Yoga is what yoga does

This week I started back up my biweekly class at the women’s domestic violence shelter. We had taken off a few weeks for the holidays, and between work and life and teaching studio-based classes I was eager for the reprieve. 

This week- perhaps because I had fresh(er) eyes- two things stood out to me, like that bright reflection of red stoplights on asphalt as  I drive my way through the dark into an undisclosed neighborhood and location: this class is nothing like my other classes; and I’m learning to be okay with that.

There is no “theming” – no suggestions about living yoga off the mat or contemplating the principles of yoga. There is no moving about, assisting the women, or even walking to the other end of the room. There is no head massage in savasana. My music died this week, mid-class. There is actually little that even resembles a studio-based class, which used to sort of bother me. It doesn’t anymore.

Every week I’m surprised – shocked, actually – at how little it takes for them to enjoy it. A handful of stretches. A few breath commands. Tree pose. They are so grateful. I’ve started listening more – to my own breathe and theirs – during the class. Sometimes it seems so so difficult for them to even take a breath, to inhale for three counts, to stay present in their body. The purpose of the class isn’t to get a workout or to achieve certain postures so much as it is to combat the agitation that arises in them. I see it, and I feel it. And my heart breaks. And so we switch it up.

The goal isn’t to push them over the edge of that agitation, but maybe just up to it. And more than anything, to send messages of love in every breath command, smile, or conversation that happens afterward. We thank ourselves at the end – for taking a moment to take care of ourselves. Sometimes I see their face glaze over at the point – a vulnerable look, very fleeting, flickers in their eyes and then disappears. Maybe they believe it – that they are worthy of care and love. Maybe they don’t. I’m learning to not get attached to that outcome. My job is just to be there, to serve as a vessel of kindness.

I leave feeling full to the brim with gratitude. And hope. Despite the heartache – sometimes visceral – I see on their faces and on the faces of the little ones there – I leave feeling more hopeful than I’ve ever felt in my life. I have no idea why.

The women’s love for their kids is fierce – you can feel it. Toddlers and babies and young kids stroll in and out, curious to know what the mats are for. They are just awesome. I say prayers for those babies the whole ride home. And I believe many of them will be answered.

Yoga has made me a believer in all things. Every month that goes by that I practice (or teach), every day – actually, it evolves right in front of me. Yoga is whatever you make of it. It is presence, breath, and gratitude. It is believing, having infinite hope in the face of finite disappointment. It is connecting to what motivates you, what speaks to you, and then going back to that well of inspiration as if your life depends on it. Because I believe it does.