I cried once while teaching yoga. It was a morning class. I knew mostly everyone there. I stood by the stereo adjusting the volume. I cued the song, Fix You, by Cold Play. I was thinking about my son who was at the time all I could think about.
There’s that question students ask me sometimes about what happens when I have a bad day and I have to teach a class. In other words, how do you find inspiration when your life is going to shit? When this question comes up, I always think about this time. It had been just a few days since I admitted my son to a wilderness program. Wilderness therapy was the last resort after the litany of failed attempts I tried at managing my son’s anxiety at home. These were the years I played two roles: A yoga teacher who delivered whatever wisdom I could to a community of willing and open students; and a mother who tried to reconcile what I had to do to help my son whose behavior ripped apart my family life on a daily basis. It was not unusual for me to spend a day teaching thirty students to open their heart in backbends and run out of the room to the ER where my son sat restless, terrified and sedated. It occurs to me, I may have taught some of my greatest classes when my life felt like it was hitting a bottom. There was something unnerving and beautiful about teaching from a place where I had nothing to lose, nothing to hide.
I walked barefoot across the wide planked floors. I tried to find words that might dislodge the weight of guilt I carried with me. My mind kept taking me back to the look on my son’s face when I left him in the care of guides and therapists he had never met. My mind kept trying to picture what my son was doing now. Where was he? How was he? Students were in downward dog feeling their hands, their legs, their breath in a way that they rarely do. I have come to see the comfort of that. The brilliance of the Buddha’s body scan. Feel your body on the ground. Feel your back, your hips, your spine, your belly. Feel all of the things that are happening. The lyrics spilled into the room and I walked toward the class. Music helped. I listened to songs that made me think about my son. I included these songs in my playlists as a way of keeping him close. There were certain lyrics I imagined my son could hear travel through the yoga room and find their way to him. Life will guide you home/ And ignite your bones/ And I will try to fix you. I blasted that song in my car, and in the yoga room, waiting for the crescendo, the bang of the drums and the rise and strum of the electric guitar- the cacophony felt so good. I spoke to the other parents who were in the room, parents my age, parents with kids my sons’ age — parents I thought could not know or fathom what I was going through. From my view, they had their happy, healthy children to go home and cook dinner for. I searched for the right things to say to move the class from one shape to another. I thought about what it took to do that. What it takes to get from one place to another. How at some point, we all must find a way. Sometimes we are immovable. Stuck in that one place, that one thought, that single polarizing belief.
We all have stuff going on. Sometimes we have really big stuff. Heartbreaking, unfathomable, terrifying stuff that twists our interior space into an unrecognizable abstraction. Who are we now? Where are we now? What now? Sometimes we move along with the fluency and precision of a hummingbird and the universe seems to be right there granting us access to our wildest dreams and visions.
I waited for my voice to emerge from behind the shake of fresh tears. I put my hand on the back of a student who was an old friend and I think she knew, she sensed that I was not so steady. Not so composed. “Don’t look at me,” I whispered “Or I might lose it,” and she smiled a kind of smile that told me I was ok. That it was ok. And for the fraction of a second, I was able to take in the relief that that might be true. I gathered myself. And I taught yoga.