Yesterday, I had the privilege of leading a yoga session as part of a recovery support group with which I'm involved. I was excited all week about the opportunity to do something to help heal members of a community who are so greatly in need of a little tender loving care. They are people I know and have come to care about. They are my friends.
Throughout the week, I found myself daydreaming about what that experience might be like - I imagined some of the proper "yoga" things I could say, and I was looking forward to giving them the kind of yoga experience I knew they needed.
What I imagined it would be like:
I would set up the room to accommodate the people who said they would come. I took great care choosing the right music - songs with the messages I knew would mean so much to them. They were about breathing and being still, about learning to focus on the fundamentals of taking breath in and then letting it go again, about participating in the process of life rather than trying to drive it all the time - an effort that only leads to stress, frustration, and exhaustion. We know this all too well.
As we moved through the practice, I would be able to wander about the room, adjusting poses, placing my hands on people I knew, giving them a touch of the love and attention that they craved. Perhaps when we got to hip openers one or two of them would break down and cry, the way I often have when settling into a deep hip posture, releasing the bounty of pain stored there over the years. But then when we finally made it through a gentle, basic, practice, I would have reserved 15 minutes for a nice long final resting pose. The music would softly waft in the distance, they would surrender themselves to the stillness and maybe a couple of them would even fall blissfully asleep. I would gently awaken them when the time was up, and then send them on their way, they glowing and peaceful. One by one, they would gather their things and calmly walk out the door, some of them accepting a warm hug and an invitation to return next week.
Here's what really happened:
Of the 10 or 12 people who said they wanted to join yoga, six came dressed in proper loose fitting clothes, and the others either forgot or didn't have time to stay. One person brought a mat. The lively discussion group that we had just finished was so full of its own energy that small groups of people were scattered around the room having spin-off discussions. Then the support group in the next room began and waves of conversation and laughter started to spill over the flimsy air wall. I managed to push the many tables and chairs away from the center of the room in order to accommodate the six mats we were able to scrounge up.
The willing students were ready, so I began. After 10 minutes, two of them got up and left to meet another appointment. Fifteen minutes into class, someone who had been in one of the spin-off conversations joined us, and about 20 minutes in, two people became overheated and dizzy and took a chair to rest and drink water. After 30 minutes, another left to take care of a family issue. By this point, I had turned the music off as it was just adding to the confusion. More people were sitting off to the side than were on the floor, and everyone seemed to be watching the clock.
No one heard any of the songs. I delivered very few messages that weren't directly about where to place a hand or foot. There were no hip openers. We never even got to do a final resting pose, but rather finished the practice by sitting cross-legged on our mats, talking about the challenges and the importance of carving out small blocks of time for self care, for quiet, of having even 10 or 15 precious minutes when our thoughts and language are not consumed by the chaos and sorrow and stress of loving someone who is struggling with addiction.
As I packed up my car and drove home, I felt that I had failed my little motley yoga crew. I had wanted to give them an experience I was sure they needed and that would help them along their path to peace and recovery. But then I realized that rather than lead them through yoga, I must allow this very special group of people to lead me, to teach me how to help them. Their class might seem disjointed and fragmented. It will start late and end early because these gentle souls are living lives of chaos and they don't need one more thing to rush around for. They will make plans to come and then not show up, because for many of them a family crisis will thwart their wishes for the day. They will practice in their jeans, because they are so busy taking care of everyone else that on any given morning, they are likely to forget to bring a pair of sweatpants to change into - if they manage to make support group at all. The chairs along the wall might be more occupied than the mats, because people who love addicts often invest all of their energy in the mitigating of disasters, saving nothing for themselves. Dealing with addiction makes us fragile creatures.
The yoga I offer to my friends in support group might not fall into any type of recognizable discipline, and there may be no semblance at all to a structured class with outcomes that I can notice. Like poetry without rhythm or rhyme, this yoga cannot be shoved into a formula.
In the end, it was never up to me to decide what my friends needed. It was up to them. And what they needed was no expectations, no stringent time table, lots of patience, the ability to start and stop and start again. They needed to know that the opportunity to experience yoga was available to them, but they also needed to have complete freedom to define for themselves what that might look like. To come or not, exactly as they are, with whatever time they can afford, with whatever ability they have, to the degree that they feel led.
The yoga that I offer these precious ones must be like the recovery process itself: unregulated, open, and free, allowing each to come and go, join and leave, forge ahead and fall behind at their own perfect pace.
Even though the yoga class I led was nothing like what I expected, it was everything I could have hoped for because - also like recovery - in any moment, on any given day it will always be perfect.