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

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

Welcome, Winter!

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Solstice 2016

On this, the shortest day of the year in my part of the world, I have a confession to make. I’ve been swirling, these darkening days, around and around like a pile of dry autumn leaves. Allowing myself to be picked up by the loudest winds of fear and unrest, carried this way and that, and spun around until I am dizzy. I’ve been letting this happen. And, because I know better, and because I sometimes ask others to know better, it seems appropriate to re-publish something I wrote for my Yoga students a few years back. It goes like this:

How to Welcome Winter

Listening is a dying art and science. Let’s listen to ourselves for starters. We begin to complain about the shortage of light. It is so much harder, we’ll say, to slip in the walk/the run/the gym/the sunrise Yoga, almost impossible, we’ll agree, to Get It All Done. The Holidays, someone will whisper, and you or I will nod gravely and point out the circles beneath our winter eyes. And if we pay attention we’ll hear ourselves repeat the litany of insults that Winter has hurled against us, has slid underneath our skin. It’s so cold, we’ll say to anyone who’ll hear. We’ll find new ways to explain the way the damp chill invades our very bones and how even the car groans when the key inquires about a ride to the market. The market! The lines are long, the fruit is pitiful, the prices prick our sense of decency. Damn the season. You know the one, the one where we are supposed to Joy! and Cheer! and Buy! our way to a healthy economy and happier family and friends.

Stop. Hear yourself. What is it your body needs at this time? Your mind? Your soul? We drown out the true voice within with our very human tendencies to complain and rail against what is. WHAT IS. We know, don’t we, that no amount of protest will raise the temperature, coax the daylight to linger a little longer, or stop the incessant cultural noise that exhorts us to continue on without change as if there wasn’t this season called winter. As if the natural call to slow it down, get a bit more sleep, find refuge in quiet practices….as if there was no wisdom in that.

Winter wisdom doesn’t whisper. When we listen, winter wisdom belts out it’s songs with bold baritone vibrato, sharp and clear in the frigid air. There’s a foot of snow on the ground–stay in! It gets dark earlier; go to bed earlier too! It’s cold outside-eat warm nourishing foods! I am winter, season of introspection. Go within; meditate and bear witness to those seeds sleeping under the frozen earth. They will bear fruit in their time and your worry will not hasten their germination! At least that’s what I hear winter saying, when I really listen.

You faithful Yoginis and Yogis are likely to have a more highly developed ability to tune in and really listen to physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves. That is, after all, a huge part of our practice, isn’t it? The witnessing without rushing to judgment, the respect for natural cycles and our place within them? This season, let’s do it differently. Let’s go slow as if this is the most natural thing there is. Let’s remember that we are enough, we do enough, and that the gift of being present with ourselves and each other is truly the greatest gift there is. That’s when we can begin to pay attention to that spark of light that flickers in you, and you, and you. We recognize it because it lives within each one of us, and we are mirroring each other. It’s the great grand NAMASTE, the honoring of the divine and universal light and life force in each other that emanates from one source, call it what you will. And that, my friends, is the essence of Bhakti Yoga; our devotion, yours and mine, to what created and sustains you and me and everyone else. It’s highly personal and universal at the same time.

I think winter is a beautiful symbol for the going within that is an essential part of the process of realizing who we are and what we are here for. I also think that’s a run-on sentence, but I digress. What do you think?

Take care, stay true to what grounds you, stay well,

Melinda

 

CHASING A CHEESE BALL MOON

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December, Massachusetts

This time of year in New England, it’s pitch dark at 4:30pm. I’m working on accepting this gracefully, though I do stray from intention a few times a week into cursing-the-darkness mode.

Last Wednesday, shortly after the early blackness descended, I was navigating the narrow curves of North Street, wondering if every town, in every state/province/territory,  has one—a North Street, that is. I reminded myself to slow a bit, and breathe; trying to time the art class pickup just-so, not early as this creates distress for Bink, not late as that has its own kind of dissonance. Autism is timekeeper and taskmaster in her measured life, and thus in mine.

Pickup complete, we made our way towards home, my voice soft and even as I announced the bright seasonal lights strung across a porch, snaking ‘round a pole, or illuminating an inflatable Santa or snowman bouncing on a lawn in the evening breeze. “ Don’t care. Not pink.”, she muttered. Hmmm. Last December she would chirp excitedly, “ Colorful lights!” as we’d pass the seasonal luminary flourishes. I heaved a sullen internal sigh. I really like watching her change as she gets older, but I’m a bit deflated with this latest assessment: no pink lights, nothing to see here, folks! There are precious few pink Christmas lights, have you noticed?

