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The Right to See: Making Eye Contact at Wanderlust Yoga Festival

During my volunteer shift on my first day in Lake Tahoe for the Wanderlust Yoga Festival, I browsed through the program booklet, which listed the schedule of events. One page had horoscopes, because what kind of yoga festival would skimp on this important feature? With plenty of time on my hands, I read every inch of that booklet multiple times, including this little insight into my future:

Virgo: Make more eye contact (but not in a creepy way)

Reading less like a horoscope and more like a sound piece of advice for anyone regardless of their astrological sign, I took this phrase to heart. I was reminded of some positive mantras I had learned during yoga teacher training regarding the seven chakras, specifically one for the Third Eye Chakra.

I have the right to see and feel insights.

This can manifest itself in more than one way, including physically seeing with the eyes and also seeing with the mind or intuition. What better place to practice seeing than at a yoga festival, surrounded by opportunities and encouragement to dig deep?

The next morning, my friend, Stonia, and I attended a morning class called “Go With The Flow.” Led by Tori Reynolds, an instructor from Ohio, the class was an hour and a half of energizing flows and challenging poses.

It was in this first class I attended at Wanderlust that I really pulled many useful ideas. Tori’s teaching style was welcoming and comforting, which are characteristics I strive to embody as I learn and grow as a yoga teacher. Attending classes taught by people with similar styles has been very beneficial for emersing myself, in a sense, during my learning process.

This process has included teaching practice classes at a local studio, One Down Dog. I’ve found myself tending to use many of the same poses and sequences, class after class. In the “Go With the Flow” class at Wanderlust, I found many of the sequences were different from this routine I had developed and have since inspired me to mix up flow structures that I have developed more recently.

In addition to providing inspiration for the classes I teach and modeling the teaching style I hope to develop, this class also had some other intriguing, challenging and unexpected aspects.

Living in Los Angeles, music playing during a yoga class is nothing new. Flowing through asanas with the accompaniment of a live musician on an electric guitar, however, was a surprising treat.

 

I’m not talking about loud, distorted guitar noises. Musician Ben Rivet played ambient, warm tones created by delay pedals, layered and looping to create an aural blanket that enveloped us as we moved, stretching and swelling with the collective breath.

Listen:

Throughout class, our teacher offered up playful encouragement to bump into our neighbors, and not be afraid of a hand or foot landing on the mat next to us or of our fingertips grazing another’s on the dive into a forward fold.

It was no surprise when, toward the end of class, she offered up yet another relational exercise, this time a bit more challenging – eye contact – and more touching. She asked us to turn to the person standing to the right, which for me happened to be a stranger and not my friend who I came to the class with, who had moved positions to stay in the shade.

Look into their eyes.

Keep looking.

Try not to speak or look away.

This is harder than it sounds. I have participated in this kind of exercise once before, a long time ago, in six-grade camp. I remember apologizing to my partner at the time for having to look at me for that long. Thinking about that experience is embarrassing and painful, realizing my lack of confidence and self-worth at that young, delicate age. But it also illustrates how much I’ve grown since then.

While I can’t say it was easy gazing into a stranger’s eyes, I can say I was able to without looking away. My partner in the exercise was not having an easy time, her eyes darting up, down – anywhere but mine, and even beginning to tear up at one point.

I found myself wanting her to look at me so I could send her my empathy and compassion for what she might be feeling in that moment.

The next direction took the exercise to the next level.

Move closer and join the palms of your hands – while in tree pose!

Ok, this was kinda fun. Smiles started breaking onto our faces, making the eye contact just a little easier, the balancing pose a welcomed distraction from any insecurity that may be creeping up.

A few more minutes, and then our teacher let us release. I thanked my partner for sharing that space and turned back to my mat, at this point more than ready for savanasa.

Turn to the person on your other side.

What?! More? I had already survived the exercise and now we were doing it again? I turned to my new partner. A different woman. A different stranger.

This time, I felt a little more at ease. Was this because I had already practiced or was it the energy from this new person? Maybe a little of both. We smiled. We breathed. We looked. We saw.

After the second exercise was done, we finished out the class with a few more stretches and a relaxing Savasana. As we walked to our next scheduled event, my friend and I reflected on the experience.

I wondered how it may have been different if she were my partner in the exercise since we already know each other. Would it have been more or less difficult?

What made the act of looking into someone else’s eyes intimidating? Was it insecurity? Fear of being vulnerable? Fear of really seeing someone else? Fear of connecting to another person?

I left this first class with so many wonderful ideas to ponder, in terms of my path as a yoga teacher, a yoga practicer and general every day life.

I realized that my silly horoscope from the day before had come into full effect in that exercise, which was entirely dependent on eye contact. I realized that I don’t just have the right to see, I have the ability to see. And sometimes this ability is under-used or mis-used, clouded by insecurity or judgements.

I hope to continue utilizing yoga as a path toward seeing more clearly and connecting with those around me on a deeper level.

What other ways can we work to see more clearly?

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