This weekend in yoga teacher training, we talked a lot about assists. There are different ways to assist: demonstration, words, and touch. Out of all three, touch is probably the most challenging to gauge as a yoga instructor. Some people love it and others do not. 

As someone with Complex PTSD from years of childhood sexual abuse, here’s my input on physical assists:

  1. I don’t always like them, but I don’t always dislike them either. Touch is technically my love language, and I often feel supported when an instructor that I know and have a positive relationship with provides physical assists
  2. I feel more comfortable when instructors ask the entire class to signal if  they do not want any physical assists. This can be done by giving a small wave, placing a hand on your heart, etc. 
  3. I like to know when an instructor is going to be providing physical assists in savasana
  4. I like to be asked before I am touched, particularly if I’m in a pose where I cannot see the instructor coming… or even to hear the instructor take a deep breath in… just something so that I know that they are there and the touch is coming 
  5. I may jerk away initially. That’s just my instinct. It doesn’t mean you should stop, it means you should observe what happens next: if I continue to look uncomfortable, stop; if I relax into it, I’m ok. 

One of the things mentioned in training was another trainee couldn’t understand why someone would let them touch them if it made them uncomfortable. For so many years, it really didn’t feel like a choice. And now, I still have a very hard time even telling my husband no, let alone a complete stranger. I think this is pretty typical for people who have been through what I’ve been through. 

If you’re a yoga teacher or yoga teacher trainee, please be mindful of your students who have ptsd. And the reality is, you may not have any idea that your students have a history of trauma. It is up to you to ask about their comfort with being physically assisted. It is up to you to observe their reactions and body language. It is up to you to treat them with care and respect.