This year I was a hero for someone. I feel okay about saying that, because more than a decade ago, when I lived in Scotland a workmate was a hero for me.
I was living with a boyfriend with a bad temper. He would shout about laundry done incorrectly, wasting energy by baking potatoes in the oven, and milk spilled from a faulty bottle. Literally spilled milk. I used to come to work with what I thought were interesting, amusing tales of his craziness. But my co-worker’s eyes stretched wide open. These stories didn’t sound right to normal people, I realized.
The co-worker invited me to stay in a spare room. I worried about all kinds of logistics, where to put everything, how to get the damage deposit back, how would I afford to live on my own. What would he say when he came back?
“Let’s just get you out of here,” she said.
This year a friend I’d only known a few years told me, conversationally, that she kept a bag packed and ready in case she ever had to flee to her brother’s. That after an argument, her husband would turn off the heat for weeks and then hide the key to the furnace room.
She never specifically told me about physical abuse until one day she did. Maybe she saw my eyes, open wide and stunned and finally realized, this isn’t normal.
I wanted say something warrior-like to her. But instead I offered her a cup of tea. Said we needed to figure out childcare so she could get to work, offered to loan my car. A month later, I spent the hottest day of the year carrying boxes of books and clothes down a crumbling staircase to a U-haul.
Maybe it’s okay that I didn’t confront my friend’s enemy, sword drawn, demanding justice. Maybe the most helpful thing was just getting her out of there.
The Myth of Virabhadrasana – the Hero Friend
In yoga, we use Warrior poses – Virabhadrasana 1, 2 and 3 – to embody strength and commitment. In Sanskrit, vira means hero and bhadra means friend. In the myth, Shiva created a fierce warrior, Virabhadra, to help him avenge humiliation of his lover Sati, at the hands of her father Daksha.
Virabhadrasana is a pose that reminds us of the battles fought for and by our friends. These heros are the ones that loan us their cars when ours break down before the job interview. The ones who drive our kids to camp at 7:30 in the morning, when the babysitter falls through. The ones that water our plants, or drive us to safe houses. The ones that remember our birthdays, or remind us that they still love us even though we keep sinking into bad habits. The ones that share their groceries when ours run out, or share their wisdom when we need to make tough choices.
Hero friends aren’t always who we expect. Sometimes it’s the person you’ve known since kindergarten, but sometimes it’s the one you met last week who comes through with a helping hand when you need it most. A hero friend is anyone who says, “Is there anything I can do?” and means it.
What kind of warrior are you?
The three warrior poses illustrate different parts of the myth. Warrior 1, arms overhead, is when Virabhadrasana bursts into the party uninvited, declaring his presences. Warrior 2 is when the mythical hero spots Dakesh across the room and takes aim. When he springs forward with his sword, striking Dakesh, this is the tipped-forward balance of Warrior 3.
Outside of myths, our heros don’t carry swords. They carry casseroles, spare clothes, keys to their cars, and phones for calling / texting with strengthening words. Have you had a hero friend in your life this year? Have you been a hero friend for someone else? What shape did they / you take?
Warrior /Virabhadrasana 1
This friend takes one strong step into your life, even while she holds the fort of her own life. ‘Here I am if you need me,’ she says. Call me anytime you need a lift, a last-minute childminder or a chat. I am here, even when we are apart.
Warrior / Virabhadrasana 2
This hero who knows you knows your challenges, your enemies, sometimes better than you do yourself. Before you step into battle, this is the friend who helps you into your armour, or provides counsel from a different perspective.
Warrior / Virabhadrasana 3
This is the swiftly moving, swooping-in friend. She sees your furniture, laundry, powerpoints, or children askew, and wades into the muck. She repairs the fortress walls and keeps the homefires burning.
This is the friend who pulls you up to your higher place. She reminds you that you are not the screaming maniac you were when you lost it the other day. You are funny, helpful, wise, a great cook, good with hair, fabulous at giving directions, etc. This friend reminds you of your strengths.
Could you be a Hero Friend?
At Yoga Outreach, our clients are fighting battles. Some have lost the ability to self-regulate. Some don’t know how to listen to their internal wisdom. Some are terrified of listening to their bodies. Just learning to follow a breath all the way in and all the way out is a big deal for someone who’s never tried it.
If someone has been a hero friend to you this year, would you consider passing along the favour by giving trauma-supportive yoga to someone else who could really use it?
In your year-end giving, please consider being a hero friend by becoming a monthly donor.
By Wendy Goldsmith