When Connection Turns into Community

Weeks 7 and 8 of Yoga Teacher Training

In our last week of teacher training a quote by psychotherapist Irvin Yalom comes to mind.

He said, “It’s the relationship that heals,” and he was referring to the therapeutic relationship between a doctor and a patient as being a powerful catalyst for healing. That it was more the human connection than the technical therapy that contributed largely to the healing process.

We’ve learned a lot these last 7 weeks about yoga. We’ve learned about anatomy, philosophy, asana, pranayama, and how to be more mindful yoga practitioners and teachers.

What is also becoming inescapably obvious is that we have learned each other as well, and this has been a subtle but significant aspect to our learning process.

What started out as a group of strangers is now a supportive group of friends. We’ve seen each other’s personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and have come to admire each other for continuing to show up to our individual and collective practice.

We each bring different histories and struggles to our mats every day. We’ve brought these since Day 1. The only difference is that we now appreciate where we are coming from.

This is the beginning of community and this is the essence of connection.

One of the teacher trainees is a man named Kim. The first week of training I had the opportunity to work with Kim, and I noticed he rocked back and forth on his feet quite a bit while standing. When I asked him if he had difficulty in standing poses, he said yes. When I asked why, he said simply that he had some nerve damage to his feet.

The last few weeks I’ve seen him quietly use multiple props and the wall for support in many poses. He always has an easy smile and while some poses seem challenging to him, he never seems to be overefforting.

It was only when Kim shared with the class how he had fallen off of a second story building onto a two-by-four and become paralyzed from the waist down that I began to appreciate the true beauty of his yoga practice and the powerful potential of yoga.

Doctors told him he would never walk again due to his spinal cord injury.

After having surgery he was told in order to be eligible for physical therapy he had to be able to wiggle his toes. His determination to commit to this first step, wiggling his toes, allowed him to take the next step to recovery. After two months he left the hospital in a wheelchair. Month by month he progressed from a wheelchair to a walker and eventually was able to walk with crutches. From crutches he progressed to using two canes. After a year on two canes he was able to walk with only one cane.

A friend taught him how to meditate and provided both hands-on and distant healing that supported Kim as he reentered his new and different life.

It was 5 years until he began practicing yoga. He has mindfully deepened his practice over the years and headstandcontinues to see steady progress. He’s been practicing about eight years now and this picture of him in headstand with a smile on his face really captures his strength, grace, and determination.

Kim still deals with what he calls “sensation,” otherwise known as pain.

Seeing how he works with his sensation and challenges is a humbling example for those of us who take our health for granted or who get disappointed about seemingly “slow” progress in our yoga practice.

In Kim’s words, “Things will never be the same. But that’s okay.” While many therapies and people have assisted him on his path, he mostly credits his progress to his “will to survive.”

Kim taps into his will to survive every day. It allows him to do what many people would call impossible.

It makes me wonder, Are we tapping into our will to survive? Are we even tapping into our will? What are we calling impossible that would become possible if we stopped limiting ourselves?

When we tune into our potential instead of our pain, we find our current limitations are merely a starting point.

This is just one example of how we have learned from each other through this training. We’ve learned to be sensitive to other human beings, whether it be through the words we choose or our physical touch.

As I disembark from this life-changing journey, I feel supported by a community of friends and teachers and well-equipped to follow my own yogic path.

The amount of knowledge and wisdom our teachers have shared with us will be sinking in for months to come. The words of Abraham Lincoln sum up my attitude as I step out of the world of teacher training and into the world of teaching yoga:

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”

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