Back in February, 2011 Jason was interviewed for a New York Times article, "the delicate art of hands on adjustments", and both Jason and Frances were photographed at the Zenyasa Studio for the piece. Check it out!
THINGS can get awkward when a group of strangers strip down to their spandex in a steamy, sweaty room. This is especially true in yoga class, where getting into a camel pose, for instance — thrusting your hips forward while kneeling — can feel, well, a bit “porny,” as Claire Dederer put it in the prologue of her memoir, “Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses.”
The self-consciousness that Ms. Dederer felt performing said porny poses is one hurdle that can get in the way of achieving inner peace. Having a teacher stand behind you and place his or her hands on your lower back or tug at your hips can be enough to turn some people away from yoga altogether.
The delicate art of hands-on adjustments is essential for many forms of yoga and their teachers, but it isn’t always welcome. As a student, I appreciate a skilled instructor’s help in realizing “the full expression of the pose,” as the yogis put it, or in making sure that my torso is at the correct angle, or that my toes are turned out properly. The touch of a hand can bring awareness to hard-to-reach places, like the lower back, or stabilize a wobbly leg.
But even a gesture meant to soothe can be misconstrued. A touch might be well-intentioned, but the line easily blurs into the sexual, said Jason Ray Brown, a longtime teacher and owner of Zenyasa Yoga and Wellness Studio in Manhattan.
“I’ve seen male teachers rubbing young women’s feet during savasana,” he said. “Would you do that to a 50-year-old man?”
Ask experienced instructors if a student has ever growled at them for touching — even with good intentions — and chances are they have a story for you. In his early teaching days, Mr. Brown approached a reasonably fit woman in her late 40s who was in a seated pose, a simple cross-legged forward bend. As he stood behind her, he reached out to put his hands on the tops of her thighs to increase the external rotation of her hips. Instead of welcoming the gesture, she shot up from the pose and told him to get lost. The woman never returned to class, and he has since been more cautious about making adjustments.
“You can’t assume that because you’re the yoga teacher you have the right to touch people,” Mr. Brown said.
Inappropriate touch or aggressive adjustments have also spawned lawsuits. Michael O’Brien Keating, a Denver lawyer who has represented individuals in claims against yoga studios, took on a case in Colorado filed by a practitioner who alleged that an improper adjustment had led to an injury. The matter was resolved out of court, but Mr. Keating, who dabbles in yoga himself, sees a large gray area in manipulating and adjusting students.
“The difficulty is that you have people in class who aren’t very athletic,” he said, “or who are getting into compromised positions” and may feel uncomfortable speaking up if an adjustment doesn’t feel right.
Each style of yoga also approaches adjustments differently. For instance, Mysore is more aggressive, Mr. Brown said, citing videos of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the Ashtanga guru, pushing a man’s head to his knee in a forward bend.
It’s impossible for a teacher — even when working with experienced and familiar students — to know a person’s complete medical history or his or her emotional state on a particular day. However, “there’s a lot of information you can gather to gauge whether someone is open to suggestions,” said Joe Miller, who has taught at OM Yoga Center in Manhattan since 2000 and has a master’s degree in applied physiology. Mr. Miller will sometimes ask for verbal permission before reaching out — saying something like, “I’m going to move this shoulder back, is that O.K.?”
Alison West, who founded Yoga Union Center for Backcare and Scoliosis in Manhattan with Deborah Wolk, says some boundaries are clear. “It’s off-limits to approach the genitals and breasts,” she said. Ms. West said she operated with two words in mind: “chaste” and “kind.”
“I have heard of teachers who are not beyond reproach,” she said. “The bottom line is that the teacher is responsible for what happens in the classroom.”
-- Emily S. Rueb (NY Times)