interferes With Class
It can be challenging to juggle hands-on assists when you’re also trying to remember your creative sequence, keep up with your playlist, make sure you have enough modifications and props, and walk around the room without demo’ing at all.
While hands-on assists are incredibly valuable, it’s important that you already have a solid understanding of how to teach a yoga class, and how to hold the space as the leader first. If doing hands-on adjustments if getting in the way of you being able to teach a comprehensive flow, then wait until you have a stronger teaching foundation before incorporating them.
So, friends, what do you think…to provide hands-on assists, or not?
Lmk your thoughts in the comments!