Tonight was our May teacher training Friday night class, and I’m too excited to go to bed. Tonight we had an anatomy lesson with a special guest teacher, Jeanne, who is both a yoga teacher and a physical therapist with 20+ years of experience. She gave a talk about the anatomy of the spine and how it applies to yoga. Some of you might be thinking, “Anatomy lesson? On a Friday night?!”, but this may be the best thing that has happened during teacher training yet.
First, some background. My dad is in his 50s. He did hard physical labor all his life, and it took a toll on his body. He’s had knee problems, foot problems, and back problems, most recently resulting in two spinal surgeries in the past year, with another one possible on the horizon. He’s a bigger dude and thinks his weight might not be helping the problem, so since his last surgery he’s been trying hard to get in shape. He goes to the gym every day, does some aqua aerobics classes, swims some laps, puts in time on the stationary bike. This in spite of severe daily pain. I admire his dedication so much and I’m so proud of him.
Last month, Dad offered to be my beginner guinea pig so I could practice teaching, and asked me when I was going to come up and do yoga with him, but I put him off. I was too nervous – I didn’t want to hurt him by accident. My dad’s health is so close to my heart, I couldn’t stand it if I made his pain worse. My aunt and cousin, who are also beginners at yoga and who have a few health problems between them, have also been asking when I’m going to come teach them. Plus, at the middle school where my mother teaches, apparently the entire faculty want me to teach them a class too. The whole thought was just overwhelming.
Tonight at training, we started the evening by doing our group share. Most of us talked about the experience of doing the posture write-ups this month and what we learned, but one woman mentioned that she’d been really nervous about teaching beginner yoga classes, so she experimented on her mom and her husband, and learned a lot. Another classmate chimed in that she’d been teaching her husband too, and J told us that this is our gold, finding family and friends that we can practice teaching on. My first thought was, but how do I work with my dad when I’m afraid I’m going to break him?
And then Jeanne started her lecture. We learned about how the spine is constructed, how each spinal disc sits like a little jelly doughnut in the vertebrae. When you put pressure on the disc wall, it pooges out a little, and presses on the nerves coming out of the spine; depending on where in the spine the pressure is, this can cause pain in the arms or legs, because the nerves going to the extremities all originate in the spine. When you put more pressure on the disc wall, it cracks and the jelly oozes out, which really impinges on the nerves. And I’m having these revelations: this is what is going on in my father’s back! We talked about each section of the spine and the common problems that occur there, and what poses can be used to counter those problems. I’m taking notes like a madwoman and starting a list in the back of my notebook of poses that might work for my dad and poses that we should avoid doing. After class, I approached Jeanne, explained my situation and asked what she might recommend, and we had a good conversation and she gave me some ideas.
After class I felt so incredibly inspired and jazzed up that I tried to call my dad from the car on the way home, but I couldn’t get the speakerphone to work, so I drove home and then called from the parking lot. I had to tell him how excited I was. Now I can work with him without having to worry about hurting him. I’ll still be mindful, of course, and watch him carefully, and I want to see what exercises his physical therapist gave him so I don’t contradict anything, but now I know what to avoid (specifically: lengthy forward bends). I have a short list of poses that shouldn’t hurt his back and might possibly help a little, and when I see what his capacity is, we can go from there.
Having a little bit of confidence that I can try to help my dad gives me some confidence that I can try to work with other beginning students, too. (Apparently that was the key – kind of a weird key, but I’ll take it.) And just the whole night tonight! Jeanne is doing work that I’m really passionate about. She teaches yoga at a retirement center. That is exactly what I want to do. I really want to work with older people, help keep them healthy and flexible. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time now, but the thought of it is a little overwhelming because, well, older people are more fragile and have more health concerns to worry about. There’s so much more I need to learn before I can do it effectively and safely and helpfully. This lesson tonight is only the tip of the iceberg of all I need to know to do any part of what Jeanne does, but I have a little faith now that I have the capacity to understand this work and the enthusiasm to make it happen.
And I may never get to sleep tonight but it’s totally worth it.