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Teaching and touching

I’ve taught yoga, Feldenkrais,  Contact Improvisation and seminars for massage therapists- teaching in both private classes and university settings. The rules and expectations vary in each sub-culture.  Teaching is a great privilege, a great joy, and sometimes a great heartache.

We know touching can deliver tremendous amounts of very  useful information to our students. For many of us, touch is a favorite mode of communication. Just dropping it would be such a loss.

 

What are we responsible for?

We commit to teaching to the best of our abilities. We put aside our ego needs, get as present as possible, and deliver what we advertised. Our responsibilities include creating a reasonably safe space for learning. Safety and comfort are not the same. Reasonable and perfect are also not identical. Our imperfections are an intrinsic part of our lessons. We can not escape them, but we can own them in increasingly healthy ways.

 

We are not responsible for others’ experiences.

As much as I might like to think otherwise, the truth is that I have no control over what a student assimilates, or how she uses that. Non-attachment is valuable when we teach.

 

We are not obligated to fulfill any particular need or want.

Once, I had a student angrily declare that I had violated his boundary by not doing something. I explained that it is impossible to violate a boundary through non-doing. What I had done was not fulfilled an expectation. If I had been a better teacher then, I might have been able to help him grasp the difference, and he might have benefited in a lasting way.

 

How do we cope?

Simple strategies for dealing with touch include creating consent, staying on task, and receiving feedback. Staying on task requires mindful touch- touch that is specific to the lesson, specific to the student, and specific to the moment. Prior exploration of one’s own embodiment makes it easier to be clear. This needs to be regularly updated, if only so we can have a fresh memory of the vulnerability of somatic pursuits.

 

Here are some comments from others:

“And there are those of us who believe we are ok with touch. Wanting to be liked.”

And the other side-

” …even without trauma in the past there is nothing like the shocker of doing a movement lesson and all of a sudden having someone touch you!”

I think as a teacher I can examine what part of me wants to be liked, reassured, and acknowledged.  Contemplating how that best could happen for me, and then allowing for it to be similar or different for others.

” …ask permission, and indicate the hand placement. I also generally refrain from doing manual adjustments to students with whom I’m not familiar. It’s never perfect, but better to try and fail, and learn.”

“In adjusting, first, try verbal adjustment; second, demonstration. Hands-on adjustment should always be the third and last option. Using that set of priorities also makes me a better teacher, and helps the students learn more independently.”

“I also appreciate it when teachers start the lesson or session by what I can expect and what we’ll do, and during this mention that if I feel uncomfortable at any time, or am not OK with it, and want to pause or take a break and process, just to let them know. Periodic check-ins whilst working on or with me is very much appreciated too. That tells me they’re serious and are listening, and I can relax a bit more and trust as well.”

“One of my friends and yoga students back in the day had the idea to have a little colored piece on the front of your yoga mat…. each student could flip it to green if they’re open to being touched or wanting “adjustment” and red if they’re not into it for whatever reason.”

 

This post is a response to a great blog from a trauma survivor who talks about how being touched in class can feel. You can read her thoughts here- http://www.yogabuzz.org/please-dont-touch-me/

 

If you have more suggestions, please comment!

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March 16, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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