It seems strange to me, after having gone through a number of years where I avoided touch as much as possible, to now find so much satisfaction in it.
I live and teach in a fairly rural area where yoga is still a foreign thing to many people: I was once bawled out at a health fair for doing “Satan’s work”; I had a student who, upon hearing my explanation of the chakras represented on her lovely new yoga mat promptly turned it over to proceed with sun salutations on the plain side.
So I tread lightly on this fragile ground—the idea of om-ing with most of my students would bring a hairy eyeball at best, a hasty exit at worst.
When I first started teaching, I left all the woowoo stuff back on my mat at home and kept class mostly physical, not wanting to push any buttons or offend anyone’s sensibilities. It didn’t last long, though, as I felt like a fraud, an imposter just cueing and offering an adjustment here and there.
My pushback started with small hands-on adjustments during savasana. I would cue to place hand on abdomen if one preferred not to be touched since this can be such a vulnerable place—belly up and open to the world, senses heightened, a place where anxiety and panic often reside. To my surprise not once did anyone signal ‘hands off’.
What’s happened since has been truly revelatory. Not only do my students expect and love to feel my hands on their hands or shoulders or feet as they release into their mats, but they encourage me to give them more hands-on adjustments throughout class, something I thought they would be resistant to.
In fact, one of my lovely 73- year old yoginis frequently asks me: “Are you going to lay on our backs in child’s pose today?”
At one class, a student let me know early on that not only did she hate to be touched, but she was dealing with the stress from her priest who said it was okay to do yoga as long as she stuck with just the poses and didn’t get into any of that ‘hippie voodoo’. And yet, she never placed her hand on her belly. She always invited safe, respectful touch and told me later that it was her favorite part of class.
I think it’s something I intuited, this desire for touch, but having it shown time and again has been a profound deepening of my own practice and created a deeper cultivation of my own receptivity to touch.
The power of a simple touch—skin on skin with no implications, no expectation, no reciprocity, just acceptance and openness—this brief act has the power to initiate that ripple which then carries over into the day and out into the world at large.
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