Touch is a sensation. It is in fact the first of our senses to develop. It is a conduit of feedback to the brain where it is processed, assessed and sends back a response. Touch is crucial to human development and survival.
There are studies showing that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. Basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress. It activates the body's vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassionate response. A simple touch can trigger release of oxytocin, aka “the love hormone.” Haptic Communication is the study of touch. You should look into it, it's important.
What happens if we don't have touch? "Skin or Touch Hunger" as some psychologists call it. Failing to observe your need for human touch can have profound emotional, even physical, consequences. Depression, low mood, anxiety and being withdrawn can be signs of skin hunger. In addition, those who are touch deprived may be more likely to have alexithymia, which is a condition that inhibits people from expressing and interpreting their emotions.
Makes one think a bit more deeply why some of their Yoga students really love hands on assists. Did you know that for some, those hands on assists might be the only form of touch they receive during their day at that particular time in their lives for whatever reason?
Did you know that most people don't even know the importance of touch and for that can't comprehend certain emotions or lack of they might be experiencing?
There seems to be a bit of fear mongering going on the the Yoga world regarding touch. Indeed there are those that have taken what is essentially a healing part of humanity and have used it inappropriately causing harm, trauma and fear. Indeed with the important rise of Trauma Informed Practices, we are taking steps to create and hold safe space for our students. This should not mean though that we throw the baby out with the bath water.
Touch can be a very important part of the physical asana practice. It can tremendously help one connect to sensation and prompt embodiment, especially if someone has experienced trauma. Touch more often than not is not the first course of action on the path of trauma healing. It may come well down the line, but it has been proven to be effective in helping someone get past certain blocks such as disembodiment and disassociation. Touch can help strengthen proprioception and interoception.
As a Yoga teacher and Thai Massage bodyworker I touch alot. I do a lot of diaphragmatic work helping people to breath better which believe it or not, Yogis are often some of the worst breathers, getting caught in habitual belly breathing. Recently I placed my hands on an elderly gentleman's ribcage during a bodywork session and asked him to breath deeply into his ribcage and expand against my hands. The result, tears. He was overwhelmed that no one had ever guided him that way and he had never "thought" about breathing let alone actually feeling it until that very moment. Some more poking and prodding and some homework, Pranayama exercises, and he's moving his entire body mindfully and with much more ease. In 72 years he'd never thought about breathing and without "touch" he might not have. Mind blown and compassion ignited. I have experienced similar experiences during Yoga classes.
What I've referred to above is more intentionally therapeutic touch when dealing with bodywork or trauma. While this training is not rooted in therapeutic touch, I strive to highlight the importance of touch and the power and potential it holds when used with good intent, compassion and intelligence.
I've had some really bad "assists" by some really "experienced senior" teachers that left me wondering wtf was that? Both the light unsure, insecure, creepy touch and the heavy handed, close to tearing my hamstrings brute approach have been both experienced. The problem there? "I" wasn't being assisted. There was nothing taken into account regarding my constitution or state of mind on that given day and time.
We have a huge responsibility when we take on the role of Yoga Teacher to learn to "see" our students as individual energies rather than a mass in our shalas. To develop the skills to responsibly read our students and gain insight before mindfully placing our hands on them for guidance, is something teachers seem to shy away from. Lack of confidence and knowledge on how to asses and assist are main reasons.
This takes time to cultivate and embody. I recently had a Yoga teacher tell me they felt that, "25hrs was too much time for the relevant content." It felt like we were discussing a transaction and it made me wonder, if learning how to make your students feel safe, secure, seen and supported in your classes isn't worthy of 25hrs of your time, what is? I asked them what prior training in assists they'd done and the answer was the standard, "In my 200hr YTT." I asked if they'd felt if was enough, "Yeah, it's not really important, I don't do assists, my students don't like them," I ended the conversation with a sinking feeling this "teacher" more than likely didn't know their students names let alone what they "wanted," and it was more than likely a case of they didn't like doing them because they didn't feel confident doing them. There's a lot of fundamental "stuff" in that revelation. As Yoga teachers we need to do better, it comes with the responsibility of guiding the essence of Yoga, "in"sight.
Class numbers can range from a handful of students to a larger scale. Each student has a different constitution, or TriDosha, a different skeletal and muscular composition and a different mental and emotional state. Each will require a different approach. No two students should receive the same assist as no two students are the same. Some may want an assist today but not tomorrow. Tomorrows assists will more than likely be different to todays. To be able to able to read, ebb and flow with your students energies is crucial to beneficial assists.
It takes time to cultivate this knowledge and you will not leave this training "assisting masters", but, you will leave this training understanding not only the heart of assists but also the heart of Yoga and how to move forward in your teaching and further developing your skills at reading, connecting and assisting your students.
Fusing elements of somatic touch, cognitive neuroscience, body language analysis, mind body assessment and traditional asana, this is a unique piece of training that will add great value to your yoga teaching toolbox.
Some of what we'll explore. Theory, gaining an understanding in Western and Eastern approach. Practical, heavy hands on practice gaining insight into the body mind connection. We'll explore some assists from a Thai Massage approach as well as the use of props. The different types of assists such as visual, verbal, hands on and cultivate the confidence and knowledge of which and when to apply. Tone, language and unspoken communication and much more.
This training will challenge how you think and what you know. It will cultivate the curiosity to learn more, which as teachers should never cease. Come with a sense of humour, an open mind, the will to be challenged and the heart to touch.
Thought provoking, fun, emotional, challenging, eye opening, rewarding are some of the words used to describe past trainings. What will you take away???