Touch Me or Touch Me Not?

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Brandy Reinke. Brandy is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. She can be contacted at brandy.reinke@gmail.com.

I love when I lay my fingers just under the arc of my ribs on my inhale my fingers expand so far apart. That’s what I watch in the mirrors at my current yoga studio. It is what I feel. It is hypnotic: my ribs expanding, collapsing, expanding, collapsing-wider with my breath, wider with my life.

In the mirror, I see this sweet-faced girl walk up to stand behind me. She’s helping the instructor in my evening class. I see before I feel the sweet-faced girl’s hands start to slide over my ribs while I am in a standing twist. I feel both her hands rub back and forth and back and forth from the top of my right ribs, over my diaphragm, to my bottom left ribs. I am disarmed. Up and down, hand over hand. Immediately, all I can think is: who was the last person to touch my ribs with any focused intensity? An odd thought.  She says “is this okay?” and I nod just as she hooks her fingers just under my right ribs and pulls back, gently, gently, to open my side more deeply into the twist.

At least I would guess that is what she would say she is doing, trying to get me deeper into my posture. But she is also dominating me. She has just taken my pose from me and made it something she is shaping, into her practice. Always with the best of intentions I’m sure, but my yoga practice just bounced out of my body and into hers.

I experience her hands on me with the viewpoint of a student and a teacher. She has helped me answer my own question if I as a teacher should touch my students or not. My answer is not ‘no’ even though I learned in my teacher training to be very wary of touch.  No touch is always a fair response. Touch is the most magnificent of the senses and the most dangerous. As teachers, as students, we must take care.

But what I find is that this isn’t actually a yes or no question.  Because in this circumstance when as a teacher we want to put our hands on someone, we are both teachers and students.  The question really is a compromise where we must take care to equally include our will with our student’s.

My sweet-faced teacher may know about the proper technique/form over what my body is showing. In putting her hands on me, I understand she is trying to get me the full benefit of the posture. But I am also the teacher in my body for her, showing her what I am and am not able to tolerate and she must understand that. Her job is to guide me, but my job is to accept her guidance.

I believe the question shouldn’t be ‘is this okay?’ I believe we should teach and be taught.  The question should be ‘can you go farther?’ If my sweet-faced teacher had asked me that, perhaps of my own volition I would’ve broken through my own barriers and moved my ribs back on my own. Perhaps she said ‘can I show you?’ and then placed her hands on me, which would truly be the essence of teaching: to show me how to get there myself.

Both options seem better than a passive yes or no, where I am tacitly asked to usurp my practice to what she thinks my practice should be, and where she then is forced to bear the responsibility of my practice herself.  As teachers and students we need to compromise with touch to enhance the experience so we both grow from it equally.

Brandy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

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