Guest Contributer: Kirsten Voris Reflecting on Community and Practice

You might be asking yourself, what really happened at the Helping the Helpers Training?

That question will inevitably have many different answers. By organizing an intercultural, interdisciplinary training we knew participants’ takeaways would be as varied as their countries, mother tongues and work. So Reading Rainbow style, Kirsten is going to help us kick off a series of reflections, so “you don’t have to take our word for it”:

Yoga flower

I was still processing my Helping the Helpers memories as I moved through the airport in Amsterdam.  I felt empowered and connected to a larger movement of people working for change in the world.

I was also sweating and rumpled and tired. Half-way through the Delta security line, I realized I couldn’t find my boarding pass. Or my passport. And I was carrying an orange pool noodle; for in-flight back support. I believe in good posture.

I’m a yoga teacher.

The woman at Delta security didn’t believe me.

“A yoga teacher?” she said. “What airport did you fly out of?”

“Bologna,” I said, locating my boarding pass.

“How long were you in Italy?”

“A week.”

She was smiling a polite kind of a smile. I smiled back, handing her my passport.

“Where in Italy?” she said.

“Cusercoli,” I chirped.

She raised an eyebrow.

“It’s a village…but I wasn’t actually in the village, I was at a farm. Actually it was more like….”

“Why were you in Italy?”

Why was I in Italy? I had just been reflecting on this very thing!

I thought I was there to facilitate Trauma-Centered Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) and breath work. In fact, I was there to internalize some important truths.

For example, I learned you can do serious, sometimes heartbreaking work and still find things to laugh about. I learned that it’s important to take long lunches and eat in the company of others. I learned that there are people who are willing to put their own lives on hold to make 90 minute, 4-course meals.

In other words, I learned that despite all the disheartening things I see and hear there is reason to hope. Because there is a community that believes in acting out of hope; and I’m part of it!

I didn’t say this, though.

“I was a facilitator at a trauma training.” I said.

“But you’re a yoga teacher….”

I felt my chest tighten.

“Yes,” I said, trying to keep my voice pleasant, “there was a yoga at the training.”

The Delta woman asked for more identification. She wanted to see materials from Helping the Helpers. I felt defensive. Then, I had the thought: This woman doesn’t think yoga is relevant. To trauma.

Did I?

When Dr. Leyla Welkin asked me to join Helping the Helpers, a training on trauma designed to help people who were working under the most emotionally difficult conditions I could imagine, I thought: I’m just a yoga teacher.

Much like the Delta woman, I wondered if what I had to offer was of value. Actually I don’t know what the Delta woman thought. But she was holding out her hand. For the documents.  

I set the pool noodle down and turned my backpack inside out hunting for my driver’s license and program materials, scattering food wrappers and pens and tissue at our feet as I looked.

I was sweating again.

I probably didn’t seem much like a “real” yoga teacher. After all, aren’t we supposed to be serene and chilled out?

This yoga teacher never feels serene or chill at airport security. And that day, in the Delta security line, my growing discomfort was an opportunity to do exactly what I suggest to students: Practice.

I acknowledged what was coming up for me. In this case, fear and anger. Hello fear and anger!

Then, I found it in my body.

Hello tight throat!

I acknowledged thoughts that these feelings generated.

Why me? I’ll never get home! I hate her.

 I took some breaths, reoriented to the present and my body. And tried to let the thoughts go.

Remembering that there were other people who were feeling the same way I was in that moment was the final step. As I looked around I began to see them: families with wailing children and two hand carts, people carrying taped up cardboard boxes instead of luggage, folks who seemed lost. In the airport it was easy to conclude that I was not alone with my fear or my anger.

As I type this, I know that someone, somewhere is feeling the way I do. Right at this moment. That person may even be someone I’m tempted to write off as emotionless or granite-carved. Like the Delta woman. I may want to deny it, but she is part of my community.

When I consider the sheer number of volunteer hours and vegetables and stories and rides and love and cigarette filters involved in making Helping the Helpers happen I feel humbled. At mealtime each day I was reminded that I am part of a potentially infinite network of people who choose to live as though they are part of something greater than themselves.

And I want to keep participating in this project; so I will continue to check in with myself. Imperfectly, just doing my best to plug away at it.

Emotions are alive in our bodies, whether we notice them or not. They are always pointing to something. Learning to listen with curiosity is the practice.

It is called practice because we get to keep doing it for the rest of our lives. We never attain equilibrium or make it to the top of the last mountain. The opportunities to practice do not end. This is true for everyone.

As the woman at the Delta desk vanished with my documents, I wiggled my toes. Then, I took three conscious breaths. Once I got more air into my lungs, I began to calm down. And then, I decided to keep smiling at her.