Death, Fear and the Healing Magic of Yoga

I teach yoga in a small town with a population less than that of a shopping mall on a soggy Wednesday afternoon. In the six years I've lead classes here I have shared in the aftermath of divorces, deaths and life changing injuries. As a yoga teacher, especially in a tight-knit community, I respect the need for healing and have always felt generally confident to provide a space for it. One day something changed that caused me to have a good hard look at what that really means.

When I first heard the news that the husband of one of my students had hung himself, I was paralyzed by fear. I wanted to run away from what I was feeling, terrified of ever seeing this woman return to class. I feared her, and feared what she must have felt after she came home to find her beloved soul mate of thirty years hanging from a rope inside their living room.

Walking to class one day, I had a distressing suspicion this was the day she would return. It had been three weeks, and many folks said she was ready to come back. I can’t explain how much it bothered me. I wasn’t ready to have her in class. I wasn’t the one who came face to face with this horrifying event, so why was I so frightened?

As people streamed in and took their spots, I felt a sigh of relief because she wasn’t there. “Oh thank God”, I thought as I plugged in my iPod, hiding my insecurity of the matter behind the sounds of my favorite yoga playlist.

As fate would have it, right before we started, a woman whom I had not seen in class for a couple of weeks came in and dropped the bomb. “I really need your class today. We lost our son last week. He’s the second one we lost and I am really struggling.” I almost fainted. I wanted to hightail it out the door and crawl under a rock.

As I was teaching class, I felt the burden of a huge and scary responsibility to be a healer. “I am no therapist, I am just a yoga teacher,” I thought to myself as I paced in between rows of downward dogs. And then it hit me. I am not the healer; yoga is the healer. It is yoga that soothes the soul and opens the heart. Yoga is what frees the spirit; I do not. From then on I began to relax and feel the fear of what these women were going through subside. A wave of gratitude swallowed me whole just as we waned into, poignantly, corpse pose.

My students have taught me a lot. Their resilience and ability to bounce back and move on leaves me awestruck. The great sages of time remind us that the whole world can be our teacher. My students are my teachers, as they reflect back to me how beautiful life really is.

The magical healing power of yoga beams evidently through the hearts of those who practice. At the end of class, when I see tear soaked eyes, from both joy and sadness, the only feeling I have now is gratitude, and from that I will not run. 

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