I dont cry very often. I can count on one hand the amount of times I have really cried in the past year (and believe me I have had a very challenging year). This is shocking to people. From what I am told, a lot of people cry as much in a week as I do in a year. Sometimes I know I need to cry. I feel it building behind my eyes, pressing into my heart, making my insides feel watery and salty. I will breathe and soften and let my body heave in preparation of the sobs I feel building….and then perhaps three tears will drip out of my eyes. Very often I think “Ok! this is IT! the big one. The UGLY CRY”, but like a tide moving back to sea I feel my tears recede and it’s over.
I used to cry. I loved crying. I was the person who would start crying 20 minutes before the death you knew was coming in the movie, I would cry with friends when they were sad, I would spend hours crying to wring out the last bit of emotion at the end of a sad situation. Maybe we have a little resevoir of tears that I used up too early in my life. Maybe I grew up and put crying away in a box marked “teenage moments”and put it deep into my heart for safe keeping. Though I love these images (they fit in well with the drama of the serial cryer that I was), It was none of these things that dried my tears. It was in fact my personal yoga practice that did that.
When I started practicing yoga, I was in my early twenties.Yoga was still not very mainstream. There was only ONE yoga studio in my then neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I took my first class and was hooked. I am still shocked to this day how quickly and deeply I fell in love with the practice. I was (and full disclosure- still am) the girl who hates to exercise for exercise sake. I would shrink at the thought of exerting any extra physical effort if it could be avoided (ugh, why walk when you can take the subway?). But I found myself going day after day to my local yoga studio and working harder than I had ever worked, sweat rolling down every part of my body. If people talked to me about it or saw my now toned yoga body, they would say “Wow- you are so athletic. You work out every day!” I still giggle when I hear that because I am strong and athletic sure, but that is a by product of my practice. I started to realize very quickly that my practice was my church, my therapy, my safe space my heart.
Even with this profound realization, I for many years only practiced at a studio. If I went away, couldn’t fit a class into my schedule, or was too broke to afford yoga classes- my mat went relatively untouched. I would roll it out look at it and listen to the questions that started running through my head “Wait, was it warrior 1 then warrior 2? How many breaths do take in down dog? Where do I find that yoga music the teacher was playing? Does it count if I only practice for 20 minutes?”. Inevitably I would roll my mat back up and tell myself “Im just a studio kind of girl”. It never mattered all that much however, because I usually found a way to sneak in at least one to two classes a week. It wasn’t until the birth of my first child that my practice at a studio came to a grinding halt. When I had my son of course everything in my world shifted. I became a teacher at a private school, filled my life with playdates and parks, and stopped practicing altogether. I didnt even notice the toll it started to take on the emotional me for months and months. When I finally did realize that I had to find my way back to my practice, it had been almost a year and a half since Id been on my mat.
Being a young couple with a child, not only was money an issue, but so was time. If I could scrape up the money to pay for a class, my husband would be at band practice or work and a babysitter was out of the question for us financially. I had no choice but to figure out how to create a home practice. At first I tried with a tape, but it was super awkward and I got bored (Sorry, Rodney Yee!) after doing it a few times. Then I tried writing a class sequence down and following that….it was very serious work: “Do I have enough twists? When should I backbend? Hmmmmm, how many Surya Namaskar A’s before I move into B’s?” That made me super stressed out and took all of the joy out of yoga for me.
Then one day I couldnt stop crying. It was one of those days where it seemed like there was spigot that had been turned on that I couldnt turn off. I would think I stopped crying and would reach up and feel my face wet with tears. Without thinking I took out my mat and put on the music that spoke to my heart the most and started to move. My tears transformed into sweat as it started to roll off my brow, chest, face, back. With every vinyasa and every breath and every beautiful transition from posture to posture, I felt my tears transfer into sweat. I pounded through the same sequence over and over and over again, listening to the same song, doing the same three postures my body and soul was asking for until they asked for another. At the end of the practice I was transformed. In that one afternoon at home alone on my mat, I dried my tears and replaced them with my breath. I learned what it meant to move not because someone was asking you to move through a sequence, but because my body was begging to work through something so deeply imbedded inside of me that I couldn’t touch it otherwise. I was reborn from my sweat and felt my body in a different way than I ever have. I found my church, my therapy, my deep joy inside myself and my practice that day.
Now I own a yoga studio and I go to classes and teach classes all week long. I don’t find a lot of time for my personal practice. But when I need to work through something deep and challenging I make the time to find myself on my mat again. I found myself there today, as a matter of fact. I let three hot tears baptize my mat, and then my sweat did the rest. A personal practice is the greatest gift you can give yourself, as it is the truest expression of who you are. I included a little bit of that practice today…I am doing the postures that are like my yoga comfort food. There don’t need to be fancy tricks or a varied postures like a traditional class, just the practice you need and crave. So put down your mat, move and bathe in your sweat. I promise, you wont miss the tears one bit.