When I interviewed our cover teacher, Lauren Eckstrom, for my editor’s letter this month, we covered a lot of ground—her teachers (Annie Carpenter, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Tiffany Cruikshank); the ups and downs of running a yoga business with her spouse (“There’s no greater yoga practice than the yoga of intimate relationships”); her go-to mantra (“Not perfect, not permanent, not personal,” gleaned from meditation teacher Ruth King). But the most poignant part of our conversation was Lauren’s openness about the recent loss of her father to pancreatic cancer and how her yoga practice helped her navigate his final months. Lauren’s wisdom around the power of yoga to support us in life’s most difficult moments was so moving to me that I’d prefer to share it with you rather than relay our lighter banter. I hope you find it, and her, as inspiring as I do.
Lauren Eckstrom: “My dad was sick for a long time—for 15 months. I’m so lucky that I lived close by and could be there with him five, six, seven days a week—so I don’t look back and have a single regret. My yoga and meditation practices were the key to moving through that time with love and compassion, not just for him but also for myself. It would have been easy in really hard moments like those to distract myself from the discomfort, to pick up the phone and disembody. But practice teaches us to stay, to watch our breath moving through us, to watch a sensation become intense but then shift into something else.
I think of one moment in particular that really stands out. He was struggling: he’d become weak in his body, he was breathing heavily and having a hard time catching his breath, and I had to carry him back to his bed. I just stayed with him and kept his eyes in my eyes, and then I slowed my breath down so he could slow his breath down, and I put my hand on his heart so he could have a sense of soothing touch. And then he reached up and put his hand on my face, and he said, ‘You are so beautiful.” Without practice, I would not have been able to be in that moment. I wouldn’t have been able to be fully present with something so confronting and challenging and hard.
When someone is dying or facing a terminal diagnosis, we can get so caught in our stories—and in ruminating on what we did in the past to get to where we are today, or on what is going to happen in the future—that we suffer in the moment much more than if we were just seeing the now: Right now I have my breath; right now I have somebody with me; right now I don’t feel pain; right now I’m grateful that I have this connection. If we’re able to bring our practice into these interactions, we see that even in the hardest moments there’s collateral beauty. I’ve heard Guru Singh say that in every moment, what’s wrong is available—we can find something wrong; but if we’re doing our practice, we can also find what’s right.
I didn’t feel like this journey was mine to share while he was going through it. Now, I feel like I held it so close for so long; I hope there’s a way to share it that can help people. Grief comes in so many different ways, and we all need a place to process it and feel what we feel and make mistakes. We learn that first on our mats and in our practice, and if we’re lucky, we get to take that into the really big moments in life. I always tell students, when you need this practice most, you’re not going to be in this classroom. And so, you come here and practice because when something amazing happens in your life, or the unexpected occurs, or tragedy arises, you need to be able to trust that your practice is going to be there to meet you in that moment.”
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