Here under this aluminum sided open-air pavilion on a concrete floor, we’re all deliciously comfortable. There’s only birdsong, the hot, 95-degree midday Texas wind, and a generator powering an oil derrick off in the distance. The low, twangy chatter of the equine therapy team finishing their lunch. And my voice, occasionally guiding attention back to this or that sensation.
I’m teaching yoga to parents and staff of a school that specializes in working with children with developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injuries and neurological disorders. These are kids who will never leave home and live on their own; kids whose parents will parent them forever.
These families’ and teachers’ lives contain levels of love and heartbreak, skill and stress that I will never know. Over the course of two days, I give them a couple of hours of self-care. I offer them guidance as they direct their attention inward, a window of time and space to get curious about breath and muscle and joint, and then to maybe become curious about being curious. About their arms and shoulders that lift grown bodies into wheelchairs. And about their nervous systems, that for many, run on a higher, perhaps more constant state of alert than other parents.
The feedback for these small classes is always generous and surprising to me: how good they feel and how surprised they are at how good they feel. This is how I most love to teach.
On the last day of classes, I meditated on generosity derived from faith, this retreat center having been founded on explicit Christian values and beliefs around care and service. I wondered if the faith of organized religions, and the imperative of “taking care of” is different from the compassion that we try to develop through the practice of yoga.
I live in a conservative state, one where many of my students are regular church-goers, and they do valuable, selfless work within their congregations. I see this place as an expression of that same good, the human impulse to offer care. It’s an interesting and unexpected place to be teaching yoga, but perhaps less and less so. The mainstreaming of mindfulness practices and the application of yoga in more clinical contexts may make any differences between these traditions of “care” less important. I hope I’m still coming out here to do this small, simple act of service when that happens.