Touch is powerful. Through touch we can communicate without words. It has a unique way of bringing us immediately into the present moment — it can instantly transport us from a thinking space into a feeling space.
Touch is important. Studies have found that touch provides various health benefits — everything from reducing stress, anxiety, pain, fatigue, and depression, to lowering blood pressure, to helping speed up recovery from illness and surgery.
Touch is connection. Through body-to-body contact, we are instantly connected to someone else. Like an exhale, it can be grounding. It can bring us in touch with our own humanity and help us remember that we are not so alone in this world.
Touch is multifaceted. There is an infinite number of ways we can engage in touch. It can feel healing, coercive, gentle, harsh, reassuring, savage, sweet, painful, sexual, tender, confusing, inappropriate … the list goes on and on, and a single touch can evoke multiple responses.
Touch is complicated. What is true for one person is not always true for another. Even from day-to-day our comfort level may change — our desires shifting with our moods, the seasons, the circumstances.
Given all this: what is a yoga teacher (in training) to do?
This week one of our teacher training discussion topics is touch, so naturally I’ve been paying extra attention to my own experiences and feelings surrounding physical contact. Over the last week I have noticed:
- How infrequently I have the opportunity to touch or be touched by another person. I give/receive a dozen or so hugs each week, 99% of which happen on the way into or out of the yoga studio. Every once in a while a yoga teacher will do a hands-on adjustment or end-of-class head massage. Every once in a while we’ll do a partner pose. At work every once in a while someone will excitedly touch my arm when they are talking, or tap my shoulder to get me to turn around.
- How I am immediately transported into the present moment by touch. When a yoga teacher touches my arm, immediately my awareness is brought into that arm. I feel the muscles engage differently. I have a better sense of where my body is in space and where my arm is located relative to the rest of my body.
- How sometimes I strongly crave human contact. Sometimes I desperately do not want to be touched. And sometimes these opposing feelings occur in the same moment.
Given all that is going on for me (and probably for most people) around this complex subject, I ask again: what is a yoga teacher (in training) to do — do we touch or do we not touch?
I suspect that there is no universal “right” answer.
(Gosh I hate it when that’s the answer!)
Some yoga teachers and students advocate against touch entirely, but I’m definitely not one of them. Yet, in my role as a teacher I find myself reticent to get in there and really come into contact with another person’s body, even when I’m clearly invited to do so. (Perhaps it’s the sort of thing you get better at with practice, we’ll see :)). It is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all situations answer.
So, where does that leave me?
As is par for the course with teacher training, I am left in the gray area — the place with more questions than answers. The space where all you can do is stumble in a forward direction, trying new things, making awkward mistakes, and feeling grateful for all of those people who are/will be kind enough to let me “practice” on them along the way!
What’s your take? Should yoga teachers offer physical adjustments or other types of touch during class? Students- do you like being on the receiving end? Teachers- do you touch, and, if so, when/why? I would love to hear your thoughts!