Thanksgiving, by definition, is a time to give thanks, to strengthen our “attitude of gratitude” towards the many blessings in our lives. Studies have shown that gratitude has a very strong link with mental health.  Not surprisingly, people who are grateful report higher levels of well being– more happiness and less stress and depression.

This Thanksgiving I will be teaching a benefit class at the Phinney Ridge 8 LImbs in honor of the Bailey-Boushay House.  The Bailey-Boushay House offers both end-of-life care and recuperative care for people with AIDS, cancer, ALS, and other acute illnesses.  I chose to support the Bailey-Boushay House partly because it is a wonderful place that does an amazing job, and also because it is one of my secret strategies for continuing to develop my own healthy levels of gratitude.

For almost 6 years now I have been a volunteer in the Bedside Yoga Program at the Bailey-Boushay House which was started by Molly Lannon-Kenny and Stephanie Sisson of the Samarya Center. Every week I get the opportunity to spend 2 hours with the residents there.

Sometimes we “just” sit.  Sometimes we practice mindful breathing or gentle movement. I seem to give a lot of foot rubs. We are instructed to be present with the residents.  We are not there to heal or to fix.  We are there to witness, to share, to exchange. To be of service in whatever way seems appropriate at any given time.

When Molly and Stephanie first approached me about joining their program I was very reluctant. I felt afraid. I felt under prepared. I told them I was too busy to volunteer. I told them that I was worried that I would get depressed being around dying people. They smiled at my concerns and kept on insisting that I was a perfect fit for their program. Finally after a couple of years I agreed to try it, just to get them to stop asking.

Of course, they were right.  It was perfect for me.  I had no idea that giving to others could feel so good! That was a big surprise. Instead of feeling depressed and depleted I feel fed and joyful from my time spent there.

It is such an honor to be with people who are facing the end of their lives. There is such beauty, such clarity, such bravery and grace that I see on a regular basis– amongst the residents, and also amongst the wonderful staff there. It is a special sort of person who is drawn to this kind of work. I am continually inspired and humbled.

I have regularly occurring exchanges with people I encounter that leave me forever changed, for the better. Over and over I am instructed in the lessons of gratitude–I am reminded to cherish this brief life I have, to celebrate good health, to appreciate the people that I love while we are all here together. And, most importantly, the residents I meet help to prepare me for that most important and inevitable lesson, that of loving and then letting go, of my loved ones and sooner or later of my own dear life.

This lesson has become incredibly valuable to me in the past year, as I practiced letting go of my stepfather, my best friend (who I’ve known since 5th grade), my beloved grandfather, and a dear yoga teacher (and a kitten). They all died very close together and in very different ways (sickness, car accident, old age). My weekly practice of volunteering at Bailey-Boushay has really helped me to be able to hold all of that pain and loss. All those years of loving and letting go again and again were the perfect training. I have been able to sit with the pain, to breathe into it instead of trying to squash it down. To feel that love, which is eternal, is on the other side of pain, and to remember that life and death are also two parts of a whole. We are more than this body, more than these emotions, sensations and thoughts.

I am grateful to all of my loved ones, past, present, and future, and I am looking forward to being able to celebrate Thanksgiving in such a deep and beautiful way with many of you.

Posted by: Tracy Hodgeman

Tracy will teach the Thanksgiving Day Benefit Class at 8 Limbs Phinney Ridge, 9:30 – 11:00am. For a listing of the classes at all four 8 Limbs locations click here. Join Tracy for her Yoga Nidra Yoga Bliss Workshop on November 12 at 8 Limbs West Seattle. This regular offering is also scheduled for February 11 and June 23.

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