It took me years to get used to the idea that someone would come around and “adjust” my while I was trying to perfect my down dog or my half moon.
It didn’t hurt that some instructors were absolutely refined young women with a touch as gentle as a breeze. I’m just the kind of guy that doesn’t like it that much.
I’ve gotten over it.
In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I still don’t like it, but I appreciate it. That guiding hand helps me refine my pose and understand the fine muscles that normally get ignored in daily life.
Along the way I’d heard stories about teachers from the old country (India) where such adjustments weren’t so gentle. When a teacher wanted you to pay attention to between your lower shoulder blades, you could get a very sharp poke from a finger.
Or if your leg was turning out in tree pose, a healthy slap from the teacher reminds you to level the hips and push through the heel with your outer thigh while bringing the inner upper thigh up and in.
In a recent interview, I heard about one of the great Masters (BKS Iyengar himself) who kicked his disciple in the back while she was in headstand. She remained poised and steady, and he congratulated her on finally “getting it.”
Why? Why this brutality? Why do some of these experts cause pain, while the nice teachers are gentle?
In the light of #MeToo, and with a little bit of psychology, there are other reasons it makes sense to guide students with an iron hand.
First off, it makes an impression – sometimes literally. There is no ambiguity as to where the teacher is drawing your attention. If it gets you off balance, that tells you that you’re not grounded enough either. Even in a handstand you should be able to hold your position, even if guruji kicks you. And you remember better.
Secondly, in the light of the so many complaints emerging from women who have been “man-handled” through the years, it removes another kind of ambiguity.
A light touch is often associated with attraction, arousal, and ultimately seduction. If the situation involves a male teacher and a female student, the opportunity for drawing the wrong conclusion is high.
On the other hand, even if the most handsome teacher in the world slaps you on the back, or pokes you with a sharp finger right in your thigh, there’s less chance you’ll think it’s some kind of foreplay.
So, if you’re caressing your students, think about the impression you’re leaving on them.
And if you’re on the receiving end of a sharp comment, appreciate it for what it means. The teacher wants you to remember and get better. No extra strings attached.