The Conversation About Consent and Touch in Yoga

Last week The New York Times published a story by Katherine Rosman about the epidemic of inappropriate touching taking place in yoga spaces. Rosman’s story was a follow-up to a #MeToo-related effort Rachel Brathen (aka Yoga Girl) launched more than two years ago.

In October 2017, she asked her followers in an Instagram post to email her their stories of experiencing sexual harassment in the yoga world. The stories that poured in (and there were more than 300) ranged from out-of-line adjustments and being propositioned for sex to being aggressively or violently assaulted. Brathen shared (with consent) 31 experiences on her website, yogagirl.com, editing out only the names of the victims and perpetrators. Should you touch a student during class?

 

Common threads began to emerge. Multiple women were attributing their assaults to the same men, uncovering deeply-rooted power dynamics between gurus, teachers, and their students. People shared stories of how the environment created by yoga teachers and gurus discourages scrutiny from students, since those running the classes are expected to be trusted experts. Teacher Jonny Kest is quoted in Rosman’s article as saying, “no one’s objecting, no one’s complaining” to intimate adjustments that he and other teachers make. But people are speaking out and the conversation may finally be leading to change—From Sharath Jois, the grandson of Patthabi Jois and the lineage holder of the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, acknowledging the pain and suffering caused by his grandfather’s “improper adjustments” to Life Time athletic (which developed its yoga teacher training program with Kest) and now requires teachers to use consent cards — cards with icons indicating whether the practitioner is open to receiving adjustments or not and are placed at the top of the mat for the teacher to see.

Of course, there has always been different approaches to adjustments in the community. Some styles of yoga have traditionally been more hands-on, with manual adjustments, while other styles, like Kundalini, discourage any physical interaction with students during class.