The Power of Touch

“If you love and feel compassion for the other person, and feel the ultimate value of him; if you don’t treat him as if he is a mechanism to be put right, but an energy of tremendous value; if you are grateful that he trusts you and allows you to play with his energy – then by and by you will feel as if you are playing on an organ. The whole body becomes the keys of the organ and you can feel that a harmony is created inside the body. Not only will the person be helped, but you also.

Conscious Touch is needed in the world today because ‘love’ has disappeared. Once, the very touch of lovers was enough. A mother touched the child, played with his body, and it was massage. The husband played with the body of his woman, and it was massage. It was enough, more than enough. It was deep relaxation and part of love.

But that has disappeared from the world. By and by, we have forgotten where to touch, how to touch, how deep to touch. In fact, ‘touch’ is one of the most forgotten languages. We have become almost awkward in touching, because the very word has been corrupted by so-called religious people. They have given it a sexual color. The word has become sexual and people have become afraid. Everybody is on guard not to be touched, unless he allows it.

Now, in the West, the other extreme has come. Touch and massage have become sexual. These days massage is just a cover, a blanket, for sexuality. In fact, essentially, neither touch nor massage are sexual. They are functions of love. When love falls from its height, it becomes sex, and it becomes ugly. So be prayerful. When you touch the body of a person, be prayerful… as if God himself is there, and you are just serving him. Flow with total energy. And, whenever you see the body flowing and the energy creating a new pattern of harmony – you will feel a delight that you have never felt before. You will fall into deep meditation.

While massaging, just massage. Don’t think of other things, because those things are distractions. ‘Be’ in your fingers and your hands as if your whole being, your whole soul, is there. Don’t let it be just a touch of the body. Your whole soul enters into the body of the other, penetrates it, relaxes the deepest complexes.  And make it a play. Don’t do it as a job. Make it a game, and take it as fun. Laugh, and let the other laugh, too.”

touch

I love this quote from Osho, because I love touch. I love affection. And I’ve learned so much from it recently.

Two things happened simultaneously that helped me realize the power of touch. I believe that everything happens for a reason, with intentional timing. And these two things came together in a way that makes me stand back, nod, and say “hmmm. Yes, that makes sense.”

The First Thing

In the 5th weekend of my YTT, we learned the Art of Assisting. “Assisting” specifically, not “Adjusting”; there is power in words and the difference here is extreme.

In previous models of yoga (which I’d like to presence as not being “wrong”, merely different), I’d learned many adjustments to help students correct their postures, move deeper, find new space, etc. and yet I had not made a practice of adjusting people in my teaching. Something about it didn’t feel quite right to me. Sure, if someone was about to hurt herself, I would offer an adjustment, but this happened so rarely that I’d forgotten how to put my hands on people. And when I did, I felt it was intrusive, egotistic, and more about showing what I knew how to do than about serving the body in front of me.

Then we learned how to “assist” people. The physical mechanics of the assists aren’t all that different from the adjustments I’d learned before, with one key difference: The concept that the person in front of me is perfect and whole as they are, and I am merely sharing love with them through my hands and other parts of my body as I encourage them into a space of empowerment and possibility.

Whoa.

So, with this in my bones, I started putting my hands on my students. I noticed a few things.

1.) I felt a greater connection, a humbleness, a servitude, and a profound sense of “there’s something greater at work here” that didn’t exist before.

2.) When the verbal cues didn’t land in someone’s body, (ie: “pull your shoulders back, bring your shoulders together on your spine, hug your thoracic spine in…”) a simple gesture of sweeping my hands across the back resulted in exactly what I wanted.

3.) The time in class flew by.

4.) People thanked me for “the best class ever” and came back.

What I attribute these results to is the exchange of energy that happens when I simply rest my hand on someone. It doesn’t have to be a huge, mind-blowing assist that takes my student into a back bend that they’ve never done before, or something fancy to show how much I know. Sometimes just resting my hands on someone’s back and breathing with them, or gently tapping the top of their head to create length in their spine, or playfully rocking their feet side to side in happy baby can create a connection that will stick with that person.

