We touched on crying in class recently in Teacher Training. My teacher asked me to talk about my experiences — not about my own breakdowns (of course!) but a time when I was next to someone who was crying hard during class. No quiet weeping either, but some full-on gasping, heart-wrenching sobbing. The other student teachers asked me what I did. Um, nothing, I just kept practising! I could tell they were thinking I was a heartless bitch. There was some suggestion I should have hugged her. To me this would have been a major intrusion on her practice and her space, mental and physical. And probably intrusion on the teacher’s space too: if he wasn’t attending to her, I certainly shouldn’t.
Anyhow I think I redeemed myself in the eyes of my cohort when I said that I did beckon her over the next time I saw her in class, inviting her to put her mat next to mine. In my book this is a deeper gesture than a quick hug and move on. After all truth be told sitting closely next to pain, feeling it, but not responding to it, is a terribly difficult thing.
And I got to practise this sideline role again today. Same thing. But I caved today (well, I was near my emotional edge too) so I reached out and squeezed her knee gently as it was impinging on my mat in one particular pose. She howled more loudly, but I just kept up an even pressure with my hand, until we released out and moved on. I don’t know if this was an OK thing to do or not. I feel weirdly bad about doing it. I guess if next time I suggest she practises alongside me and she refuses, I’ll know it was a step too far. I hope not.
Back home with Hubby, he was mystified by all this. He wondered why people cry in class. I came up with a good few areas of his life that I reckon would bring him to crying if he were able, or wanted, to release more deeply into his practice. Who doesn’t have such unresolved stuff? And it can bubble easily to the surface if you get quiet enough to hear it and are brave enough to heed it. I’m sure it’s not just me and my unhappy yoga friend, right? I think that we live in a society that’s too ready with platitudes and hopes for quick fixes. We plaster over the cracks, but sometimes slow grief is what’s needed. Painful feelings pass in time but having someone provide space and patience to help you honour them can be a profound experience.
I found a quiet space after class, needing to draw myself together after this intensity. I’m slowly working through my own stuff and exploring how āsana practice supports my inner enquiry, allowing me to probe and open. But the tricky part is balancing on the edge of the intensity without tipping headlong into the emotional depths. There’s something about working the front of the body and the back body that I’m trying to figure out. Today we ended with a longer forward folding sequence than usual and I think this was my saviour. I was more able to knit myself back together before the class closed. It was difficult, but it felt good. I hope my neighbour found something like this in her practice.
It’s still weird to me how this inner work goes on with such searing intensity and yet I can step off the mat and usually leave the emotional maelstrom behind me there. The off-the-mat world brings its own challenges and concerns (and I bent my tolerant teacher’s ear about them before I left the studio), but these difficulties are just ephemeral and superficial. They are stuff that happens in life, but they are not the stuff of life. The stuff of life is bigger, deeper, more potent, more full of surprises and possibilities than any of these day-to-day irritations. Sometimes I feel as though I’m living two lives. I wonder if they will ever become one?
But the message for the day is that it’s better to live two lives that sit slightly weirdly side by side than to live only a half life.