“When you inhale, you are taking the strength from God. When you exhale, it represents the service you are giving to the world.” -B. K. S. Iyengar
Aside from the obvious, the challenge of a cancer diagnosis was the need to ask for help. And then to [as gracefully as possible] accept said help. That, my friends, ain’t one of my strong suits. Looking back, I needed a lesson, a concrete example.
What happened was this, and it’s another of the serendipitous events of my journey. I received my diagnosis late on a Thursday, November 14th to be exact. Two days later, on Saturday morning, was my weekly yoga class. And I was raw. Tearing up at the drop of a hat. Hug from one of my partners? Blubber central. Full-on crying in my car at red lights, you get the gist.
So going to yoga was a bit of a challenge. I might rather have stayed in bed, blankets over my head, repeating the mantra “it’s all a dream.” Because, for me, yoga is a rather new practice, one at which I must work, often requiring me to be vulnerable. And, hell’s bells, I was in Vulnerability Central right about then, feeling every bit exposed and not liking it one. little. bit.
But I have a magnificent instructor. The studio is in an ancient building with exposed brick walls, candles, and diffused essential oils. It embodies peacefulness. The practice is gentle, restorative, welcoming to all. I knew on that early Saturday morning it was where I needed to be, if only to keep life as normal as possible.
Yet when I arrived at the studio, instead of taking my usual mid-room location, I headed straight for the farthest back corner. I told myself it was because I might cry and I didn’t want to disrupt anyone else’s practice. Class started, we centered ourselves and began our practice which, that morning, included tree pose, Vrksasana, which was something we’d been working on for a couple classes that session. Our teacher told a great story about how trees, while firmly rooted, aren’t meant to remain clenched, that instead they sway in the breeze, they move with the conditions around them. And so she encouraged us to do the same and to avoid the clenched-jaw, I-must-stand-completely-erect mindset that plagues so many. That’s when the next miracle unfolded.
As we completed tree pose, she invited us to the front of the classroom. There were, I guess, about a dozen women there that morning, ranging from mid-20s to perhaps late 60s. We pushed some mats aside, and she asked us to stand in a circle, shoulder-to-shoulder, right hand on the small of the back of the woman to our right; left hand on the shoulder of the woman to the left. Then we lifted our left foot to place it on our right calf or thigh and we experienced tree pose as a circle of one and – at the same time – of many.
The lesson she taught us that morning was that we can trust one another to be our support. We can be open to receive, some swaying a bit more than others, but all the while the collective supporting each one of us so that the circle, while sometimes shifting a bit one way or the other, remained intact and stronger from the support offered by each to the others.
I stood, followed instructions, all the while tears running down my face. It was as if my teacher had seen into my soul, knew that I needed the lesson in receiving support, and provided it to me in the warmth of that yoga studio at the exact right time for me to learn.