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Consent & Communication in Yoga Class

Original Piece by Avani | 2016

There are multiple ways of obtaining permission.  If you’re concerned about consent and being a compassionate space holder, you may choose to employ more than one of the below options.  Which ones will work best for you in a studio setting?

1.) Silent Consent: Students place stickers or totems on the top corner of their mat

2.) Verbal Consent: Students are asked during a private pose in class or one-by-one privately as they enter the class whether or not they give permission for hands-on touch.

3.) Written Consent: Students sign waivers that cover a broad range of scenarios and a broad timeline.

Getting consent before any type of touch is vital for safety, clarity and liability for all.  Put yourself in the position of the student.  And remember also, you have no idea about their background or what they’re landing on the mat with. Communication, as they say, is key.

There is a big focus on healthy and non-violent communication, especially in the field of yoga, but do you know what that truly means? We’re certainly not counsellors or psychologists, yet we are in a leadership/mentorship role as yoga teachers.  Students may come to us with inquiries, assessments or statements that we are simply not qualified to comment on.  It is important to know how to communicate with impact in order to build trust and it is equally important to know when NOT to make statements.  We’ve taken a look at how to obtain permission, waivers and also the acknowledgement that many people are walking into class carrying varying degrees of mental, physical, spiritual or emotional trauma.  Here are some steps toward trust-building, clear and appropriate communication.

  • Introduce yourself. 

  • Develop an honest space free of judgment.

  • Be open to conversation.

  • Ask questions.

  • Listen intently.

  • Check-in regularly.

  • Honour the value of “no” and “I don’t know”

  • Don’t make assumptions.

  • Fine-tune your skills of body observation.

When students feel invited to ask questions, notice and listen intently, create a space free of judgement and when a student can see that you will say “no” when you mean “no” or refer them to a better resource if necessary; then you have all of the building blocks for a student-teacher relationship with a foundation built on trust.

Here are some great sample questions for your incoming students.  What else might you add to the list?

  • Have you ever practised yoga before?

  • What style of yoga do you typically practice?

  • What brought you to yoga?

  • What is your daily life like?

  • What do you do for physical activities?

Asking whether or not the student has any injury or illness that you should know about is a controversial practice.  However, if a student DOES mention that they have some sort of illness/injury/limitation, you may want to have some follow-up questions in your repertoire. 

  • Your shoulder bothers you..can you describe how so more specifically?

  • Do you know what the pain you’re experiencing is related to?

  • Have you had surgery?  How long ago?

  • Have you obtained a doctor’s permission to practice yoga?

  • Are you aware of how to modify for your own yoga practice?

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