Yoga and Alzheimer’s: Learning To Be With What Is

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Cover me city. Push me hard until I bleed and fall. Don’t let me get to close too anyone. I’ve lost too much already. I don’t want to lose any more. Keep me busy city. Fill my planner with classes and workshops and lunches and dinners and jobs that exhaust me so that when I come home I will be bone weary and won’t have any energy to think about what I am losing. Don’t let me face the Alzheimer’s that is stealing bits and pieces of my mother. Tire me so that I can tumble into bed. Bring fatigue to wash over me. Let me sleep. Don’t let me look at what is happening.

The city grabs you, jabs and pierces you, swallows you up so that pain is there, but it’s numbed, no longer at the forefront. I think that’s why I moved here thirteen years ago. I wanted to be insulated on all sides. Padded and pressed hard against concrete and buildings and parties I could get into and those I couldn’t. I wanted to be teased and seduced by the constant possibility of “what if?” New York is, if nothing else, a city of possibility. One can become anything here with a little elbow grease and persistence.

Speed and guts count. There are never ending trains and buses to dash behind or in front of, long lines to get into, advertisements on store windows that whisper as you innocently walk by, “You are not enough. You are too thin, not thin enough, too plain, too dull, too boring. But, if you buy this, THEN you’ll be enough.” If you’re lucky, perhaps you have some extra energy after working several jobs to make art (the reason you ostensibly moved to the bustling city in the first place).

I lived like this for a long time. Running. Bracing myself hard so as not to feel. God forbid, I feel, for if I do, I will break or evaporate. Must go faster. Must try harder, I thought.

But, then I found yoga.

What I find is that yoga does not ask me to go faster. Instead, it sweetly suggests that I take my time. Explore, trust, let go. What is Savasana at the end of any yoga class but a call to let go of the muscle and the mind and to surrender to that which can not be named?

What happens when we learn to relax? What happens when we begin to trust that things are unfolding just as they should?

Yoga teaches me to be in this moment.

To look impatiently for the next one is missing the perfection of the one being lived now. Besides, who says we get a next one? Death comes with the same vigor that life does.

I see my mother die a lot. Parts of her fall away. She can’t remember what I’ve just told her. She can’t find the dinner table unless someone helps her. In such moments, I am tempted to harden out of fear, but I am learning to be soft. I attempt to stop wishing for what she used to be and instead meet her where she is. This minute. I am learning to stop begging for reason where none can no longer be found and instead to feel her with my being, not my mind. Minds no longer carry us, my mother and I.

Perhaps that is the highest gift we can give another? To just be with them as they are. Not ask them to change or become wiser or braver. But, to simply say, “I see you as you are. I love you as you are.”

Who are we when mind and body change and disappear? I don’t think the answer can be spoken or understood. I think it can only be felt.

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Rachel D. Bennett is a writer, yoga teacher and dancer living in New York City. She is a graduate of Hunter College with degrees in dance and writing and also of the William Esper two-year acting program. She attended the Boston Conservatory Summer Dance Program and Oxford University Creative Writing summer school and has completed her 200-hour teacher training through Yoga Works. She attends dharma talks at the Shambhala Center and Interdependence Project where her mind is constantly stretched, specifically in the ideas pertaining to what is self and compassion? She is a SAG and AEA member and continues to dance and practice yoga as a way to celebrate being here. She teaches yoga that focuses on the breath and getting out of the mind. Rachel is working on a memoir about her mother and Alzheimer's called "REMEMBERING MY MOTHER."

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