Yogabilities™: Peace as a civil right

Doesn’t everyone deserve to be peaceful?

 

When I tell people that one of my occupations is teaching Yoga, there are some common responses.

Oh, I love Yoga! I take it at the gym/the cool studio in the upscale shopping center down the street
or
I can’t do Yoga, I’m not flexible enough.
                          or, perhaps
I read an article about how many NFL players do Yoga.

When I tell people that one of my specialties is teaching adapted Yoga classes for individuals with special needs, there’s also a common response, variably worded but along the lines of:

               Oh, that is so wonderful that you do that for them.

Translation: you must be a saint. You are so self-sacrificing. That must be so hard.

Insert audible sigh here. I know this territory. As mother of a young woman with special needs, I’ve heard things like it all her life.
1. I don’t know how you do it.
2.
You have the patience of a saint.
3.
God gives special children to special people.

Those are well meaning comments, I know. And sure, it can be really hard, and I do happen to have super-sized patience. I also believe that each incarnated soul is special, and God//Goddess/Universal Life Force has a way of putting the right souls together to help us learn and grow in the ways we most need to. In other words, everyone—parent and child, with or without extra needs— is special, so therefore # 3 applies universally.

When someone would roll out the old “How do you do it?” in the past, I was often too tired to answer, or too taken aback, or too caught up wondering how the hell this person knows what it is I actually do with my kid, given that they maybe just met me.

As my daughter and I grew older, I’d more frequently have the right snappy response, which is “ She’s a blessing.” Short, true, succinct. These days I’ve added on a few new handy lines, also true,” If this were your child you’d do anything you could for her, too. You’d rise to it. You probably have moved a few mountains for your own kids, right?”

So, back to the Yoga teaching. I’ve been teaching my adapted classes, which I call Yogabilities™, for about 11 years now. Like most things in life, I’ve learned as I went along. I’m not a saint, it isn’t a sacrifice, and Yoga is not some special privilege that only belongs to the, umm, …so-called typical folks.

In our times, everyone has stress, most people have anxiety, and I’ll drop and give you twenty push-ups right this minute if you can find someone in your daily life who does not contend with poor sleep patterns, inability to focus, lousy posture, stiffness, or difficulty with balance. Everyone can benefit from Yoga.

Further, people with special needs have more stress than many. Society often treats them like children all their lives, limiting access and choices and self-determination and robbing people of a very basic human right—dignity. So, if anyone is more amazing than anyone else, it is my Yogabilities™ students and their peers. They deal with challenges we can only half imagine, and many do it with humor, patience and grace.

I love working with these particular students because, cliché as it sounds, they teach me as much as I teach them. There is no pretense as we sit together and breathe, practice being present, and share strategies for coping with anxious and unpleasant feelings and situations. We all seem to accept each other rather unconditionally. My experience with my own daughter serves as a constant reminder to release any rigid agenda, meet each person as they are, and go with the flow. Moreover, these students and I seem to co-create an energetic space where each person can feel welcomed and safe. In that container, I’ve seen magic happen.

On those Yogabilities™ afternoons or evenings when I am particularly tired and would like to just stay home and catch up with laundry or check out with an HGTV home show, I cue up a mantra from my daily life and let it nudge me into place: I GET TO, as in

I get to be her mother
I get to go teach Yogabilities™.
I get to spend time with some of the most interesting people I know.

So yeah, I get to share my knowledge of Yoga with people with special needs. Some of them are saintly for putting up with the rest of us. I don’t know how they do it. God must have created the circumstances whereby they can teach me the stuff that really matters. It’s so wonderful that they do this for me.

–Melinda Coppola
www.SpectrumYoga.net

Welcome to Autismville

 

Shimmering minnow leaves

AUTISMVILLE

I can’t tell you
it is an unpleasant thing
to live in the quirky neighborhood,
on the far side of the river,
a good ways from the thickest part
of the frantic throng.

Here, we are daily looking up,
fixating and stimming
on green minnow leaves
that shimmer against the waters of the sky.

Here we have our own customs;
the daily waking song,
the recitation of dreams,
the morning questions and videotaped answer
for her to play back over and over,
the reassurances:
Yes, there will be snack. Yes, Mom is a girl.
Yes, there will be girl hair when we leave.

The life we’ve grown into,
first she and I and then he
who married into this confluence
of ordered disorder,
this life has authentic charm.

We go slow, we don’t try to measure up.
Our victories are sweeter
for how long they take to manifest
and mysterious
for how quickly they can disappear.

I can’t say it’s tragic in this virtual village,
this parallel universe
peopled with other singular folk
who understand the need for things
like space and processing time,
patience and velvet compassion,
smooth voices, soft dolls,
sweet routine and
more spice in everything.

