Finding Foundation, Making Connection.
Closing a yoga class with a theme of finding foundation; the students lay breathing in Svasana (lying flat on the back). My hands came to adjust one student’s position, holding her feet, in an effort to deepen the ability to relax.
Placing my hands on people to mold their bodies, minds and spirits is just what I do. As a Physical Therapist and Yoga Teacher I believe effectiveness comes from a place of connection. It becomes a dance between my hands, brain and eyes. How can I impact the life in front of me? What anatomical structures need to be influenced to get the desired outcome beyond the physical? I am frequently amazed how the right cues offer a drastic change; a change that can be seen and felt.
What struck me during this particular encounter was the adjustment it gave me. As I reached out to touch my student, Heather’s feet, I was overwhelmed with memories, emotions and a sense of personal foundation.
It was early spring 2005, when I came to this small town in Alaska with my boyfriend. Together we sought a life less ordinary. I often describe my quirky Southeast community as having bipolar tendencies. However, without fault, Haines can always be counted on to protect and care for its own. With only 2500 residents it is much like an extended family. I left Southern California having ample experience treating professional and recreational athletes as an orthopedic physical therapist. I was confident in the skills of my profession. It is my intellectual passion. In the clinic, I didn’t find myself nervous or questioning my abilities. Not even when the World Series MVP landed on my schedule, days after the big game.
Something shifted on a sunny April day in 2005. My heart was pounding in my throat and my head spinning, I was vulnerable. I walked to the door of the home belonging to Heather, the same woman’s feet I held in yoga class.
Apparently, news of the town’s first full time Physical Therapist had preceded our arrival. When I introduced myself to community members, I was taken, to hear, “Oh Marnie, you’re the Physical Therapist! You are going to fix Heather aren’t you?” The name was said like one might refer to Meg Ryan. She was obviously a woman of celebrity stature and the girl next door. My blank face was answered with, “you do know about Heather?” I didn’t. She was the town’s athlete, author, mother, volunteer, and NPR contributor. Who unfortunately, was literally run over by a truck! The accident happened while she was out riding her bike, the day Greg and I loaded the car to embark on a two-week road trip north to our new home. We ticked off the miles with laughter and photos; she ticked off the hours and days in the “Sleepless in Seattle Nursing Home”. The walk to her door left me feeling unstable in my foundation. If I could not help this particular patient, how could I stand strong as a new professional in this community?
As a highly ranked competitive runner and cyclist, this woman needed to regain her physical capabilities to feel whole. With a shattered pelvis it would be weeks before we could work toward a foundation on her feet. This delay was a blessing because the nerve damage left her shuttering at the thought of me touching her foot, let alone bearing weight on it.
A few years ago, after Heather was back on her bike and trotting down the trails, her husband came over to me at a dinner gathering, offered a hug and said “I believe the Angels sent you to us.” I couldn’t find words. I simply smiled and returned his embrace.
Heather does not shutter, whimper, withdraw or tear when I hold her feet in Svasana. She does not need me to talk to her about the biology of nerves or pain any longer. Today we can simply breathe together. It was this unified breath that once again rocked my foundation, this time with pure joy.
Just a few days later, I was in the home of another patient, with my hands on her foot. Observing our treatment session, desiring true empathy, her aunt asked, “what are you thinking about” The answer from the patient, “Why does it take someone else to hold and move my foot for it to feel like my own?” At that moment I knew. I knew what I should have said to Heather’s husband. I believe I was sent here too. Not just for Heather and the other patients, but for me. It is here in this small community that I have learned to find my own foundation.
A foundation secure in a purpose of caring for others, from a place of love, acceptance and wholehearted living. A foundation built on connection not tangible awards, credentials or acclaim.
I hope someday, in the not too far future, this lovely woman will lie in one of my yoga classes or sit next to me at a community gathering. With all the hard work behind us, we too will just breathe together.