Volunteering in hospice has opened me up to so many truths that have been tucked away in me for probably my lifetime.  Each time I go in for my shift I leave a more grounded and whole being.  I know for sure that the gifts I receive from my time with those who are dying are worth every second of fear and uncertainty.

  1.  Intimacy. I have witnessed the most beautiful moments of intimacy.  The tenderness and quietness shared between people during this process is remarkable.  I have been privilege to be in the room during intense moments have cracked me open.  Watching as the spouse rests his head on her pillow, the tender reassurance  a daughter gives her father and the simple hand-holding between partners.  I have learned how special moments of intimacy can be.
  2. Noise. Some families choose to have the television on for their loved ones during this process.  Perhaps this is their own way of distracting themselves and coping, or maybe it is just a habit to have noise on. The gift in observing this is that I know that when I die, I do not want the noise of news or television to be my last few days. I want to hear my beloved speak to me, listen to the voices of my children and simply hear my breath.
  3. Embrace. I have seen people in the dying process struggling with the reconciliation between mind and body.  It is an often long and grueling process of letting go and embracing the comfort of what may be next.  I want to make sure that I have created peace with myself and others each and every day because we never know when we may be having to reconcile.  I want to know that I have left no unfinished business every day and embrace my life, including my death.
  4. Identity. Watching people through this process it is evident that although memories and life experiences are part of who we are, at the moments of death it all really does not matter.  All of the awards and accolades go away. All of the labels and titles fade.  What is left is the peeled away and raw soul.  No longer is it important what identity we have given ourselves or have been given by others.  We simply are.  I want to live each day without labels or definitions.  I just want to be.
  5. Love. Give love.  Receive love.  Be love. Seeing the young people and lives yet to be fully lived, I know for sure I want to live my life in way where love is embodies my actions, my thoughts and my words.  I want to love myself and others in a way as if today was my last day.  Life is a precious and incredibly short experience that is often so wasted on petty arguments and judgements.  Just love.

Hospice Yoga

I cannot explain the calling I woke up one early January morning with.  A strong and very vivid realization that there was something much more than I needed to be doing with my Yoga practice and teaching.  I knew immediately that I needed take action on the yearning.

I made the call.  I interviewed. I completed the mandatory training for all Hospice volunteers. The idea of offering a space of stillness, breathing practice and if applicable, providing some soft stretches and awareness of the body, is so deeply seeded in my heart that at times my own breath is taken at the awe of the experience.

If you are a practitioner of Yoga, you know that Yoga has the ability to bring you into the present moment and calm the body in times of crisis.  How many times have you come to the mat when you are crumbling by life’s events and feel far more clear when you roll up your mat? We know that the practice is powerful by our own experiences and to share that actuality is truly a gift.

I have often say that if you can breathe, you can practice.  Many of my other clients are wheelchair bound or severely disabled in some form, and yet because of the disability, they easily live in the present.  They are alive in the moment as they work each physical action with intent or the experience life without an ego.  By living in this state, their practice is gloriously beautiful.  Watching a woman with a Traumatic Brain Injury yesterday struggle fiercely with simply standing I was in awe of her practice.  When we shared the breath together, her legs stabilized enough for a small smile to come to her lips.  For the softness to happen.  For the space in the moment to see that she is. She is perfect and whole.

In my recent readings about death and dying and delving more into the philosophy of Hospice, I have learned that the process of dying needs to honored in the same way a birth is.  Certainly there is sadness and loss, but the process can and should be acknowledged with grace and love and hope for peace.  Bed-side yoga is breathing with them, acknowledging them and allowing their light to shine. It is also about listening and being completely present with them.  It is providing touch and a calm presence. It is being part of their path.

After all, the word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means “to join” or “to yoke”. What a magnificent way to practice.