As someone who has spent many a yoga class crying through hip openers, I know all about the need for emotional release on the mat.
I have learned that my hips store more than just anger and mild discomfort, in my case; they hold all my heartache, all my turmoil, all my hopes and dreams and all my memories—the good, the bad and the plain old horrid.
The first time I realized my hips had a life of their own happened, to my dismay, in the middle of a lead class during which I thought I would die of pain, not physical pain—though I admit my hips were incredibly tight that morning—but emotional pain. I remember the teacher saying we would spend a few minutes in pigeon, and I remember panicking.
As we “gently” entered the pose, I tried to tell myself to be strong, to remember nothing was permanent and to simply try to think about something else and focus on the breath; however, just as I placed my head on the floor and my hips began to release all I had stored inside, I felt as if I would disintegrate right there on my mat.
I could feel something stabbing at my heart, something visceral and uncontrollable was pulling at my heart and it unleashed a torrent of tears, the likes of which I had only shed in the comfort and privacy of my home, or in the arms of a loved one.
I felt foolish and embarrassed; I had no clue what the other yogis or the teacher herself might be thinking about me, this lunatic sharing this sacred space and moment in a flood of tears with them. I tried to put myself back together, to get a grip, so as to stop the embarrassment; but, suddenly the teacher asked us to surrender, to not fight the pose or the emotions that may come along with it, to simply let ourselves be open to grace and watch. Simply observe what happened.
So, I gave myself permission to continue to cry and release all I had to release.
We moved from one hip to the next and I was still crying. I found I was still rather chagrined by the whole thing, but there was such a lovely feeling accompanying the tears—it was a sensation I had seldom felt, it was release, it was freedom and it was pouring out of my very cells in order to clean my body of all the stuff I had so thoughtlessly attached to it over the years.
Once we finally made it to savasana, I was done crying. I had stopped worrying about the other people in the room and I rested like I had not rested in savasana in a long while. I felt like a new person, and the lesson I learned that glorious, yet slightly embarrassing day has been deeply etched within my soul.
I received a lesson to surrender to grace, to let go, to be so present in the moment that every second brings me closer to healing, to renewing, to learning, to shifting my perspective and to loving myself and others more freely.
So this lesson is one I have also decided to share with my students whenever we work on opening the hips.
I usually make it sound light and kind, and let them know (much the same way my lovely teacher let us know that one epic day) that it is important to let whatever needs to come up to come up and be released, that they are all in a safe space filled with love and devoid of judgment, that the hips can store an array of feelings and sensations and that the more present they can become to what is going on inside them, the less they should judge the emotions that arise and the more they can simply surrender, in order benefit more fully from the pose.
I have had a number of students go from extreme annoyance and irritation to anger and sadness in these classes before, and having experienced (and continuing to experience this) myself I understand and empathize with the students in their journey; however, because it seems not a whole lot of levity or euphoria has reached my hips yet, I have never personally experienced “the giggles” in these poses. I have had moments of bliss, the bliss I see so often reflected on my student’s and teacher’s faces when resting in a hip opening pose, but never ever have I experienced the giggles.
So a few months back, when one of my lovely students started to giggle uncontrollably and audibly in the middle of fire log, my heart skipped a beat. In all honesty, I got a bit annoyed and angry, I felt disrespected and hurt.
I do not think practice should always be stoic and stern, I do like to make practice light and may add a small “joke” here and there, but I am no Melissa McCarthy. My jokes are not that funny—just silly and quirky and a little cheesy—so having someone really laugh out loud in this manner in my class was strange to say the least.
All the students were focused and seemed to at least be trying to ignore the roaring laughter emanating from my sweet student, and she was simply unable to stop, much as she tried (and I saw her try) she just could not stop the laughter pouring out of her.
When class was done and all the students had left, I talked to a few teachers and friends about the incident. They all concurred there may have been something she needed to release, but I may want to be a bit more stern or use less levity in class so as to not lose control of the class. That was part of it, my annoyance, I honestly hadn’t been up there performing a standup routine and none of the other students were laughing. The class was “under control,” so I decided to just let it go and move on.
A few weeks later the same student came back. She seemed to be on cloud 9 when we moved into pigeon: she didn’t laugh, she didn’t cry, she didn’t even move. She simply rested, which sat well with me, I admit.
