Teaching Hatha Yoga – Could a Physical Assist be a Sexual Assault?

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Teaching Hatha Yoga – Could a Physical Assist be a Sexual Assault?

yin yoga certification courseBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

In 2009, an Aspen, Colorado Yoga teacher was arrested in relation to one felony account for alleged sexual assaults during 2008, in his Yoga classes. He may face ten years in prison, if he is convicted. Worse yet, past allegations from 2007, 2006, and 2005, have surfaced.

Now, the courts will settle a case, which gives Yoga an “eye sore.” Let’s look at realistic solutions to prevent alleged ethics violations. The last thing any Yoga teacher needs is a court date for an alleged sexual assault. At the same time, when unethical behavior occurs, the law will intervene.

The teacher, in the above-mentioned case, has stated that he has never had a complaint during the course of teaching Yoga over the past 15 years. You may be asking, “Which teacher has not made a physical adjustment in a Yoga class?” It is true that Yoga instructors, massage therapists, chiropractors, and others make physical adjustments; so what are we supposed to do?

Ask permission each time you make an assist, even if you have assisted the same student before. This may seem to be a waste of time, but make formality and professionalism a habit. Be mindful of your student’s space and do not take invasion of personal space for granted.

Tell your student what you plan to do, as you ask for permission to make a physical adjustment. It goes without saying that you should keep your hands off private spaces and keep your private spaces off your students. Now you may ask: “How can I make a physical adjustment in Half Moon Pose – (Ardha Chandrasana), without getting real close?”

Based upon the hearings and court decisions of Pitkin County District Court in Colorado, we may all have to be a bit more creative. You can adjust legs, arms, shoulders, and you can use a Yoga strap. If that sounds ridiculous, consider paying $7,500 in bond, a visit to court, your studio closed, and your reputation destroyed, whether you are guilty or not.

If you assist, or adjust, students, make it known in your literature, on your website, and on your waiver forms. If a new student arrives, make sure she or he knows that you make physical assists and they have a right to refuse adjustments. If you teach private lessons, be very careful about “space issues.”

We could all work on improving our cueing skills. Sometimes, making a physical adjustment seems easier than explaining each nuance of a technique. Therefore, each of us has to work a bit more on the power of effective verbal communication.

Lastly, make sure your relationships with every student are completely professional. Leave no room for misinterpretation in regard to your reason for making a physical adjustment.

© Copyright 2009 – Paul Jerard / Aura Publications

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