I contacted the teachers via email, and after several exchanges they suggested I read T. K. V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice and write a 500 word essay in response to it. Below is my first essay. Yes, first, because the next morning I woke up and decided there was more to say. So I wrote a second essay. And since the first one had already been sent, Carol and Kimberly became the recipients of two 500 word essays!
Take it to your gentle edge of expression – where any
more would be too much, and any less would be too little
Deb Gorman, my first yoga teacher, regularly exhorts us with the above suggestion, and I have taken her words to heart. This advice is indeed helpful if you want to make the most of your practice while avoiding potential injury that could come from being over zealous.
But Deb’s words resonate for another reason. They bring to mind psychologist Lev Vygotsky and his idea of ZPD – the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky believed that children could learn from watching and following adults, with the adult assisting the child to go beyond what the child was able to do on her or his own. The optimal learning takes place in each child’s ZPD, and that zone is specific to each learner.
I believe this is true not only for children, but adults as well, and it is true for all types of learning. Having taken up yoga in 2005 at the age of 51, I became my own best example of what it is like to start from scratch to learn something new. Over the years I learned to listen to my body, realize I wasn’t in a competition, and appreciate the many benefits I derived from yoga. For most of the years since, I have had a regular practice, taking time off every now and then. I have learned from each of my teachers and know beyond a doubt that their individual approaches and philosophies inform my practice and style of teaching.
Set an intention for your practice
When I first met Deb, my ears perked up at the mention of her being a yoga teacher, as I had been thinking about my Dad and taking care of him, and wondering how to also take care of me. You see, my Dad had Alzheimer’s and I felt good caring for him, but sad at seeing a part of him disappear. Walking around with sadness doesn’t do much for the spirit, let alone for my being able to bring cheerfulness and good feelings to my Dad. Yoga sounded like it could help me handle my sadness and lift my spirits for both him and me.
My engagement with yoga evolved from being a personal practice to a place where I want to bring movement to others to help lift their spirits. Yoga – Dance – Music – Movement. Any of these on their own can provide an endorphin release. A calming and soothing of the soul. A moment’s haven for someone living with Alzheimer’s. Combine dance with music, and movement becomes elegant for someone with Parkinson’s.
I just completed my 31st year as a teacher of children and adults. It is a selfish profession, because it makes me feel tremendously good to see eyes light up in the faces of kids as they explore and discover. And it makes me feel good to help colleagues become empowered to enhance their learning, and thus their teaching.
So it is with teaching yoga and facilitating movement for those who no longer move with ease. To create a space where folks with Alzheimer’s reconnect with themselves and others. To reawaken the ability to move with grace for folks with Parkinson’s. To bring comfort to the muscles, bones or spirit of anyone who needs a gentle reminder that they can still feel good. To smile.
This is my personal practice.
(written June 14, 2013)