My father died recently, following a relatively quick (6 month), but agonizingly painful, fight with pancreatic cancer. During the last weeks of his life I was able spend quality time with him, both in the hospital, and at my parent's home. My personal yoga practice was critical for me during this time.
As a yoga teacher, I try and bring a sense of calm positivity and playful energy to my classes. But as I stepped away from teaching for a few weeks, yoga became something different for me. My practice became a quiet refuge. The pace became slower, more grounded. My focus on breath more important.
As my father struggled to find full, deep breaths from his hospital bed, it was a constant reminder to me to just stay present with him. To keep breathing to the best of my ability. It was hard not to be overwhelmed with my emotions, as well as those of my mother and sister, as we watched dad fight. So I tried to just keep breathing, to stay in the present moment, instead of worrying about what was coming for my family.
During the hospital stays I'd take walks outside and find a quiet place to take a downward facing dog or a tree pose to help steady myself. As I found myself back at my parent's home, pacing the halls, I'd remind myself to stop, breath, and would move into intuitively into poses that felt nurturing-Child's pose, reclined twists.
This soft, gentle yoga, helped me deal with my emotions in a way I didn't expect. I sometimes cried in a pose for awhile, sometimes cried myself to sleep. But by taking care of myself in this little way, as frequently as needed, feelings escaped in a way that didn't overwhelm me.
This experience has reinforced for me, more so than any training could, that the most important moments come down to just you and your breath. And when life becomes the most challenging-just keep breathing.