The Path To Bodhichitta

You start where you are, the practice will meet you there.

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lioness In The Midst

SK, my lionhearted student, gave me a gift yesterday. And she didn't even realise it.

SK has osteoarthritis of the knees and has recently recovered from breast cancer, which brought on an early menopause, which in turn worsened her knees. She's only 39. Her doctor has recommended knee replacement surgery, which she has firmly turned down. It takes her at least half an hour every morning before she can walk normally. She has her good days and her bad days. Yet, she has turned up for every single class in the last six weeks. And with a beam on her face too. I spend time with her after every class and each time she walks out the door, I marvel at her courage and spirit. Her yoga journey has been an intruiging one for her and a humbling one for me.

When I first met her, I was blown away by her smile and the light in her eyes. She is naturally pretty, but her inner glow makes her positively beautiful. As she walked me through her condition, there wasn't a single hint of self-pity, resentment or despair. This is what I am, she seemed to say, not who I am. And what I am today, is not what I am tomorrow. She believes the doctors' diagnosis, but not their fears about her body's future.

On the first day, I spent extra time with her before the class, teaching her the modified version of the Sun Salutation. She picked it up in a snap. During the class, I noticed her struggling to follow the version everyone else was learning. My first instinct was to instruct her to focus on what I had taught her, but something told me to hold back. A few minutes later, I saw that she had reverted to her modified version. That was my first taste of her fighting spirit.

Two weeks ago, she turned up early for class and shyly asked me if I could correct her alignment in the Sun Salutation. To my amazement, she proceeded to do what the original version. Later, she told me that although she knew her poses had to be modified, she wanted to at least try the originals first. I told her I would allow it on one condition; she would stop at the tiniest sign of pain. She instantly agreed. I was taking a risk. I knew that. Yet, I also trusted her. And she hasn't broken that trust since.

Yesterday, she told me she wanted to do salamba sarvangasana (supported shoulderstand) like everyone else - without the use of a wall. I refused and told her flat out that her next couldn't support her weight. She was disappointed, but agreed. Then she wanted to try halasana (plough). I reminded her of her promise and slowly eased her into the pose, guiding her feet behind her head onto a stool with two pillows on it. She held the pose for 5 seconds, then indicated that she wanted to come out of it.

"I felt like I couldn't breathe," she said.

"It's normal to feel a slight choking sensation," I assured her. She looked relieved.

"I'm also afraid," she confessed.

"That's normal too," I replied. "It's something new. You have the right to be afraid. But don't let that fear decide how far you go on your journey."

"I will get better, right?" she asked hopefully.

I told her to think about her first class. About what she could do then, and what she can do now. That beautiful smile lit up her face.

"I don't ever want to stop yoga," she said, as she rolled up her mat.

Like all the other weeks, I marvelled as I watched her leave the studio. But this time, I also felt a rush of gratitude. That evening, she had given me renewed determination to continue my own rehabilitation program.


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