And I sometimes think that a moment of touching is the difference between complete utter despair and the ability to carry on. ― Eleanor Cameron
After moving to a new town where she had no friends or family, a friend of mine began stalking her yoga teacher.
It started innocently with her attending one or two of his classes a week. That became three or four, and soon she was “doing doubles,” going to two of his classes a day and driving across town to do so. She knew his schedule; knew when he was subbing; knew when he started teaching at a new studio, and she followed.
It wasn’t that he was unusually skilled at guiding students into asanas, or even particularly handsome.
On any day in this progressive town, there were likely 50 or so other yoga classes providing nearly identical versions of what he offered – except for one thing.
“He does the best adjustments,” she told me. “So strong, so firm, just the right amount of pressure.”
But we both knew that being assisted in her practice had little to do with her real motivations for showing up in his classes.
She was lonely. She worked from home. Being friendless and single meant there was no one to hug her, hold her hand or cuddle with at night.
Weeks went by without anyone touching her in a meaningful way. She didn’t even realize she missed it, until his class.
When he first pressed his hands to her low back during downward dog pose, she felt self-conscious. Unlike the quick adjustments she was accustomed to with other teachers, he remained for several breaths. “A minute at least!” she said. What did it mean? Was she doing the pose wrong? Did she need to reciprocate in some way, perhaps with an audible sigh? What did the other students think?
But as he pulled away, she became upset. Would he come back? She wanted more. His hands were like a hit of opium and she was addicted.
On the days when his classes were full, when he didn’t get around to adjusting her, she left was angry. I could barely look at him, she would say.
But on the days when she did get his attention, for her, better than makeup sex.
Given her obvious stocker status, and clear disappointment when she was not attended to, he began adjusting her regularly — generously pressing his hands to the sides of her sacrum in downward dog, hovering his chest above hers for several breathes as he unfolded her shoulders in shavasana.
For her, heaven.
For him, a paying client.
It really was a win win.
Eventually my friend ended up meeting people, falling in love with someone who was not her yoga teacher and no longer had time to hit her mat so frequently – imagine that.
Move away a little closer
I tell this story because this month I’m thinking a lot about touch — how prickly it can be to feel and be felt by another, and yet how essential such attention is.
Touch is necessary for our own well-being. It ground us, comforts us and reminds us that we belong. To be touched is to be seen.
But even with the awareness that the human part of us needs it, for many, to accept or give touch with ease is extremely difficult.
Do you pull away first in a hug?
Notice with some jealousy those who more easily show affection?
Find that the most comfortable place to live is “in your head?”
If any of this rings true, you’re not alone. We live in a society that has conditioned us to shy away from touch. It’s sexual; it’s political; it’s dirty. The horror stories and our own traumatizing experiences have lead us to no longer “be in touch with” ourselves, each other and our world.
My, how we long to reconnect. We’ve created and become addicted to pseudo means to feel seen, but the designs of these gimmicks only let others get “so close.” They allow us to project “the best versions of ourselves” thus keeping what is tender and vulnerable “protected.” But to be fully “in touch with,” to receive the medicine of touch means nothing can be left out.
I believe it’s possible to redesign our relationship with touch. We can relearn how to let others in, accept touch naturally and give it confidently. We can reclaim this essential aspect of our human nature.
If you equally long for and fear touch, here are 3 gentle ways to explore this tension this month.
1) Wrap yourself in your own arms. Close your eyes. Feel yourself hugging yourself. Feel yourself loving yourself. Rub your body affectionately. Can you do this once a week? Once a day? Notice any inner commentary. What is true? What is not?
2) When your body makes contact with another – a hand, a hug, brushing by a body in a crowded grocery store, what happens? Are you irritated? Distracted? Is your head jumping to whatever is next? What is happening in your body? Can your respond to its needs? If this touch is something you invite, can you open to it a little more?
3) The roses are in bloom here. The sky is very blue. What in your world is beckoning you? Can you heed this call? Take a moment to connect, feel, taste, smell, watch, appreciate? How does it feel to touch in this way?