It’s no secret that I enjoy casual conversation with friends as well as strangers. This wasn’t always the case. In fact, being friendly and stretching those comfort zones is a part of my practice that I’ve worked hard to cultivate over time. Friendliness remains a part of my practice even now: There’s no difference between being friendly to myself and being friendly to others. The days that I am not bright and shiny at the yoga studio are the days I’m being even harsher to myself. Over the years this harshness has shifted and I’ve found more balance, but intimacy continues to be a work in progress for me.
I’m not alone in feeling uncomfortable with intimacy, far from it actually. We all have a bit of discomfort when in new situations and we can all benefit from bringing mindfulness to this resistance. Facing the fear of talking to the person sitting next to us on the train is no different than facing our fear of a handstand. When we allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable we allow ourselves to grow—limiting this practice to the mat makes it less likely to happen there at all. Take one small step at a time, breathe deeply, observe how you’re feeling, and step back if you need to. Down dog was probably uncomfortable to us all when we first met it, but in time it becomes a dear friend. Maybe the person on the mat next to you will become a dear friend in time, too.
When I think of connection, I think of my roots as a Tantric yogi. My first Tantric group meditation may have been the first moment that I truly experienced connectivity with a stranger, my own discomfort, and the blossoming on the other side of all that. According to the philosophy of Tantra, reaching out is no different than reaching in. Imagine two points on a circular track moving in opposite directions only to return to each other. This is the circular cycle of relationship and connectivity, where reaching out is also turning in.
Experiencing each other without boundaries allows us to see the sameness in all beings. The qualities that you admire in your best friend also live in you, as do habits of others which irk you. When you bring attention to your perception of another, you are actually seeing yourself reflected in them. Through this understanding we can use our experiences with others to guide our own evolution.
This philosophy also helps us to become kinder and more accepting. Can you really fault your brother for interrupting when you yourself interrupt? Or, instead, perhaps you can use each gentle nudge of annoyance as a chance to let it all go; both your irritation at the other as well as the habit within yourself. Just through the simple practice of noticing, breathing, and letting it go, you develop a kinder, lighter way of being.
How do you begin this practice? Ask yourself, “Where and with whom can I practice being more generous with my attention?” The next time you notice yourself rushing away from someone who is trying to connect, pause. What are you reacting to? Breathe. Listen. The smallest shift in the way we relate to one another can turn into the biggest change in your experience of the world. Welcome discomfort, welcome intimacy, welcome each other—and you’ll learn how to welcome yourself.
Elizabeth Crisci is a yoga teacher and artist in Fairfield County, Connecticut. She is the creator of Love by E, handmade gemstone mala and jewelry. She teaches in workshops, special events, and trainings in the Northeast in addition to a range of regular, weekly classes. She teaches smart and accessible yoga designed to make you feel good. She loves every minute of her work. You can find her writing and her teaching schedule on her website.