We have magic here, I tell you.
Songs that play in color,
voices with texture,
folks who spin and swing and
hum and sing.

And the leaves! The glorious
minnow leaves,
dancing upstream,
between the clouds,
and laughing.

Melinda Coppola

 

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5/24/17

Today I celebrate my incarnation

Fifty six trips around the sun,
carrying a moniker
that took decades to like,
and I continue,
residing more,
or sometimes less,
inside this soft tent of skin
held up by strong bones
that shape this form
we keep agreeing to call me.

So much to marvel at,
a couple tens of thousands
of sleeps, of sunrises,
so many chances
to shake it off and begin again.

If I could line you up–
the ones who noticed,
and the ones who never did,
the ones who took me in,
or under a wing,

and those who laughed at me,
and those who laughed with me,
and those I loved but never told,
and those I didn’t love enough,

and those who knew I could
when I thought I could not,

and those who spoke truth
even when it shattered me,
and those who lied to me,
and those who betrayed me,

and those who were afraid of me,
and those who were afraid with me,
and those who lost hope,
and those who gave faith,
and those who questioned,
and those who accepted,
those who showed up
those who left without leaving a note,

those who explained themselves,
those who never tried,
and those who encouraged,
and those who could not,

if I could gather you all together
I’d go bowing through the crowd,
hands in loving mudra
thanking each of you
with my sentient heart,
for all of it.

As it is,
I ruminate
on how you helped me grow,
and how I hope
perhaps I helped you, too.

I kneel and praise a universe
that does this,
that keeps us
offering ourselves to each other
over and over,
as rough stones,

each encounter smoothing a jagged edge
through pleasure or pain,
returning us as pearls
to a larger sphere in need
of our perpetual adornment.

Melinda Coppola

Self Portrait

” We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” Anais Nin

AS SOUP: I am mostly hearty kitchen-sink vegetable bean. With each tasting I re-season myself; more salt, a dash of lemon juice or vinegar, a pinch of cumin, a snip of fresh mint. On occasion, I am decadence in a bowl; my inner creamy broccoli-cheddar self will show her sly smile, or my smooth and caloric parmesan-green bean let-it-all-hang-out side may bubble up to comfort and delight herself, and you if she’s in the mood.

AS STUFFED ANIMAL: I am a little ivory lamb, tucked away in a bedside drawer to avoid the cats and their greedy, nosy mouths and claws. I always know I’m in there, though, and that alone brings deep and wide delight.

AS BOOK: I am the quirky young heroine of a magical fantasy series set in a vast woodland. The plant spirits whisper and chide in a most amusing way. I slide from one adventure into another. My dear friends, the birds and the squirrels, the deer and the dark-eyed owls, are always nearby. They guide me, and sometimes I rescue them, mother them, sister them. My hair is wild as the tangled roots of the old oaks, my clothing, hand-me-downs from the brownies and fairies and fashionable mushroom elves. I sleep among the mosses and swim in the cheerful brook.

AS WEATHER: I am mercurial New England, Geminian, not content to stay the same too long. I am generous when sunny, and sullen when I rain. I pay no mind to the silly preferences of those that dwell within my borders. Why, if someone doesn’t like one of my mutable seasons, they can wait it out, or curl up in a ball and roll south to the more predictable climes.

AS POEM: I am free verse, unconventional and untethered to form. Black ink on ivory stock, predictable fonts and rectangular pages, these things bore and stifle my words and music, so I refuse to be bound by them. I am not afraid to rhyme/when the Muse tells me it’s time./ though I’ve been known to piss her off/by refusing.

I am mostly undiscovered, a written contradiction; quicksilver, slow on the uptake, a little tentative, rock n’ roll, then shy. I doubt I’ll ever be famous, but if I am an invitation to one soul to see one thing differently, then nothing is for naught.

AS HOUSE: I am old in the bones, wide-porched with the kind of lopsided charm that challenges: restore me, update me, uncover my shiplap, make me a color I’ve never been before but retain every odd angle and don’t f— with my leaded glass. I am not your flip, but oh! how I will serve and protect a family. I’ll open my doors each morning to gently push them out to work, to school, to a day of playing in the meadow. Each evening I’ll warm and welcome with my fieldstone hearth, and guard against nightmares and the cold. I’ll proudly display the children’s heights and dates penciled on the old doorframe in the pantry, and pose patiently for pictures through the lovely, languid years.

