At the end of March I lost my father after a 14 month battle with pancreatic cancer. In some ways we were lucky – we had time to say the important things, space to love each other fully, and the opportunity to spend as much quality time together as possible. We didn’t know how much time we had. We just knew the time we were given was sacred and that each of us would make the most of it.
From the outset, I turned to my yoga mat. Each morning, with the sun still down and the apartment blanketed in darkness, I slipped quietly out of bed and snuggled onto my yoga mat. On my mat I could turn inward and pay close attention to the waves of emotion that needed tending and befriending. Some days stillness and gentleness were needed, some days flow, vigor and strength. I came without agenda. I listened. This tiny corner of time to myself was essential for my health, sanity and well-being, especially as his condition progressed.
Some people talk about self-care as selfish. I can think of no greater strength in the face of adversity, in the face of the greatest unknown we will each confront one day, dying. Both my stepmother and I carved out time for daily practices like meditation, yoga or prayer. When I was at my father’s house, she could have time to step away and attend to her practice as I stepped in to care for him. It was once said by Krishna Das, “do practice while you can. You’ll need it when you can’t.”
The truth is, when we need our practice the most we will not be safely tucked away in a yoga class or huddled quietly on our meditation cushion. Instead, our practice is called forward when life’s challenges hit us like unseen waves that threaten to knock us from our very center, pinning us under water and suffocating us of our very last breaths. In moments of receiving heart-renching news, holding a dying loved one, grieving a loss, we are called upon to practice real yoga.
This hit home on one especially hard afternoon. My father, physically weaker and thinner than he had ever been, could no longer fully support himself on his walk back to bed. I slipped my arms under his shoulders and worked slowly and carefully to help navigate him safely. But, understandably, he was scared – scared of falling, scared of being too heavy for me, scared at what was unfolding before our very eyes. I stayed present. I took one breath, one movement at a time. My attention did not waiver and I grounded into my body. His safety, and my physical and emotional steadiness, depended on it. What was once a brief few steps now felt like a marathon’s distance. It took what felt like hours to walk that short hallway to the bed. As I laid him down and lifted his legs to rest, he heaved deeply, gasping for breath. I sat by his side, rested a hand on his heart, and together we drew deep inhales. He gazed into my eyes and as he regained his breath he said, “You are so beautiful” touching my face, “I will always be right here with you, don’t ever forget it” as he placed his hand on my heart.
Yoga. Meditation. Daily, consistent, compassionate practice helped me be present for this moment, and so many others I’ve yet to share. Practice is what allowed me to absorb his words and to seal them in my heart forever without running into foreboding and dread about the future, without panicking, falling apart, shutting down or running away. We practice for moments like this so that when the time comes, we know how to be with what’s hard, we know how to be uncomfortable and how to stay present with all that’s arising. Yoga teaches us we can acknowledge our suffering AND we can acknowledge the inherent joy and beauty in the challenge. We learn this through the body first in yoga asana, then we learn it through seated meditation, and eventually, after consistent practice, we take it off the mat and experience it in daily living. There is no question that my yoga and meditation practice allowed me to navigate this tumultuous, emotional time with presence, grace, gratitude, strength and clarity.
We created Yoga 30 for 30 so that you too have a place to turn every single day, a place where you can practice now so that when you need it most your practice will rise up to guide you. May you practice today, and always, so that when you need your practice it will surface and flow from you in the most beautiful, surprising and meaningful of ways.
With love and gratitude,