“Intentions” by Sucheta Heble

About the piece:

This was one of several creative readings delivered at our April 2024 Literary Evening with the NBM Lab.

Intentions” is a piece touching on a personal experience, and my way of coping with a health journey.


I had seen some of the regulars in the neighbourhood, though they were still strangers to me. I longed for the opportunity to be by myself, yet, oddly, found comfort among strangers while turning inwards. At first, going to a yoga class seemed like an indulgence, one I could not afford. Finding joy and peace on the yoga mat, several blocks from home, was my refuge, my solitary place yet still in the company of others. 

Before we begin, if you would like to set an intention for this class, please do so now, repeating it in your mind three times . . .

The walls were a combination of sage green and cool, pale purple. Soothing colours, it seemed, for the wounded, anxious or broken. Sandalwood candles burned in the entrance. Incense wafted through the corridors tickling the nostrils and filling my lungs with an earthy and rich scent. I loved the tranquility of this space — with the smiling bronze Buddha statue in the lounge, the zen-like low flow of the water dispenser, softly lit rooms, and the gentleness with which the instructors and staff greeted you. As soon as you walked in, you immediately felt your muscles loosen and your jaws unclench. This would be enough for today. Anything more would be a bonus. 

I would like to be more patient. 

How did I get here, I often wondered. It seemed incomprehensible that despite medical knowledge and experience with patients with assorted health issues, when faced with one in my own personal life, I felt utterly lost and alone. Our daily routines included waiting for specialist referrals. Phone calls to clinics went unanswered for weeks. Wrong catchment area to access this service or another. “Sorry, Ma’am. Your family member needs to initiate the call themselves,” an irritated voice droned. “But you don’t understand,” I implored. “We need help now!” Navigating this endless sea of red tape to gain access to a skilled medical practitioner in the community felt like an impenetrable fortress. 

If this had been a first-time brush with a family health crisis, I could have understood, even excused my ignorance. Yet, this was not the first time. This would be different, I reasoned. I felt more equipped, more in control of our situation. I felt assured and confident in our ability to get through it. 

Yet again, I was astounded. Not finding answers to the questions I so desperately sought . . . Where can we get help? When will we see some relief? How will we manage? brought me to my knees, more than once. Everything was a new challenge . . . running the household, dealing with elderly parents’ ongoing health issues, being productive and efficient at work, and so on. It was unclear how to muster enough energy to keep it all together. 

Surprisingly, the simplest things offered a source of relief. I convinced myself that attending yoga classes in our local studio would be a good start. Even though I had everything needed for home practice — mats, DVDs and books, somehow, shifting my attention away from my inner world and out of my home temporarily provided me a sense of control I did not realize I was craving.

Coming in to child’s pose at any time. Continuing to focus on your breathing . . .

Inhaling, exhaling. Surrendering myself in child’s pose. If only I could bring back the serenity from a child’s point of reference. Instead, I grappled with feelings I tried hard to suppress…guilt, shame, embarrassment. What will others think? When did this become our new reality? 

At first unwilling to admit that anything was amiss, I found comfort in simply sharing. Close friends and trusted and supportive colleagues provided a sympathetic ear, a caring touch, and offered random acts of kindness that were so welcome at a time I felt most like retreating. 

Focus on the sounds you hear . . . your own breath, the chimes of the streetcar, the low whirr of the fan, muffled laughter outside this room, the birds chirping on nearby trees . . .

When my daughter was in grade one, I accompanied her class trip to High Park. The coordinators spent the morning introducing the students to the “scratch and sniff” method while locating various leaves and specific types of vegetation. It was hard not to share their pure excitement at being able to see, hear, touch, smell and even taste some of the first signs of spring. Reconnecting with nature, experiencing it through the senses, much like that scratch and sniff activity from many years before, helped ground me and restore my faith that all would be ok. The twittering pair of cardinals with their melodious songs, the squish of my Nike trainers on the pavement with the occasional crunch from a gum wrapper, the cacophony of the pedestrian and vehicular traffic on University Avenue, the warm waterfront breeze, the exquisite sweetness and juiciness of a perfect slice of watermelon and so much more allowed me to pause and breathe. 

As you bring your practice to a close, come back to the intention you set earlier. Seeing if you can invite kindness and curiosity to your thoughts and actions. 

Curiosity. Perhaps that is something that brought the greatest relief. I managed somehow to remain curious to the experience, to be curious about surrendering to moments of sadness, including the loss of normalcy and routine. I may not have predicted how we would get there, but always maintained that the path to wellness would be one that included compassion, forgiveness and love.

About the author:

Sucheta Heble, an avid reader, aspiring writer and past participant of two Narrative Medicine workshops, is a speech-language pathologist at Toronto Rehab-University Health Network. She continues to be fascinated by the fields of mindfulness and narrative medicine and enjoys co-creating stories with her adult outpatients with acquired brain injuries.