I’m bringing a new tool to class this week. It’s taken me a little while to get around to this, because the original concept is American, and I realised there wasn’t an easy and cost-effective way to getting hold of them, so I ended up making my own. US folk can get them here: YogaFlipChip.com, and Yoga Journal has an article all about them here. Of all the gimmicks sold to yoga teachers and studios (Dharma Wheel anyone?!) this is one I believe can actually add something of consequence to everyone’s practice. And as a travelling teacher who carries everything for class in the back of her car, you know something has to be really worth it to find its way into that bag.
I’m talking about consent cards. Simple rectangles that you flip over from one side to the other to let the teacher know how you feel about receiving hands-on assistance in class. Now most people are absolutely fine with manual adjustments, and most people are also fine with letting me know if they don’t want my help. I’m not exactly a fearsome or autocratic teacher. I work hard to make sure that my students know it’s their practice, and I’m there to help, not dominate the experience. But those rare people for whom this might be an issue are among the most vulnerable people in any class – the trauma survivors and other non-neurotypical students, and using the cards sends a strong message about how welcome those people are in my sessions.
I’ve been contemplating this a lot, because I am one of those people. And what I know about us is this: we are complex and diverse in need; we gain and risk more from yoga than anyone else; and we usually know more about how to handle our needs than you can, but we will always need safe spaces in which to practice.
As a trauma survivor, my recovery is never over. I’m lucky. After 25 years of healing, most of the time I am well and strong, and my non-neurotypical responses are addressed by a regular practice of specific types of yoga. Putting it simply, my time on my mat brings the world into better focus for me – it eases most of my anxiety and sensory processing issues to a manageable level. It gives my life a daily dose of sweetness and joy, and it enables me to hold the safe space for others that so many have held for me. It validates and answers that brittle, skinny, brave young woman I was at age 20, when I decided that my revenge would be to live well and happily. But this past month, for complex and private reasons, I have not been as well as I’d like to be. And at those times, it is essential that I feel safe on my mat, because when I’m working there, I’m right on the edge of what’s comfortable for me.
I am re-patterning my body in real time; re-connecting with a somatic and sensory self that holds pain and fear as well as joy. I’m coming home, and some days the journey is longer than others.
For those of you that might worry about me right now, please try not to. This too shall pass, and what I’m dealing with is the predictable process of moving through some very necessary but difficult decisions. The things I’ve seen; the things I have had to do and become, I would shelter you from knowing more about. That I am as well as I am has been some sort of miracle for two decades now, and that hasn’t changed. But grief takes its own time, and memory has its own schedule to keep.
I’m writing this in an open forum precisely because I am so strong – to show that you have no idea what the people stepping on the mat next to you are dealing with. I’m writing this because a year ago I had my first and only ever truly awful experience in a body-work training, and while I thought on my feet and put coping strategies in place even as I realised that my trauma was being triggered, I didn’t feel the processes and activities we’d been taken through were safe – because it’s rare for me to be triggered, and it takes a lot to do it. Sadly, when I voiced that to the organisers afterwards, my experience was roundly dismissed. More telling than anything was their statement that they had never said the day was suitable for trauma survivors. Let me say this loud and clear:
If your general workshops, your classes, and your trainings are not safe for trauma survivors or accessible for non-neurotypical people, then they are not safe for anyone. There can be no argument about this.
You cannot know the history of the people coming to you, and you have no right to be told about conditions that are surrounded with such deep stigmas and taboos. You cannot expect people to out themselves to you and you are not equipped to hear some of the stories these people would have to tell.
On the other hand, what has happened to us may be monstrous, but it doesn’t make us monstrous, or broken and in need of rescuing. The wide field of modern yoga has many tools that can be of immense benefit to a wide diversity of non-neurotypical people. They can help us live well in an often hostile human world. But the frameworks in which they are offered need to be safe for that to happen.
In reality, mostly my students will use the new consent cards as a way to tease me by flipping them over when I need a partner to demonstrate with. I’m happy with that. Even in that playfulness, there is a subtext that says:
There is no invalid reason for not wanting to be touched.
In our joking, we test a newly strengthened boundary, and that is healthy for everyone.
More than anything, this is yet another way for me to signal that I will continue to do my best to make each session safe for every person that comes into the space. In that, the issue of consent to touch becomes so much more than a legal duty – it becomes a sacred practice that I must honour when stepping into the seat of the teacher. If you’d like to join me in that sacred duty, feel free to print up the designs below and use them.
If you’re really serious about making your teaching more trauma-informed, I recommend this article: 12 Simple Ways to Make Your Yoga Classes More Trauma Informed.