Ruminations #MondayBlogs #acceptance #forgiveness

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.

28 thoughts on “Ruminations #MondayBlogs #acceptance #forgiveness

  1. I’d jump to conclusions all the time about students when I was a teacher. Over the years, I got so much better at not doing that and always wondering what the real story was. Everyone has so many layers.

    • Oh, my goodness, you must have had so many challenges when you were teaching. I’ll never forget (or get over) that one semester I taught first-year composition at the university. Egads. I had one student who sat front and center every class and seem to want to trip me up whenever he could. Even to the point of annoying the other students. They were required to keep a weekly journal … and they could write anything, did not have to be personal … and he worked really hard to shock me which he succeeded in although I could never let him know that. He was a military brat and had moved around so much he no longer saw the point in making friends. I suspect his anger was really meant for me, but I was an easy target.

  2. Good on you for doing an about-face in your response to this woman. If only we could get our political leaders to do the same, to listen to those around them and realize there may be insights we can gain. Wishful thinking, I’m sure!

    • Thanks, Carrie! Yeah, there are so many layers to this experience … all the judging that we do (sometimes not even really aware) and with no cause but our own prejudices. It does seem to be wishful thinking that many of our political leaders could listen to anyone beyond their big donors. I’m dreaming of a Blue Wave for 2018 πŸ˜‰

  3. Wow, Marie, what a beautiful letter! I hope that other people respond the same way. I can “hear” some people saying, ” That’s very sad, but I am paying and want my own enjoyment.” What I LOVE besides your sentiment and writing is that Grace still loves yoga! Sometimes people don’t still enjoy the same things after that kind of brain destruction. You get my BIG HUGS of the day, Marie!

    • Thank you so much, Luanne! You are right about some people. In her response to my letter, the studio owner told me that, even after explaining Grace’s situation, another student still felt “something should be done about her.” Can you believe it? So sad. I suggested to the studio owner that what we can do about her is incorporate her expressiveness into our practice. That would be one way to weed out the malcontents πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the hugs πŸ™‚

  4. We all probably have work to do on ourselves. Don’t beat yourself up. One practice that helps me is to try and think of three positives for any negative I find in someone’s behavior or work activity. It helps me see the value in the people I manage.

    • Hey, Susan! I’ve stopped beating myself up πŸ™‚ Posting about the experience — going public — has really helped with that. Now I feel I can move forward and, if I’m lucky, get to practice yoga with Grace again. That is a really good point of finding 3 positives for every negative. I work with some people that I sometimes struggle to find one positive, but I make the effort because there always is at least one positive πŸ™‚

  5. I often have trouble forgiving myself, so I get that…just know that we all forgive you for just plain being human. The fact that you acknowledged your misjudgment and are taking steps to move beyond that—THAT is admirable and something we can all learn from.

    There’s a similar Grace that works the night shift at my gym. I’m not sure if he has what could be defined as a brain disorder, but he definitely shows signs of social anxiety. People complain that he talks too much and says awkward things while they’re trying to exercise, and honestly, it does get in the way of the routine, but I try to correct myself and show more compassion for his situation.

    What you’ve done is often the best we *can* do. See the error and try to fix it. Good on you, Marie!! You’re my hero today.

    • You are so sweet, Phillip! Boy, it is a challenge (especially for introverts like myself) to be around people who seem to be inappropriate in their behavior and speech. A little bit of kindness can go a long way, though. Kudos to you for being aware and compassionate!

  6. I love this. And I confess that I’m often guilty of jumping to conclusions and thinking the worst of many people, so your initial reaction seems understandable. But your grace in writing back to the instructor is admirable. I gonna try to be more like you from now on! πŸ˜‰

    • Oh, stop! πŸ™‚
      I’ve been going to this studio for several years now and felt like I owed it to the instructor to let her know how important her message was for me. It took her a couple of days to respond and I was almost beside myself thinking I would be “excommunicated” from the yoga community … lol … her response was quite the opposite. It’s all good now.

  7. Thanks for sharing your story, Marie. All too often we are focused on what bothers us about others behavior instead of a focus on the cause. You can forgive yourself since it is obvious you were unaware of her condition. Your post does serve as a reminder to be more attune to other people’s situations before we judge them. Thank you for that. Hugs and MWAH.

  8. What a lovely reminder of how we’ve all rushed to conclusions before understanding someone’s backstory. And so well said: it brought tears to my eyes. Grace sounds like a wonderful person . . . even if at times she’s a little distracting. Please try to forgive yourself.

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