As part of the LifePower Yoga Mount Laurel challenge, I’m exploring one of the seven axioms of yoga each day and sharing what it means to me. If you’re interested in joining the challenge (and winning some Lululemon swag), you can find all the dets here.
#5 Touch and intimacy are basic human needs
Touch and intimacy are our first ways to relate to our sensory world. It’s something that starts in the womb and allows us to thrive as infants and young children; however, as we get older, we touch and really connect less and less which only makes us feel more separated and fragmented.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with touch and intimacy – with being vulnerable – with truly connecting to others on a deep and soulful level. Sure, I’d share about my life and my journey and be present enough to make it look like I had my -ish together, like I was as real and authentic as they come. Even in my own mind, I considered myself vulnerable and authentic…and I was…to a degree. One experience during Yoga Teacher Training, however, showed me just how walled off I still was and it was my willingness to stay present in this exercise that reminded me that touch and intimacy, real vulnerability, is power.
About 3 weeks into YTT, our teachers said we were going to do an “exercise.” At the time, we had no idea that “exercises” entailed deeply painful experiences. We were instructed to move our chairs into two lines facing each other. I simply swung around from where I was as the others settled in alongside me. A woman named Jen placed her chair across from mine and I thought it would be great to work with her since I hadn’t really gotten to know her yet. When we were all settled, we were instructed to look our partner in the eyes and without talking, just sustain eye contact.
Shit. I thought. I can barely, and I mean barely, sustain eye contact in a conversation, let alone silence. I can barely hold someone’s eyes that I’ve known for 3 years, let alone 3 weeks. Shit. Ok. It’s not so bad. Shit. How long are we going to be here?
I wanted to share this experience with Jen, to be able to look her in the eyes and without words say, “I love you. I’ve got you. It’s all good.” I wanted to give her that, but I didn’t want to let her see me or the shitstorm I’d been carrying or all my pain and discomfort in this exercise.
Looking into someone’s eyes for 10 seconds is a daunting task so imagine doing it for 30 minutes. By its nature, the very act of staring into someone else’s eyes, yanks you unceremoniously out of your comfort zone, invades your personal space, and makes even the most self-assured person question their authenticity.
It’s said that our eyes are windows to the soul and if you’ve ever looked, like intently looked, into someone else’s eyes, you’ve likely captured a snapshot of who that person is or maybe what they were feeling at the time. Our eyes are the most vulnerable part of our self because they expose the reality of what’s going on at the soul level. Whether we’re happy, sad or angry, our eyes tell the story.
According to therapist and author, Jane Greer, Ph.D, “being able to make eye contact is one of the most – if not the most – important ways to connect with another person and share at an emotional level.” In other words, eye contact takes us beyond the physical. Greer adds that eye contact is really a paradox because we want to be seen and heard and experience connection, but we’re also afraid to feel vulnerable and exposed. She contends that “in order to make eye contact, we need to be strong and vulnerable – we need the inner strength to open ourselves up so that we’re able to be seen.”
For those 30 minutes (what felt likes hours that night), I fidgeted. I looked away and came back. I fought the urge to run out of the room even though I was crawling out of my skin. After the exercise was over, I realized how making eye contact was a metaphor for my life, how I only allowed myself to experience a very controlled level of vulnerability where I only let people in just far enough without truly allowing my soul to be exposed. I realized that connection – real connection – isn’t void of the feelings of discomfort. If anything, it’s full of discomfort and it’s only through our exploration of touch and intimacy that we’re able to make a connection to others, connect to deeper parts of our self and go beyond the physical.