Have you ever cried in yoga class?

“I couldn’t stop crying in Savasana,” my friend Elaine once told me. She was struggling through a bad time and finally, in yoga class, she felt at ease. It was such a relief that she broke down.

Yoga can catalyze emotions in people. I’ve witnessed spontaneous crying, during or after asana, most likely at all-day workshops. The hours and hours of yoga, the divergence from routine, somehow trigger emotional release.

ambika-bed-roomI myself can’t recall ever crying in class. For me, yoga has the opposite benefit. Asana (even a strenuous session) calms my mood swings. If I’m on the verge of losing it, yoga steers me to a normal, neutral state.

About two years ago, however, I took a weekend workshop with Aadil Palkhivala in Kealakekua on my home island of Hawaii. I was curious about this well-known teacher, about whom students seem to have strong feelings, either way.

That weekend I drove from Hilo (where I was visiting my parents) to Kona, on the opposite side of the island. (There’s nothing like a solitary drive or solo trip to shift your mindset. From Vancouver to Hilo to Kona, I was distancing myself from home and habits.) The place I’d booked through VRBO unexpectedly fell through (it was double booked) (are you &%$#@ kidding me?!). But the proprietor found a backup for me with his friend Ambika, and I landed in a decent, if makeshift, in-law studio, with a mattress flat on the floor and a gecko on the loose.

I found Aadil’s teachings quite compelling. He discussed philosophy in an approachable way, connecting it to the asana and to daily life–and he had a sense of humor (I didn’t expect him to be so cheerful, even occasionally comical). The asana practice included novel (to me) ways of working with poses, a memorable shoulder/elbow/wrist/finger sequence inspired by his mother, and lots of partner assists.

All that you want is downstream

ambika-gecko-2The night after the workshop ended, I woke from a dream in which I was crying. My dream was fuzzy, but in it I was cognizant of Aadil’s words, “All that you want is downstream.” While happy enough with my life, I was lamenting mistakes made, roads not taken, words left unsaid. I was feeling the weight of grief and loss, of time, of opportunities. In my dream I was distraught and yet consoled by those words. Maybe a life better than I could ever imagine is downstream, if I let myself go with the flow.

When I woke, I found myself crying in real life. To my surprise I suddenly noticed that–get this–it was pouring rain after a dry spell. The bed was in a nook under a plexiglass roof; the raindrops drummed a loud, melodic beat. Now, I’m super rational and absolutely not the New Agey type who sees symbols and synchronicity in ordinary circumstances. But, in the dark, by myself, I felt as if the sky were crying with me.

Later, I contemplated how I felt no strong emotion during the workshop. I absorbed the teachings with a reasoning, even skeptical, mind. I scrutinized my copious notes to find the context for that sentence, and I couldn’t find it. I didn’t record it; it had stuck to my unconscious.

Aadil Palkhivala in Vancouver

Aadil Palkhivala will teach a three-day workshop in Vancouver on May 30, 31, and June 1, 2014, at Creekside Community Centre, Olympic Village.

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  1. I’m glad you talked about that. I’ve wondered about feeling like crying after some asanas. I never cried though, but I remember that during a very emotionally hard time of my life I felt as if a knot in my chest was releasing while being in Savasana. Also, I remember that a friend of mine told me about a massive crying at the end of an Iyengar yoga class that focused on chest openers. That happened soon after a big earthquake, people was still scared and nervous, trying to keep their lives and routines under control despite the surrounding chaos. I believe that if you are under a lot of pressure, controlling your emotions so you don’t break, the soothing effect of yoga practice can lower your guard and just let your emotions flow.


  2. Crying in yoga class? I remember it well.
    It was always chest openers, and it was strongly associated in my mind with grief over my father’s sudden death from a heart attack. The first time it happened was eight years after he died, which is about when I started taking Iyengar yoga classes. I’m grateful that I found this gentle way of releasing my pain and softening my heart.
    I’ve taken two workshops with Aadil and always found him to be a stimulating teacher. One of my favorite Aadil sayings: “If you feel, you don’t force. If you force, you don’t feel.”


  3. Thanks yes very interesting. It seems the longer and deeper I go with my yoga the more I learn about myself. Sometimes I find more balance with my emotions while also the type of practice also can accentuate a particular feeling. In savasana after a good practice reaching a sacred space quiet little tears of gratitude can surface.

    I’m looking forward to Aadil’s talk Fri. