Monday, May 30, 2011

the new yoga

I tried, relatively early on, to go back to regular yoga classes. They did not induce calm. All those images of peaceful, blissed out yogis, seated calmly on their mats - that was not me. Every time some soft voiced yoga teacher spouted off platitudes, I wanted to stand up and yell corrections: "you create your own reality." Really? I did this? I am responsible for matt drowning? I created this? That's a lot of responsibility on me. "Where you are is absolutely perfect, everything is beautiful in this moment." No. No it isn't, and WTF does child's pose have to do with anything? "Breathe, and know that everything is exactly as it should be, and is unfolding for your own deepest good." Come now, dear young yoga teacher, let me tell you that your husband just suddenly died, and please let me tell you also that all you need to do is breathe, and know it's all for your own good. How great is that?

A friend of mine who has lived through cancer, palsy and seizures related to cancer, crohn's, and all manner of other things quit her yoga as well. She said - it's all well and good until you're really in pain, until you really need the power behind the words. And just when you need it most, you reach for it and find there's nothing there. All those empty, pretty words. All the teachers can do is prattle on about how if my thoughts were clear, my way would be clear, how right now is just perfect. What I want to know is what do I hold on to when there's nothing left. What is there when it is not perfect, and you are terrified?

The good that came out of those early classes, the few I could withstand, was an idea of "yoga for death." Seething there on my mat, I had whole classes, whole dialogues run seamlessly and beautifully in my mind. I've lost most of them - my memory is not so good anymore. But if I were a yoga teacher, here are the things I would say: You do not create your reality, it will be what it will be. What is in your power is how you respond to reality. You practice to help you respond, with as much kindness and grace as you can. Your practice will not change anything that can't be changed.  You come to your mat, to your practice, to be here for yourself, to keep your heart from seizing up entirely. You are here. Where you are is not perfect. It may or may not be okay. But here you are. Practice is for this moment, not for any future. Practice is to hear what you need, for yourself, in any given moment of reality. Everything is unfolding. Good or bad is not in your command. Breathe. You come here to sit beside what is - both joy and sorrow, goodness and not. Breathe. And deepen that twist. Sometimes that is all you've got.

Admittedly, I might have a bit of a hard time keeping students, if I were that sort of yoga teacher. It could be a hard sell. But boy, if there were one like that around, I would be there all the time.

Yoga for death. I would so be there.



  1. Perhaps you, like others including me, would do better with either just you, a DVD, and the mat or maybe one other individual with whom you have a solid relationship. When my Teri died nearly three years ago, I couldn’t do anything for more than a month-anything: yoga, work, talk to my sister, think, eat.... I work out now in the privacy of my home alone and in tears most of the time. And it helps.


    wow, another widow wrote such a similar post today too (link above)

    was thinking about doing yoga ... maybe later!

  3. boo - I read her post, and was leaving her a comment, but I was becoming excessively long-winded. Figured I should blather on in my own space!

    And, in other news, Blogger is still on the fritz.

  4. I had my very own connipition fit at some young thing at work sagely stating that "everything happens for a reason".
    errr...really not seeing much "reason" in any of this.

  5. megan, perfect. yoga for death. you should make a film and post it. i know it would sell. the meditations, the stretches, and the words, all letting you be there for yourself, but not diminishing death or your grief. you really should make a film. i would save the money to buy it. i wish you peace.

  6. I'm so glad you wrote this post - was worried I might be the odd one out getting stressed by what relaxation/meditation experts have to say. I found it frustrating during my husband's illness too, being told to relax, to accept, to think of it as a journey not a battle. We were not in a situation where relaxation and acceptance were easy.

    Even now, being told to imagine I'm in a favourite place brings tears to my eyes. All the places I think of are places we loved, places where, last year, we sat and cried together not knowing if it would be our last time there. Hard to relax when thinking of that.

    I like the physical aspect of yoga - it's very hard for me as I'm unfit, overweight and inflexible, so each session is a challenge, a solid distraction, not peaceful but definitely good for my body if not my mind. I don't have a problem when we finish with relaxation messages to let go of tension. That's fine. Next time I hear the stuff that upsets me though, I'm going to think of your 'yoga for death' ideas instead. Just reading them made me unclench my jaw a bit. Hugs.

  7. S - thank you. I think it would be a very useful service. For awhile, I checked out yoga teacher trainings, so I could actually teach yoga for death classes, and feel like I had the training to back me up. I used to teach meditation exercises to clients - phht. What did I know. But - if that is a path for me, I will gladly take it. I can't be (and clearly I am not) the only one who doesn't want fluffy platitudes, cheerleading, or ignorance/ignoring.

  8. CW - definitely not the only one! I think many yoga teachers just talk too much in general. Silence - good. When you speak, acknowledge that things may not be so good, and here you are with you. Good.

    I am absolutely a fan of the say little and show up. Um. Okay - a subtle committment in my own comment - I am this close to finishing my website for the silent-and-present catering thing.

  9. I would totally sign up for your class. Even before. Not afraid of silence. Love this idea, and also bristle at the "make your own reality" platitudes. Um, yeah. It doesn't always work that way. I HAD made my own reality. Did you really have to start again from scratch(<---ha, catering humor! )- with the website?