Last weekend, the Yoga Journal held one of their yoga conferences in Colorado; a scenic and pleasant 45 minutes drive from my home --pleasant, provided one is not driving in a mountain white-out as I did one evening after a nice long day of yoga and meditation. Care for a little white-knuckled, stress reducing deep breathing?
So, there I was in my first hatha yoga class of the conference, doing a fairly good job of holding steady in tree pose. I was just about to go for it and raise my hands above my head when something, maybe, touched my hip. My first thought was that a damp fly had landed on me. Then, after a moment or two of heightened attention, I figured out that an assistant had slid in behind me and was ever so lightly attempting to get my hip to.... Do what?
For the life of me I could not tell what was being asked of me -- what the "invitation" was, to use current jargon. I made an educated guess and shifted that hip back. my vaporous friend moved on. Or did she? I wasn't sure. The assistant had so successfully moved into my "personal" space without my knowing it, maybe she was still right behind me. I was unnerved. My balance went. I lost my tree pose. She wasn't there. It was creepy.
This was not an isolated incident. Now let me stop right here and say the conference was wonderful. I took a variety of classes, I learned a lot and enjoyed all. I'm just getting to something here. Anyway, in other classes, taught by teachers from differing traditions with different assistants, again I experienced the oh-so-gentle-I-don't-know-what-to-do correction.
I imagined that somewhere along the line someone gave a workshop or teacher training where there was a big emphasis on how to gently move into a students space. Which is a nice idea, but now it had gone too far and run amok. I haven't had this kind of experience in a Pilates classes, yet (have you? comments below). Maybe I'm mentioning it because I know enough teachers who do both Pilates and yoga that I'm afraid we could get an infiltration at any moment.
What I have experienced in Pilates is the other side of the coin. The overly directed touch. For example, I've had teachers put their hands on either side of my hips and press inward as hard as they can. Poor things. It does no good. The correction I needed to make was, as always, from inside. In that case to pull up through my inner thighs, pelvic floor and on through my midline and no amount of pushing from the outside was going to teach me that. I usually see overdone corrections like that as acts of desperation on a teachers part.
I'm talking about exceptional cases here. Hands on cuing is an art form and I am happy to say that I have been blessed to experience many a teacher, in both Pilates and yoga, who was very skillful at it. I find that tactile cuing helps me find things in my body that would take a whole heap of explaining otherwise.
I did get some very helpful hands-on cues at the conference, many. Still, my experience with the "ever so light" corrections had me in a very receptive state when I went into the market area and found yoga flipchips. They are wooden discs that say "assist"on one side and not on the other. They look a little like coasters. You set them by your mat, or in our case maybe Pilates equipment, to let an instructor know whether you want an assist or not. I took the photo above and gushed for quite a while over what a great idea they were.
Actually, my chip would almost always be up. I usually appreciate hands on corrections, and I use them in my lessons as well (with permission). But not everyone does like them and that's O.K. Some people have had bad experiences and often people prefer not to be touched for other reasons. Sometimes we are in large classes and we don't know the teacher. Sometimes it's a gender issue. Sometimes we just want to be left alone. The list could get quite long.
At many yoga and Pilates studios hands on cues are a given unless you request not to be touched. Others will ask you when you sign up, or the teacher will give you an opportunity to tell him or her whether or not you want to be touched. In any case, it is entirely your right to make your wishes known whether you are asked or not.
How do you feel about hands on corrections? Please share your thoughts. If you are a teacher, do you use them? Why? Why not? If you are a student, how do you feel about being touched? When do you think it's appropriate? Or is it never appropriate for you? Feel free to comment below.