Returning to yoga teaching after my father passed away seemed an impossible task — that is, until my students began filing into the space. Their kind and concerned looks were a balm to my devastated heart. They did not know the reason for my month-long absence. They did not know my mother had risen in the middle of the night four weeks prior and called to tell me that it was time. But they knew enough. Their own lives had taught them. Their empathy reached out and embraced me.
I arrived back in Oregon filled with visions of my father in his final days, his words echoing in my ears and his wedding ring on my finger. He had grown more and more beautiful with each passing day: surrendering, letting go, turning; he had endless words of wisdom to share on three consecutive early mornings and did so for hour upon hour until he tired out and rested. One of the hospice nurses commented on his beauty even after he had become unresponsive saying he was “such a handsome man,” which I know made him smile, even if only on the inside of his mind. They say that the hearing is one of the last things to go.
That first day back teaching yoga, I was terrified that I would not remember how to teach. I was still a new instructor; I had only been teaching three months before this necessary hiatus. I had not done any yoga myself in over a month, save for an extended child’s pose the morning after my father’s memorial service. I crouched in the space behind my mother’s desk in my parents’ home office, the now empty room that had been crammed with dozens of people the day before saying the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for mourning. I sat on the backs of my legs, folded my torso towards my thighs, and brought my forehead to the floor.
I do not know how long I stayed there, in my self-imposed cocoon. I drank in the silence and rested for a long time, then sat at my father’s desk. In place of piles and piles of papers, my father’s desk held his yahrtzeit memorial candle and stacks of prayer books. When people started to arrive for the second day of shiva, I reluctantly drew my eyes away from the glow of the flame.
I began teaching my Gentle Yoga class with students lying on their backs with their knees bent, feet planted. I asked them to relax the muscles of their faces, shoulders and chests. I asked them to rest their heads, release their arms and press their feet into the floor. I asked my students to notice the points of their bodies in contact with the earth. I encouraged them to explore the sensation of groundedness — that of being connected to something firm, stable, something unmoving and unwavering, that of the earth itself. As I saw the effect of these words on the bodies before me, I began to come back into my own body, to come out of my solitary suffering and back into the world, to this place and time…and make the most of it.