The Power of Touch
Have you ever noticed in a yoga class that when someone presses your shoulders down in final resting pose or rubs your back as you are in child's pose, you feel safe. It doesn't matter that you don't know the person, you trust them and you welcome the physical contact that in a different situation might have generated a completely different set of feelings.
That feeling of safety is why most of us love being touched in yoga, especially during passive poses, when we are nothing but a receiver, a net for love. What we don't realize is that it's more than safety. It's physical encouragement.
In this day and age we are so guarded that it is only in very specific scenarios that we welcome physical encouragement. But sadly, the moment it starts we enjoy it for a second, and then begin to anticipate its end rather than absorbing its positivity.
When someone touches me in a yoga class, my own shoulders pinned down like some kind of stuck thing, and I think, "I know you are going to leave. You are going to get up and go, and my shoulders are going to fly back up. And I might even fly away with nothing holding me in place any longer."
The same thing happens to me sometimes during a massage. Usually about three minutes into a massage, I feel myself drifting and then catching myself right on the cliff of pleasure, wondering how much time is left.
How can I worry about when something is going to end when it is barely just beginning?
Am I terrified of being comfortable? Because it won't last?
Nothing lasts forever. When a teacher comes over to me at the end of a yoga class to press down on my shoulders or rub my head, I always ask, "Can you stay there?" Sometimes I say it out loud. I myself am a yoga teacher, and I sometimes hear my students whispering that to me.
That is the crux of it all, isn’t it? Can you stay here? Can you not go? Can you make me feel safe?
I want to make people feel safe and comfortable in my presence. I am not going anywhere.
I used to think I wanted things to last forever.
I remember my first boyfriend, Danny. My first serious love, and one of my only serious loves. He would call me from his dorm room in Boston and I would lie in my bunk bed at NYU and ask him to tell me that we would last forever. He wouldn't. A smart move.
And we didn't.
After four years, he broke up with me one February over the phone. How dare he do this over the telephone after so many years? I got on a bus, a teary-eyed, freezing mess and schlepped to Boston in the snow so he could break up with me to my face. And who am I kidding? I am sure a part of me wanted to beg him not to break up with me and to tell me that he'd made a mistake. I arrived and knocked on all his friends' doors until I found him.
I spent the weekend in his apartment in Boston curled in a ball and sobbing, and when he put my spaghetti limp body on the bus back to New York City, he hugged me for three solid minutes. (Again, I had hope. Maybe he won't let go.) He did let go, and that was the last time I saw him for years. And that was that. We didn't last forever, and I am glad he refused to give me that promise, even as a lie, because I would've thrown it in the river with him and then jumped in after it.
I do want to be touched. (Don't we all?) But more than that, it's what is behind the touch, what's under the fingers and the skin. How the touch makes me feel and, even though I know it won't last forever, what it will do, even if just for that moment, is connect me to the world and hold me in place.
What’s behind everything is love. Whether it is a fear of love, a desire for love, or an "I don’t believe in love," or giving away of love.
Some form of love is what beats our hearts and what carries us through those broken moments in the Boston snow. It's what we all want and why, when someone puts their hand on that spot on our chest or forehead (how do they always know the exact spot I need to be touched?), that we want to put our own hands on top of theirs and whisper in some secret language of the hands: "Yes, this feels right. Yes, you can stay. Yes, I love you too."
Let it exist as if it belongs to you. As if you deserve it.
You do deserve it. You deserve love.
Live as if.
Jennifer Pastiloff was recently featured on Good Morning America and CBS The Doctors. She has attracted a following from her writings and unique style of teaching yoga. She is also an advocate for children with special needs. The creator of Manifestation Yoga®, Jen leads retreats and workshops all over the world. Jennifer is currently writing a book and has a popular daily blog called Manifestation Station. Home base is Los Angeles but you can find her all over the world most months.