BUT THEN,

we rounded a corner and there it was, an impossibly huge golden moon hanging low in the sky, fruit-like. It dangled temptingly behind tree branches, then just above the highway. “ Look”, said I, “ The moon is huge tonight.”, and she, who finds no beauty in a sky without pink, she, who is finished with a zoo in moments if there are no bunnies, pink pigs or yellow ducks, she, who shuns so many of the flora and fauna that decorate our world because “not interesting” –- that very same she exclaimed, “Cheese ball!”. The hairs on my arms stood on end under my winter coat, and my mind percolated with delight. A shared interest! Super Guy and I do try to nurture any inclination she shows towards the natural world, and we often look for common ground. He and I can be a bit passionate about the moon, but Bink has not shared that, ever.

We tried to keep the cheese ball in our sights, Bink and I, as the car slogged through the traffic that can be the bane of crowded eastern Massachusetts. The lights—Christmas ones and traffic ones and the neon signs that have settled and bred along the main route—were competing with the cheese in the most irritating way, stealing its glory.

We finally turned into the street that leads to the street that leads to our street, and the cheese floated a little higher in the sky, seemed even brighter and more golden. I pulled the car over and grabbed my iPhone, trying to capture a picture of this enormous and other-worldly orb hovering so close to our mundane street. Bink followed suit, pulling her own iPhone out of her very pink purse and taking a pic or two. Still with me, she was! More percolating, more joy tugging upward, then, at the corners of my mouth. Alas, within the limits of phone camera technology, the photos captured none of the magic. The cheese ball looked like another of the many streetlights. Damn the lighted streets! Then I caught the irony of it, having been unhappy with the darkness just an hour earlier. Had a little laugh at myself, I did.

Glancing at Bink’s face, I could see that I was losing her. She was already checking out of this rare interlude of shared excitement about something, anything. “Let’s try , I said brightly, “ to follow the cheese and see if we can get a better picture!” Taking her silence as assent, I swung the car back onto the road and we made our way through the little maze of familiar streets, keeping the cheese in sight. I drove to the darkest end of street I could find, with cheese ball leading the way. There, behind some apartments, I knew we’d find that odd field of interesting, tall, reedy things that look vaguely like cornstalks in October. Here the golden cheese ball moon stood out in stark relief against the very black sky. I parked the car and we both got out, pausing just a few seconds to enjoy the sound of wind as it moved through the wispy reedy things. I made a quick note to find out what they were formally called, these rooted instruments of the field. Bink was making a low, throaty sound which I knew to be impatience. Any moment now she’d tell me she needed the bathroom. I took a few quick iPhone shots of the cheese floating above the crispy reeds in the still-early evening sky. Not stopping to check them out, we were back inside the car and off towards home.

Home. We got to the bathroom in time ( a constant theme in our lives). The photos remained unimpressive. Bink was, umm, uninterested in them. No matter, for these are the times that sustain me; a rare delight shared by my daughter, a reminder of the humor and wonder and joy of being alive, chasing a cheese ball moon through the neighborhood on a cold, black, early night. God, I love my life.

-Melinda Coppola

 

The Garden of You

This morning, my deck

This morning, my deck

Imagine if you will, dear one, dear one and all, that you are sent to manifest something unique and quite vital to the world. You arrive as rich seeded earth, landing in just the right geographic location to support your eventual yield. The trees and the flowers and the shrubs in this area respond perfectly to your soil, the climate supports what your seeds will send forth. The birds who nest here and those that just pass through on their migratory flights need just what will rise from your depths.

Your mission here, then, is this: to allow what is inside you to come forth naturally and without concern for the pattern your greenery makes on the dirt or the color of your fruit. Let judgment or comparison be themselves trespassers in your garden. You will learn to recognize what is weed and what your true crop is to be. You’ll learn to pluck out the unwanted; tension and fear and all that which prevents your flowering and takes up space in your earth. You will learn to lift your leaves toward the sun, to soak in each precious rain, to sink your roots deep into the hot earth and allow the bounty of yourself to thrive. You will learn to surrender and watch your garden grow in healthy ways.

Let your gifts root well and blossom and send new seeds out into the world, but do not be concerned about where they travel. Do not try to follow them; rather release them to Mother Wind and let them find their own way.

Your landscape, your offerings will change; the nature of your soil will evolve in a dance with the seasons over years and you will learn to love the worms that do their deep work tirelessly, turning, turning, creating more from enough and making space for all that must come forth. You will learn to let your heavier minerals and salts sink toward the core of this earth as your elements merge with her, become part of her so none can say where or when you were not here, or if there ever was a time or place that you did not belong to.

You will draw strength from these deep places, your evolving layers will grow the alchemy of all that is alive within you as roots feed shoots upward into stems, upward into leaves and wild flowers, branches, nesting spots for creatures of every glorious kind. And what lifts toward the sun, what drinks in the rain and sends glorious flowering plumes of scented energies up and out into the heavens, and what holds deep in the earth, what roots and sustains, will be the one continuum of Spirit, expressed through blooming, unique you as a gift from God to the garden of all humankind.

Melinda Coppola