Practice Presence: Emergency Room Yoga

I was in the middle of teaching my weekly yoga class when I saw her slip through the door. Pausing the class in the middle of Virabhadrasana I met her in the corner.

“Do you have a daughter?” my coworker asks me, and I feel my heart sink. I snatch the phrases from her whispers: “fell,” and “stitches,” and “emergency room.” In my shock I piece together the fragments of what she is trying to tell me, and watching her recede from the class turn my attention back to the task at hand.

Later I would discover that at running camp Anne had tripped over another child who had stopped short and hit her head on the inside of the track they were running on. A three hour wait in our hospital’s emergency room and a CT scan would yield four stitches on the eyebrow and (thankfully) no Occipital Orb fractures.


Life is full of opportunities for a yogini to take her practice off the mat (there are hundreds of books on the topic alone), but I never thought it would be while teaching a class. I often instruct my students to leave their burdens outside the door when they enter into a practice, that those problems will still be waiting for them in an hour, but now I had to turn that discipline inwards.

Worried as I was about my daughter, that would not help me in the present moment. “Practice presence” is one of my favorite mantras, and it applies to all facets of my life: whether it be remaining attentive at mass, parenting, or my yoga practice. But… Are we truly present? How often do our minds wander off, separating us from the task at hand? Are we intentional in our everyday life, or are we walking through our homes and offices on autopilot? How many breaths slip by uncounted, while we live in the past or future, never the present? It is good to have aspirations and memories, but is that all you are living your life for?

Last night was one of the hardest classes I have ever had to teach to date, but I needed to hold space for the students who were depending on me. Some of these students were trying yoga for the very first time, so what was the experience they would take away from this practice? I knew my daughter was in the emergency room, but dwelling on that would not do me (or my students) any good. By sinking into the flow with my students and breathing I was able to clear my mind, and find the rootedness required of a teacher.

The popular view of yoga is the physical practice: the asanas and sequences that build strength and flexibility, but the true heart of yoga is a joining of the body and the mind. In order to live a healthy and full life, you cannot segregate the two: simply put you need both.

Question of the Day:

What was your last emergency room visit for? My family has terrible luck with sports injuries so there was a time between my siblings and I where we would go in at least once a year.


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