She told me she used to do yoga

She told me she used to do yoga, but she can’t anymore. Her knees hurt. So does her stomach. She described surgeries and injuries beyond what I’m allowed, or feel comfortable, sharing.

I told her I was sorry. I really was. There are moments I just can’t speak – there’s nothing useful to say other than express sorrow right alongside them. I said she could join in if she felt like it.

Five minutes later I saw blue rubber in my peripheral vision. She pulled the mat over and made room for herself on the carpet, which is usually pretty dirty. What might you expect at a shelter? I’ve been there for a year now and I still don’t like it being dirty on their feet, their babies’ feet.

Another woman had to leave, so it was just us again. I couldn’t place her age, but she was older than many who’d come to yoga there. I asked her what she wanted to do, or what she thought she was capable of doing. She didn’t really know. But she kept speaking of healing, wanting it and waiting for it.

I had her sit in a chair. I took a seat. We came to the breath. I looked over to see her eyes closed, perfectly focused, exhaling out with intention. We moved our arms with the breath, nothing else. We did this for a while, visualizing energy coming into and out of the body, noticing sensations, and naming them. Naming the pain. Sharp. Dull. Pricky. Tight. I spoke aloud the intention to notice what’s in the body without trying to change it, to simply accept it. I spoke it for myself, nervous to pose a suggestion to someone whose pain I can’t possibly comprehend. Her breathing stayed steady. She stayed with it.

Only breath. The air was hot in the room. I noticed another source of sound, breathing. I opened my eyes and she was sitting beside me, close – a beautiful little girl no older than 6 or 7. She’s been at the shelter for a while but yoga isn’t open to kids. She was inhaling, and exhaling, and smiled up at me. I closed my eyes and kept going.

We three went on for a while, stretching ankles and wrists, rolling the shoulders, and breathing. It was relatively quiet, unusual really.

Somewhere in the midst of tensing muscles and releasing, finding openness, sitting in stillness, I felt it: presence. Nothing more, nothing less. Our collective presence and breath – no way to measure it really.

I’m learning that this is enough.

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