She arrived at my yoga class equal parts nervous - about trying something new at age 50 plus - and genuinely elated - she had finally gotten up the gumption to do it.
"I have no idea what to expect today," she said, "but I do know I really want to do this."
It had been a while since she had exercised, she explained. The weight had started to collect around her middle. Her joints felt stiff, especially in the morning, and, well, she just didn't feel very healthy anymore. She'd read some things that made her believe yoga would help.
A yoga "virgin." I smiled reassuringly as I set her up with a borrowed mat, some blankets for padding, and a couple of foam blocks to bring the floor closer to her hands, head, and heels.
Bare feet. Check.
Loose stretchy waistband. Check.
Sense of humor. Hmm... She was beginning to look more nervous than elated. We'd have to work on this one.
I'm not sure what the statistics are on returning first-time yoga students. I do know that early on in my yoga teaching career, way back when I first hopped off my mat with a 200-hour teacher training certificate in hand, an older and much wiser teacher told me to expect one in 10 students to return.
One in 10! I was crushed, particularly because my classes at the time were averaging between zero and, maybe, three students. Eight years and approximately 3,500 teaching hours later, I can say that the older and wiser yoga teacher was right, about 10 percent return.
But I didn't want to lose this one. She had stepped way out of her comfort zone to begin this journey and I wasn't about to let her lose her footing. Fortunately it was a gentle class, filled with gentle souls. We began in "Pose of Ease," but sitting cross-legged was not working for her. She shifted from side to side. And winced.
So onto the backs we went. I slid a blanket under her sacrum, then middle back, then shoulder blades, then neck. Nothing seemed to bring ease and stillness to her body. Her face flushed. She struggled for breath. I helped her onto her side.
"Dreaming Child's Pose," I whispered. "Just put your head down on your arm and rest."
I turned to guide the rest of the class through some flowing bridges. When I looked back, she was gone.
It bothered me for several weeks and I thought about calling her, but in the end didn't. Yoga is guilt-free, I always say. One never needs to explain to me, or anyone else, why they practice or don't practice on any given day.
But her email was a special gift to me.
Dear Elizabeth, I'm sorry I left your yoga class so abruptly that day. I didn't want to be rude, but I could feel that there was something terribly wrong in my abdomen. When I left your class, I drove straight to the doctor. They found a large mass on my ovary. It was removed immediately and turned out to be noncancerous, but I wanted to thank you because I don't think I would have realized something was wrong if I hadn't come in to your class that day. I will be back as soon as I'm cleared by my doctor.
And she did return. A one in ten.