I step back to my first Down Dog. My foot slips in a wet spot on my mat. It’s too early in class for it to be sweat. Did I spill some water? Are the pipes in the ceiling leaking again? Why is my mat wet?
Oh yeah, I remember. It’s tears.
As a yoga teacher, I give a lot to a lot of people. I teach dozens of students a week. I hold space for them to sweat and feel and work on things. Sometimes people laugh; sometimes they get emotional. I support people in their process. I give people permission to cry, and I massage their heads in Savasana while they do. I love what I do, and I’m grateful for it.
On occasion, all this holding space for others convinces me that I have to be strong all the time, that it’s not okay for me to be vulnerable, too. I rarely take classes, but when I do, stuff comes up for me, just like everyone else. I often feel like I have to hide in those moments and wait till I’m alone to process my stuff. I have to be the put-together teacher. I convince myself that I have to be okay so that my students will respect me.
But of course, this is false. It’s my ego convincing me that I’m special and different, that the rules of humanity don’t apply to me. I have just as many feelings and tough moments and insecurities as everyone else. And I have a right to come to my mat–whether in public or private–to work through those things.
I’m not sure what moved me to take class last week, other than perhaps a desperate need to get out of the house and look at other human beings for an hour. I was exhausted from not sleeping and overthinking. I felt tears well up on the drive and almost turned around, but I made it to the studio, ragged and needy.
And of course–OF COURSE–the first pose was a restorative heart-opener. And OF COURSE the theme was vulnerability as a path to courage. And of course, I broke down and cried right there on my back, turning my face to the wall so no one would see me as tears rolled silently down my left cheek onto the mat.
It was an alignment-based class, taught by a friend who I think is a damn genius teacher. There was a lot of very focused shoulder work, the careful lifting of blocks and pulling mindfully against straps. At first, I didn’t want all that energy near my heart; I felt like my chest was going to crack open if I had any more sensation there. But my friend kept me focused and in my body. She even made me laugh a little. Over time, the sensation dissipated and became easier to bear.
The class built to handstands at the wall. Much to my surprise, I felt strong when I kicked up, hovering in space for a few breaths, landing gently and with control. The focus on alignment felt grounding and focusing. I felt free to play, comforted to realize I could support my own weight. My teacher-friend held the space beautifully, maintaining the kind of compassionate control over a room that lets students relax and be led.
That’s what we all need sometimes, to just relax and be led. To relinquish that needy, ego-fueled control over life and experience the moment.
I thought I would cry again in Savasana, but I didn’t. I felt sad, but it was a tolerable sadness. My shoulders felt stabilized and integrated, as if they were able to once again hold up the weight of emotion.
I did cry again in the car on the way home. I’m human. Crying serves an important purpose, and thanks to my friend’s class, I was able to embrace the tears rather than fight them. Yoga didn’t solve all my problems that day, but it certainly made them easier to bear.
This lesson comes up for me over and over again. It’s okay to teach, to lead, to stand in front of the class and be strong. It’s also okay–and even more necessary–to take the student mat, let down some defenses, and allow myself to be led.