GET INSPIRED: Love, Hope, and Community in a Time of Fear
A shooting in a field near her home put the powers of yoga to the test for this YogaFit teacher as she worked to calm her students and herself.
Kate Watters lives a few blocks from Simpson Field in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, where the shooting of members of Congress took place on June 14th. She knows that field really well. Not only does her morning run usually take her right past it—that particular Wednesday fortunately was her day off—but her mom gardens in the community garden right next to it. “It took me a few hours to find her and know that she was not, in fact, there when the shooting happened,” Kate remembers. “My rational brain was telling me that she was unlikely to be filling the bird baths and weeding the gardens at 7 in the morning, but my reptilian brain was saying, ‘What if? It is so hot, she could have gone out early.’”
A few minutes before Kate went in to teach her morning yoga class, she learned her mom was okay and she was able to relax. “Until I heard her voice on the phone, I kept worrying that she was at the field and at risk,” she says. “It was also really unnerving to know that this had happened in our neighborhood, at the end of my street.”
Kate teaches a gentle yoga class, and her students represent a diverse demographic. They meet once a week for a meditative practice imbued with concepts she’s learned from YogaFit’s Warrior’s training: deep breathing, gentle movement, creating a safe space where each person can explore on their mat in their own way and at their own pace.
As Kate entered the studio that morning, her students, aware she lived near the field, greeted her with questions, anxious to know if she was okay. One woman shook her head and said, “There is just so much anger out there.”
Once everyone sat down onto their mats, Kate asked them to close their eyes and settle into stillness and to focus on taking deep full breaths. “As they closed their eyes and settled in,” Kate says, “I thought ‘How am I going to give them the love and calm they need on a morning like this?’” The tension in the room was palpable, and the expressions on their faces spoke volumes about grief and sadness. So Kate drew on the lessons she learned from her YogaFit Warrior's training. This is how she describes it.
I started with a visualization and meditation during which we imagined our hearts growing bigger and bigger, filling our bodies with love and warmth and healing energy. And, then I asked them to imagine their hearts expanding outside the physical borders of their bodies to fill the space, to fill the room and everything around us with love, with peace, with our intentions.
From this deep breathing and heart expansion, we transitioned into gentle postures, flowing gently with our breath. After a few minutes, that anxious, frightened feeling in the room eased and we began to feel the healing power that comes when it falls together. We finished with an extended savasana.
At the end of the class, Kate says, the room felt light, and people were smiling, and, at least for that hour, they were able to let go of the stress that had gripped them all at the beginning of class.
The Warrior’s training program, which teaches us to listen, not to force, to be gentle, to protect ourselves and our students from sharp, jarring, painful sounds and movement, was Kate’s guide in those moments. Kate likes the fact that this learning is science driven, fact-based, and practical, to be sure. But she also appreciates that it is “empathetic and emotional, urging us to listen to our hearts, to our guts, to our inner sense of knowing, which is so often disregarded in our culture.” She goes on to say that the program “teaches us how the body’s defense mechanism, which urges us to flee or freeze or lash out when we feel threatened or triggered by trauma, can be overridden by deep breathing, by digging deep into our consciousness to find love and hope and community.”
Those qualities—love, hope, community—are what Kate tries to impart to her students. “I went through the Warrior program because I see trauma all around me and I have experienced the gifts of trauma-informed yoga myself. I feel safer, better, more whole in my own life—on and off the mat—since I have begun practicing, and then teaching, in this way.”
The Warriors program taught Kate that “Community is our sanctuary. Yoga is our power,” and reminded her that light, love, courage, peace, acceptance, and growth are elements in the Warrior toolkit that are accessible to everyone.