November 26, 2012

Breath & Touch: The Elements of Connection & Healing.

Photo: Suzanne Jones

Recently I taught yoga to a young marine whom I met while attending a summit for love and forgiveness in Assisi, Italy.

At 27 years old, he had already become defended—his body built and hard—his questions of my work in Haiti and prisons, always concerned with threat and safety. Yet, he had a lovely softness behind his eyes and he was eager to try yoga after having heard from his sisters about the class I taught the first morning of the summit.

He arrived with his sisters at eight in the morning, after a sleepless night. Together, we breathed and moved. Postures were simple. Breath was prioritized and space was created in which they could feel their bodies open to the present moment.

Being defended—as this young man had been trained to become—means closing to the present moment in preparation for a threat to survival that may come at any moment. This is not specific to those in the armed forces—this is how human beings are programmed.

The women that I work with in a prison in Massachussetts, the people I work with in Haiti and this young man, all hold this fear in their bodies—a fear that something dreadful was coming.

It is precisely this fear that yoga begins to soothe. Whether it is conscious or not, our bodies hold tight to fear and it is through our bodies that it can be relinquished. During our class that morning in Assisi, I soothed and nurtured this young marine and his sisters with touch. Nurturing and loving human touch is essential to the survival of our species, so much so that infants will die when deprived of it. (Hatfield, 1994)

It is through this touch that the body begins to feel safe and let go, to open to the present moment. And as I cradled their heads and soothed their brows with the pads of my thumbs, I could feel them letting go.

As humans on this planet our need for touch and our connection through breath crosses all cultural and socio-economic divides; it breaks down all illusions of us and them and together we become one.

The young marine sent me an email expressing his gratitude for the class. His words resonate in me like the tone of a Tibetan singing bowl lingering through every cell in my body.

He wrote:

“With all the arguments back and forth about the existence of God or a higher power, the most important reality is that there is beauty in the world, when there is no reason that there should be. And we can all see and feel this beauty. There is good, and the fact that we can perceive it means that whatever created this beauty created in us an ability to perceive it, which is just as unnecessary and just as miraculous.”




Robert W. Hatfield, Ph.D. Touch and Human Sexuality. Edited by V. Bullough, B. Bullough, & Stein. NY: Garland Publishing, 1994.



Ed: Bryonie Wise

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