I hugged a stranger in a store today. And, you know what? She doesn't feel like a stranger to me anymore. I somehow feel a connection with this woman whose tears welled up, this spiritual sister soul that simply needed a human hug.
In class tonight, I am taking you out of your comfort zone. I am asking each of you to get up off your mat and go hug someone. It's fine if the first person you hug is someone you know and feel comfortable with but the second and third hugs have to be new to you. And, to emit another groan out of everyone, you cannot walk up and do a quick pat on the shoulder hug. Look in the person's eyes, introduce yourselves so you can later associate a name with this person, and give them a hug from the yogi depths of your being that say to you, think isn't awkward; this is a fellow spirit on a path that crossed mine in a yoga studio tonight and we share the same light.
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” – Albert Schweitzer
The reason we are starting off with the awkward hugs, which shouldn't be awkward, is so you can't all run for the door (!) but mainly so it is not a sense of focus during the class. My yoga teacher, Silvia, always says, we hug in yoga.
Marcus Felicetti writes there are "10 Reasons Why We Need at Least 8 Hugs a Day". (I have edited them but you can google this article for full depiction) They are:
1. Hugs build trust and a sense of safety.
2. Instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.
3. Holding a hug lifts one's serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.
4. Hugs strengthen the immune system by activating the Solar Plexus Chakra (3rd chakra).
5. Hugging boosts self-esteem.
6. Hugging relaxes muscles.
7. Hugs balance out the nervous system.
8. Hugs teach us how to give and receive.
9. (I did not edit this one because many aspects of yoga lay in this point!) Hugs are so much like meditation and laughter. They teach us to let go and be present in the moment. They encourage us to flow with the energy of life. Hugs get you out of your circular thinking patterns and connect you with your heart and your feelings and your breath.
10. The energy exchange between the people hugging is an investment in the relationship. It encourages empathy and understanding."
When you get together this holiday season with friends and family, alike, and you open your arms to offer a hug, pause for a moment and offer the hug consciously, not as force of societal habit. Look into your recipient's eyes and see what lies beyond.
A woman is reading a poem on the street
and another woman stops to listen. We stop too.
with our arms around each other.
Suddenly a hug comes over me and I’m
giving it to you, like a variable star shooting light
off to make itself comfortable, then
subsiding. I finish but keep on holding
you. A man walks up to us and we know he hasn’t
come out of nowhere, but if he could, he
would have. He looks homeless because of how
he needs. “Can I have one of those?” he asks you,
and I feel you nod. I’m surprised,
surprised you don’t tell him how
it is – that I’m yours, only
yours, etc., exclusive as a nose to
its face. Love – that’s what we’re talking about, love
that nabs you with “for me
only” and holds on.
So I walk over to him and put my
arms around him and try to
hug him like I mean it. He’s got an overcoat on
so thick I can’t feel
him past it. I’m starting the hug
and thinking, “How big a hug is this supposed to be?
How long shall I hold this hug?” Already
we could be eternal, his arms falling over my
shoulders, my hands not
meeting behind his back, he is so big!
I put my head into his chest and snuggle
in. I lean into him. I lean my blood and my wishes
into him. He stands for it. This is his
and he’s starting to give it back so well I know he’s
getting it. This hug. So truly, so tenderly
we stop having arms and I don’t know if
my lover has walked away or what, or
whether the woman is still reading the poem…
Clearly, a little permission is a dangerous thing.
But when you hug someone you want it
to be a masterpiece of connection, the way the button
on his coat will leave the imprint of
a planet in my cheek
when I walk away. When I try to find some place
to go back to.