I had a good friend recently ask me, “Have you been hugged since you’ve been in China?”
At first, I thought this was her PG way of asking me if I had hooked up with a local, however she was, in fact, asking if I had been hugged. I sat at my desk for a moment and before typing back, I realized the last hug I experienced was the night before I left for China. That particular evening, I said goodnight to a friend, and just before going to bed, she gave me a tight squeeze and a huge kiss on the cheek. At the time, I didn’t realize the value of this moment, nor did I understand my privilege of human interaction. Hell, I was just coming from a job where I hugged at least five people per day. Real, authentic hugs. Daily.
This past weekend, things changed. I finally experienced my first piece of physical touch in China, other than an introductory handshake here and there (again, no, these are not codewords for any type of R-rated or NC-17 encounters). I was headed to the seashore with some colleagues, and one young woman asked if I was okay with us waiting just a bit longer so she could say goodbye to one of her instructors who was leaving in the next fifteen minutes. Of course, we would wait, and I happily obliged. Just as I casually committed, and out of nowhere, she hugged me.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she exclaimed in broken English.
“You’re welcome,” I chuckled.
She then ran off to celebrate the fifteen minute victory with her friends. I was startled, but as I watched her run across the lobby of the building we were in, I got somewhat of a desperate feeling of, “what if?” What if I had to wait over two weeks for another hug? What if I would never find someone to pat me on the back while laughing? What if handshakes were not enough? What if hugs with Westerners were a huge ‘no-no?’ What if none of the locals wanted to hook up with me? Strike the last question from the record, please – you get the point here.
Overall, the initial question from my good friend has me thinking a lot about the idea of physical touch, and also the reality it plays in my life. I wish I was better at understanding the Love Languages book (I don’t know the actual name or test, but I just call it, “the Love Languages book,” and someone almost always understands what I am talking about). From years of familiarity, I am certain my love-languages are words of affirmation (for myself) and gift giving (for others) – again, not sure if this is actually how it works, but just go with me for a moment. In my understanding of the other options, I would have to say I do not really consider myself a physical touch person. Sure, I love a good hug and/or side-hug, even with strangers. But at the core, I don’t think I would have ever classified myself as one who has a need for physical attention.
Alas, I look back at that last hug from my friend just before I left for China, and the brief hug I received this weekend, and all I can think about is just how essential these moment were for me. Perhaps physical touch is becoming one of my love-languages. Perhaps it has always been there, and I have just been resisting or playing it down. This reflection further leads me to think of the, “Yoga Hug.” I have a friend who I have referenced multiple times in posts throughout my blog, and she exists as one with whom I still keep in great touch. A few years ago, this individual taught me a, what she calls, “Yoga Hug.” In this experience, you hug another person, and before separating, you both take a gigantic breath together and then slowly exhale together. Super intimate, and initially, super awkward. But, this moment always resonates with me, because sometimes intimate and awkward are actually really powerful and perfect.
Think of your last hug. Think of the last time you were intimate and awkward with someone. Think of the last time you held hands with another individual, romantically and/or platonically. Think of the last time you were kissed on the cheek, or the last time someone provided an authentic or lingering handshake. What did those moments feel like? Did you understand the presence of physical touch, or were your boundaries not shaken whatsoever?
In my new world where hugs are rare and physical touch is probably reserved for family or late-night encounters, I am finding my way through a sea of hugless days. And, more often, I am finding myself longing for a bit of physical attention. My challenge to you today, even if awkward or too intimate or oddly uncomfortable, experience a ‘Yoga Hug.’ Breathe in. Exhale. Be free.