My IRI Scholarship by Terri Leonard

I recently completed iRest@ Level 2 training in Petaluma supported by a scholarship discount.  My yoga work in the world, deepened by this training, teaches people to connect with themselves and each other in service of this universal message:

“I am safe with myself, perfect and whole just as I am.  I have everything I need right here inside.”

This is the work, these are the teachings of IRI.  In the event you, the reader, might be an IRI donor or consider making a donation, I’d like to thank you for my sponsorship and illustrate the reach of your dollars.

Every Tuesday, even before I get out of my car, Kenneth calls out to us, loud, across the lawn, waving, “Hi Avria.  Hi Terri.  How you doing?”  I’m here for yoga at the Friendship Center.  It’s a program serving adults with mental illness and developmental disability sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese in Atlanta.  Kenneth is in his 40’s and can’t sit for yoga though he’s tried.  He never gets my therapy dog’s name right, yet he calls her name first.  John walks up, holding his pants bunched at the waist because they’re too big and he loathes a belt because of childhood memories.  In his 60’s with snowy white hair, he tells me how his housemate mugged him on the way to McDonald’s Sunday, stole $45.  It’s the third time this year.

These are adults with schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, developmental disabilities, often with multiple diagnoses.  They are periodically homeless, addicted, diabetic, and in poor physical health.  Their greatest suffering is social isolation.  They do not fit in or belong anywhere.  

Our practice is simple, not a complete iRest protocol, but with practices peppered in.  There are body movements, some talking and sharing, playful imagery, body sensing, and lately, the concept of “inner resource” and how this feels.  Most participants are estranged from their bodies from years of heavy medications and side effects.  They don’t know basic body systems and many have rarely felt safe.   

When it’s raining or hot, we practice in a circle of chairs in the sanctuary, right up next to the altar.  If it’s nice outside, we set up near the picnic tables.  In either space, we always gather an external crowd of “watchers”, folks who sit in the pews or at the picnic tables.  I glance over every now and then and catch them closing their eyes during body sensing, hear them exhale when we do a round of sighing breaths, or bring their hands to prayer and bow when we finish.  Everyone knows “Namaste”, and the bowing.  They like to repeat it out loud, bow reverently to each other around the circle.  John always says it like this, “The Christ in me sees the Christ in you.”  That’s OK with me.

Thanks for your donations to IRI.  Helping John, Kenneth and others like them remember the safety that is their birthright.