April 2018

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


For a few years now,  I've been practicing yoga at The Samarya Center. The studio is well-named: Samarya means "Community," and part of the center's mission is to create a community that welcomes all comers. Even comers, like me who've had brain tumors.

At the beginning of each yoga class, we have a dharma talk on a concept from one of yoga's eight limbs. Today, our teacher Victoria talked about community. I don't think "community" is on the tree, but it's in the soil. 

Often when Victoria asks if anyone has any thoughts about the day's concept, there's a long period of silence, but today lots of folks had things to say about what community means to them. It was like everyone had been thinking about it all week and were excited to share their thinking.

I can't remember what everyone said. Emma summarized several comments, saying that community requires a sense of safety, and Pat added that community requires time, so it's not something we can build if we're rushing off all the time.

I came to The Samarya Center because I was invited. After brain surgery, I worked with an amazing physical therapist, Irena, who taught me to walk again. Irena told me that Molly from The Samarya Center had visited my hospital and said that the center works with people who've had neurological trauma. Though Molly didn't think she was inviting me specifically, she was. 

Because brain surgery counts as neurological trauma and because she knew that I'd practiced yoga before my surgery, Irena suggested that I check out the center. (She also suggested that I practice basketball and soccer and learn salsa dancing. Each of those has its own story.)

I didn't go to The Samarya Center for a couple of years, but I thought about it and supposed that one day when it felt right I'd go. Then my office-mate Kim told me about her experience at the center and pointed out that my name, Mary, is at the heart of Samarya. This seemed like destiny, so I went.

For a year or two, I worked one-on-one with yoga therapists Cyndi, who taught me to slow down, and then Anna. At Anna's suggestion, I started taking gentle yoga classes and modifying balance poses that I couldn't do. 

I've been taking those classes for almost a year, and I love them. Though I had done yoga on my own all along--including hospital bed yoga right after brain surgery--I hadn't been in classes since surgery, and I hadn't realized how much I missed the communal aspect of yoga.

Throughout today's class, when my mind was supposed to be focusing on my breath, I was thinking about practicing yoga in community and about why that's different than practicing on my own. After all, in yoga we don't talk or do projects together. Mostly, we don't even look left or right at one another, unless we're sneaking a peak to see if the person beside can really do this pose.

In community, I feel my breath come and go as others breathe, and I feel how connected we all are. I feel grounded in a group that is also seeking the ground. I work hard and relax. At the end of class, we all lie down and play dead, something called Shivasana. We're like a living cemetery, which may sound gruesome but it's actually life-affirming.

At the end of today's yoga class, Susan, the yogi next to me, generously put away my things. (She didn't know it, but I'm always trying to get out of there quickly--and mindfully--so that I can catch the bus.) When I said thank you, she said, "Anything for a solid sister." At least that's what I think she said. 

As I walked the two blocks home from the bus, a tall woman in a railroad hat carrying a very small baby in front of her stopped and said, "I just saw you at yoga." She pointed out her house and I pointed out ours. "Oh," she said, "the house with rosemary!" We do have a remarkably large rosemary bush on the north side of our house. Apparently, Molly (that's her name) cuts rosemary from the middle of the bush whenever a recipe calls for rosemary. (She cuts from the middle of the bush in case a dog has peed on the outside limbs. Only a giraffe could reach high enough to pee in the middle, and there are no giraffes in our neighborhood, so the middle limbs are safe.)

Molly introduced me to young, red-headed Isadora, who smiled in that way that a baby's smile melts my heart. "Funny we were talking about community," she said.

I thought the same, and I thought of my teacher Victoria, the owner Molly, Pat whom I see there beside me as well as before Silver Sneakers at the Y, and today's connections with Molly and Isadora and Susan.

I thought of other communities that mean so much to me: my teaching community (though I'm not there in body anymore, I'm still there in spirit, which is much less tiring), my church community, my neighborhood community, my solstice communities, my silver sneakers community, my online communities, my peeps with canes and walkers, and so on. How lucky I am!

I thought again about Susan calling me a "solid sister," and I started thinking about comparisons between communities and families. 

Communities, it occurs to me, change. Families don't.

Teachers and students come and go, as do church members and neighbors and readers and so on. Sometimes people go away, and sometimes they pass. The spirit of the places change, and some people stay and are the core of a place, at least for a time, and these people become like family. 

The people who make up a community change. The people who are my family do not, though the spirit of that family can change, too. 

I've been thinking a lot about that lately, and have been worrying how the spirit of my family may morph over time, but those people, those people who are my life and my blood, are still part of me no matter what. And I am a part of them, too (to borrow a thought from Langston Hughes).

As I've been mulling about community and family today, I received two surprising emails that ground me again in what a great gift I have in both.

My cousin Lori sent me her reflections on the two of us growing up through the years...the only people who have known me so long are family. How lovely to be reminded that through all the changes of selves and homes and lives, we remain family to one another, continuing to grow as gifts in one another's lives.

And then a long ago colleague, Sue, who has also experienced life-changing health conditions emailed to ask if I would invite five angels into my home. 

Wow! Angels. So many surprising gifts in this day of mine, this day which is itself a gift. 

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