How The #MeToo Movement is Changing My Yoga Teaching
By Kiki Lovelace
Like most every woman I know, I have my own #metoo stories. It’s been both a heartbreak and a relief to see so many of these stories be aired out on my social media feed.
And as a mother to two young girls, I can’t help but consider the world my daughters have entered into, and ask myself how might I best prepare them (and protect them, as much as is in my power to do so) from the spirit-crushing effects of mysogyny, sexual assault and cissexism/cisnormativity.
At the same time, I’m looking at my own actions as a leader and a yoga teacher who uses touch as a basic form of communication — informed by my own privilege as awhite, cisgendered woman — and asking myself “what can I do to clean up my actions, and uplevel my ability to support my students?”
My firstborn daughter, Adeline, is almost 5 now, and for several years now, my husband and I have committed ourselves to teaching her about consent in terms of both her body, and ours. She knows that she gets to make the rules of her own body, and that when she says “Stop”, we will stop no matter what (even when we REALLY just want to wash her face and get her bath over with).
She is learning that I have a different sense of comfort around certain kinds of touch than her dad does, and that she needs to respect it when I say “stop touching me that way”. She knows that we’d never require her to give a hug or a kiss to anyone she doesn’t want to, and that she gets to make the rules of how she is touched and by whom.
As I read over this list, I realize how much times have changed. My own mother was sexually abused for many years during her childhood, and I know she wanted all of these things for me as a young girl, though she didn’t have much of the language that I do now.
But I do remember so clearly the day I told her that a family member (whom I didn’t realize at the time was her abuser) was tickling me to the point that I couldn’t breathe.
She marched right up to him and got her mama lion claws out, telling him if he ever touched me like that again, she’d put him in jail.
I remember feeling so relieved to have someone to stick up for me and protect me.
Like many white folks out there, my world view is shifting rapidly as the veil continues to be lifted to reveal the truth of the racism, misogyny, sexual assault and cissexism/cisnormativiy that is so rampant in our culture. I’m humbled in theunderstanding that my experience of privilege is NOT at all the experience of my friends and colleagues and students who are people of color and/or transgendered or differently abled.
I know now that it is MY TURN to stand up for folks who don’t have theprivileges I do, and do my part to help boost their voices and fight for their basic human rights.
As this knowledge has deepened, I’ve realized one of the things I can do as a yoga teacher is ask my students for consent before I touch them. I’ve always thought that somehow because I have experienced the healing power of touch, that I would know “better” than they would if touch would be helpful to them. I see now that this worldview comes from the legacy of white supremacy and colonialism that I inherited as a white person, and it feels imperative that I find a new way.
For those of you who have been to the studio recently, you know that several months ago we implemented a new communication tool: “consent chips”. We ask that each student take one before class starts, and flip the bamboo chip to reflect their wishes for hands on assists or no hands on assists for that class (or that pose).
Ever since we got the consent chips, I’ve felt a great clarity and comfort in knowing that I can respect the needs of each person in such a simple yet profound way. Thechoice to be touched or not touched, and to communicate what kind of touch is healing or harmful is absolutely vital.
My prayer is that the choices we’re making at Innerstellar to make our studio more accessible and respectful ripple out to all who come to practice here, to their loved ones and acquaintances and to my daughters and their peers and many generations to come.
May We All Walk in Beauty,