I’ve been getting into something lately. I should say back into something, because certain things never really leave you. It’s yoga. I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with it for decades, but when I first became disabled it took a definite backseat position in my life. After all, many of the poses were simply not an option for me anymore.
Enter Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program once again. In this class of non-ambulatory participants, led by instructor Anna Dennis, we get out of our wheelchairs and onto big, thick mats. Volunteers assist us in moving into poses that stretch our tightened limbs. For many of us, it’s the only time of day we’ll leave the cramped confines of our chairs and assume any other position. Shortened hamstrings and hip flexors are lengthened, spines are twisted, rib cages and hearts opened. It’s downright delicious. I’ve written about the Brooks programs before and told you about some new sport I’ve tried (like rock climbing!), but this is different. This is less a “what the hell, I’ll try it” kind of thing and more like coming home.
I think I discovered yoga back in college, at the gym, before even step aerobics was popular. Back then, I liked how pretty the poses looked in the mirror and was encouraged to learn I was naturally flexible. It’s fun to find something you’re good at when you’re not even trying. Yoga’s not supposed to be competitive, but others were impressed. It fed my ego. I went on to become a certified yoga teacher in 2001 and toyed with the idea of instructing others — until I remembered during my first teaching experience that I hate being in front of a class. I was so nervous, both before and during the class, that I could barely remember my sequence of poses, let alone correct anyone on how they were being done. I was in high school all over again with an overdue presentation. I left shaking, and aside from subbing a few classes, that, as they say, was that. I went back to being a student and saving for the latest cute yoga outfit.
Then in 2006, I had the brain hemorrhage. Luckily, my time as a yogi and a massage therapist had impressed upon me the importance of keeping limber and the dangers of prolonged sitting. As soon as I was strong enough to get in and out of the wheelchair, I took to the floor to see what I could still do, what was left of my practice.
Yoga then, was something to be done in the privacy of my own home where I was free to be not so pretty about it. These weren’t perfectly balanced trees or eagles that looked good in the mirror, this was sliding out of my wheelchair like so much dirty laundry to land in an ungraceful heap on the floor.
Over the years, I’ve kept at it — even trying some standing postures in the pool where it’s okay to fall. And passions have a way of bubbling up. I even found yoga during my month in Mexico, just blocks from where I was staying.
Now that I’m back to enjoying yoga in a group setting, I dare say I might have an advantage over some able-bodied yogis. I think real yoga is about the breath. About learning to look inward and settle your gaze there. My hemorrhage took my ego further out of the equation for me. It cured me of any desire to look in the mirror and compare myself and my abilities to those of the rest of my classmates. I turn inward more easily. My breath is different now. The inhales no longer match the exhales, but there is a deeper sense of gratitude for having the breath at all. And a greater compassion for and sense of oneness with my fellow yogis. And isn’t that what yoga is all about?