Why I began to teach

I must have lain there for a very long time, completely unaware of what was happening around me. When I finally opened my eyes, the lights were still out, the room was clear, and I was alone.

My insomnia was getting the best of me. I didn’t feel well. I was having trouble concentrating on even the smallest tasks. My brother dropped me at the doctor’s office – a visit with our family doctor whom I had known nearly all my life.

“Your dad’s collapsed. They aren’t exactly sure what’s wrong. He’s at Benedictine Hospital and your mom is with him.”

“Okay,” I said, completely devoid of any emotion.

By that time I think I had been made numb to news like this. My father always had something wrong. His drinking had plagued any sense of peace in my family for as long as I could remember. Everyday I went home from school, every morning I woke up, I never had any sense of what may happen. A continuous crapshoot. And almost always, it was unpleasant unless by some great blessing he was passed out – which was often.

I left the doctor’s office that night and walked outside to wait for my brother to come back and get me. Though I knew it was cold outside, I didn’t actually feel the cold. The only physical sign of the temperature was the cloud my breath made as I exhaled. The stars were really bright that night, so much so that the sky seemed filled with more light than darkness. Those stars seemed so close that I might have been able to reach my arm up and grab one. If only I had the energy.

During this same time, I had been struggling with my faith. I went to church off and on, mostly to get out of the house with my mom and sister. I had never been confirmed in the Catholic Church and I have never in my life gone to confession, so I felt a little bit like I was crashing a party whenever I went took communion. No matter though – I think God was well aware of any sins I was committing and I did feel that he knew I was doing the best I could in a tough environment having the maturity of a teenager in rural America.

Something about those stars that night made me think that God was sitting in that parking lot with me. Maybe it was their twinkling light, maybe it’s that I was very tired in every sense and truly needed help. So I figured if ever I was going to make a wish, now was the time.

“God, I really wish you’d take my dad to be with you. Or that you’d take me. I really don’t think I can live like this anymore. And I don’t think I can do anything that will help. I need you to help me.”

And just then, I felt as if God replied, “Okay.”
My brother came to pick me up a few minutes later. He asked me if I’d like to go the hospital.

“No thanks,” I said.
I just asked him to take me to my then-boyfriend’s house. And mom could come pick me up when she got home.

“You know, he’s going to be fine. He’s built like an ox, that guy,” my brother said.
“I don’t think so,” I said.

I’m sure my brother was confused and more than a little angry by my response. And by my lack of feeling. If I were my brother, I would have been angry, too. But again, I was too worn out to put up any defense of my statement. And besides, I knew God had heard me and I had hoped God would do something to help.

I was at my boyfriend’s house for a few hours. I don’t think he had any idea of how I was surviving in my home at the time. To be fair, I never told him much about my family’s situation, though I always knew that our whole town had a sense of what my dad was like. There were a few public displays he had made over the years that embarrassed my family so much that he rarely left the house for the last few years of his life. His paranoia had gotten the best of him, and he had a fearful delusion that the world was out to get him. It was better that way – at least the public acts were kept to a minimum.

I had fallen into a strange sleep at my boyfriend’s house. Weird colors went flashing through my dream, and I had such a strong sensation of falling that I woke with a start after only a short time. I knew something had changed. My mom called a few minutes later, sobbing. God had heard me.

After the initial relief of my dad’s passing, I fell into a deep depression that would last for years – through college, and into my early career. And then had to do my very best to hide it in order to appear “normal”, something I very much wanted to be. I felt responsible for his passing. And I would try to console myself with the idea that my family was better off now, that my dad was better off with God. That thought would provide some comfort, though the guilt overrode that comfort quickly.

I was in and out of therapy and rocky relationships for years, trying to find some solace. I traveled as much as I could after college; I was desperately searching for some sign that everything was okay, that my dad was okay. I was working in management for Broadway shows and national tours, on the road nearly all of the time, changing cities as often as once a week. And then one day, a friend of mine that I worked with offered me a free, one-on-one yoga class. He had to teach a number of them in order to complete his certification for his teaching credential.

“Dan, I’m really too busy,” I had said.

“No you aren’t. I really think you need this. And the only payment I need is for you to teach someone else someday if this works for you.”

“Works for me how?”

“I just mean if you like it, I’d like you to return the favor and teach someone else who needs some relief from stress.”

Reluctantly I went to the session, and I remember thinking I was completely wasting my time. I kept telling myself I had real work to do and important tasks that needed tending. I kept trying to rush Dan through each pose as quickly as I could. And Dan very patiently would keep talking through the session, explaining the benefits of each pose, giving me cues to self-adjust my alignment. He must have known that I needed something to do at very moment. And unexpectedly, that one session did help me feeling more relaxed, and so I signed up for a few more.

I began to see that in a group setting yoga would develop community for the class members. And community was something that gave me a feeling of calm. For the next several years, I would practice on my own, with DVDs at home, and would go to classes when I got to a city that offered them at studios at times when I could sneak away for an hour or so. I got involved in meditation, and being conscious of my breathe throughout the day, and especially during my practice.

When I moved to Florida to be with my sister and figure out what to do with my career, I joined a gym with a set of great yoga instructors. On my way home from work on day, I stopped at the gym for a 6:00 class that would change the course of my life going forward.

In Savasana, also known as final relaxation pose or corpse pose, I felt a very warm sensation fall over me. And I saw my dad and he half-smiled at me, letting me know he was okay. He had very intense, black eyes that bore into the souls of everyone he looked at. And then he turned around and walked away until he disappeared into the distance. All at once, I began to weep. I could feel my chest heaving as I tried very hard to be silent so as not to disturb anyone else in the class.

I must have lain there for a very long time, completely unaware of what was happening around me. When I finally opened my eyes, the lights were still out, the room was clear, and I was alone. My teacher let me be alone with my emotions, allowed me to wrestle through my grief and acceptance and forgiveness. By lying still, I found what I had been searching for in the ten years since my father’s passing: peace.

It was after that session that I realized that my yoga practice had helped me to process, had helped me to let go of this heavy and painful baggage that I was lugging around for all of those years. And I remembered Dan’s request of paying forward the favor. I wanted to teach people yoga, for free, to help them in the way that Dan had started me down the road to healing so many years before.

That weekend, I signed up for a beginning yoga certification class offered at my gym. And then several years later while I was at business school at Darden, I taught a series of free weekly classes for two years to help my classmates find an outlet for managing the stress of our program. And for some, it helped. I had fulfilled my promise to Dan, and hope to continue that promise of sharing the peace I found in my practice. It’s a debt I’m glad to owe – after all, yoga gave me a priceless gift I could not have found on my own: it helped me for forgive myself and my dad.

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