I was in a hot room with 49 other people to take a yin-ish yoga class. Uncomfortable with the number of people in close proximity, my anxiety spiked so I placed my mat near the exit ensuring that only one person was beside me and at my feet. I felt some relief. As the class went on, the instructor cued reclined hand to big toe pose and advised the class to "go ahead and take up space on your neighbour's mat. If you touch them just give them a wink and a 'thank you'."
My heart jumped in my throat.
Under NO circumstances should you venture onto someone else's yoga mat without their consent and under absolutely NO circumstances does an instructor have the authority to give that consent to strangers. Sure enough, the 1 person next to me felt empowered by this and rested her foot directly on my crotch.
Let that visual sink in for a moment.
I slipped my hand between her foot and my crotch a la Al Bundy and flicked her foot away. You'd think that would be enough of a hint that no, I don't care what the instructor said, you
may not touch me. But no. The foot went back on my crotch until the cue for the next pose.
If the crotch belonged to someone who experienced sexual trauma, this would be a triggering nightmare. As an introvert with anxiety and claustrophobia, this was mortifying and could have easily been prevented if the instructor did not ignore basic consent. Unfortunately, this was not the first time something like this happened to me in a class like that.
As instructors/teachers, we are not always privy to people's comfort levels, their mental state, or their past experiences. We are to empower people in ways that give them confidence to enforce their boundaries. By taking away consent and autonomy, whether that's "taking up space" on someone else's mat or unwanted hands-on adjustments, we are doing incredible harm and creating an unsafe space.
My students' comfort is a priority which means creating a safer space. You are allowed to take up space in your yoga practice as long as it doesn't encroach on or take away someone else's space. Thankfully, our society is having more talks around consent and understanding its importance. Let's ensure that yoga and other wellness areas be part of that discussion, too.