I have conversations every now and then about teaching classes that leave me reflecting about how I lead my classes. Recently I’ve noted that I’ve built in a couple of philosophies that I didn’t consciously realize I had. And since it turns out not everyone agrees, I’m interested in hearing what people think.
The first piece is one that I think is present in movement classes in a way that it’s not in, say, a meditation class. I feel most people have some type of discomfort about their bodies—varying degrees and sorts but still discomfort. And it always seems to me that a lot of people feel a bit self-conscious about coming into a movement class and having other people not only seeing their bodies but moving their bodies around in unfamiliar ways and wondering if they’re “doing it right” or looking dumb. Those who take lots of exercise or yoga classes reach some place where they’re used to it but still I often feel that I’m holding something delicate in my hands and that, even though nothing is said, I can see an anxiety to be seen kindly, to not be pointed out or made to feel foolish.
So I try very hard to correct via instructions to the group rather than aiming corrections to a particular person, to make little adjustments to a majority if I move around the class rather than correcting one and always to be encouraging to the whole group about how pleased I am that they’re doing well and keeping the movements within their comfort ranges. I don’t know if it helps, but I feel like people breathe a little easier by the time they’ve had a couple of classes because I work hard at letting everyone move without feeling I’m going to direct the entire attention of the class at them or belittle their efforts. Most of my teaching friends work on a similar basis but I have run into some who feel that correcting and challenging is part of the job and call out to people by name or single one person out to adjust.
The other piece is about making hands-on corrections. Until a recent conversation left me perplexed about it I hadn’t looked at ethical standards about it since yoga teacher training in 1988. I’ve always had a policy to tell my group on the first day of class that I sometimes make hands-on corrections but that if anyone doesn’t want to be touched they can just tell me as I go around that they don’t want me to. There are also a couple of corrections I learned from my teacher that I consider to be potentially sensitive so I tell them the first time I do those what I’m about to do and that if anyone is uncomfortable I’ll skip that person. For me, if I’ve asked a student whether she wants to be touched and she’s said no that’s the end no matter how deeply I feel that she could really use the correction. Sometimes I can tell that a student is not that happy about being touched even if they haven’t said “no” and I generally try to keep it to a minimum after that.
After another (non-movement) teaching friend recently seemed surprised that touching isn’t just assumed to be part of the deal in yoga I look around at some ethics codes to see if I just remembered wrong in thinking you’re not just supposed to go around putting your hands on people. I found that the advice is variable but seems to always include that at the least you should inform your class that you sometimes touch and give people the chance to opt out. Some feel you should even have them sign a waiver form. Some teachers avoid touch altogether rather than face any legal questions about inappropriate touch.
I know a lot of my regular blog readers practice yoga or some other exercise and some of you are even teachers so I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on these teaching questions and how you prefer to be treated.