Just over a week ago, I was released from a 15-day quarantine. Lately, I see friends and family using the word quarantine often in their social media posts. I love these people, and yet I find myself wanting to yell out, “You don’t even know what a real quarantine is!” You see, in China, quarantine means not leaving your home. At all.
As the only female living with two felines, the most depleting part of the quarantine was going without human touch for days on end. While I of course had access to FaceTime and Zoom and brought my people into my home in this way, I have reflected a great deal on what we offer one another through hugs and hand-holding and cuddling. So much is communicated in the unspoken space of physical contact. In the midst of physical distancing, I wonder how many of you are existing in the desert devoid of touch.
My quarantine elicited strong feelings of intense loneliness and isolation. The contrast between my state of isolation and a recent trip to Thailand was especially stark as my experience had been so full of touch and connection. One month ago I was at CC’s Hideaway, a yoga retreat in Phuket, Thailand. Positive vibes flowed in abundance at CC’s as I made close connections with yoga instructors, the staff and new friends.
It was at the retreat that I first practiced acroyoga. At first I thought it was akin to aerial yoga, but when I saw photos from a friend’s session, I realized that acroyoga is all about partnership rather than flying, solo poses. As I practiced with two different teachers, I reflected on the significance of the combination of trust, communication and touch in acroyoga.
As I sat down to talk to Nuya Laksanachan, one of the instructors and my newfound friend, she described acroyoga as a combination of yoga and massage.
“It is about learning to receive and to share; asking for more and offering more,” Nuya explained as we sipped Chang sparkling water one afternoon in the midday heat.
Letting the bubbles play on my tongue, I thought back to the day that Nuya and I had practiced acroyoga on the beach. While we began with some partner stretching, when it came time to try some more advanced poses, I found myself hesitant at first. What if Nuya’s legs gave out while my hips were balanced on her feet? What if I lost my balance in a moment of uncertainty?
Nuya is accustomed to uncertainty and a bit of awkwardness at first from new acro yoga students. She notes that it takes a couple of poses before a couple — whether the couple are friends, siblings or lovers — feels comfortable in leaning into trust.
“If you don’t know the pose,” Nuya explained, “you don’t know what to ask for.” I had felt the truth of this when she and I had begun our beachside session. As Nuya instructed me about what to do, I was a bit nervous because I did not know exactly how to expect myself to do the pose correctly, with certainty that I could avoid toppling down and crushing both of us.
Offering myself patience in learning more about the shape of a pose, it was with some reservation and a great deal of growing awareness of how the grace of my body could connect to the strength of Nuya’s that led me to lean into more and more advanced partner asanas.
As Nuya and I continued our conversation about the power of acroyoga, she noted, “When you learn to trust in this acro yoga, it affects your life. When you trust someone in these things, then it feels easier to trust in the Universe. You don’t worry as much about what the person is going to do with you.”
I nodded as I listened to her. In practicing acroyoga, you begin to viscerally understand the delicate ways that we are able to communicate with one another through micro-moves with our bodies that allows for a foundation of trust to form. I remembered the way that my hip bones met Nuya’s feet, and how when I leaned into them, I could make very, very small shifts with my body that allowed Nuya to raise me off of the ground and soar into the air.
In acroyoga, movement is always slow. I love this, especially as it may connect to the communication between two people. Speed and aggression have no place in an acro yoga practice; in fact, the practice just could not exist in a space with these elements. Acroyoga may remind us of the gentle ways in which we want to approach one another in any form of communication.
Smiling at me, Nuya spoke again: “Acroyoga, it’s really beautiful connecting. It’s a really beautiful thing to experience together.” It really is.
I was fortunate to connect with wonderful yoga instructors, and with some wonderful souls at the retreat, and so it was that one night, four of us skipped down to the beach under a full moon. We dipped into the water and decided to try out a few acro poses in the ocean. Under a sky full of stars, our laugher rang out as we sometimes fell out of the poses into the forgiving water.
Nuya’s next words brought me back to the present moment with her. “People love touch, right? It’s something where you can connect without talking. Sometimes we think we know each other a lot, but it is important to communicate more. Sometimes we think we have told our feelings, but acroyoga is to offer a little more.”
My heart flutters a bit in remembering that night of acro yoga under the moonlight. A great deal was said in playful space — messages with few words but a lot of touch.
As Nuya and I get ready to move into the remainder of our days, she closes our conversation. “I think we have to be here to learn,” she says in reflection. As a yogi, a traveler, a seeker, I agree entirely, Nuya. Acroyoga is an invitation to learn about yourself, your partner, and the art of graceful communication.
As I am now back in Shenzhen, China, getting ready to start school in a shared physical space, I am again reflecting on the power of touch. There are a great many protocols that are being put in place for when students return in a week. One of them is that we will have to maintain a physical distance of 1.5 meters at all times during the day. While I yearn to greet my colleagues and students with hugs, this is not yet possible. This feels like a loss in this moment, but I have to also acknowledge what I have gained in this time of physical distancing: a much deeper appreciation for the ways in which we are impacted by the power of touch. Hugs, a gentle hand on my arm, holding hands — these are not touches that I will take for granted in the same way when the pandemic ends and restriction gives way to freedom once again.
In the meantime, though, I am also considering how I can touch those I care about, without physically reaching towards them. As I am wearing the mandatory mask at school now, thinking about seeing all of my students, I am smiling large … and you can see my smile, not in my covered lips, but in my eyes.