At the start of her lesson, a young student of mine reports that she fell down the stairs at her middle school during a passing period. She has the bandage to prove it. A friend who was with her told my student that she’d never seen someone fall so slowly. The student came up with bruises and a scratch. She wondered if her complete absorption in the present moment helped protect her from greater damage.
What did you think of when you landed? I asked.
I wondered if my arm was broken and if it was if I’d have a purple cast.
So comfortable in her body, when it’s experiencing equilibrium and when it’s not, I can hope she’ll be somewhat safeguarded from stockpiling the anguish and pain one’s tissues, skin and muscles invariably go through.
Working as intimately as I do with my students, one-on-one and in groups of two or three, I get to know the stories of their bodies. Not a therapist, not a doctor, I’m primarily an extra set of eyes and ears. Seeing students, receiving their reactions as they move and breathe.
I’m thinking of students who have been operated on, once, twice and sometimes more, pieces removed, scars left behind.
A student lifts an arm and winces. I ask if she’s in pain. She replies she’s not, but that something happened. I remind her she’d once had surgery in that place and she responds it was a long time ago. The body remembers.
The issues are in the tissues, yoga teachers like to say.
Yoga…direct sensation…immersion in experience.
Like a linguaphile in a new country, a willing yoga student arrives on the tarmac of his mat eager to explore, to try out new ways of communicating. Only he seeks not to bridge the space between himself and another but between his perceiving self and his latent self.
This dual awareness may be one way we humans differ from other animals.
Generally, we anticipate pain, we anticipate death.
We fear feelings before they even occur. We dwell on those that have passed.
Barbara J. King writes in How Animals Grieve,
Other animals may alter their behavior when a companion is ill, as did the chimpanzees who surrounded a dying female at the Scottish safari park, or the goat who leaned hard against her friend the Shetland pony to help keep her on her feet. They may feel concern and act on it. But only we look far ahead with dread, or relief, or a mix of the two, aware that death is coming.
The 6th grader–tripping through time and space without clutching to it –was merely moving. This oneness with experience could be a result of her four months of yoga study, or her personality which is curious and lighthearted, or circumstances, or youth. None or all.
Human beings categorize. We have to in order to catalog information in time, to build knowledge and acquire things.
My hope is that as this student’s mind strengthens in its ability to analyze, synthesize and evaluate, her body remains awake to sensation.
So that if and when she suffers a bodily loss in the course of living, her mind might cede to the body and allow it to feel. And when she suffers an emotional strain, her body might support the mind’s attempt to integrate the information. That she may feel, even pain, knowing that the only way out is through. (And that applies to joy, too!)
Alone of all species, we may pour our lamentations into art, as grief-memoir writers do. With the exception of the embodied grief that may be expressed in dance, though, it may be when we still our unique creativity that we feel closest to other animals who grieve. We grieve with human words but animal bodies and animal gestures and animal movements.
I wrote of grief for many years, others’ and my own. As much as I cherish the decades I devoted to writing and as grateful as I am for readers and publishers, it’s been accrued minutes on the yoga mat, and directly on the grass or the ground, under the shelter of a trusted teacher’s attention or alone, that has admitted forgiveness, solace, love and compassion into the cells of my being.
Breaths after breaths without syllables filling them.
The precious silence of feeling.