Monday, October 27, 2014


At my deepest point of grief my neighbor Mary saved me with love and yoga.  When Jonah died I stopped eating.  I was too sad to eat. I stopped moving because my heart hurt so much.  My physical and emotional strength was wasting away and Mary could see it.  Before Jonah's death we had not known each other well.  Mary is a few decades older than I am and our paths had not crossed consistently.  But she began calling me on Tuesday evenings.  She would ask me if I wanted to go to our church's free yoga class the following morning. Sometimes I said yes, sometimes I said no, and sometimes I just ignored her calls, but Mary always called.

On the mornings I felt like joining her, Mary would arrive at my doorstep with a smile on her face. She didn't have a yoga mat so she would bring a long green and white cushion from her patio furniture.  As class started she would lay her lumpy cushion alongside my mat and begin moving through the poses. After a few sun salutations and downward facing dogs I would turn to see Mary in child's pose taking a much needed break. Although she enjoyed the class, I knew she was not coming to meet her own needs.  Her choice to come to yoga each week was a choice to support me. She knew I needed to be strong again. She knew I needed help.  

As the weeks passed, and I began saying yes more than no, I began to feel strong again.  It felt good to move and stretch.  I regained my appetite and felt more energy.  As I practiced hard poses my capacity and strength increased.  As I fell out of other poses my muscles began to compensate and correct.  At the end of each class, when I laid flat on the floor in meditation, I found space to reflect and I often cried.  Mary became a dear friend and she carried me until I could carry myself again.  

Now I wake up early in the morning, when the world is still dark, and I drive to a yoga class. I want to practice.  Comparison is frowned on in yoga, but I can't help but strive to move as freely and effortlessly as some of the people in my class.  I watch people in my class move through amazing poses: handstands, headstands, and arm balances. I think about the practice it takes to be able to push your body and gain strength, and to make such things look smooth and easy.  I want to be that strong and graceful. I want to be able to move into the full expression of each pose.  

Each morning when my class is ending and the sun is bringing light into a sleeping world I think about the ideas of practice and full expression.  Everything in life requires practice.  We try and fail and try again until we begin to master the challenges we face.  We look to those who we admire and we follow their lead.  We slowly become better at the things we practice and eventually reach a point where we can move into a fullness of understanding or action or love.  

I'm trying to carry these ideas into my religious practice.  I have been trying to visualize what it looks like to fully express christ-like attributes like love, compassion, and service. I want these ideas to shape who I am trying to become.  When I think about the fullest expression of charity I will always think of Mary, stretching into a difficult pose, on her green and white patio cushion, carrying me through my heartache to a place of health and healing.  

I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

Martha Graham