I wrote each of their responses exactly as they worded them upon Post It notes. These consisted of words such as relaxation, flexibility, balance, strength, calming and breathing. Then I stuck them to the floor to serve as reminders for them to reflect back to during their practice.
The second week, I turned their intentions into positive affirmations, wrote them on Post It notes, and stuck them on the floor as a reminder. Simple words turned into more complex phrases such as I am strong, I am flexible, I am calm, I am relaxed, I am balanced, and I am breathing well.
During the class, I asked them to come back to their intentions on multiple occasions, to repeat them to themselves silently three times. At the end of class, we talked about how we can use our affirmations at home, in the car, or even while standing in line at the supermarket. "Just think," I said, "You'll be practicing yoga and no one around you will even know it!" The ladies kept their Post It notes and hung them up them in random places around their homes.
The third week, I translated their intentions- which I assured them can change week to week or from class to class- into affirmations yet again. This time, I stuck them to the floor and explained the concept of a drishti. I told them they could use their positive affirmation/intention Post It notes as a focal point during their practice. Again, the ladies collected the Post It notes at the end to bring home.
Week by week, I'm building on this fundamental heart-mind foundation. And they are getting it! They all report experiencing drastic changes in their bodies, minds, and breath. One student, Dolly, even shared about having a dream the night before class where she saw someone from her past meditating, someone she hasn't thought about in years. I asked her if this was someone she once admired or aspired to be like. She replied that, yes, in fact she was. The person from the past was the kindest, calmest, and most intelligent person she's ever known. I conjectured that her subconscious was illustrating all of the qualities that she craves to incorporate into her own life.... and how will she get there? By breathing, by practicing yoga, and by meditating.
Another student, Sandy, disclosed that she's also been experiencing very vivid dreams since beginning yoga. They all claim that taking the time to breathe with awareness throughout their day has changed their lives. No doubt, it's the unmistakable dawning of body and mind awareness that's serving to transform them in radically awesome ways.
During the most recent class, I read the Cave Meditation from The Spirit of Yoga:
Imagine a cave within yourself. A fire flickers.
On your right is Anger. Sadness is to his left.
Greed sits across the circle talking to Joy and Jealousy.
Some in the group are loud and strident, blustery, and strong.
Others are weaker, skinnier, with whispery voices.
It is difficult to make head or tail of what is going on.
They are your thoughts, desires, moods, judgments.
Ego, will, intellect.
This is what you think of as you.
But they are not you.
While your guests are parts of your mind, they do not control or own you.
They need attention and understanding in equal measure.
They need acknowledgment without involvement.
Do not follow the conversation of one over the other.
Validate each one for what it is.
Learn to befriend your inner landscape with respect and compassion.
Learn to step back and be a journalist of your own mind.
At the end of this class, we had a discussion about another term I taught them; Monkey Mind. After so many years of accepting stinkin' thinkin' as truth, they are finally recognizing that they are NOT their thoughts. Good, bad, happy or sad, they are still just thoughts. They do not define us... unless we allow them to. Becoming aware of this simple concept in and of itself is empowering.
"Do not allow yourself to suppress your thoughts. Instead, let the thoughts come before you and become a sort of observer.Start observing your own mind. Do not try to escape; do not be afraid of your thinking." ~ Swami Rama
One of my students, Susan, underwent a successful double lung transplant procedure earlier this year. During a moving meditation segment, I assisted her so she could walk around the room with her fellow students. Her gratitude was evident. Just the caring, inclusive offer of an extended hand to hold meant so much to her. After she tired and had to sit back down, we went into a guided visualization. I instructed everyone to hold their hands out as if they were going to receive a gift, to imagine that gift being placed into their open palms.
"What does it look like?" I asked. "What does it feel like.... Does it have a smell.... What are you planning to do with this gift....? Imagine that it's the most precious gift that could ever be given to you.... Find gratitude for this gift...."
That's when Susan began to cry. I told the class to allow any emotions to surface, to acknowledge them, to give ourselves permission to feel what we feel, that it's all just a release of energy. Susan allowed her tears to flow freely. After she released whatever heaviness she had been carrying, she carried on with the rest of her practice. Talk about a fighter. Her bravery and boldness could bring a tear to nearly any eye.
This entire experience teaching gentle chair yoga to seniors has been incredibly inspiring. There may not be a lot of money in it, but the riches I'm taking away cannot be measured in mere dollars and cents. The lessons taught to me by my teacher- which I'm now sharing with these women- are equally as invaluable as the education I'm receiving through the practice of reaching out and teaching them to others.