Touch is Vital – So Why is it Difficult?

Studies overwhelmingly show that touch is good for us, and is important. In comparisons of prematurely born babies in ICU, cared for with equal diligence, those who received more skin to skin contact fared better than those who did not. There are certainly many other examples as well. Of course, touch isn’t always good, as intent makes a difference and some touch is nicer than other. But, even within the categories of neutral or positive touch, we respond differently based on our own personal backgrounds and experiences.

As someone who grew up in a cultural setting (southern Indiana) and family setting where touch was not extremely frequent – with some exceptions, my grandmother was always hugging, kissing, and patting – and who has a background including some very negative touch experiences, I find touch to be a challenge. I’m fine with children and will happily hug or pat any child willing to be so treated. I’m fine with animals; in fact I probably drive them nuts. It’s other adults that prove to be an issue. Even with my own adult family members, including children, I have to mentally “exhale” in order to get myself relaxed during a hug or a kiss. And, I certainly want my family members to hug or kiss me, but the actual event produces some physical manifestations of stress that I have to get around.

If you are wondering why I’m talking about this here, it is because of the relationship of touch to yoga. While not all styles of yoga have physical adjustments as part of the student-teacher relationship, vinyasa yoga does. So, both as a student and as a teacher-in-training, I’ve been working on issues of touch. When I first began yoga classes in studio, I actively selected instructors who either did not touch at all or who I felt very comfortable with and therefore thought I could manage the touch. Later, as I got accustomed to being adjusted in poses, I was able to branch out a little, but I still have to do that mental exhalation each time. Now, I’m finding in teacher training that adjusting others is going to be a challenge for me. When I move in to do a physical adjustment, I immediately have a sense that I have violated both my space and the space of the person I am adjusting. This creates tension in me, and I don’t actually think I should be touching yoga practitioners when I’m tense, because that feeling may transfer to them and work against the goal of the practice.

I suspect that this will change over time, because I do believe that physical adjustment in yoga (specifically) and touch (generally) are valuable in many ways. It’s just another area where I’ll need to “adjust” my attitude.

If you have experiences being challenged by yoga adjustments – as a teacher or as a student – I would love to hear about them and about how you work with the issue.



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7 Responses to Touch is Vital – So Why is it Difficult?

  1. Tamara says:

    Wow, this is something that I did not know – I feel strange not having known. Did I know this before and just forget it? Isn’t that sad that I have to ask others to remember for me – but you knew that, didn’t you?! 😉 XOXOXOXO (safe hugs and kisses) Really though, an interesting perspective in your training. Thanks for sharing.


    • theveganasana says:

      I feel like you did know, but, on the other hand, how often have we been in a situation where you had to see me deal with social touch? After all, when I see you, I’m usually in Indiana and people have more personal space there. I don’t know if I remember ever getting the “social kiss” from a stranger in Indiana!

  2. amey says:

    what an interesting post. i study and teach in the iyengar style, and my teacher is constantly touching us. Funny enough though, I don’t adjust my students a whole lot. Maybe a couple of times during class, if I see something that needs to be addressed. But I never do “feel good” adjustments, if you know what I mean. I know there’s not as much time for conversation in a vinyasa setting, but one teacher named Judith Lasater *always* asks “Is it ok if I touch you?” before making an adjustment. It might be something for you to consider, because it would bring the issue out into the open for your student AND for you. That way, when they say yes, you will know that your contact is welcome and not invasive. Also, it would provide you with a way to honor your own need to feel safe and help others feel safe.

    • theveganasana says:

      That’s a great point. I think bringing it out verbally would probably do wonders for me, and in poses that are held, there should be enough time for that. Thanks for the suggestion and for reading!

  3. Maiga says:


    I HEAR you! I was terrified about adjusting initially in TT–for a lot of the same reasons. I’d be interested to hear how things evolve for you. I took a suggestion offered to us of putting folks in child’s pose early in class and asking then who was comfortable with adjustments and who wasn’t. I really liked that because it is important to respect bodies and space. Like you said, we all come to practie with a multitude of experiences. I then developed a new relationship with adjustments. For one, they’re another form of communication. Verbal only goes so far. I also don’t believe in adjustments that really push a person. I think students should set their own limits and work their own edge. My adjustments are intended to be informative, communicative. Sometimes that slight assist can completely change how you feel a pose and feel your practice.

    Like you said too, I feel really safe with some instructors. I think it’s important to feel safe in your own body as an instructor. Like you said, that’s communicated in any number of ways. Adjusting is kind of loaded… but I also think it can be so beautiful. Given that you’re allowing this so much thought and consideration I think your choices will offer a lot to your students!

    • theveganasana says:

      Thanks, Maiga! You do fabulous adjustments too. The last two Mondays in night class, Beth had us spin toward the center if we wanted an adjustment in savasana. She was surprised that almost everyone did. I told her that I was pretty sure it was your fault for the amazing savasana adjustments you do : )

      • Maiga says:

        HA! Well, I totally stole that from Beth (head in the center aisle if you want a savasana adjustment, head toward wall if not). I always have loved savasana adjustments and when we went to do adjustments in her class as part of TT I automatically went to do them. Some students were really surprised and it took them out of their savasana! I felt so bad! We dialogued about it after class and I learned that some folks pray during savasana, others meditate, or just use it in various ways. It is most obviously a really sacred space. So giving students the choice and having them be aware they will be touched definitely was a better way to go.

        I also feel conflicted about savasana adjustments. Obviously the goal is that everyone is meditated and connected. When I wait for a savasana adjustment, that’s what I’m doing, waiting. So in some sense it is maybe gratuitous. On the other hand, it does help me melt further and the touch can help me feel more connected and grounded. Ultimately I decided leaving the decision in each student’s hands resonated with me!

        I can’t wait to take your class!

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