I cried in class yesterday. We were in uttanasana, standing forward fold, and my teacher encouraged us to breathe out through the mouth, fluttering the lips like a horse, releasing tension and frustration. In the third sigh, I felt the familiar heat around the eyes, the knot at the back of the throat. A release, a letting go of stuff that I didn’t know was there. Then we moved on to practicing back bends, which are excellent for physically opening the front of the body and energetically, the heart chakra. Good Lord, as if I was not energetically freaking out already! We tend to physically build a shelter around the heart, hunching down our shoulders, keeping it safe. Out of fear of getting hurt, we rarely walk around exposing ourselves to the world. We built this shield around the heart because it holds our emotions, our vulnerabilities. The heart is our home and we do all we can to keep it safe.
But this effort to be protected makes the heart area stiff and stale. Physically, our bodies respond with muscular aches around the shoulders, tight muscles in the chest, and a sense of being unable to breathe. When we are going through difficult times, the heart can feel like it is so heavy in its cage that it is sinking. It weighs us down so much that it is hard to take a deep breath. The mind says we are under threat and body responds by signalling a desire to abandon ship, to curl up in the foetal position adding the knees as another layer of protection around the heart. Now no one can harm us.
The thing is, when the barricade is up, no one can reach us either. In our effort to block out the bad stuff, we block out the good too. We resist connection, we resist the things that would draw us out of the hole. We are so afraid we close the world off. We walk around with our heads down. And we miss everything.
Moving the body in certain ways and breathing into those restrictions is what makes yoga the best tool for self-exploration. You would not think that being upside down with your feet on your palms in padahastasana, fluttering your lips like a horse, would somehow access your deepest emotions and trigger a reaction in your heart, but it does. And it does in such a profound way that you are not always sure what’s going on there. It is the perfect union of body and mind.
And so I cried. I let the tears flow while I flowed through my vinyasa. And then I went into a deep backbend in camel with my eyes burning, my heart wanting to sink down into the floor. It was the hardest thing, to puff out the chest, sending my heart out proudly towards the sky. My body retracted and brought me down to child’s pose. It was not easy nor was it the most impressive expression of camel pose, but I tried again. In fact my body did not even want me to be in child’s pose. It wanted me to get up and leave the class. It craved disruption, running the hell away from what it was experiencing. It also craved outside attention, reassurance that everything will be alright.
I had no idea why I was crying. Sure, there are plenty of things I can think of that needed to come out, but I could not rationally understand why today, out of all the other times I’ve been frustrated, tired, fed up, angry, sad, and I had not cried, why today? The answer is I don’t know, and that is ok.
Here are 10 lessons I learnt when I reflected on my tears in yoga:
- The body and the mind are one and the same. We treat them as separate, but in reality they are just different aspects of the same thing. You.
- The body will store emotions and memories in little pockets of tension. I imagine them as knots, or dark coloured ping-pong balls (sometimes, tennis balls depending on the magnitude of the experience). The emotions will then become physical, muscular tension. They will manifest into pain, real body pain. Think headaches, migraines, stomach aches, hip issues and so on.
- The body does that to help you. It is a way of signalling that you have not processed something. Maybe it was too difficult to deal with it at the time, so the mind was able to block it out. So the physical body takes it and stores it for another time.
- Rather than viewing this as a negative process, try to consider it as an opportunity to grow.
- I used to believe that to process something you need to analyse it, talk about it in therapy, go over it a thousand times until it makes sense. What I know now is that sometimes that is not necessary, as the body has done that work for you. What gets released physically, in the form of tears, a sigh, a click in the joints, a letting go of a tight muscle, does not always need to be intellectually understood.
- At that moment of release, you have a choice. Sit with the pain, physical or emotional, accept that it is there and view it with compassion or, avoid it.
- If you choose to sit with it, breathe, knowing that it will pass. In the same way as you continue to move through the physical postures in a yoga class, learning that your breath is your lifeguard, taking another breath when you feel you can’t keep going is the same in life outside your mat.
- Accept that you might not understand everything, but ask yourself questions. How can I support myself now? What do I need to feel held? Look for answers internally, not from someone else.
- Let go of the need to control everything – our bodies are incredibly wise, healing machines. We just need to let them do their jobs.
- The body truly is your temple. It is sacred; so take good care of it. Give it love, compassion, space to evolve and nourishment.
++ Now over to you. Take a moment to reflect on how you respond to your body’s feedback. How do you notice the mind-body connection? Have you ever felt like crying in yoga? What did you do? I invite you to share an insight in the comments below. Lots of love x
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