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Confessions of An Extrovert

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

(Originally published March 2016)

We had been staring at each other for three minutes.

And in case you’ve never held sustained eye contact with someone for three minutes, let me assure you: it’s a lot longer than it sounds.

We had started out smiling, faded to comfortable recognition, then spent a few seconds blinking and moving from left eye to right eye before settling into a serious stare. There was a moment of terror when I saw her notice something in my eyes, then another when she saw me notice the same thing in hers. There was another moment when both our eyes started watering.

After three minutes, I was told to step to her side and place one hand on her upper chest, the other on the back of her heart (to “bookend the heart”). We were to stay that way for another three minutes – which, I’ll say again, is a lot longer than it sounds.

At the end of six minutes, we were instructed to make eye contact once more and thank each other. As we looked at each other one final time, we both knew we didn’t have to say anything; it had already been said through silence.

This is one of my most salient memories from my first yoga teacher training.

What struck me most about this exercise was that my partner and I hardly knew each other. By the time we found ourselves staring into each other's souls, we had known each other all of 15 days - and by, "known each other," I mean we had sat in the same room together, but barely spoken. And yet, after this exercise, I felt such a tenderness toward her - like I suddenly cared so much for this precious human's safety and wellbeing. I had a strong sense that she felt the same.

Looking at each other is not something we generally do, deliberately and carefully. In fact, it’s something we are trained not to do.

I remember being on the bus in kindergarten, looking intently at a sixth grader whom I found particularly captivating. Rather than look back, he asked tersely: “You got a staring problem?”

No, I thought, as I glanced away, embarrassed. I was just looking at you.

It was not until I took an acting class in college that I started to believe that looking is okay – necessary, in fact, if we are to form human connection. It was not until my first boyfriend, my first love, that I felt what it was like to really be looked at. And it was not until my first yoga teacher training that I re-learned how to look.

As any yoga teacher or improvisor (and probably pet owner and parent, too) will tell you, looking does not just mean viewing with one’s eyes. Looking means seeing. Looking means paying attention.

Ironically, most of us desperately want to be seen and to be paid attention – but once we are, we panic. Our eyes dart around, we laugh or smile nervously, our bodies shift and stiffen, we talk when words are not necessary. But when we trust the person who sees us, when we believe that in seeing us, they recognize us as part of themselves, we can find a comfort like no other.

I used to feel ashamed that I felt an almost constant desire to be around people. Like many of us, I was told at various points in my life that I should not rely on others, that I should be "independent" and "self-sufficient." Lately, however, I have accepted the idea that we do, in fact, need others for our emotional and mental health. Sure, we can technically survive as adults, doing most things for ourselves, but what sort of life is that?! We can ask for support, just as we can support others; we can accept a hug, just as we can offer one; and we can allow others to see us, just as we can allow ourselves to see them.

In this weekend's Partner Yoga & Massage workshop, you’ll have the chance to explore the joys of connection through supported movement and healing touch. To me, Partner Yoga offers the best of both worlds: the serenity of going within, plus the comfort of human relationships. Through partner poses, stretches, and massage techniques, you and your yoga partner will allow each other to move deeper into your own bodies, while creating space for each other simply to be. I hope to see you there.

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