Consent is not something that immediately comes to mind when discussing hands on teaching in Pilates. However, it is important and needs to be discussed.
As a teacher there are many things I do without thinking. I have recently realized one of these things is touching my clients to manually adjust and assist them.
I don’t often adjust my clients which may be why I missed all the other touches I do. I tend to use my hands to indicate where a muscle may be working, or the direction a muscle should be going, or just a gentle tap if I think they are losing control over an exercise.
I do it without thinking and that is a problem.
When hands on teaching is discussed, the emphasis is on whether a teacher is comfortable being hands on and not on whether a student wants to be manually adjusted.
Sometimes, teachers will ask permission at the beginning of class or before they touch someone but even then there is a power dynamic at play and some students may not feel able to say no.
I have experienced this, even as a teacher in another Pilates teachers’ class, I was having trouble recruiting my abdominal muscles. The teacher noticed and knelt beside me, she had her hands hovering over my stomach before asking ‘Can I put my hands on you?’
I did not feel like I could say no because she was already prepared to touch me. We spent several excruciating minutes with her hands below my belly button trying to get me to engage. I managed it twice before she left.
Manual adjustment is usually for the benefit of the client, but how beneficial can it truly be if it makes someone uncomfortable? I certainly did not find it beneficial.
Joseph Pilates was influenced by the image of Classical Greek and Roman athletes and the Roman ‘ideal’ of “a healthy mind in a healthy body” – mens sana in corpore sano (it doesn’t actually mean that but that is beside the point). The body and mind must both be healthy to fully achieve a healthy lifestyle. In some instances, manual adjustment may be good for the body but not for the mind.
A client must feel comfortable saying no to manual adjustment or assistance. This is why I have created permission cards which I will be using in all of my classes in 2020.
These are small cards that say yes or not to manual adjustment or assistance. They will be available throughout the class and can easily be slipped under the edge of a mat so I can see them as I walk around the class.
I do not particularly like to be touched and I am ashamed that it has taken me this long to bring this consideration into my own teaching.