Alzheimer’s and Yoga, A personal Interaction by April Cray Rhodes
As I enter into the “home atmosphere” of the small facility that I teach chair Yoga in the B.K.S. Iyengar style , I am greeted with smiles and a warm friendly energy. I know each person by name and invite them to sit in the half circle of recliners in the living area. Respectfully knocking on individuals doors and inviting them personally (per permission from the director) to join us.
They are eager to flock to the Yoga area and see what the “hub-bub” is all about. You see, they do not remember the asanas and pranayama we did 3 days ago.
One of my favorite individuals is “Paul” (not his real name), has a difficult time making his brain move his limbs. He is strong and muscular. His confusion is innocent. His eyes are as blue as the sea and his laughter is with gusto. A retired Air Force Base engineer who once was the epiphany of cutting edge aerodynamics’. You can see his gears turning under the ocean of his eyes, to make his left leg extend.
I have found that when I use creative language for Paul, he seems to manifest these commands easier.
“Let your eyes go into your leg, lift your leg straight in front of you”.
Almost always assisting him. His innocents and surrender is provocative. As his eyes speak loudly, “help me to understand”.
Tears sometimes come to my eyes, when I look over at “Paul” and see that his arms are in a “Madonna –type-square” framed around his face, when I say “Lift your arms to the sky”. He is trying so hard and yet he is enjoying himself so much. I let him be, at those times.
There is one individual that comes over to me, sometimes while I am teaching, and gets close to me and say…”that is bullshit!” The words I return are only peace and caring.
Another individual is blind and is age 97. She storms to the half circle in her rolling walker, to feel, to be involved. I think she enjoys the picturesque language to execute the images in her mind’s eye, as her frail arms and legs reach out and up as far as she can go. She is tenacious and determined. As she reaches to the sky or stars, her eyes follow upward, as if she is seeing her stars and her sky.
When it comes time to recline, I challenge these individuals into Marichyasana 1 at its easiest level. It is amazing to observe these individuals working hard to reach the apex of their pose. Tender movements that blossom into aging beautiful flowers.
When it comes time for Shavasana, they relax into their recliners as I take them through a short guided imagery. Using the element of water. A lake, an ocean or a river, that they once knew in their lives. I bring the words of nature to them. “Feel the air on your skin, hear the birds sing, feel the mist of the ocean air, let your fingertips feel the grass” In their mind they can walk, run, feel the sun and water on their skin. As a Yoga instructor we are trained to “look” at the individuals Shavasana to observe their surrender and relaxation.
I see myself in this work. Blind, confused and sometimes alone. Reaching and lengthening through the quagmire of life. Trusting a loving voice that wants only the best for me, my voice, calling out to light of life beyond the stars. At times I bellow out “That’s bullshit!”, when I really know what is best for me.
These elder, individuals have become a beacon, if you will, of light. Arthritic fingers that have cured, worked and provided. The lines on their faces define their laughter and sorrow, their eyes – the windows to their souls are etched in joy, pain and victory. They are ships navigating aimlessly without worry. Surrendering to the light.
They are at the end of their third trimester of life, ready for rebirth. While I am at the beginning of my third trimester. All of my senses are actively entangled with excitement as I navigate my way with a purpose. Sometimes stumbling through the “bullshit” while reaching to the light. Other times, washed deeply by pure life-love that resonates to the bone of scrupulosity.