Breath & Touch: The Elements of Connection & Healing.

Via Suzanne Jones
on Nov 25, 2012
get elephant's newsletter
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

Like elephant yoga on Facebook.


About Suzanne Jones

Sue Jones, Founder and Executive Director of yogaHope has practiced yoga for over 15 years and is a leading voice in the subject of mind body practices for self regulation and personal empowerment. For the last six years Sue has trained, inspired and lead hundreds of volunteer yoga teachers who have donated their time in substance abuse rehabilitation centers, domestic abuse safe houses and homeless shelters for women. She dedicates much of her time to researching the effects of yoga and mindfulness practices on survivors of trauma and those suffering from traumatic stress response. Sue’s life and work have been profiled in Yoga Journal, The New York Times, Shape Magazine, Body + Soul Magazine, Martha Stewart Whole Living Magazine and on CNN Headline News.


9 Responses to “Breath & Touch: The Elements of Connection & Healing.”

  1. […] Breath & Touch: The Elements of Connection & Healing (Elephant Journal) […]

  2. Signe says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article. Despite being both a massage therapist and a yoga teacher I was unfamiliar with the term defending. Of course I see fear in students bodies but not perpetual and constant fear of the future. It is inspiring and wonderful that you are devoting your teaching to such a deserving and challenged population. Now if a traumatized person exhibiting defending comes to my studio I will be more equipt to serve them. So thanks again & namaste.

  3. Sue says:

    I'm glad you found it inspirational!

  4. […] importance of physical touch cannot be […]

  5. Thank for this article! I recently was the only student at a group class an received a private lesson instead. My teacher was very hands on for the duration of the class, placing hands where I was to direct the breath, direct awareness. It was almost like a dynamic dance and I felt so nourished and nurtured afterwards. While I think strong physical adjustments should used only when someone can’t take themselves deeper through a verbal instruction which allows self empowerment, this idea of touch as a simple energy and breath awareness tool is so powerful and healing.

  6. […] Breath & Touch: The Elements of Connection & Healing. […]

  7. […] just offer you this: Trust the Yoga. Yoga works. Let it lead. Let it be the healer, the guide and the […]

  8. […] I made us both comfortable with lots of pillows. I warmed the lube in my hand and then told him “I’m going to touch you now.” I stroked him, peaking him throughout, taking pleasure from the way my hands felt wrapped […]

  9. […] their kids differently! What I want you to take away from this is to shake hands, hug and kiss. Touching is one of the greatest forms of communication and hugging is actually shown to reduce heart disease—it relieves tension, stress and […]