Touch, Taboo, Tiffany, and Tangled Thoughts
Growing up in an Italian family, I learned that to touch one another meant to love one another. Touching is something that occurred on a daily basis, whether it was by hugging, squeezing, kissing, gently holding one’s hand, or playfully tapping each other while telling a story. Any form of touch I experienced, and still experience, is an expression of fondness. After reading Tiffany Field’s book entitled, Touch, I feel gratitude for my affectionate upbringing and know how fortunate I am for perceiving touch as a positive encounter.
Tiffany Field describes the numerous benefits of touch in her book. Yet, despite all the ways touch helps us, the United States has a significant “touch-deprivation” problem. Touching one another could make one feel uncomfortable, could lead to legal action, or is considered a “taboo”. As I read Field’s book, I was thinking about the yoga community and how the act of touch is used and may also be perceived. Personally, I like when a yoga instructor gently adjusts my pose, or lightly pulls at my arms to elongate my body. Touching is very natural to me, and is perceived as an act of kindness and compassion. Although, I do admit, my first time practicing partner yoga did make me a feel a bit uncomfortable and vulnerable, but it only lasted for a brief moment. As soon as the touch began, a bond was formed. Looking back, I believe it was the moments leading up to the touch which caused the awkward feelings, not the touch itself.
As an educator, I need to be cautious with touch. I find it frustrating to hold back and stop my natural impulse to hug a child in need, because of the consequences. I would think a yoga instructor may feel the same way. I believe, to touch, means to connect to someone. Yoga is about forming a connection with each other and with the universe, thus creating a harmonious space. To restrain a touch is difficult, nonetheless understandable. It is essential to have awareness of how one perceives a situation, though quite challenging. I admire instructors for being able to make the class feel at ease and how they can read the comfort levels of each student as best as they can. I used to think it was because I am from a big Italian family, that touch came natural to me. According to Field, “Italians are one of the most touching people in the world…” Despite that claim, I believe it is the perception of the situation that makes one feel comfortable, not the culture. If we perceive that an experience, such as yoga, is positive, than we can let go of our vulnerability and allow ourselves to be willing to be healed, to be willing to be touched.
“Your body needs to be held and to hold, to be touched and to touch. None of these needs is to be despised, denied, or repressed. But you have to keep searching for your body’s deeper need, the need for genuine love. Every time you are able to go beyond the body’s superficial desires for love, you are bringing your body home and moving toward integration and unity.” ~Henri Nouwen