I am not a particularly touchy-feely person. I don’t hug any and every one. I am affectionate with romantic partners but it takes time for me to warm up; probably longer than the average woman. It isn’t because I’m a germaphobe or because I have OCD; it is likely because I am the product of a non-affectionate household.
Like many other young black people whose parents are from the South and moved North during the Great Migration, my upbringing was more about efficiency than expression. Having parents who were high school educated, working middle class in a high cost-of living state, their primary focus was making sure that they were able to provide and sustain our family’s lifestyle. My parents weren’t the type to love all over me. There were hugs and kisses when my dad would come back from long trips, or when I was traveling, graduating or had a good performance in a show. In day-to-day life, physical touch and other signs of affection were few and far between.
Some theorists propose that working middle class black parents often show their love through materials; trying to provide their children with all of the things and opportunities that they did not have access to (which I am grateful for). Though their intentions are good, they fail to realize that their children need not only to see their actions of love but to feel them too.
As an adult, sometimes I find myself desiring to express affection but end up feeling awkward about it. It’s a practice for me to push through the awkwardities and express those feelings. As I get older, I feel myself making progress in this area; with additional each year in age I am giving one less fuck about how my expressions of affection will be received.
Teaching yoga is becoming a crucial part of my healing. Before getting more into Vinyasa yoga, I had no experience with hands-on-adjustments in a yoga class (there are no adjustments made in the Bikram series). While in teacher training, learning to do hands-on-adjustments was THE SCARIEST THING EVER. Can you imagine manipulating the joints of a person you don’t know? Getting up close and personal with a stranger’s pelvis? It is downright unnerving.
In my first couple classes, I did little to no hands-on-adjusting but as I progress in my teaching practice, I find myself becoming more comfortable with touching people. I have come to find that the people I am most apprehensive about touching (usually because they are different than me or seem to be experienced) are the ones who get the most benefit from my adjustments and classes overall.
In theory, purpose of hands-on-adjusting in a yoga class is to transmit information to the student about the location of body parts and joints. Adjustments also help the student find their body’s natural anatomical alignment while staying safe. In practice, hands-on adjustments are so much more than information sharing. By touching students, it’s a way to say “Hey, I’m rockin’ with you, and I acknowledge your presence.” Some people just need to be touched. Imagine going days without the touch of another person, not necessarily a sexual touch, but just a handshake, hi-five, hugâ€¦ something. Research has shown that human touch is a critical part of human development and viability. Human touch can reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure, reduce stress and aggression levels, and helps to improve focus.
Touch is so powerful. We can use our touch destructively to physically hurt or dishonor others (not recommended) or we can use touch as a way to honor the life and presence of another being.
With every shoulder blade that I spread apart, every tailbone that I press, and every shin that I straighten, I am honoring my students and healing myself.
To read more of Vanessa Kennedy’s work, click here.