Ethics and Benefits of Touch in the Classroom

Touch is a natural part of healthy human development.

In the most recent teacher trainings I have led in 2010-2011, there are many topics that bring up discussion such as, ” Is yoga a religion?” or “Can we chant in schools?” but what always seems to shock and sadden trainees the most is when we talk about the ethical use of touch in when bringing yoga into the schools.  The moment I mention that many state and city governments as well as local schools do not allow teachers to touch their students, inevitably a trainee shouts out, “Well that’s just not right!”  Whether it is right or not, learning how to guide students through poses without the use of touch is something we hone in on.

It’s true that, unfortunately, some teachers (I am speaking of teachers in general not just yoga teachers) have abused the “no touch” school rule and have thus made it grounds for legal battle. But what about helping a student into proper physical alignment or reciprocating a hug that a preschool student gives without a thought?

Particularly in a Baby and Me class where a parent may give a baby massage, touch is an integral part of yoga class.  Finding ways of integrating touch in this style where the teacher is uninvolved is one way to stay on the safe side of the law.

If we do want to keep the argument for allowing appropriate touch in the schools or if you are interested in gaining a new perspective when going into schools to teach, you may want to refer school directors to the following article by Dacher Keltner:  A short excerpt reads:

” “To touch can be to give life,” said Michelangelo, and he was absolutely right.  From this frontier of touch research, we know thanks to neuroscientist Edmund Rolls that touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion.  We also know that touch builds up cooperative relationships—it reinforces reciprocity between our primate relatives, who use grooming to build up cooperative alliances.

There are studies showing that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. Basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassionate response, and a simple touch can trigger release of oxytocin, aka “the love hormone.”

The article gives many practical reasons why touch is so important for healthy development as well as other benefits.  An interesting read for a rainy afternoon like today (NYC, April 2011).


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