I can always count on my father—Papa, as the family calls him—for certain things: unfailing support in my endeavors, always a happy smile, and a guilt trip worthy of a Jewish grandmother if I take too long to visit.
I can also count on hearing the same joke that I have always heard my entire life at the mention of exercise: If I feel like exercising, I lay down until the feeling passes.
My father does not like exercise. He never has. He would rather do nothing than exercise. He likes cooking, John Wayne movies and making his community better, but he does not like exercise.
This became a problem recently when the doctor prescribed exercise for his heart trouble. He experienced a heart attack that scared him and the family significantly. And yet, this brush with eternity did not inspire a sudden interest in exercising.
My stepmother begged the family to help push him in the right direction with little results. He flat out refused to go on the hardcore medication that the doctor prescribed—an act that inspired my support—but if he wasn’t going to go the drug route, he needed to do something else instead, and he wasn’t.
Papa would walk sporadically, maybe an eighth of a mile, and complain about the pain in his back that the short walk would incite. My stepmother, in tears, would update me on the situation. The more we would try and inspire him, the more resistant he became. The family felt helpless.
Until a magic day came and changed everything.
I have been a yoga enthusiast my whole life. It began when my mom would do plow and headstand in the seventies. My sister and I followed suit, and I have always turned to yoga as a form of exercise. I didn’t care about the breathing or meditation (boring!), and opted more for the adventurous poses. I could perform well with a background in formal dance training—I knew how to protect my body in action.
I had begun taking lessons from Laura Sri Gibson at the Sangha Yoga Studio in Athens, Georgia. She teaches a wonderful Yoga for Musicians class that I love and we had run into each other outside of class one day.
In a strange coincidence, our fathers were both going in for a “minor” procedure to get another heart stint put in on the same day. Weird, we said. My father was having his second stint put in; her father was having his third. She told me how he had been doing restorative yoga over the last six weeks in her Chair Yoga class and through another restorative yoga class at Sangha Studio. I told her how my father refuses to exercise. We both felt the weight of our shared reality heavy on our psyches.
As my father was quickly recovering after a successful procedure, I learned of her father’s miraculous hospital visit. She took her father in for his procedure and the doctor took x-rays to find that the 70% blockage to his heart had been reduced over the last six weeks to an amazing 30% blockage.
I was certified as a yoga instructor shortly afterwards and my father and I began our biweekly yoga practices. Within two weeks, the chiropractor saw a marked improvement in his lower back—where all of his pain resided. After several months of practice, his insomnia disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared one day many years ago.
Family members are now joining our practices and bringing their physical complaints to me, and suddenly, after years of loving yoga, I find a depth within myself that I hadn’t known—I am a healer.
Being a teacher has its advantages. The “boring” aspects of breath and meditation have suddenly become the mainstays of my own practice. My posture has transformed in my simpler practice and my body has transformed to fit my posture. This never happened when I strove to be the Yoga Star. I am finding the power of yoga is in its simplicity.
Papa has been bulldozing his backyard this week and I gave him the option of skipping our session the other day since he was getting so much exercise. No, he said without hesitation. Let’s do yoga.
Yoga is indeed magic.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Creative Commons