Mom + yoga therapy

I took my mom to Yoga Circle yesterday to meet Gabriel Halpern, a master yogi known for his yoga therapy classes rooted in the Iyengar tradition.  I apprenticed with him this spring, click here for a bit more on that.

My mom was nervous about this event and frankly, I don’t think she knew what to expect — despite repeated explanations over the past month.  One moment she would be open minded about it; the next, she’d scrunch up her face.  The prospect of a yoga class appeared to remind her of her limited mobility (on the right side of the body), as most times when I brought it up, she’d point to her right leg and say “I can’t.”


My mom likes to stick to the things that she knows she can do, such as walking the dogs and taking her daily spinning class (something she is entirely obsessed with).  While it’s great that she remains active, there is no progress.  In fact, her physical mobility and cognitive awareness have definitely worsened this past year.  It’s one of the reasons I’m spending this month with her — to introduce new things into her life, something new each day, to get her body and brain working a little differently.

My dad doesn’t push her to do things that challenge her, things that cause butterflies in the stomach.  When she wanted to quit physical therapy, he bent to her will.  It’s always about what will keep Mom happy and quiet.  I am not my father in this respect.  Taking her to Yoga Circle was my form of tough love, because I want to see my mom improve.  She was curious enough and willing enough to go — as she knows how yoga is important to me and was willing to share in her daughter’s passion — but a part of me was nervous, too.  This was a risk.  Would she resist everything once there?  Would she get spooked by Gabriel?  Would she look at me and request that it’s time to go, five minutes into the practice?  I really hoped that she would give it a shot.

She did give it a shot.  Kind of.

I stayed back, snapping pictures here and there, as Gabriel worked with Mom on a series of poses meant to help inspire better body alignment and join rotation.  Mom got sassy with Gabriel at points, which demonstrated a level of comfort with him — that was a good sign!  When she would resist a request (and do the opposite) or lose focus, he’d look at me and say, “It’s like teaching kindergarten.”  He wasn’t being mean, of course; it just meant that he needed to keep the action going to keep her attention — a tip for me.

I was really impressed with my mom.  Although I was a little embarrassed at her pointing at all of the pictures of B.K.S. Iyengar on the wall and laughing, saying “Oh my God” and “That’s stupid” — which she did consistently throughout the class — she got through almost all of the poses with solid effort.  She did things that I hadn’t seen in a while, such as straighten her right arm and put weight on her right leg.  When she did put weight on her right leg, specifically, she was reminded of her weakness.  I saw the defeat in her face.  Gabriel at that point gave her a mini-pep talk.  “Do you want it to get better?  Because it can.”

I hope my mom my listening.  And registering.

Gabriel wrote down her sequence for me — to try and emulate best I can at home with her.  He encouraged me to take photos, so I’d remember the alignment.  And finally, he gave us homework.  And when I say us, me.  I need to find ways to integrate these basic questions/reminders into my daily interaction with my mom.

  • Why slow down?
  • Why breathe?
  • Why be precise?
I’d love to see her return for a second, third, fourth lesson.  As one ain’t going to cut it.  Gabriel had a way of sternly nudging my mom while accepting her “silliness,” and I witnessed small victories in this first one-on-one.  It was inspiring to witness.
With repetition, repetition, repetition and reinforcement, reinforcement, reinforcement … I really think she could benefit.  But, this desire and drive ultimately needs to come from her.
I can only show her the door, and encourage her to walk through it.

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