(this was originally written on April 6, 2013)
I had just arrived, hadn’t even unpacked yet, when my father said to me: “hey…sometime this week, I’d like it if you’d teach me some yoga.”
“Uh…..sure,” I replied, willing my jaw not to drop.
My dad is not a “yoga” guy.
We were starting a family vacation in the paradise of Costa Rica. My brother and his family had arrived just a few hours before I had, and my folks had already been there a week. The house was made up of a main area (living room/kitchen/the ever-important wifi) and three smaller buildings, each containing an bedroom and bathroom.
I had just come down the steps towards the main part of the house when I saw the infinity pool. It looked like it dropped right off directly into the cove below. I greeted my nieces and sister in law as they floated around the pool .The cove behind them was dotted with white sailboats and enclosed on three sides by lush mountains, and opened up into the Pacific Ocean. The view took my breath away; for a moment, all I could do was look at it.
The excited voice of my niece calling to me brought my gaze away from the cove and back to the pool. I said hi and opened the sliding glass door, glad to be enveloped in air conditioning. It was hot.
“Hola!” my father said, in the loud, jovial tone with which he always greeted me. My mother was at the other end, in the kitchen with the woman who worked there, trying to navigate her lack of Spanish and the woman’s broken English to discuss dinner. She looked up and saw me and came over to hug me, a big smile on her face. “hola!”
And that’s when my dad dropped the yoga bomb. I’d been trying to get him to do yoga for years; has a dozen (more?) chronic health issues and some of them revolve around injury or chronic pain. He asked me about meditation once; when he was in radiation for prostate cancer, the doctor asked him: “have you ever meditated?” My father replied with, “what….did my daughter call you?” Though I think everyone could benefit from meditation, I advised my dad to avoid silent sitting. “I think your head might blow off,” I said, and sent him two CD’s of guided meditation, one Andrew Weil and one Deepak Choprah. When I asked him about them, he said: “I put them in, and then I fall asleep”. “That’s okay, Pop,” I answered. “That’s good, actually. Keep doing it.”
For his birthday a few years back I contacted a yoga teacher that used to have a studio where they live; I used to take classes with her when I went to visit. Turns out she mostly did privates and Thai massage (passive yoga), which is exactly what I wanted for him. He has bad knees, bad shoulders, arthritis, spinal stenosis, and had just finished radiation. I was worried that even if I COULD get him to a gentle yoga class, that he’d injure something. So I bought him a session with Karen, and he loved it. (although he admonished me for spending money on him.) For a while he had her keep coming. I think to him, the Thai massage felt like a massage, or going to the chiropractor.
But he’d never done actual yoga. And he’d certainly never asked me to show him.
We decided to practice for a half hour before breakfast on Wednesday.
It was Wednesday morning, before breakfast. I could hear the roosters crowing, and the tropical birds cooing. The heat of the day hadn’t kicked in yet, and the breeze was divine. We laid on beach towels next to each other on the cement, and I employed my yoga voice: instructive and soothing. “Allow your breath to deepen very slowly,” I said, pretending I was teaching a class of strangers or leading a group of clients, so that I didn’t feel self-conscious leading my dad through breathwork.
A bad knee and a bad shoulder limit the yoga asanas you can do to a very few. But for me, yoga is so not about asanas. It’s about entering a space, stepping into presence and joy and peace. I used my body and phsysiological changes to make that transition, but the poses for me are just that: a tool, a conduit to reconnect the mind and body, and remind myself of the sacredness of this moment.
When we were done, he seemed more relaxed. He stood up, smiling, and thanked me. I put my hands in prayer position and said, “We have a way of ending yoga practice that is an expression of respect and gratitude. It has a whole long explanation, but when I teach kids I simplify it: ‘the light in me bows to the light in you’. “ I bowed slightly to model namaste for my father, and he imitated me by putting his hands together in front of his heart and bowing. “what’s the word?” he asked.
“Namaste,” I said.
“Wednesday?” he asked, earnestly, then laughed.
And that broke the yoga spell. I cracked up, and couldn’t correct him for a minute or two because every time I started to, I started giggling again. “yes, dad,” I said. “Wednesday. Because today is Wednesday, and you can only do yoga on Wednesday.” And then I repeated: Namaste. And explained it again. And he bowed again, hands pressed together in front of his heart, and repeated it back.
That is SO my dad. A big goofball. It used to piss me off sometimes, especially times when I wanted to be taken seriously. But for that day I appreciated it. It must have taken him a lot to ask me to teach him yoga-he has always been the caretaker, and yoga is a vulnerable practice, and his body is failing him in a few ways right now. His usual MO is to press on, push through, just keep shaking it off. So I was both impressed with him and humbled that he’d ask me to sit in that vulnerable space with him for a minute, and even beyond that…let me take care of him. It was a tender and bittersweet half hour, and it wouldn’t have been my dad without a little goofiness to break that spell of vulnerability.
Namaste….and may your Wednesdays (and other days) be filled with yoga.