Category Archives: touch

Observation: Practice Lesson #4

As this is the last post in the Practice series I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what makes people stick to a routine. I’ve already talked about how I don’t think that discipline builds a practice or keeps it going, I’ve talked about lighting a spark to keep the fire alive in your practice and I’ve helped brainstorm ideas for the actually composition of a practice. Now what is going to keep you showing up every morning, every Thursday at 6:30 or Sundays at 3, whatever your chosen time slot.

This is what led me to the fundamental question: what do you gain from a practice?

I tried to think of the people in my life who have practices that don’t involve yoga, because I know all the benefits of doing yoga on a regular basis. I wanted to see the benefits of their non-exercise based practices. Two immediately came to mind. First would be my parents’ practice of drinking coffee together every morning in their living room. They don’t down their coffee over breakfast, they instead take about half an hour (sometimes more) and just drink their coffee and chat. They use it as a time to catch up, make plans for the day and to de-stress if the day is going to be hectic. I know it lowers both of their stress levels and I know it is the secret to their marriage. The other practice would be that of my father-in-law’s writing on Saturday mornings. In the midst of raising four boys and maintaining a very full career, he devoted each Saturday morning throughout his life to writing. It helped him keep the mindset of a writer, allowed for alone time in a busy household and energized him for the week.

These are two successful, long-term practices that are very simple, but additions to a busy lifestyle. So why when things get crazy did they keep them? Why is it worth showing up on your mat again and again?

Observation. Think of all the people in our lives we pay to observe us: doctors, therapists, supervisors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc. We want someone else to see the patterns, to notice the thing we’ve missed. And don’t get me wrong—that is a necessary skill set. Every time my acupuncturist treats me she sheds new light on this body of mine that I try to figure out 24 hours a day. We need that outside advice, but we also need to make sure that when we see these caregivers we know what is normal.

Even if normal isn’t healthy, it is worth knowing about. A practice lets you compare every single day to every other day that you do the same thing. Yoga students can attest to that first down dog in a practice when you first check in with the body. Think of the first down dog after vacation or after you’ve been for a long hike. The body is entirely different than the last time. We need to be able to compare.

You owe it to yourself to know what the body is capable of, what it is learning to do and when it has achieved something it didn’t expect. This isn’t just about injury and illness, though aren’t those two reasons enough? This is also about improving and the ability to be proud of yourself. With equal positive awareness it is also about aging and noticing what may be harder than it used to be.

The better we are able to say, hmmm, this is new, when something catches us off guard—the better equipped we are to walk into a doctor’s office and say this is new and I’m worried. Knowledge is power, but it requires regular observation.

When you show up to your next practice, be mindful. Do your day’s work. See what there is to see. Make a list of all the things you want to observe from this perspective. My parents are not just drinking coffee; they are monitoring their marriage, making sure it is healthy every morning. My father-in-law isn’t just writing, he is taking time to be an artist and see how his artist-self is after a week.

What observations are out there for the viewing in your practice?

The Risk Of Touch

About a week ago I got together for a quick business meeting with a colleague and because it was brief she brought along her two kids. The two children were young, and full of life. They busied themselves around the room playing, while we discussed details. After about 10 minutes in my presence, mind you I had just met the two, one of the children walked over and gently pushed my bag off of my legs and climbed up into my lap.  The mother made a loving joke about how her child liked to try out all laps, as if a connoisseur.  The little one stayed a moment or two and leaned back against my chest and then at exactly the right moment jumped down and went back to playing.  Not to be outdone, the other child almost immediately came over to try out my lap. It was all I could do to remain composed and present while my mind raced.

When did we lose the courage to act upon our desire to touch? At what age did we have it brainwashed from us. As children we knew how important, how crucial touch is to make us feel safe and connected to the world and we searched for it anywhere, anytime there was desire. As adults we contemplate touch, sometimes even wanting and refusing ourselves that touch, because we are afraid. We are afraid of doing something childish.

Which brings me to my experience this morning in the City Clerk’s office. I was filing for a business permit for my new acupuncture and yoga business and two women were seated filling out a form for a marriage license. I recognized the form and the nervous laughter immediately as I sat at that exact table 14 months ago. The entire time I was in the City Clerk’s office, I wanted to say congratulations to them. I didn’t want to go and sit in one of their laps for goodness sake. I wasn’t going to give either of them a hug—though the child in me did want to.  I just wanted to take a tiny emotional risk and brighten their already very bright day. I wanted to connect with two strangers on an intimate level.  And I didn’t. I went about my business and then left, politely. I did the “appropriate” thing.

Now, at home, I am embarrassed and disappointed in myself. I am a person who studies people’s feet and asks about bowel movements for a living. I palpate abdomens and listen to the pulse for long moments gathering a person’s most inner workings. I am, in some circumstances, terribly comfortable with the intimate. But this morning I was afraid to reach out and touch someone. Because that is what emotional language is and that is why we shy away from it. I was afraid to take the risk of touching and because of it there is now a slight heaviness in my heart. Like any unfilled desire these little moments must add up and cause some negative reaction in the body. Yet we never think about the tiny, microscopic, subtle ways that avoiding touch has on our body, our mind and our own emotions.

Just notice today as you go about your life how often you feel a pull to do something, whether it is pick up something someone has dropped, hold a door open longer, complement someone, or offer someone a hug who looks like they need it. Even if you don’t act on the pull, start to notice the desire. Eventually, maybe, we might get back the courage to act on it again.