Consent cards creating safe space in Canadian yoga studios
Staff members from Yogaspace (L-R) Emily Sitter, Zeena Dotiwalla and Lauren Messervey demonstrate how their consent cards are used in their yoga studio in Toronto on Thursday, June 28, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, July 2, 2018 10:47AM EDT
TORONTO -- It's one of the most intimate workout environments where issues of consent can arise as quickly as saying "om."
Yoga classes typically see teachers giving hands-on assists or adjustments to students on the fly, but not everyone wants such treatment and some Canadian studios are now using so-called consent cards to remedy the situation.
Studios distribute the cards, which are either made in-house or bought online, at the start of a yoga class with wording such as "yes" on one side and "no" on the other. Throughout the class, students can flip their card to whichever side they prefer so the teacher knows whether that person wants any physical assistance.
"In the case of any type of abuse or even sexual abuse that some people face in their life, it's an easy way for people to give consent to people touching them," says Diana Butron, manager of Yogaspace in Toronto, which implemented the cards in May.
"It can be something that people avoid going into a class for, maybe subconsciously or intentionally avoid it, just because maybe they're feeling triggered in that moment. So it gives them a way to go and feel safe in that space without feeling that people may or may not put their hands on them without asking."
Union Yoga and Wellness in Toronto says its consent cards, which it implemented last August, have lured in new clients who had previously stayed away for fear of being touched.
The concept has been empowering for both students and teachers, says owner Ruby Knafo.
"By having the consent cards it helps the teachers more easily identify who is open to touch and who isn't," Knafo says.
"So I think it's been a gift for the teachers. And the feedback from our students has only been positive."
Carolyne Taylor created consent cards to distribute at her Victoria Yoga Conference two years ago.
At the time, she hadn't seen them used in yoga and wanted to create awareness about consent, particularly for teachers. She now sells the cards at consentonthemat.com and says she donates the proceeds to the Yoga Outreach charity.
"I know when I did my yoga teacher training, doing assists and adjustments and that sort of thing was just part of what we did and there wasn't a question of consent or 'What if people want it or don't want it?"' says Taylor, the conference creator.
"I've been (to yoga) places recently where consent wasn't asked for and wasn't even brought up. I don't have any issues around adjustments and that sort of thing. I'm quite happy to have somebody massage my neck or push me farther into a stretch, and I welcome that.
"But there were some awkward moments even for me where it was like, 'Turn to the person next to you and give them a hug' or whatever, 'and if you're not comfortable with that, don't participate.' Well, that's not very easy.... If somebody wasn't OK with it, it wasn't even set up so they could exit gracefully from that situation."
Such is the key to consent cards: their users don't have to verbalize or raise a hand to express their wishes and single themselves out in a class.
"I think there are some people who saying no actually still feels difficult," says Knafo. "They feel like maybe it's offending the teacher or that it says something about themselves."
Yoga leaders point out that a "no" can be used for a variety of reasons, whether it be trauma, fatigue, illness or simply just not wanting to be touched. The cards are also helpful for yogis who move from studio to studio, don't know the instructors and may be shy in expressing their wishes to them.
Knafo notes that switching to the "yes" side doesn't guarantee that teachers will give them adjustments, either, as they might not have time.
"It's still not a perfect system," Knafo says. "We emphasize you can change your mind at any time. For example, I'm someone who mostly likes hands-on adjustments but when it comes to savasana at the end of class, I typically like to left alone."
Yoga leaders say it's important the cards have wording and/or colouring on each side that clearly communicates a "no" or a "yes" so teachers can easily see it while walking around the class.
They also recommend training staff about them, distributing information to give clients a heads up, and having teachers explain them at the start of every class.
Some studios encourage all clients to use the cards without making them mandatory, while others insist that everyone uses them so no one is singled out.
"We're really trying to make it an inclusive space and take the fear out of what some people can see as a barrier toward going to a practice or exercise or being in a gym or wellness environment," says Butron.