consent chips from Movement for Healing

Getting back in touch

The COVID pandemic has changed the teaching of yoga and movement in profound ways. Perhaps the most obvious was the move into online spaces, and thus away from all the advantages and risks of close physical proximity.

Interestingly, this just happened to hit in the middle of a live debate among the yoga teaching community about adjustments, alignments and consent to touch. As yoga communities were, finally, starting to think systemically about abuse issues, they were also starting to reassess the pedagogical tools they inherited.

It’s important to remember that the process of adjustment, like alignment, and most of the teaching tools of yoga teachers today, is entirely a modern phenomenon, born out of necessity when group classes became common. In general, the very idea of instructional touch of a student developed in that early Mysore era, and it developed from just a few contexts.

Perhaps most importantly, was the influence of the schooling systems of the day, where both postural and corporal punishment were common. We can see this when we watch videos of BKS Iyengar slapping the legs of students that aren’t straight enough.

Some influences on adjustment would have been medical, and some spiritual, but yoga practitioners are fond over stating the nature of adjustment as therapeutic or as shaktipat. The real issue is that all these reasons and influences combine in modern yoga, until student agency and consent becomes compromised.

Is the teacher’s touch going to heal you? Is it teaching you discipline? Is it a transfer of divine energy?

Students are rarely told why they are being adjusted. And at worst, those adjustments have become a cover story for abusive touch. Indeed, in these, often high profile cases, it is logical to speculate that adjustment developed as a tool for grooming students to accept abuse.

To put it starkly, Iyengar and Krishnamacarya pulled, pushed and hit students because that’s what you do to make bad little boys be good. Jois adjusted students so that he could get away with assaulting women.

This isn’t to say that every yoga adjustment is abusive, by any means, but the story of touch in yoga is a complicated one, and prior to the start of the pandemic, a number of yoga communities were starting to consider that history, and develop new teaching tools in response.

One of the most visible is ‘consent chips’ or ‘consent tokens’ that started to appear just a few years before the pandemic began. I’ve checked, and I made my first ones in 2016, but I think it was a couple of years later that they started to become commercially available in the UK. They are only a tool, a symbol, and an opening to a conversation between teacher and student, but they are in most cases a sign of willingness to at least have that conversation.

Now, as we move cautiously back towards in person classes, or rush open armed into retreats, festivals and workshops again, the ways in which we come together, and the ways in which we touch, matter more deeply than ever.

  • How does touch work in a hybrid class, where some students benefit from adjustment and some cannot?
  • How do teachers who trained largely online learn to teach in person as a regular event?
  • How do we make space within the intimacy of an in person class for those with long COVID, those who are clinically vulnerable, and anyone who isn’t sure about breathing the same air as a crowd of strangers again?

A few weeks ago I held a conversation for Yoga Reading on this very topic. In September, I’ll be co-facilitating a short course at Nourish on the same theme. (Sign up while there are still places!)

It’s a live issue, and a conversation I think many yoga teachers are having.

I’m wondering how we might use this moment in time, together with insights from movement researchers, and the sharing of personal and professional experiences, to think in new ways about how we can navigate consent, make more inclusive spaces, and relate to each other.

What might it mean for each of us to get back in touch?


Here’s a few posts on consent from the archives over the years. It’s been a thread throughout my work for all that time.

2016:

Trauma sensitive

2018:

More chips please

2020:

What would it take to walk out?

Contact

2021:

Meeting up 

A fine line 

Scroll to Top