Lois Joy lives in Hampshire County where she teaches Iyengar Yoga (on Zoom now!), writes, and works for economic justice for the non-profit Jobs for the Future. Her work appears at Parinama: A Journal of Transformation. She loves valley summers for the swimming in lakes and rivers, long forest walks, and birdsong.
…how will you shape a life equal to and as beautiful and as astonishing as a world that can birth you, bring you into the light and then just as you are beginning to understand it, take you away? David Whyte, Consolations
Before Covid-19, I taught a weekly yoga class at a local nursing home. Most of my students were just beginning yoga at age 80, 95 and even older. While they were frail or forgetful and spent their days in chairs that did not fit their bodies well, they practiced with an earnestness and lack of judgement that was disarming. Reaching through pain with arms that no longer straightened or ankles that did not bend, they brought their full attention to the movement with an effort and enthusiasm that was breathtaking.
“I feel different, better” they told me after class, “We need to do this every day!”
I got to know the residents little by little in the conversations we had after class. Over time, I learned about the falls that brought them to the care facility, children recently lost to cancer, the frustration of having to wait to be brought to the toilet not always in enough time. Living in the care facility brought the comfort of companionship, daily activities, the nurturance of caregivers and also the unavoidable annoyances that come with sharing close quarters under florescent lights. While many held the hope of returning home, to sit in a favorite chair or watch the roses bloom in spring, there came acceptance of what life was asking of them in this moment with grace and humility. To come to class each week was an act of courage for people who live with the weight of gravity bearing down on seated spines, within lives and bodies that are becoming more compressed. Working against the grain of the constrictions, yoga asks the body to open up into what may be painful, to soften protective hardness, to encourage tenderness and openheartedness against the strong pull to close down.
Visits from siblings, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren brought delight, remembering, and belonging. Every afternoon after the stroke took her voice and movement, J kept his wife of 60 years company in her shared bedroom or the parlor. C did her mother’s laundry, arranged and brought her to doctors’ appointments, and took her for monthly dinners downtown. R wheeled his mother down the long drive and back up the hill for nightly sunsets.
I miss my students and think of how confusing and sad it must be for them now, cut-off from family and friends. The many challenges they already faced are now made more difficult during this time of great danger for all nursing home residents. Living in a nursing home means you have already had to give up so much, legs strong enough to get you out of bed in the morning, privacy in the shower, food served on grandmother’s china rather than plastic. I imagine them now waving at family and friends through windows, Facetiming with grandchildren, hoping a sore tooth will mend on its own, a caregiver won’t get sick.