Some of you know that I practice yoga at a studio. A few weeks ago, a student I didn’t know started attending the two classes I take each week. I found her presence to be a little unsettling. She was … to put it delicately … expressive with almost every pose she made. Her rather energetic sighs and enthusiastic exclamations distracted me from my own effort to relax into a pose. I wondered why she was so loud and talkative. I thought maybe she was new to yoga and didn’t yet understand that most students prefer silence. Well, at least I prefer silence. All I want to hear is the instructor as she guides me through a vinyasa.
Then one morning I was checking Facebook and a message from the yoga studio owner pops up. As I read it, my face flushed with embarrassment … and shame.
Turns out the expressive student who I will call Grace (not her real name) is recovering from a long illness, an illness that could have killed her and that has left her with brain damage. The message from the studio owner was prompted by complaints from other students. She felt obligated to help all of us understand Grace’s situation, in part because Grace so loved practicing yoga and in part because she and Grace were very close friends.
Grace was once a yoga instructor herself, at the very studio I attend, and she is well-loved by many there. I thought long and hard about how to respond to this news. Finally, I wrote back to the studio owner:
“Thank you for your post on Grace. I’m too embarrassed to admit publicly that I was initially unsettled by her comments and expressiveness during the few classes we’ve shared so far. I didn’t know who she was and thought she was just a very vocal person at first. But then I observed how the instructors responded to her … no, not really responded, but reached out to her. Every instructor, from the one teaching the class to the ones practicing, responded to Grace with a tender, loving kindness that made me realize there was something very special about her. I guess it’s that joy that people feel when they get back someone they thought they had lost. And I observed Grace … her warmth, her genuine friendliness to everyone around her, her joy when her body fell into place with the pose. When she smiled, her whole face would light up and you’d think, “this person loves life.” But I could also see the confusion sometimes, the withdrawal and quiet. It breaks my heart to know that the confusion is from her illness. What I learned from your post and my observations of the wonderful instructors at the studio and especially Grace, is that the studio is a safe place for everyone. I’ve always thought of it as such; the one place I can go and be my clumsy, flaky self without anyone criticizing me. But it’s not all about me and it’s not just for me. If the studio is a safe place for me, it has to be for everybody. Before I read your post, I struggled with that tension of wanting my safe, quiet place and sharing it with Grace and her enthusiasm. After reading your post, I realized what a hypocrite I am. One of the many things I LOVE about the studio is the sense of humor everyone shares, the willingness to laugh at ourselves, to let go of the pressures of the day and just Be. I read your post a few hours before my Yin/Yang class. Grace was there and I rejoiced in every word and sound she uttered. As so many have said, Grace expresses what we all feel: she gives voice to our joy when a pose feels right, our bafflement when we forget which is right and which is left, and that sweet peace as we yield to savasana. I truly look forward to practicing with her. And thank you for making the studio what it is: a place of healing and joy and laughter.”
I wanted to share this because I still haven’t completely forgiven myself. Yes, the next time Grace turned up in one of my classes, I made a point of saying hello to her. Nothing more. Not yet. She was quiet that night and I could only hope it was because she was feeling peace within herself, not confusion.