Hugging Strangers During Workouts: A Do or a Total Don’t?


“Do one thing every day that scares you.” That oft Instagrammed quote was the first thing that came to mind during a recent yoga class when the teacher instructed us to (insert horror movie music here) hug someone in the class. Luckily, my friend was there. We both, not the kind of people who generally hug one another, let alone people we don’t know, could feel the fear in our eyes dissipate when we realized we could just hug each other instead of embracing a stranger.

Phew.

This particular class was all about opening your heart, so hugging sort of made sense. But then, the next week, I was in a class with the same instructor — and friendless — when we were told to do the same thing (hug a person or two) at the start.

“Do one thing every day that scares you,” I told myself.

But then I realized: It’s not that hugging a stranger — in a room heated to a balmy 90 degrees, by the way — is a fear I need to conquer. Like bungee jumping or eating snails, it’s more just something I don’t want to do. Ever. And when a friend texted me the other day saying the sole reason she’s avoided workouts with the November Project for all these years was because they “seem SO TOUCHY,” — their workouts do tend to kick off with hugs — I realized that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to get up close and personal with a stranger before a sweat session.

“I just like my space, especially when I work out,” my friend said. I’m with her. There is just something to be said for that personal-space bubble, especially when sweat is involved. But don’t get me wrong: the hug-loving instructor mentioned above is a great, challenging yoga teacher, so I’m not knocking her style. I’m just saying, maybe hugging in fitness classes is like sauerkraut: Maybe some people love it and some people throw up in their mouths a little bit at the thought. To that point, awhile ago, someone told me that the whole reason they’d actually started going to the November Project was because, following a tough time in their life, they needed a hug. They knew they could count on getting one (or a few) there.

I repeat: Maybe hugging during workouts is like sauerkraut.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not a monster who’s in the avoid-all-eye-contact-with-strangers camp during group workouts. I think one of the many benefits of shelling out upward of $20 for a workout is the community you can gain. I wrote awhile ago about a yoga teacher who encouraged us taking the class to introduce ourselves to our neighbors at the start, and how much I loved that. It’s certainly nice to break the ice before you accidentally drip sweat onto a stranger’s Lululemon yoga mat (hey, it’s bound to happen from time to time). I just don’t want to break the ice by literally pressing my already perspiring body against theirs.

Back when I wrote that post, even the suggestion of introducing oneself to their workout neighbors was offensive to some. One comment on that post reads, “”For myself, forced interaction in a yoga class is the absolute worst thing a teacher can do. I am there to focus on myself and my practice.” So I can only imagine how this person, and those whose comments echo hers, would feel if she was asked to hug someone who was about to get their downward dog on next to her.

All this said, we’re curious to hear your thoughts. Is being asked to hug a stranger at the start of a sweat session the absolute worst thing ever? Or are you into it? Or totally neutral? Let us know in the poll below!

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