Brace Yourself (and others)

May 18th, 2017

Finding balance, with your neighbor’s help

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In the healing process, we generally use that word to mean emotional and spiritual help. At a recent medical conference, I had the honor of helping support bone marrow transplantees.

And then they supported me.

Every year or two since I was cured, (re-born as the doctors and nurses like to say), I photograph a survivorship symposium for folks like me who’ve received new bone marrow. Under the auspices of, it’s always a soulful experience hanging out with people just like me. I re-connect with new old friends and learn something I didn’t already know about myself every time.

Because they had another photographer helping out, I was lucky enough to attend some of the breakout sessions this time around. One of them was a yoga and meditation class. Since I do a lot of video yoga (I know that sounds like an oxymoron) with my Nintendo Wii, I thought it’d be fun to do it with a larger group than just myself and my pixelized instructor.

We breathed deeply; we stretched; we talked about technique; we visualized — all the cool yoga stuff. But at the end, our real-life instructor had us get up out of our chairs and do some balance work. I’m about as coordinated as a baby deer on ice skates, so my home yoga regimen doesn’t normally include many of the dance, crane, or super model poses (just seeing if you’re paying attention!).

Then she moved us into the tree pose. That’s the asana where you stand on one foot and bring your palms together, all the while hoping not to veer off quickly toward the floor. Our instructor added a little twist, however. After trying it solo, she had us all stand in a circle and put our palms outward, instead of together. We were only supposed to barely touch the person’s palms to the left and to the right of us.

When we did this, the entire circle of two dozen or more of us stood very still, all balancing on one foot. Our outstretched palms steadied and supported each other. I was impressed that the older bald woman with the cool glasses to my left and the older gentleman with all his own hair to the right were able to put up with my shaky quivering and support me.

I did it, we did it — we held our balance. But here’s the thing: immediately afterward, the woman to my left said, “Wow, you must do this all the time; you were like a rock.”

Just as I was about to answer that if that were the case, I’d be a rock that continually tumbles in a perpetual avalanche of instability, the guy to my right repeated her assertion, “Man, you are rock solid.”

I’ve been thinking about that moment ever since. My perception of being off-balance wasn’t at all what my neighbors perceived. The corollary was true, too. When I told both of them that I felt completely unbalanced and that they, in fact, were the rocks, they scoffed right back at me.

There’s meaning there. There’s a nugget of knowledge about our shared community, our need for each other and our perceptions of self. But there’s also just a really cool experience that I hope others get to try as well.

My mother always talks about her vast volunteer experiences as being something she selfishly does. “It feels good to do it,” she explains. She downplays the fact that others get something out of it as well. It’s symbiotic. It’s mutual.

And I guess it’s human.

I loved being supported while I was supposedly the one doing the supporting. Since I’ve returned from the symposium, my own private practice with my two-dimensional coach hasn’t quite felt the same. And when I ask her to help me balance, I swear there’s a hint of exasperation in her digital response.

She’s surely convinced I’m barking up the wrong tree pose.

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