In America, we avert our gazes and move out of people’s ways. We are expert at it. In an elevator with strangers? Look at the floor numbers lighting up as you move or stare at your smartphone. God Forbid we should make eye contact, offer a smile, say hello, ask how their day is going.
We have built cocoons around all of us, plastic bubbles that no one can penetrate. I wonder how any of us have successful relationships, when this is our landscape.
India is quite the opposite.
There is no “excuse me” or “sorry” or “after you.” It’s all push your way forward and sit where you want, step over and under and on those in your way.
It may sound awful to you, but I’m not feeling that way. I walk down the street and smile at a beggar, at a monk, at a woman walking the other direction. Many times, one or both of us lift our hands in prayer and nod our heads in humility as a greeting. It’s so gracious, so giving.
In yoga class on Monday, there was a part of the class where Gurmukh told us to walk around the room and hug as many people as we could.
Sweaty strangers who had been working hard to clear their shit out and free their souls.
(You know that’s what yoga does, right? It’s not a prettier gym. It’s way deeper than that.)
Hug them. Hug deeply. Hug as if you don’t want to let go.
And I have to say, it was incredibly profound.
I don’t know how many men and women I hugged, but I closed my eyes and leaned in and pulled them to me firmly and felt their fingers on my back and inhaled the moment, knowing that they were offering me, a stranger, love, and I was offering it in return.
Before the hug, and after, we looked at each other and smiled fully. I know I meant it.
I was so grateful for each and every hug. It wasn’t an elementary-school gym class scenario where you’re all worried that no one will pick you.
When you go to a yoga festival, nearly everyone who attends is in a mindset of giving and elevating and leaving an imprint on the world. It’s about being of service and noticing the holy in every single person, even the ones who drive you bat-crazy.
Hugging. The most powerful exercise of all.
Let down your guard and let someone close. Don’t analyze it or judge or recoil because of scent or clothing or skin or whatever. Just be in that person’s grace.
Wow. Hugging. Who would’ve known.
I think that was the best yoga class yet.