I call him the wrestler, at least in my mind; muscular, stocky, really proud. Not a guy you would suspect to be in so much pain. And yet he was, a lot, admitting it to me out loud when we first met. “On a scale of one to ten, how much does your hip hurt,” I ask pretty quickly. He is jammed between his wife and about 40 other people in a room meant for less. “9,” he blurts out. “O.K, that’s where we start.”
It’s a pretty tenacious injury. As we cast forward to twice a week for 8 consecutive weeks, the hip loosens a little, but there is a hell of a lot of pain. I coax and cajole, offer up a lot of opportunities for engagement in different ways, other classes, lots of strap work. He sticks with it, sometimes his wife is there. When she’s not, he hangs out next to Wayne, the self-described tightest guy on the planet. A good partner, always.
Last night after class the wrestler, Wayne and I are hanging out on the mat, slightly sweaty, mascara smudged in my case, a little breathless. “Is it any better?” I ask. There’s a long pause where I want to fill in, but I squeeze myself shut, from the inside out, hoping against hope that he confirms what I see, and offers me some version of yes. There’s a yawn in the room, a mile wide, while I wait for an answer, and what he says astounds: “I’ve discovered over the course of the last week that what I really am is afraid. Scared of the pain, afraid to take myself there, unsure of what lies on the other side. And it has been holding me back for a long time. And it’s more than my hip.”
“Wow,” I say out loud. “Congratulations,” unexpectedly for him. In that moment I decide to go for broke: “Wayne, are you ever afraid?” “All the time,” he states unemphatically. In my mind there is a Hallelujah chorus, but I keep it together. “You guys are so awesome. And now you can be afraid together.” This is yoga, when the yoking of mind body and spirit evokes such a force that two seemingly regular guys can break themselves open and bear witness to all that hold them back. It’s really wonderful.
Wayne carries my big bags out as usual, without me asking him. I smile. The wrestler waves as they both walk out the door together.