Accepting the challenge to work with new populations of clients tests not only our skills as yoga therapists, but also the way we compose our lives. Just because we can learn techniques to work with injured clients, or cancer patients doesn’t mean we can then work effectively with that group; it’s not all about technique. Even more important than technique is how we compose ourselves.

As I’ve taken on the challenge to work with cancer patients and “at risk” groups of middle school boys I’ve been suddenly slapped in the face with a daunting realization. I must raise my practice and my own personal composure to a higher personal level if I am to be able to make a difference in their lives. The practitioner I was before I accepted this challenge is not adequate to take this step.

What do I mean by composure? Just as an artist, writer or musician consciously creates their art, so must a yoga practitioner realistically assess what they can do to better the lives of their clients. Composing oneself to reach that level means greater personal devotion to the practice of all eight limbs of yoga. It means making personal changes in the art of living a yogic life. It means shedding the parts of our lives that don’t serve this mission. It means integrating ourselves, composing ourselves to a degree of consciousness that makes us fearlessly vulnerable.

Troubled young boys and cancer patients share some unexpected commonalities. The boys may be emotionally burned by circumstances in their lives that have left them cynical, suspicious and resistant to help. Cancer patients have been blind-sided by a disease that is trying to kill them. The grave predicament that both groups bear tends to sharpen the way they view those who are trying to help them. This sharp appraisal can be intimidating for those of us who step up to the task of working with them. Like a blast of full sun on a Mojave Desert summer day, it can be a withering experience that leaves you feeling as overwhelmed as those you’re hoping to help.

It has made me question myself in numerous ways. Who am I to think I can make a difference in the lives of people who are suffering? How can I possibly develop the capacity of heart to make a difference their lives? Am I willing to make the personal changes necessary to be the genuine composition for them?

The best way I can answer these questions is simple: keep showing up for work. I must trust that the fear and vulnerability that I feel now will be transformed into the qualities I need to serve. It is ironic. Fear forces us to wake up and be fully present. It concentrates the mind and focuses the will; for that I am grateful.

What a wondrous journey. The opportunity to earn the trust of the wounded and sick is an honor and its own reward. The chance to assist in the healing process adds a dimension to my life that I hadn’t expected.

I’m sure I’ll address this subject again in future posts, but I wanted to share a bit of what it’s like to offer yoga practice as a healer of all maladies. This practice is indeed a universal toolbox. Whatever tool we need, it’s in there.