I had an odd midday meeting between classes, and now I have an hour before I need to be at Durham VA to teach. Coffeeshops make me uneasy now, so I figure I’ll get some work done in my car. I park in the lot facing traffic–I can’t tolerate the sound of it behind me, and I roll down my window. After about ten minutes in the southern summer heat I acknowledge defeat.
I walk into the hospital–past a patient in hospital socks smoking in the parking lot. The smell of cigarettes triggers me; I clench my teeth, hold my breath and walk faster. Inside, I find a waiting area that’s rather quiet and try to read. Approximately twice a minute, some totally benign sound demands I identify it–so I look up from my reading to reassure myself; it’s just a wheelchair, a food cart, a couple elderly veterans walking each other to the car, an elevator. My book on Polyvagal Theory is important and interesting–but it’s no match for my overwrought nervous system. I capitulate and set it aside, frowning. At that moment, Rebecca comes past with the cart of our yoga props for class. Relieved by a familiar face, I follow her down the hall to set up for class.
Three of my veteran students are already there–so setup takes very little time, and then everyone claims a mat. They immediately lay down to rest. I look at the time on my phone; we start in 40 minutes. I ask one of them–“Do you usually show up this early?” He smiles. Yes. He wants to make sure he gets his spot at the front near me. I grab some acupressure balls from my purse and start working on my rhomboids. Forty minutes! They come forty minutes before class every week!
As I lay there and care for myself, my other students trickle in. All but two are assembled by 4:30–the time I usually show up. When I start class, I’m in a much better mood. I can feel how much we all benefit from the simple phenomenon of co-regulation. Everyone who’s come in has attuned to the group of friendly faces–and the shared activity of lying on the floor. As we roll around stretching our hamstrings and mobilizing our ankle and hip joints, I check in with my students to see that they’ve understood and appear comfortable. When someone makes a grunting sound at an unfamiliar effort, I respond to them. When I finally talk them into savasana, I remind them as I always do that they don’t have to stay there if it isn’t working for them. I offer a few other options, which nobody takes. I fetch a couple of bolsters for students who ask me to.
Then I lay down before my class, the only situation in which my nervous system permits me to lie flat in savasana. I feel safe on the hospital floor among my students, and as my breathing deepens I crack a smile–I can hear the three or four of them are snoring slightly. I guess they feel safe, too.