“Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakens.” ~ Carl Jung
I had arrived earlier. I like sweeping the floor before my students arrive. It’s a small room, not much of a problem, and it feels good. It’s like a ritual: sweeping, arranging props, turning on the indirect lightening and sometimes lighting a candle as well.
I sit still with 10 minutes to simply pay attention to my own breath. Sometimes a prayer happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but this extra time is vital to align myself (or to try letting my little-self go) to welcome the person who is arriving
It had been a while since I taught a private yoga class. I mostly enjoy dealing with groups and building a loving and supportive yoga community. That’s my fuel. Moreover, students who want a private class are usually looking for yoga as a complementary therapy technique for their bodies or minds—and I’m not a yoga therapist.
In any case, I accepted this new yoga student because, one, I could at that time, and two, one of my best friends had asked me to. Apparently, this student battled frequent panic attacks and had been depressed for years.
He walked in politely, wearing a beautiful grey suit and burgundy tie. His looks were, as society sees it, beautiful. Beautiful and lifeless.
During the first private session, I do not impose a strict time frame. Why? Some people need to talk at first, while others can hardly say hello. We never know.
He was quiet at first and extremely polite—the kind of politeness that builds walls. He was a successful businessman and financial advisor who had climbed up to the top of the money chain and was, nonetheless, utterly in chains. Divorced, with no children and a history of depression in the family. He kept talking while I listened and I quickly realized he was completely absent. Pale skin and dull eyes, he had a script to deliver that quickly became a cold self-analyzing rambling. Even when searching for healing or help, he was aiming for the everything’s-under-control projection of himself. Why?
I had to stop him from talking. My heart was filled with compassion and a willingness to help, but this talk was not productive. I made things clear—I was a yoga teacher. I was concerned I’d lose some respect once I stated the obvious, but sometimes when we break someone’s expectations, we bring them back to the situation itself, outside their mental image. A sudden stop is a window of opportunity, and even if you don’t go through it, you’ll still feel a new breeze.
I encouraged him to open up, let the self-analyses go and welcome a simple body and breath experience. He agreed and went to change into more comfortable clothes—after all, he was there for a yoga class!
We practiced a gentle modern hatha class with props. I encouraged him to close his eyes if he felt comfortable and made adjustments with gentle touches here and there to help him settle into postures. At first, he tensed up. When he got tense, I felt my own body respond in the same manner. I had to actively tell myself to let go—as I did, so did he.
As I guided him to be fully present, my own presence grew. I became lighter.
He spent extra time in a few restorative asanas, and I watched his body come to life and give in slowly to relaxation and presence. His presence and mine began to mirror each other. His previously harsh face had given way to an angel-like restful expression. And my compassion had opened me up to a feeling of awe.
We started a long breathing session—I had only one chance to help this guy experience the possibilities of yoga. If he didn’t go deep now, he’d hardly keep trying out yoga as a path. I knew breathing was the key. After guiding him for 10 minutes, I let him continue on his own for 15 more. Normally, that’s too long for a first-timer.
I had nothing to do but to look at him and observe. I kneeled and looked closer.
It was 15 minutes of silence: me, looking at him. I suddenly felt my whole body wake up. My heart tingled and soon my whole chest became lighter. It was love.
I love you, my being spontaneously and silently kept whispering. I stayed in this feeling while my wordless mantra surely nurtured us both. Soon after, he finished his breathing session. It took a few minutes before he was able to talk, but soon there he was: a different man, a man inhabiting his own body.
He was shocked. “What the hell was that?” he asked. The coldness and polite manner that kept his in place were gone. I smiled and gave him a succinct explanation about breathing and yoga—it was important not to jump into the brain again.
This was a little over a year ago.
I must confess that I almost always have the feeling that I’ve practiced yoga after I teach a group class. I feel light, content and loving. However, there is a constant call for acting our role as yoga teachers—adjusting here and there, demonstrating, going around, helping different people at different levels. It becomes difficult to access the layer of love I experienced in that private class.
Compassion and a willingness to help is one level of exchange, both helpful and beautiful. But feeling love, while not seeing the other as someone who needs help or assistance, is deeper. I did not pity him at that moment. I did not think he was in trouble. I just loved him, happily, as soon as I could witness him access again his own life force. As he did, so did I.
Once we open up to nurture another being—in silence and in service—love becomes natural.
“So love is the recognition of oneness in a world of duality. This is the birth of God into the world of form.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Author: Suzana Altero
Editor: Nicole Cameron