My friend Laura is a free spirit, with a bit of gypsy in her. She stays light on her feet; indeed, sometimes she seems to float into a room.
I met Laura in yoga teacher training and was immediately drawn to her. I sensed from the beginning that she had a back-story that I wanted to learn.
Laura is a yogi and a visual artist. She operates in a world that few of us do, clearly guided by an inner spirit that calls her to find truth and compassion.
About 5 years ago, Laura began using her yoga training to help people on the fringe of society; people that might cause me to divert my eyes. She started teaching yoga to men—tough, street-savvy men—who are going through rehabilitation for substance abuse.
While there may not be a “typical” yoga student in Charlotte, I can venture to put some in various categories: injured jocks looking for relief, Myers Park moms looking for fitness, counter-culture folks and spiritual seekers looking for enlightenment. Laura’s students are far from typical.
The men in transition she teaches are required to report for yoga twice a week, so their attendance is hardly voluntary. She learned early on to ask “sleepers” to move their mats to the back of the room and “doers” to come to the front. And sure, enough, those who were planning to use the hour for retreat would drag their mats to the back of the room and sleep.
The men who showed up at first were far from enthusiastic. Things we yogis take for granted—taking off our socks in front of others, for instance—were uncomfortable to them. Laura had to begin at a completely different starting point with her students.
“Show up with what you got,” she told them. “If you’re feeling trapped, or scared, or pissed, or ambivalent, or full of gas, no matter. Bitch, scream, sleep or fart. Just show up with what you got.”
Somewhere along the way, the doers started out numbering the sleepers. And then, before she knew it, a community was born.
A few years into teaching, Laura experienced the loss of a close friend. Even as she spiraled into depression, she began making plans to make a transition. Laura’s gypsy brain kicked in: quit everything you’re doing and move on to travel and retreat.
And she began to do just that. She quit her day job, stopped producing art, and moved toward a place of transformation. The last thing on her list was telling “the guys” that she would no longer be teaching them yoga.
She showed up one day after her loss, and broke down in tears. And then she found herself being held and comforted by these men who had seen in her something they couldn’t see in themselves. She showed up with what she had, sad and sorry and regretful as it was.
That day, those men became her lifeline. She tells me they were the bottom rung of the ladder that pulled her out of depression and back into her life. Laura realized she couldn’t leave Charlotte because she couldn’t leave them. And so she remains, some years later, teaching ‘her guys’ yoga and expanding her program to include more and more men in transition.
Next time you feel trapped or scared or incapable of getting through what’s in front, of you, remember Laura and her guys. Show up with what you’ve got.