Om my yoga: The importance of body autonomy on the mat

The practice of yoga is designed to give people both serenity and strength. Since the #MeToo Movement a few years ago, the yoga community has experienced its own wave of stories coming from students who were taken advantage of in their practice. Seeking to heal some of the hurt, Jason Morris, owner of Om Hot Yoga, held a workshop focused on giving body autonomy back to the yogis he instructs.

“It’s all about the imbalance of power dynamics — who’s in control of whose body,” Morris says.

To encourage the right of choice, he has implemented adjustment cards to ensure each person feels comfortable, safe and strong on their mat. “NO” is written on one side of the card, and “YES” is on the other. Each student receives a card on the way into class and is instructed to leave whatever face up they might choose that day.

Being physically aided in a posture used to be common in the yoga world. Morris says that although the teacher may be completely appropriate and adjust students poses to correct their form and ensure safety in the practice, often the harm is not the touch in the room but the touch outside the room that has caused lingering trauma.

Morris says he tends to avoid physically adjusting students even when the card reads “YES.” If he does touch them, he will offer a hand, palm up, and ask the student to come to him, guiding limbs into the correct posture. Being a student in a yoga class is a vulnerable position. The adjustment card gives power to the student to explicitly declare whether or not they want hands-on help from the teacher.

“Sometimes people will negate their trauma to not put a spotlight on themselves — to be part of the pack and not be singled out,” Morris says. “Now people are willing to speak out, and it’s been a huge shift in teaching. I’m glad the conversation is happening, and the yoga community can continue to heal.”

All the proceeds from this workshop at Om Hot Yoga went directly to the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton.

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