-Melinda Coppola

Dots and Dashes

Shirts must be pink, or occasionally “pool”…

She speaks in code, Bink does, and I endeavor to decipher. She works rather hard, in her neuro-atypical way, at making sense of the world. As her mother and Chief Advocate and Interpreter, it is my dharma to help the world make sense of her.

We walk parallel to the others, next to but ever separate from the niceties of everyday etiquette, the social customs of this place and time. Try as we might, ( and we do try, usually) the distance between us and the others, the “typicals”, seems a little wider by the quarter moon, the fortnight.

We sandblast as we go, hew a serviceable path and call it road. In retrospect she will have surely perseverated on a multitude of things, in any given month of any year. It’s an intrinsic part of her skill set, and she does it well. For example: Why did __________ have a dangerous voice when she said no three times in a row on the Raquel chips Tuesday in the silly-silly-when column? That was in the year 2000, by the way. I know this, and roughly what was happening at that moment, because I have heard this exact question at least one hundred and fifty times over the years, and I have answered it each time in perhaps ten different ways. “ I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer, so I ask a few questions of my own, gather clues, piece things together. Sometimes the answer satisfies, sometimes it is clearly wrong. She is occasionally able to articulate a new detail, so I learn a little more each year. This is just one example of the hundreds of repetitive questions that populate my life with Bink. It’s fascinating, really, and it cultivates a wild patience.

There are always dots and dashes, codes and patterns that order my days. Take, for fair example, the laundry.

Splatterings of oils; could be olive or walnut, canola or ghee. These make wide patterns like the cosmos on a velvet sky. There are drops like stars; some large and hard to miss, some so tiny
they are barely visible to the eye. These can be found flung asymmetrically across the shirts, rubbed wildly into the thighs of pants, mysteriously pressed into the seat. An anarchy of art, or stain.

There are the squiggles, little wavy lines calling up my inner detective. Brown: could be coconut aminos, our alternative to sauces such as soy or hoisin. Or could it be chocolate? This calls for a review of her last few days, and then I remember that Thursday afternoon sweet éclair. There are also grand sweeps of things; green curry, crimson siracha, curled across the cotton like big cursive letters spelling out a gleeful early dinner.  Blobs, like asteroids crusted and clustered, could be smashed chevre, wild rice, couscous laced with parmesan, and pecorino.

The laundry basket bubbles up with all these garments, abstract perpetual records of her days. I pull each one out, smooth it, inspect for the artists’ signature, assess which treatment plan
will erase, release, allow for swift return to a home drawer.

Bink has an odd relationship with clothes. They must be stretchy, soft, mostly free of snaps and zippers and buttons — nothing to bind, scratch or pinch. Shirts must be pink, with the rare exception of “pool”, which is a particular shade of blue.

When she is upset, her pants are fertile ground from which her fingers will seed holes, which sprout and flourish. Once she burst in after school with half her bottoms flapping in the breeze like a maxi-skirt, the entire outside of one pants leg torn open.

So, the laundry. It’s not that she cares about stains, or how she appears to any of you. I am the one who notices the ways of the world, who sees how she is daily judged. In line at the market her hands flap, bird-like, and she sings a whole CD, in order, from memory. She has a voice like an angel, and some have ears to hear this, her sparkling soul. Others see the Morse code on her clothes, dots and dashes, a little tear with hole-y aspirations. So I , the one who knows her best, every freckle and scar, dot and dash of her, will keep erasing the distractions of yesterday’s menu on her shirt. And I will hope, and sometimes pray, that this will give more people the ears to hear her song.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 AM ( more autism awareness) | Autism

7am

I entered your room quietly,
with loving stealth,
stood inches from where you slept
curled into the warmth of your sleep nest,
pausing one round moment
to take in the sight of you, just
to hug you with my eyes
before we began
the ritual we’d perfected over
twenty four years of mornings.

There we were
in our assigned places,
me leaning gently above,
you just beginning to stir
as I sang you awake.
There were your hands
reaching for my hair,
first right side then left,
like always, like a touchstone
to remind you it’s safe
to be awake and alive.

Pink walls and ceiling, pastel rug,
whispered, made-up song,
you under soft
layers of things;
assorted spreads, a quilt, some blankets,
one embroidered with your name
and the date you debuted,
a gift at birth from a relative
on your now absent
dad’s side that met you
once maybe, whose name
I’ve quite forgotten,
who is surely long dead.

I flash-mused on what she’d feel,
this nameless giver of named blankets,
if she could ghost unseen
into your bedroom, this morning
to see what you’ve become.

Would it be grief
for all the ways you’ll never be,
the way you arrived
with unseen challenges,
diagnoses not yet named,
a baby who would remain,
in many ways, a child?

