My client lays before me on my Thai mat, having explained the various issues he’s currently facing. Our conversation dissolves as he stretches his long legs toward me and attends to breathing deeply. I kneel before him, eyes closed, pausing for a silent Wai Kru. I wait for my own inner chatter to quiet. When stillness comes, I take his feet in my hands and begin working. I am centered and steady, conscious and confident. My mind is quiet as I fit my hands to the contours of his feet and ankles. His occasional contented sighs reaffirm what I can already tell–I am soothing the person before me. It is sacred work.
I am mercifully peaceful so close to a physically imposing man in this quiet room. Sunlight filters in through the sheer curtains on the window. A salt lamp glows in the corner. Soft music plays. My consciousness smoothly attunes both to myself and to him. I flow easily through the efficient positioning and repositioning of my body. My heart holds a joyful sense of purpose; I feel how much the person before me needs to be touched compassionately.
I work on his legs and he tells me quietly, with the trusting assurance of a child, when I’m doing his very favorite thing. I stay and feel myself light and smiling as he sighs again, letting go of some unknown burden. I remember my own yoga teacher in New York.
Ariel is tall, dark, muscular and gorgeous with warm wide eyes. His hair is black, moderately curly and slightly unruly. He moves with the assurance of a being completely at home in his body. His voice is melodious. I loved him right away. Though he was strong and confident, he was also soft and soothing. It wouldn’t have occurred to me at the time that I felt particularly safe or cared for with him–but both those things were true. I often practiced with him three times in a weekend–long, intense, sweaty classes which I nonetheless wanted over and over again. I found myself sometimes crying inexplicably during class, but somehow it felt okay to me so I stayed and let the tears flow. I didn’t know then how traumatized I was or how much healing I still needed or how the soothing voice of the gentle man who was my teacher was awakening the best of my humanity beneath my elaborately constructed defenses. I showed up and worked hard to learn the fancy yoga tricks and unwind the brutal tightness in my body. In becoming more pliable I also opened up compassion and patience, vulnerability and sweetness. I came to see more beauty in myself and in others; I changed. In class, I blushed from barely concealed attraction to a man I adored who gave his loving attention generously. I once nearly fell out of half-moon as he walked by sufficiently close that I stopped breathing.
I haven’t seen him in a long seven years, but as I work to soothe the hurt in the tender person beneath my hands I remember Ariel soothing me. The room seems full with my gratitude for the pivotal secure attachment I felt with my teacher. I am full with love–for my teacher and my client, for myself and for my work. When I get to his hand, I sit on the floor and cradle it in both of my hands.
I feel vividly that something delicate and ineffable is flowing beneath my touch. I slow down and hold on with great tenderness and care. The exquisite sensitivity I used to feel for the subtle body sensations of others evaporated when my nervous system was hijacked by PTSD–I’ve only had hints of it all this time. I am full of awe and wonder as it comes rushing back.
He opens his eyes and looks at me as though half-waking from a dream; “You can feel that?”
I return his gaze and tell him that yes, I can.