these days the recovery process has been on my mind because of things happening in my family. and its no coincidence that i spend a little bit of my time at a place called The Recovery House every week to teach yoga to clients that are coping with a range of mental health challenges.
a conversation at a cafe over a year a go with a friend led to me passing my resume on to someone who in turn sent my resume to a woman who had been single handedly trying to improve the structure of services for people living in Karachi with mental health challenges such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder etc.
With my previous life (really thats what toronto feels like now!) experience of social work and working in community health centres, I seemed like an ideal candidate for this upcoming facility that S had somehow been able to begin. I met S , if my memory is correct sometime in October 2009 and we discussed her vision for a recovery centre for people who are so marginalized in our societies that most of us only know of it if someone close to us suffers from a mental illness. Yet i’ve always had a pretty anti psychiatry perspective on mental illness. Ekhart Tolle also discusses that the people we call “insane” are actually just verbalizing the many thoughts that we internalize. This spectrum of madness is a category of fiction, I’m not sure if Foucault actually deconstructs madness in such a way but he does show that we create these labels of difference which translate into how power is distributed in any given society.
so enough intellectual talk, getting back on the road. I met S and told her that I am done with social work, I am done with working in a clinical setting and helping people within the bio-medical model, even an alternative one. I offered that I am very passionate about yoga, I’ll be getting my certification by the summer of 2010 and when the program is ready for a yoga teacher to call me.
I arrive from Mexico in late July and in early August find an email in my inbox from S. She wants to meet, the centre is open, and hiring has begun and she wants me to be part of their team. I find that another person who I have known for years, who I admire and respect more than anyone I know really, has agreed to be the “person in charge” for the centre, now being referred to as The Recovery House.
In all the yoga that I do, for myself, for my students who come to my house, for the women at the jail, teaching yoga at the recovery house has been the most challenging because something within me has been strongly resisting accepting that I should commit to this “job”. I remember the day before I was sure I was going to go in and tell them that I was ready to leave/quit, I read somewhere that when opportunities present themselves to us we should say YES and trust to see how the process unfolds.
Teaching yoga classes to people who are so real, they yawn when they are tired, they show their distraction, they don’t hide behind any mask of “politeness” or what it means to be a “good” yoga student. Working with them made me confront my intense desire to have everyone like me, to have everyone be focused and attentive in class. I found myself losing patience, feeling frustrated, and also lost…not really sure what i should be doing. and my knee jerk reaction was to run. More than that though working with these clients made me feel responsible in a way that I hadn’t since leaving behind my clients in Toronto. And I knew the longer I stayed on here, the more I had to accept my responsibility as a helper on their road to recovery.
I walked into my friend’s office and told her how I was feeling. I just said it. I didn’t sugar coat it. She took it all in. And then worked with me on how to adjust my schedule so I could feel less “trapped”, less “responsible”. When I look back now, it’s amazing how our reactions come from unconscious behavior that we can only understand once we step out of the reaction and begin to watch ourselves.
Somehow I forced my egoic mind to be quiet and stayed close to my original intention that I wanted to teach yoga to the people who need it the most but have the least access to it.
So now 4 months have gone by, and I realized that while i have written about so many of my other experiences on my blog I have left this extremely important part of my practice and teaching out. And I started to question why it was so that I was reluctant to write about it and reflect on it and I understood finally that it was because I was still not completely committed to the idea of working there and because this was the one place i always felt overwhelmed by.
But now something has shifted. Not in what i’m doing or even how challenging i continue to find teaching yoga there. But in fact the change has come because my perception has shifted from thoughts of the future to the present. Shift from attaching myself to neither pleasant or unpleasant states and just accepting things as they are. Wow, there is so much peace in that. And since i’ve started doing that it seems as the peace has become contagious in class. there is less fidgeting, less distraction, more focus, more fun, more lightness, more energy. and i’m amazed continuously at the privilege i have to work with people who guide me on how to stay steady on my road to recovery. all this time I had been focused on my role as a yoga teacher, on what I can provide them, and instead they have taught me so much more about how to be an effective teacher, and how to be present in the moment.
March 2011 – Update – After much deliberation I decided to stop teaching yoga at the Recovery House. They continue to practice yoga daily with other teachers. I keep them all in my prayers and heart, grateful for the experience and lessons I learned.
Thank you Recovery House for creating and nurturing a space where people are given the respect and dignity they deserve. Read more about them at: http://tribune.com.pk/story/47480/a-room-with-a-view/