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.