The class resumed and as the students were leaving, she said, “I am so sorry for disturbing class last week I was so embarrassed. I had no way to stop, the laughter just would not stop, no matter how hard I tried to stop it. So very sorry, I almost didn’t want to come back I was so embarrassed.”
My heart broke into a million pieces and I could see myself in her, looking to me, the teacher, as I had looked to my teacher when I simply balled my little eyes out in the middle of class and I knew all my judgment and anger had been misplaced.
All the answer seeking and all the ego of “I am not making jokes during class so why was she laughing” dissipated and left behind an understanding and a feeling of ahimsa towards the student and myself.
I realized for some reason, it had become expected and accepted to know that your students would get angry, or cry or look at you as if you were torturing them during class, but having them laugh, was seen as a bad thing. Why?
If we know that we have spent an innumerable amount of years placing “unwanted” emotions into the body and simply pushing them away in an effort to avoid or move past or simply forget whatever it is we are not ready to deal with, then why was it impossible for these emotions to be reflected in more than one way?
We store emotions deep within our psyche and body and then we wonder why we cry, get angry, or even laugh when we are finally face to face with all we have wanted to evade for so long?
Well, that’s just silly.
Pain and emotion can manifest in many different ways; it doesn’t have to be the same for everyone all the time. Things change. Emotions are stored differently for different reasons and so they must release differently for every person too.
Our mats are a safe place, the studio where we practice is a safe space and the practice itself, being as alive as you or I, takes you places you never knew existed. Much like talking to a therapist, when you are on your mat you are open and vulnerable and the practice may press certain buttons that will release all kinds of memories, experiences, emotions etc.
Do people not laugh when they go to therapy or talk with a friend? Certainly they do. Do we not find that we get the giggles when something is really funny or when we have remembered something joyous? Yes! And does this expression of release and joy and comfort always come at the right moment and place? No way!
C’mon, are you seriously going to tell me you never laughed at a really inappropriate time where you simply could not stop the laughter from coming? Well, I certainly have, plenty of times—once in the middle of a lecture in college because I remembered I had a dream about Peter Pan chasing my dog around the house so she could play with the cows.
Yes I know, I am offering too much information here and now you think I am weird, but the point is, sometimes the mind, the body and our silly emotions simply take over. And sometimes, they really, really have to take over because we all need to let go. We all need to experience and feel and live life to the fullest, even if that means laughing so hard during pigeon pose that the people around you are beginning to wonder what was really in that water bottle you were so feverishly drinking out of a few moments ago.
So, let’s try to have some kindness, some ahimsa, for ourselves and others when we are in class; heck, let’s be kind in all aspects of life, on and off the mat because we never know what someone may be going through or has gone through. We never know if those uncontrollable tears or laughter or glaring looks are helping someone heal.
We never know if that moment of emotional release and complete abandon may be the strongest medicine that person will ever need or receive. We never know when this emotional release may take over our own selves. How awful would it be to feel as though you had become “the weirdo” in yoga class who always laughs, moans, cries, or a number of other things right in the middle of class?
The next time you are taking or leading a class and someone in the room has a wonderful release, do not judge. Do not get into your head about it. Remain in the four corners of your mat and be happy that that person has found some freedom.
Be happy for them, share love with them and connect to the moment so you too may be blessed by it.
And who knows, the next time, it may be your turn to release some emotion. How great would that be?
Falling in love with yoga was Sapha Arias‘s destiny from the second she stepped onto her mat for the first time in 2008. From this moment on, Sapha began to study as much as she could about yoga, researching and reading endlessly. In this search for knowledge and growth, she realized her practice was more than just asana; it was a direct route to self-discovery and connectivity to every aspect of her self. It was at this point that Sapha began a deeper journey into the heart of yoga and the ability to open up to grace. Feeling joyous about having found the gift of yoga, Sapha feels deeply called to share this practice, and its many lessons with others, and completes her 200 hrs yoga teacher certification with Lex Gillan at The Yoga Institute of Houston Texas in 2011. Sapha is now a vinyasa yoga teacher at Cherry Blossom Yoga in Spring, Texas, Houston Yoga & Ayurvedic Wellness Center in Cypress, Texas and Lifetima lake Houston in Humble, Texas. She remains forever the seeker and the student of this practice and wants nothing more than to share the gift of yoga and all its lessons with the world.
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Ed: Sara Crolick