Friday, March 15, 2013
My Yoga Community
I frequent a yoga studio called “The Samarya Center.” I started going to The Samarya Center when I learned from my physical therapist that the teachers there do “yoga therapy” with people who have experienced brain trauma. I finally stopped thinking about going and actually went when my office mate, Kim Jones, pointed out that my name is embedded in the center’s name (Samarya), so the match felt destined.
Now I know that in Sanskrit, “samarya” means “community”. The center’s founder, Molly Lannon Kenny, is dedicated to working with diverse populations, many of whom—like veterans and people with disabilities—do not frequent yoga studios.
Before my brain tumors, I attended classes with Denise Benitez at Yoga Arts for a decade, and the practice that I learned there helped me recover physically and spiritually from surgery, radiation, and resultant disabilities. (Sometimes “recover” means to learn to live with a new self rather than to get back to the old self.)
I have done yoga on my own almost every day since surgery, including what I called “hospital bed yoga” for the month that I was in the hospital and couldn’t really get out of bed.
For two years at Samarya, I worked one-on-one with a yoga therapist once a week. Then last spring, my yoga teacher Anna suggested that I try the center’s gentle classes and use the variations that she’d taught me for managing with my disabilities when I needed to.
I’m not always big on classes. (Ironically, for someone who worked in high school education for 26 years, I prefer on-line classes to in-person classes for academics). Nonetheless, I have loved returning to yoga in community.
Though I take gentle classes, they’re challenging for me. Just getting to the studio is challenging, as I walk several blocks over sometimes uneven sidewalks to catch the bus. Once in the studio, I go to my mat at the back wall, a mat which my teacher for the day—Dawn or Victoria—has generously placed there so that I can use the wall for support when I need to.
I go through most series with the class, often doing a variation of poses that require balance. For example, when everyone else faces the altar, stretching into Warrior I, I face the back wall so that I can use a hand on the wall to steady me. Dancer’s pose: same thing. Half-moon pose: that too (though I need a lot of extra help with that one.)
I do not think I am bothered by the variations. In fact, because yoga is not a competitive sport, my limitations remind me that the practice is my own.
Today, however, Victoria had much of the class at the wall, doing poses the others usually do in the middle of the room, this time with the wall and a block to support them in the way that I usually do yoga. This time, I did almost the whole class in the way that others did. Or they did yoga in the way that I did.
I was surprised by how much joy that brought me.
Victoria had opened class by emphasizing the gratitude she felt that each of us were there. Her greeting was not sappy but was heartfelt.
At the end of class, I said to her, “Awesome, Victoria! Thanks.”
With open heart and much gratitude. Thanks.