April 28, 2013

Teaching After Tragedy. ~ Haley Walker

Photo: Gbsk

On the first day I taught after the Boston bombings, I came prepared—knowing it would be a tough, and full, class.

I arrived early—under my arm,  a notebook with at least five pages of planning with uplifting quotes scrawled in the margins around a list of poses and breathing exercises I was confident would bring some sort of bookend of profound wisdom, inner peace and understanding after five days of hell.

I was determined to strengthen everyone walking through that door.

But a half an hour later, as I stood in front of my students—heavier versions of the people that came last week—I knew that I had to scrap the plan and its many reminders to be “strong” and “uplifted.” It was so clear that it was too soon for that.

So as they sat there, eyes closed, bodies stiff, teeth clenched, shallow breath barely lifting their chests and shoulders hiked into ears, the only words that burst through my lips and broke the silence were: “What a week.”

A few smiled and shook their heads, shifting on their seats. One let out a deep sigh. Another let the tears spill from under long lashes and roll through the blush on her cheeks.

I struggled with the baseball now lodged in my throat and then said the most honest thing I could, “I don’t know what to say.”

One woman couldn’t help but laugh. And so I did too. And that laughter was carried throughout the room. I watched it move from one to another, relaxing shoulders and hands. Lips turned upward. Long-held breaths released.

And I began.

In the moments of that class, where I had planned to remind these people, my students, many of whom had grown up and lived most of their lives in Boston, that “this too would pass,” and “we must be grateful for what we have,” I stayed silent. And while I would usually let someone be in their own space if they were visibly upset in my class, that day, I placed my hand on backs and shoulders and hands.

And when I normally would have harped on alignment during mountain pose or asked people to hold warrior for a full minute, I ignored the loose arms, tired legs and chins that felt to the chest. In fact, I didn’t speak very often at all, and for 60 minutes, I wasn’t just a teacher of a yoga class on a Sunday night, I was a facilitator of silence—the quiet we needed to heal.

I ended the class with the only thing I felt would sum up the last hour.

“When the soul lies down in the grass, the world is too full to talk about.” ~ Rumi.

Haley Marie Walker is a freelance environmental journalist and a certified Classical Yoga teacher in Exeter, New Hampshire.




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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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