Yesterday I had one of the most rewarding experiences of my life:
Sharing yoga practice with a group of young people with physical disabilities.
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the appointed time and place, so I wasn’t necessarily shocked to see that three of the kids were in wheelchairs. Actually, they were strapped in to prevent their bodies from falling over.
One of them, a tiny, beautiful Asian-American boy came over to me (pushing a button on the armrest of his chair to move) and I asked him his name.
Smiling, he said, “Ananda.”
I told him that his name means “bliss” in yoga terminology and he was delighted. As it turned out, the name could not have been more appropriate.
Fortunately we were able to use a gymnastics facility for our session, which was great because it meant we could get the kids off their chairs and onto the floor (they spend the majority of their waking hours in those chairs and consequently have very tight hamstrings and psoas muscles).
There were a lot of volunteers as well as the caretakers and parents who came with their children. This was great because we needed to physically put the kids in poses because they had little if any control of their bodies.
Little Ananda needed to be propped up with several bolsters with someone sitting behind him holding his head. His sister, Nikita, also needed support to sit up.
But can I tell you how joyful those young folks were? They were giggling and cooing and relishing in being on the ground for a mere couple of hours.
We did what we could with the props at our disposal—big balls were great for supported backbends and forward folds, again with several people moving them into the shape and supporting their bodies to hold it.
At one point, Michael, the coordinator (a good-looking guy around 30, also wheelchair-bound, who had just come back from playing in a basketball tournament the day before in Florida) told me that he had never seen the kids out of their wheelchairs for so long. He also had never seen them so involved in any activity. He’d never seen them stretch their bodies like this.
I don’t really know if words can convey how ecstatic the experience was. Those kids were so joyful, so fragile and yet, so resilient, so trusting. Everything good and true and beautiful about the world was in the room with us right then.
Another young guy, Sam, around 20, also severely physically disabled, but clearly highly intelligent and also very frustrated to be trapped in his body, told me that he suffers from severe depression. He never gets to move his body the way we did yesterday, never gets to hang out with others stretching and laughing. At one point we had him lying on the ground legs propped up on a stack of gymnastic mats and I sat behind his head holding his wrists as his arms were extending above his head. He told me he couldn’t remember the last time he had a full body stretch like that.
Puts things in perspective? Humbling? Rewarding? Words can only gesture.
As we were preparing to finish up, I went back to little Ananda, the tiny bliss boy who exuded laughter and impish delight. I was able to put his little feet on my thighs and lean into him gently to give him a deep lower back stretch. Then I gently extended his legs out and massaged his calves and feet. The look of sheer joy and exuberance on his face was thrilling. Even now my heart is exploding as I remember it. Nothing, no amount of money, no piece of paper, no award could top this. I’m not even sure if my words now can convey the electricity, the sheer delight of the moment. He was a radiant being of light and bliss—he was Ananda. Simply put, it was the highest moment for me in over nine years of teaching yoga.
We ended the morning with a closing circle where everyone said what their favorite thing was. So many of the kids and their caretakers said the best thing was the stretching and getting to move their bodies.
Little Ananda, eyes twinkling, grinning ear to ear, said the best thing was that he got massaged. Even now over 24 hours later, I am pulsating with joy from the experience of being with this little one. I will never forget his face while I was rubbing his feet. The eyes of a child. Words can only gesture. I went there to “teach” them yoga and I left with a heart exploding with love for a tiny ball of bliss who showed me what it is to radiate joy.
Editor: Brianna Bemel