Regarding my yoga teacher training, my teacher has always said, “Even after all of this, if you only manage to change one person’s life, then it will all have been worth it.”
I am a brand new yoga teacher; I have only just started my own classes within the past couple of months. Yet in this short time, I have managed to offer tools to several people that have allowed them to relax, improve postures and to simply feel a bit better in themselves. But in the space of eight weeks I have already changed that “one persons” life.
I was approached to give a short course of meditation to a woman in her thirties who, due to spina bifida, is wheelchair bound and lives in a home with full time care. This lifestyle has resulted in an isolated life that has affected her mental health and social skills, with stress and frustration being a common state of mind. She, as we all do, has a long story I could not possibly know fully, though that which I do know I could not recount in the limited space of any article. Just know that it is one of an individual that you cannot help but feel love for having gone through such circumstances.
In this article I shall refer to my student as Alli.
As a starting point to teach someone meditation, I work with body and breath awareness. Yet here I was, working with my first meditation student who had no sense of feeling below her stomach. The first couple of lessons I worked with guided relaxations and body awareness, mainly so I could gauge what Alli would remember and understand. Alli kept nodding off up until the third week where we moved to body awareness meditation.
It was after this session that I found out Alli could not actually feel anything below her shoulders; since my last visit she had been assessed and it was also decided that Alli has a memory of just fifteen minutes.
Suddenly it felt like the past few weeks had been an exercise in futility. Given there had been no direct feedback from my student to let me know that what I was saying was of no benefit to her, how could I offer anything else? Yet every week after I left Alli, she had a smile on her face and was claiming that she felt better and more relaxed. Even if all I was providing was a friendly face and something a bit different on a Monday then at least it was not a total waste of time, even if the main objective had been missed. At any rate, the fact that Alli remembered who I was every week meant that I didn’t totally agree with her recent assessment.
With this memory span issue in mind, on week 4 I decided to introduce breath ratios. I started with sama vritti pranyama and left Alli with homework to practice and remember this pranayama. With this I would be able to find out if Alli was remembering our week-to-week practice, or if the benefit was only spanning those minutes that I was there.
I returned the following Monday for lesson 5, sat down in front of Alli and without any hints or reminders asked if she remembered the previous week’s breath ratio. Without any hesitancy or a moment’s thought, Alli replied “4:4:4:4.”
Overjoyed doesn’t come close to how I felt in that moment. With that, I carried on without any limitations on our practice, confident in the understanding that she was capable of much more than anyone had given her credit for. The following lessons touched on Trataka, other pranyamas, visualisations and subtle body awareness.
On the last practice, I walked into Alli’s room noticing how calm and relaxed the atmosphere was compared with other weeks; Alli was already calm and relaxed herself. But I needed to make sure that this was how it really was and not because of how I wanted it to be. So I questioned Alli on how she felt about what we had done over the past few weeks, whether it had been any benefit to her, to which she answered yes and gave all the positive answers one may expect. But again, how could I know this was the truth? At this point Alli’s carer spoke and stated that over the past couple of weeks, especially the past week, Alli really had been so much calmer and happier, also finding that Alli had become more helpful and engaging than before our short course.
I am sure some of you reading this are well aware of how this feels. There simply are not the words that could express how this feels. It has honestly been an absolute blessing for me to have had this opportunity and I will forever be grateful to have met Alli.
Each one of us has this ability to walk into someone’s world and offer tools that can allow someone to make the most of their journey. With patience, and a little resilience, we each could help to transform just one person’s life. Imagine a world like that.