To touch or not to touch – where do we stand as teachers?

To touch or not to touch – where do we stand as teachers?

The re-opening of many Pilates studios around the world has delighted many Pilates teachers and clients alike. Now that we are all ready to rock and roll back into our studios, let’s talk about Tactile Cueing. So, with the social-distancing restrictions still around in many countries, how far would you push your tactile cueing? Would you use these cues in a Private session? A group session? Or both?

Do you feel using tactile cueing in a group Pilates session exposes your risk to Covid-19? Some countries still ban tactile cueing in a group format at this stage (contact sports) but others have loosened their restrictions to allow studios to operate as normal, perhaps only using the masks.

Of course, tactile cueing in a private session shouldn’t have the same concerns as you would in a group environment. Bearing in mind health services such as Physiotherapy and Osteopathy have continued to operate in some countries during the pandemic lockdowns, one could easily say that teaching private Pilates sessions shouldn’t be any different.

Whilst on this subject, never mind the pandemic. Let’s talk about consent for tactile cueing. Do you ask for permission to assist your clients? If so, at which point do you get their consent?

Some countries prohibit the use of touch unless you are a medical professional.  Other countries have a free for all policy.  Putting all the legal obligations aside, let’s talk about how and why you should offer tactile cueing during your sessions. How can you touch your client without making them feel uncomfortable?

First off, why do you use tactile cueing in your session? Simply put, to help them find better alignment and feel the movement in their own body.  This has been a long-standing practice in the dance industry. Again, in some countries it has been forced, in others, merely caressed for fear of legal repercussions.

Of course, I can only generalise as one needs to look at regulations in their own country before they go ahead and start touching clients during their sessions. Culture plays another huge role.   Some cultures are more reserved than others and touching can feel and look harassing, so a new teacher must thread very carefully.

Ok, so assuming that in your country you can legally use tactile cueing as part of your practice, without many repercussions, how do you go about it?

First things first – ASK FOR PERMISSION! Giving and receiving touch is a privilege and requires consent.

In our studios, we never let clients join a session without first going through an induction process with us, whereby we get to know them better, perform a static and dynamic postural analysis and get the opportunity to work with their body in a private setting.  When do we get their consent? Right before we start doing the postural analysis. It is extremely important to explain that tactile cueing would be beneficial for both the client and teacher for efficient execution of the exercises, so we would need their consent to do so.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to discuss tactile cueing in a private setting.

A word of warning!

When would you use tactile cueing?

  • When you find that your verbal or imagery cues haven’t worked
  • When you find the client at a risk of injury if not physically assisted
  • When you want to emphasise how the client’s posture should be in order to maximise their efficacy of the movement
  • To guide the client to simply correct their alignment, such as simply sliding your index finger and thumb down the scapulae to indicate them to slide the shoulder blades into the back, thus stabilising their shoulder girdle.

I could go on and on and on about this topic; in fact, I teach workshops about the different types of tactile cueing and how they are presented in class.

Some people have very strict reservations about being touched, perhaps because of having suffered some kind of trauma in the past. I have found from my experience, that some men have reservations about being touched by another male teacher in their sessions, for example. As a new teacher, you are unlikely to know who they are and even if they give you their consent, you need to thread carefully.  As your practical experience grows, you will start to learn how their body reacts as you touch them. 

Some may be self-conscious about getting touched.  They might be struggling with their weight or how their body looks, so being touched by someone else might make them feel awkward and uncomfortable. 

It is worthwhile to note that tactile cueing is a part of many ways of cueing that would help the client achieve their goals.  Our attempt to support our clients during their sessions require many layers of assistance.  What is important is for you to identify if the client is comfortable with your tactile cues, by asking for consent from the very beginning and even if you are given consent, if you feel that the client’s body language has changed due to your touch, ease off and use another tool from your box of tricks.  Knowing and understanding that your guidance is welcomed through tactile cueing releases yours and your clients’ anxiety and lets you work in a more relaxed framework.

I hope this article has been useful to you.  Please feel free to discuss and/or comment about your experiences or your concerns by posting your comments below!

In love and light,

Anita

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