Would it be curiosity,
your differences intriguing,
offering perspectives
she’d never considered
while alive,
tapping on the doors
of her phantom compassion,
awakening a deep patience,
a human reunion with her own
estranged otherness,
the selves she, while living, shunned?

I hope she would be filled
with the color of pure delight
as she saw you still loving
her decades old gift,
for its essential pinkness,
its enduring softness,
its well-named comfort
in the place you call safe,
in the place you dream,
in the place you are perfect
with no one there
to tell you otherwise,
in the place you dream.

-Melinda Coppola

Light it up blue?

 

Autism Awareness month is April,
World Autism Awareness Day, April 2
and, in case the day lacks color,
(as if any day with Autism in it could be dull),
the mysterious Namers-of-Days-and-months
have painted it a medium sort of blue.

I wonder who decided this;
and how it was chosen,
this perfectly ordinary second day,
and weighted with a long middle
moniker, like a fish
plucked out of the ocean,
tagged and thrown back
into what used to be
a perfectly ordinary fourth month.
And why a color? Why this one?
Does Autism look like blue
to outsiders?

Pondering this, I roll up my sleeves,
prep the tub for her,
the one who turned my life on its ear,
she who makes me laugh,
she who wears me out,
she who is a master of repetition,
she who defies reduction,
who is multi-colored, many-hued.

She who is unaware of your awareness,
who, if asked, would mutter “ Not interesting”,
she who needs help with a bath
but can take a thing
and spell it backwards,
report to the air/no one in particular
how many redundant vowels it contains,
and how her lunch reminds her
of Home on the Range.

She who hears songs in color,
who does not stay in her bed all night,
who is frightened of beads with holes,
she who knows if there’s a day to be aware of
it’s the fourth Friday in February,
which is called Ate Baby Kate, and that means bad,
and therefore must be worried about
many months in advance,
she who can sing whole CDs in order,
she who tells me thirty times a day
that I’m a girl ( in case I forget)

She who needs more than I have
who gives more than I need
who has more than you think,
who is more, so much more,
than you give her credit for.

And so, dear you-who-aren’t-aware,
please allow me to set the record straight.
Autism is multi-colored,
and awareness is every single day,
and no blue second day of any fourth month
will ever matter more
than your interest, your kindness, your respect,
your willingness to help us challenge
a world that would reduce anyone
to an assumption
or a label
in one color
on one day
within one month.

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

I’m just the messenger

Lurleen Lumpkin, from The Simpsons

 

Sometimes, it’s a struggle to write. Lots of sometimes. There’s so much inside that wants to come out! So, picture this: I’m at my desk, all serious-like, trying to hone words into pictures, to allow the pen to move and accept what comes without judgement, and then to be brave and put it out there for you to (hopefully) read. I’m kind of hunched over in a very un-Yogic way. My brow is probably furrowed. And then this, …this stream of country western song lyrics comes pouring forth! I mean, I’ve always wanted to learn to play guitar, but this??  So, after my laughter died down a bit, I sat up straight, took a deep breath, and put it into this blog post. The Muse may have called the wrong number, but who am I to hang up the phone?

 

LAST NIGHT THE WIND

It was blowing and moaning and
(I imagine)
Singing and lowing and
( I believe)
weaving it’s way into and through
any old regrets I’ve had about you
What’s a grown woman to do?
Last night the wind
had me singing along, stringing along
my old Pollyanna-ly ways
Last night the wind
had me winging and winging
til my arms felt they’d burst
with me bringing and bringing
the news of some positive positive shift
the news of some mighty big changes.

When all’s said and done,
life rearranges and don’t we adapt or
we die? Sometimes
we adapt and that means something ends
as a means to an end, so
can’t we allow
The wind to go blowing and moaning
singing and lowing and
weaving it’s way into and into and through
Removing old regrets I once had about you
Goodbye old regrets about you

 

Melinda Coppola

Alone, I am island

Photographer unknown.

I am an unpopulated island
in a teeming quicksilver sea.
I am a sturdy outcropping,
raw, rocky, ravaged
by two thousand years of volcanoes,
seismic shifts.
I am a testimony to the chaos
from which all life begins.

“We’ll smooth, says the ocean, it’s what we do—
soothe and smooth and
flatten your sharp edges, make nice
with all your singular points of upheaval.

Together we’ll make sand.
It will be soft between the toes
and the claws and the webs
of the two and four footed ones
that will someday want to walk your beaches.”

I am an island of resistance
in a placating sea. I will not crumble
under ocean’s incessant coax
towards making more of less,
or less of more.

