Yoga was absolute bliss this morning. Bliss!
Why, you ask? Well, having Dolly back after a couple weeks without her is one reason. Another is that we tried a new asana today (more about that later). But the real reason? Touch, plain and simple. I got lots of "extra love" as I call it—assists, help to deepen postures, loving, stress-relieving strokes. All done professionally, meaningfully, and masterfully, as Dolly is the queen of this.
Now, there are always two sides to every story. Some students do not like to be touched (though I think it's a rarity). And for some teachers, touch is not only difficult mentally, it is difficult physically. You have to sort of know your students' bodies and abilities if you're going to assist with backbends, for example. You've got to understand the techniques of assists in order to apply the right kind of pressure in the right places, so as not to jolt or hurt your students. A lot of teachers are also unable to give of themselves in this manner, and prefer not to touch at all, and that's understandable. But let me make a case for the value of touch in yoga. Because I think it really takes the practice to the next level for students.
First, help getting hands together in a bind or a twist enables students to stretch that little bit extra, opening muscles for future possibilities. For students with a more advanced practice, assists that enable them to get deeper into certain postures provides them with more sensation, more release, and seriously...more euphoria! Touch in this instance is an enabler. As a teacher, you are the helping hands.
Second, and perhaps more important, is the feeling of a beloved teacher's warm, loving touch on the body. Think about this. We live in a world in which our children are not allowed to hug each other at school. We keep our distance from each other. Smiling at strangers is even highly questionable! Technology allows us to eliminate a lot of face-to-face interaction with other human beings. In the U.S. especially, beauty—or lack of it—also plays a large role in the amount of physical contact each of us receives.
Now think about why most people come to yoga. It's not just the physical aspect. It's the mental clarity it gives, the spiritual connection to ourselves, the earth, our classmates, something larger. People are in class because they are looking for something deeper, more meaningful, otherwise, they could just ride a bike or take a walk. Yoga is the melding of the physical, mental, and spiritual. There is no telling what is going on in a student's life outside of class, but you know that they are in class because yoga brings them a certain peace that is more than physical. I believe touch—even a simple stroke down the back of a student in a forward fold—is nurturing, neutralizing, and in a small way, answers our need for love. Love is the crux of the human condition, is it not? We all need love, spend our lives either looking for it, trying to hold onto it, giving it, or lavishing ourselves in it. Touch in yoga is love, a salve for our wearied, twenty-first century souls. For some students, a teacher's touch in yoga is the only human contact they ever have!
If you are a teacher, I hope you will think more about the tremendous gift your touch can be. Even if you aren't one to do more technically complicated assists, perhaps you will consider how much a simple touch means to the majority of your students.