Studies overwhelmingly show that touch is good for us, and is important. In comparisons of prematurely born babies in ICU, cared for with equal diligence, those who received more skin to skin contact fared better than those who did not. There are certainly many other examples as well. Of course, touch isn’t always good, as intent makes a difference and some touch is nicer than other. But, even within the categories of neutral or positive touch, we respond differently based on our own personal backgrounds and experiences.
As someone who grew up in a cultural setting (southern Indiana) and family setting where touch was not extremely frequent – with some exceptions, my grandmother was always hugging, kissing, and patting – and who has a background including some very negative touch experiences, I find touch to be a challenge. I’m fine with children and will happily hug or pat any child willing to be so treated. I’m fine with animals; in fact I probably drive them nuts. It’s other adults that prove to be an issue. Even with my own adult family members, including children, I have to mentally “exhale” in order to get myself relaxed during a hug or a kiss. And, I certainly want my family members to hug or kiss me, but the actual event produces some physical manifestations of stress that I have to get around.
If you are wondering why I’m talking about this here, it is because of the relationship of touch to yoga. While not all styles of yoga have physical adjustments as part of the student-teacher relationship, vinyasa yoga does. So, both as a student and as a teacher-in-training, I’ve been working on issues of touch. When I first began yoga classes in studio, I actively selected instructors who either did not touch at all or who I felt very comfortable with and therefore thought I could manage the touch. Later, as I got accustomed to being adjusted in poses, I was able to branch out a little, but I still have to do that mental exhalation each time. Now, I’m finding in teacher training that adjusting others is going to be a challenge for me. When I move in to do a physical adjustment, I immediately have a sense that I have violated both my space and the space of the person I am adjusting. This creates tension in me, and I don’t actually think I should be touching yoga practitioners when I’m tense, because that feeling may transfer to them and work against the goal of the practice.
I suspect that this will change over time, because I do believe that physical adjustment in yoga (specifically) and touch (generally) are valuable in many ways. It’s just another area where I’ll need to “adjust” my attitude.
If you have experiences being challenged by yoga adjustments – as a teacher or as a student – I would love to hear about them and about how you work with the issue.