I am an unpopulated island
in a sea of we-will-change-you.
I live, not to please or appease
a greening
groaning planet,

but to touch the very heavens
with my rocky peaks!
To push the clouds aside,
write my story, cursive
but not cursory,
in pointed stone
across the smooth blue sky.

–Melinda Coppola

Poet’s notes:  I am truly captivated by stories of people like Charles Baird, who lived for a year alone on an essentially unpopulated island off Alaska. I am introvert and dreamer enough to imagine a current of deep and wild joy that could fuel such an endeavor.

Of Names and Noses

Spirit Essence Portrait of Bink, done in watercolor by artist Melissa Harris

Of Names and Noses

I gave my daughter a blog name first and foremost to respect her privacy. Oh, I’ve told her that I write about her sometimes, because she is so awesome and amazing and interesting and people need to hear about things like that. I’ve asked her permission as well, and she has, in her way, given it. Her understanding of the implications of having her name “out there” along with some of the stories of our life…well, it’s limited. So I prefer to provide an extra little cushion between her life and my tellings about it, and thus the pseudonym.

Why Bink?

Some years ago on a pretty blue and green star in a galaxy near you, a child was born. No ordinary child, this! She came with the requisite parts, but her mind was put together ever so differently, woven in complicated abstract designs. There was no instruction manual.

This child was given a beautiful name, and she was loved very, very much. As she grew, it was pretty clear she was not a mainstream sort of child, and the collection of anxieties and oddities, interests and delays and symptoms she embodied came to be called autism. She grew some more, and some words came, but she was not able to tell the world what she felt and what she needed, at least not in the regular way.

Her anxieties were growing, too, and they were super-sized and showed up in myriad ways. One of those ways had a lot to do with touching people. Not your standard hug or shake-a- hand kind of touch, but rather little fingers ( hers) darting out to bop a baby on the head, or touch a nearby nose. That kind of touch became something like compulsion, and that need got bigger and stronger when she was anxious, and that in turn made her more anxious. So there was the urge to touch, and then the anxiety about the urge to touch, and that made the urge even bigger, and round and round it went. She passed through the bopping babies on the head phase, but the urge to touch noses never did fade.

The child’s Chief Interpreter and bodyguard ( that would be me) was always looking for ways to make lemonade of the bumper crop of lemons that grew up in and around the autism, and the anxiety, compulsions and fears. Somewhere along the way, the child and the Chief Interpreter began to assign sounds to certain touches. It was a collaborative effort, and one day the fingers touching noses elicited a “Bink!” from the child, and CI laughed and smiled and this became a good thing, a fun thing. It was also a teaching tool about whom to touch, and where, and when, and so the child began to touch noses of family members and caregivers with a definitive “Bink!”, and that was OK or even good.

The next learning was about permission, a challenging concept for a person who had little sense of others having their own preferences and feelings and thoughts. The child learned that strangers and other non-caregiving types did not make that bink sound, and in fact made scowly faces and sometimes got upset and had what she came to call a ‘dangerous” voice. She also learned when and where the binks were not OK. In the car, for example, not OK to touch the driver’s nose unless stopped at a red light. Super Guy, my husband and Bink’s stepdad, and I had the whos, whats, and whens covered.

And so, the unified gesture and sound that is a bink moved right into the child’s life and became a permanent part of the lexicon. Sometimes the touching noses came when the child was anxious. This happened especially when she was in school and with people whose nose did not make a bink sound. When she was with her Chief Interpreter, though, and other assorted family members and understanding types, the child began to seek out binks for reassurance.

There even evolved a nose-to-nose bink, whereby she would touch the tip of her nose to another understanding sort of person, and a bink would come. This happened most especially with her CI, yours truly, though she sometimes would approach a select few with a request, “ Nose to nose?” Her CI hastened to assure the chosen few that this was indeed an honor, and they’d best partake.

Next came a variation where her nose would meet CI’s cheek or vice versa, and thus a cheek bink was born. This bink is and was reserved for CI alone. There is also a specific sound that precedes a cheek bink. It sounds like an awwww one might coo at a baby human or sweet little animal that embodies cuteness.

When Super Guy and Chief Interpreter had a talk about a blog name for this child ( who is now 24), no one or two words instantly arose in their minds. As they considered, over days, this young woman’s utterly unique ways of being, her quirks and her rituals, the bink thing began to rise from the mist. It just seemed so right, especially because it has evolved into a happy, loving thing.

So there, in a nutshell, is the background of the bink. It’s grown more nuanced over time; it now sometimes paired with a need to touch CI’s hair. For the record, the hair should be symmetrical, an equal amount of the left and the right. This is known as “two sides.” and in fact the day cannot begin without this sweet ritual. But that, my friend, is a story for another time.

–Melinda Coppola