Sawa Bona, Sikhona

I am here

The following piece was written by Kathy Hartsell, a fellow yoga instructor and mind-body practitioner who studies alongside the Mind Body Dancer® community. She writes from Boston, MA.

I recently sat in the audience of a ballet performance to watch Yury Yanowsky mark the end of his epic twenty-two year career. Yury danced with his wife for that last show, their relaxed approach to movement sharpened by the poise that comes from experience and by the lines that come from discipline. Together, they painted steps and stories onto the spotlight’s white canvas. Even from the very last row where I chose to watch, their mutual gratitude and respect seeped from the stage, sedating the theater like a relaxant. The usual low buzz of an audience was quieted, nervous systems’ down-regulated by the resonant beauty of this exchange.

From Helen Reiss’s TED talk on Empathetics, the neuroscience of empathy, I learned about the South African greeting “sawa bona.” The phrase translates into “I see you,” and the customary response, “sikhona” translates to “I am here.” This refined greeting came to mind as I watched Yury and his wife dance for one another – unrushed with communication…direct with connection…unwavering with support. Though Yury was dancing his farewell performance, he was in every way saying “hello” to the moment and to the people co-creating it.

At the end of the show, Yury bowed his head and lightly pressed one hand to his chest, reminding me there is not only an art to movement. There is also an art to presence. An art to gratitude. An art to letting go. As he took his final bows, the audience stayed with him, suspending time around him like a warm embrace. We see you. We are grateful. After humbly resisting this attention, Yury filled the space being held for him. I am here. Thank you for seeing me and my work. I see you too.

In ordinary days, perhaps in response to so much stimulation, we tend to block out many faces (familiar and new) that animate our outer treks. We often choose the shortest greeting possible, if we notice each other at all. We barely have room for politeness, many shades inferior to kindness. Even the internal sensations, the layers that give our yoga practice depth and meaning, can get little more than a curt nod from our awareness. We have become quite skilled in filtering out all that matters in exchange for keeping up. But that day at the ballet, as the beauty of connection spiraled inward and rippled outward, I felt humanity circling back home, even if just for an instant. I left the theater savoring the flavor of undistracted presence and enunciated gratitude. I also left remembering how powerful the intentions behind our movements really are.

Particularly as winter clears and reveals space for spring, sawa bona and sikhona has become a theme for my yoga practice. As I drop into meditation, I practice warmly greeting the thoughts and sensations that punctuate the moment, without rushing. As I flow through sentences of poses, I slow down to explore the layers of inner experience–the ones so easy to ignore or repress. With a compassionate hello to all that I find, I discover that no matter how flawed my efforts are, it connects me to deep gratitude. I see you. I am here. As I take sawa bona and sikhona into my exchanges with other people, something that resembles the day in the theater emerges. Like it is on my mat, my practice is flawed in the world. But even so, the nectar of connection, the very essence of yoga, arrives.

-Kathy Hartsell

2 Responses to “Sawa Bona, Sikhona”
  1. Callie says:

    An exceptional piece of writing Kathy Hartsell.

  2. Marissa says:

    Such a wonderful piece!

    On a tangent- aren’t TED talks awesome? I just went to a yoga class Monday night where the class was based on information that the instructor had discovered through a TED talk and applied to her practice. So fun.

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