What is the je ne sais quo magic of assisting? In my opinion, what we all look for in every moment, whether it’s in a yoga class, on social media, in comfort food, or in the embrace of a lover is connection. We ache to connect. To others, to ourselves, and to something beyond this earthly realm. Touch is a gateway to all of those things: a 2-way superhighway of direct energy firing love from one divine being to another. Now that is magic.

The Second Thing

“It is believed that the effects of Abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love.” ~from The Chopra Center

Over the last few months, I’ve been taking a course on the habits of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga, and has a collection of daily routines to optimize health and wellness. These habits have been practiced for thousands of years, and I’m beginning to see why.

To be honest, I fumbled my way through several of them, like eating a plant based diet, going to bed before 10pm, scraping my tongue every morning, and doing a daily yoga practice. Then we came to the 6th Habit, Abhyanga, or self-massage.

I’ll be frank. At first I couldn’t get down with the idea of slathering warm oils on myself head-to-toe every day. The thought of taking that much time and effort, as well as the very act of having to touch myself that much, was abhorrent to me. I thought to myself: “I’m a simple girl. I shave my legs every 3 days, I wash my hair twice a week, and if my skin is dry I’ll slather on some Lubriderm. I’m good.” And, being committed to this program, I tried it.

I spooned a dollop of coconut oil into a bowl and stirred in some essential oils that I bought for  massaging other people’s necks in sivasana. It smelled nice, and it wasn’t as messy as I’d feared. I started with my feet. “OK”, I thought, “I’ll try putting some oil on my scaly shins.” It took a few days, but before I knew it, I was full-on oil partying from scalp to sole.

The result? Obviously my skin thanked me — being a Vata constitution, my skin is naturally starved of moisture most of the time, and the coconut oil actually helped (unlike my Lubriderm and countless other drugstore trials and errors). And what was really profound was how it changed my relationship with myself.

I’d been working with the concept of “self love” for a long time, trying to figure out what it means, how to practice it, and how to gain benefit from it. I knew I should love myself, and I even went so far as to stare into the mirror and say it to myself (and felt really stupid and fake about it). And therein lies the problem: Self Love was a concept. It wasn’t a practice. The words were meaningless. As meaningless as a lover telling you they love you and not showing you they love you. I believe we are a society of love-starved people, and just having the concept of love is enough for a lot of us. It was enough for me for a long time. Until it wasn’t anymore. And then I found Abhyanga.

Turns out the power of touch works when you put your hands on yourself, too. And I’m not talking kinky, lights down low, Barry White in the background, glass-of-wine-and-vibrator-in-the-bathtub kind of self love (although there is a time and place for that, too). What I mean is taking that same intention, that same loving energy that is a channel for the divine, and turning it upon your own skin. In the same way that “adjusting” becomes “assisting”, “self massage” becomes “self love”. I looked upon myself as a perfect, whole, divine being of light, and used massage as a celebration of that divinity rather than the disconnected act of slathering cold cream onto my dull skin in order to cure it of its unsightly dryness.

The first time I completed Abhyanga without skipping an inch of my skin — non-apologetically getting into every space: my imperfect belly (that before I couldn’t even bring myself to touch before, and instead hid it under high-waisted yoga pants), my thighs, the backs of my knees, my armpits, my breasts that I always felt were too small, that space between my shoulders that’s sore all the time, my scarred arms and knees, the spaces between my toes — all of it. I unconditionally coated it all in warm oil until I was a glowing, slippery, shiny ball of lavender-scented love. And it made me cry. I actually teared up in my bathroom, standing on a ratty old towel, my hair clumped in a stringy mess of oil, and realized that I could tell my image in the mirror I loved it until I was blue in the face, but that day I actually received the love. I felt it. And the power of touch made that possible.

So go out there and touch someone. Touch your lover, your kids, your friends, your students, yourself. Let’s spread the love.

A big touchy-feely Namaste,

~Carol

More info on Abhyanga:

http://www.chopra.com/ccl/the-benefits-of-ayurveda-self-massage-abhyanga

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