Photos by Phillip Suddick
Have you ever tried to describe yoga to someone who has never gone to a class? Even when using a simply-worded definition based on a clear understanding of the practice, it can be incredibly hard to articulate and communicate that special feeling that keeps you coming back for more. Words only come close to describing the connections we form with our yoga practice and our loved ones. In order to know, one must first experience. Intimacy is a measure of closeness one has in relation to an object or individual. Imagine you are riding on a bus during rush hour—all the seats are full and aisles packed— and you’ve got to share one of those hanging grips with a perfectly normal, neutral, and complete stranger. You’re thinking about the movie you’re going to see and they’re thumbing around on their phone. Even though your forearms touch every time the bus makes a turn and the thought of sardines in a can constantly flashes in the back of your head, it’s no big deal. At the next stop, you exit and go on with your life. Was that an intimate experience for you? You were certainly close during a simultaneous experience, yet all you shared was a hand grip. Imagine now the same bus, but you are the only two on it— standing the same way. Maybe you know this person, maybe not. Perhaps there is something more than just a handgrip being shared. Perhaps there is tension or chemistry. Next scenario: same empty bus, only this time you and a best friend are sitting as far apart as possible. What type of connection do you share—light and fun, or dark and serious? At the next stop, as the entire rush hour crowd packs in, are you able to maintain some sort of close connection? To understand the variety of the feelings associated with this relationship is to understand intimacy. The study of yoga cultivates a spark of intimacy within oneself. Canadian psychologist Dr. Sidney Jourard understood intimacy as deeply intertwined with self-disclosure. Creating an intimate connection with someone else is rooted in our ability to “let someone in” by putting aside the mask we wear. In light of this, intimacy is firmly anchored in openness, honesty, observation, and acceptance.Having an intimate connection with oneself allows the practitioner to be truly receptive to their needs, desires, goals, and challenges. While intimacy is largely intertwined with the institution of love, it is absolutely vital to the creation of trust. Think about this next time you step on the mat—do you trust yourself to be fully present each breath, each movement, each posture?
Intimacy Meets the MatHow does intimacy show up in your study of movement? On a surface level, it may manifest with where you fit in on that rush hour bus or when you choose a different route. It can show up in the type of class you attend, the teacher you follow, and even which part of the room you lay your mat. An internal understanding of intimacy helps cultivate a deeper connection to the way you move, how it connects to your breath, informs your sense of personal alignment, and a more accessible approach to meditation.
Practicing with a greater sense of intimacy helps to shine light everywhere your awareness is focused.Next-level intimacy adds another person into the mix, going way beyond romantic warm and fuzzies. You know that conveyor belt of errant thoughts that pops up every time you settle into savasanana or find a tall spine to meditate? Yup, that same one we're constantly told to observe without judgment on our long and intimate path to enlightenment. True shared intimacy allows another to see these parts of your brain. You're offering not just a peek behind the veil, but inviting them to draw back their own veil as well. It's a shared experience.