It was mid-morning during a 30 day challenge when I first met Karim. In the few minutes we had to chat before he hurried into the hot room, he told me he’d been attending the studio diligently over the previous two weeks–once, sometimes twice a day. He explained to me that this Moksha practice was helping him, “in ways I couldn’t imagine,” deal with the physical and mental pain of his multiple sclerosis.
From the extreme to the acute, our rooms are full of people looking for relief from some kind of pain; and though we all come for different reasons, we each find a way to gradually heal through this consistent practice. Some of the changes we find from class to class are subtle: a little less struggle in prayer twist, a little more strength in warrior two. And some of these stories, like Karim’s, are full of the substance that can truly change the course of someone’s life. What a gift that is.
It was that gift that saved my life four years ago. I entered a Moksha studio in Cambridge in order to make good on a promise I’d made to my counselor. Get out of the house, get some exercise, and interact with other people, she said: all things that my chronic depression and anxiety were, at the time, preventing me from doing.
Of course I was terrified. What if I didn’t understand what to do? What if I couldn’t keep up? What if I cried my way through the whole thing? Here’s the truth: there were moments that I thought, ‘you want me to do what now?! And why is it SO HOT in here?’ But after class the teacher encouraged me to come back to another. My body would get used to the heat, she said; and the poses would start to feel familiar. “Just come back,” she told me with a weirdly knowing smile. “You’ll see.”
So I did. I came back, class after class. The heat and the community were a big reason why, but mostly, I came because the dependable structure of the Moksha sequence soon became the most comforting thing in my life. When things were falling apart around me and within me, I knew that I could have this protected hour where I got to challenge the storyline. Things weren’t getting worse, as that practiced line of negative thinking begged me to believe. They were in fact getting better; I was learning new ways of moving and breathing. I even learned what it really meant to stand tall. In those classes I learned, over time, how to set healthy boundaries and to push my edges. I learned what it meant to listen deeply and move with intention. I learned that with practice I could actually choose my own thoughts. And one night as I left the studio and took a deep breath, I realized that what I had gradually uncovered, what had been inaccessible to me for years, was hope.
We live in a culture that glorifies compound distraction. The media and marketplace are chock full of solutions on how we can feel better if we just buy this newer, better and faster thing. In light of this, I understand and empathize with the notion that a set sequence can look a little boring and stale. I confess (gasp!) I’ve caught myself on autopilot during the floor sequence more times than I care to admit. But as W.H. Auden said, “routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” A consistent practice teaches us what an immense challenge it is to respond to complacency with a curious heart. With it, we learn that staying grounded and awake to our own subtle, slow, and steady growth is difficult and valuable work.
The Moksha/Modo series is an anatomical map of safety. It’s carefully researched, modifiable, and deeply rooted in a rich history of teaching and yoga therapy principles. We offer this practice as promised, to honour Moksha/Modo’s Be Accessible pillar, offering each student a reliable, non-threatening barometer against which to measure their physical and mental progress on their own terms. We share that work as a community, we encourage understanding, tolerance and equity, and teach a valuable lesson in patience and perspective. What a life-giving gift that is to offer students like Karim and so many others who seek our shelter because they suffer. It is a privilege to share this practice – one that we can all hold very close to our curious heart next time we step onto the mat.