Eighteen years ago Lesley was assistant director of student affairs for the Cal State University chancellor’s office. She left work a bit early for a family gathering. She never showed up. Her car had been broadsided by another driver after a hit-and-run driver set her car spinning into traffic.
By the time her family found her unconscious in a hospital hours later, doctors told them she would never survive and even if she did, she had suffered such severe brain damage she would be a vegetable.
She told me her story a few months after she began coming to my yoga class in 2012. A Dial-A-Ride bus drops her off more or less in time for class, and she rolls in with a motorized wheelchair, always dressed to the nines. She came the first time at the urging of a friend who knows how much more yoga is than physical movement. She came the first time, hesitant, unsure how it might all work out.
I wasn’t sure she would be back, she seemed so sad. Her friend assured me, though, that Lesley had loved the class.
In fact, Lesley has become a regular. The brain stem damage has left her with little control of the left side of her body. The muscles have become very tight from disuse. Even the right side is tight after years spent in a wheelchair. She says she started yoga to try a form of physical movement she could enjoy.
We keep working on variations on poses. Bharadvajasana, a seated twist, gets extra power with the help of a wall. A wall helps her bring her arms upward into urdhva hastasana, from there she can gaze upward. A strap can help her extend her arms out to the side. A chair in front helps her into a version of child’s pose. Her chair back can recline back somewhat, and a mat rolled up behind her spine helps lift her chest. For garudasana, eagle pose, she entwines arms and legs.
I pick poses that might help lift her chest and so lift her mood, or that might get the left and right sides of body and brain cooperating.
It was when she came to a pranayama workshop that I learned why she was so sad. She had never seemed like someone who felt sorry for herself. It turns out she felt such sorrow for her husband, that he had to take care of her.
I know, though, that he must take strength from her beauty of spirit. It is so evident.
The pranayama workshop also helped Lesley figure something out. As she learned more about the spiritual and philosophical aspects of yoga that day, she said, “I realized that God was letting me know this was where I was meant to be.”