Today, I took a yoga class with Chaz Russ and burst into tears in happy frog pose… again. The first time this happened, I was taking a hip opening class with Vinnie Marino at the Wanderlust Yoga and Music Festival.
The trauma I hold in my hips, thighs and lower back stem from abuse, fear, poverty, anger and athletic injuries in the past. Some of these issues go back years and are invisible to me until I focus all my attention on those areas. When I indulge in my own practice, and experience my own pain, I become more compassionate towards everyone else living in this world who ever had to suffer. I become so grateful that I found the yoga path and that I share the same room with people who are going through the same thing. Years ago, I thought I was alone.
There is a famous quote that has been attributed to Plato and John Watson (aka, Ian MacLaren) that goes: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
This quote is my mantra of teaching. It is also the hardest part of teaching. I know that people come to class expecting to suffer. I know how hard it is to have a body that might have been neglected or traumatized by injuries, aging or disease. The courage that it takes to focus on something that most people choose to ignore is immense. When we challenge ourselves with any fitness regimen, we have to face our greatest weaknesses. We have to fight the demons and the shadows that put us down because we aren’t as energetic as athletes, or strong as superheroes or beautiful as supermodels.
When I say, “isn’t this fun?” while teaching a class. It’s a bit of a Zen koan. I am poking light at our suffering. After all, I wouldn’t want to make things worse. Also, I’m sending you a subliminal message that will hopefully make you want to come back. Yes, I know it’s not always fun but if I can shift your awareness for a moment by saying this, sometimes your grimace turns into a smile and when this happens, it makes my day. I think there is a reason why the pose that makes me cry is called “happy” frog. These funny names are chosen to make light of our struggles. Even though we have to face ourselves and our suffering, we don’t necessarily have to dwell on them.
A woman once told me that she was cycling up a mountain and really struggling to get to the top. She said that when she reached the peak, she heard my voice in her head saying “wasn’t that fun?” I was so pleasantly amused by this story. I am happy that she heard me say this over anything negative.
That being said, I still understand that we are all fighting our own battles, whether mental or physical, outward or inward, in public or in private. When you come to me with your questions and ask me about the trauma you experience in your body, I am grateful because it makes me realize that I am not alone in dealing with my own trauma.
Ian MacLaran expressed this state of compassion well when he said:
This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.
I shall put my heart on my sleave share an excerpt from my diary. This was written a couple of years ago, after experiencing a huge crying fit during Vinnie Marino’s hip opening class:
He had us sit with one leg bent back and the other straight to the side and we had to fold into the center. I don’t know why it hurt so much. Probably ’cause I actually hurt myself a while ago, long story. I found myself adjusting myself a lot and then it happened. This uncontrollable sobbing just spewed from me. It wasn’t sorrowful. I hadn’t just dealt with loss. I honestly can’t say what it was that made me cry but I cried and cried and continued with the class. I’ve cried before in yoga. I cried once during shavassana after doing a heart opening workshop. But this was half way through an hour and a half class, and the funny thing was, I couldn’t stop crying. I was in a class of a hundred, in a huge tent overlooking the mountains. Everyone was in their own world on their mat. I didn’t stop crying until the end of class.
The teacher just gave us the poses and let us experience them. He played very specific folky music with very significant lyrics. Almost as if the songs were guiding us through. I remember lyrics that dealt with letting go, with being okay with who we are. One song said, “I know you’re in love. I can see it in you.” He didn’t have to explain anything. The crying didn’t stop and I was okay with it. I was breathing deeper than I ever did in my life as I struggled through the poses, yet I wasn’t struggling. I was letting go of something that had wanted to be released for a long time. I once wrote in a blog that we are in love with everyone we have ever been and change is hard even if we are changing for the better, but its okay. We’ll change when we’re ready. I would deepen my poses, then ease off, then deepen them. I kept breathing and experiencing everything and I felt that nothing else mattered than that moment and the crying was ecstatic almost. I couldn’t be happier.
At some point, the teacher made us do happy frog and Danny started sobbing too. I don’t know if it was because I was. At the end of the class, I learned that other people had cried and Danny also didn’t know why he cried. It just happened. This was one of the most profound yoga experiences I ever had because it was completely out of my intellect. It was pure acceptance and experiencing. The only thoughts that went through my head was that I’m okay and that everyone is okay. It was complete non-judgment and I loved everyone in that moment and it was okay if they were ready or not ready and it was good enough if they tried and I thought of my friends who were struggling with one issue or another and I thought, “they’re okay.” No one was at fault for anything. I also thought that we could all put our energy towards self destruction or doing things that would lead to growth, like yoga. I felt cleansed after that. That was the true beginning of my vacation, a real shift from my everyday tasks.