Saturday afternoon I went with the students from the Subtle Yoga Training and Personal Transformation Program at Community Yoga to a nursing home near Davidson, NC. The eighth weekend of the program is about seva (selfless service) which is an essential part of the yoga practice. And so as part of the program, we do a service project together.
Amy, the owner of Community Yoga, had called up this home and asked if we could come by and visit with the residents. We thought we might paint some finger nails, chat a bit, sing a song or two, rub some shoulders, do a little sweeping – or be useful in whatever way the staff thought we could.
It’s not necessarily an easy thing – a bunch of uninvited do-gooders want to come to our nursing home – why would people training to be yoga teachers want to come and visit with our residents? The staff was a bit baffled and didn’t really know what to tell us to do. But they said come anyway – it’ll be nice for the residents to have some company.
A couple of the students who lived locally commented that they had no idea there was a nursing home in that area – they had driven by it before and thought it was just an industrial complex.
But behind the warehouses was a small brick building. We walked into a long corridor and received a few curious looks from residents. I had thought it was a nursing home for the elderly, but actually there were a lot of young people too. We found out the facility was actually a state run home for people who are mentally impaired and can not care for themselves.
I brought my guitar with me in case anyone wanted to sing something – but I wasn’t really prepared for a any kind of concert and we really had no idea what we were supposed to do.
Someone pointed us to the “Activities Room” – an bare linoleum-floored square space with a few straight backed metal chairs. I sat down and started to strum a few chords. The students started asking residents if they’d like to join us and a few older women cautiously came in and sat down. Somebody asked for “This Little Light of Mine” and so we sang it. A few more residents showed up. Somebody asked for “Michael Row Your Boat A-Shore” so we sang that. The rooms started filling up.
Retha, a resident, sang a few gospel songs and others joined in. Another resident sang, “Beulah Land.” Someone wanted “Kumbaya” so we whipped that one out. Amy suggested the Music Together Hello Song, which includes repeating everyone’s name in the room – faces lit up when we sang hello to each person individually – students and residents.
Then Rose, one of the students, jumped in the middle of the room and said, “Okay, now it’s time for the hokey-pokey!” And we did it, from chairs or standing up, giggling at ourselves.
The singing and laughter went on for more than an hour – eventually some of the staff joined us too. We left with a lot of hugs and smiles. A resident approached Rose and said, “We’ve never had anything like this before. Can you come back next week?”
I left with a happy/sad heart and some questions.
Why in my busy life do I not take more time for singing “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain”? What does being with mentally impaired people bring up for me? My own fears of aging and/or losing my mental faculties? What does it mean to be in an institution? What does it mean to make an effort to connect? What does it mean to sing a song and do a dance and laugh a little?
Bobbi, one of the students in the program sent me a Hafiz poem – here’s my favorite line:
Now, sweet one, Be Wise. Cast all your votes for Dancing!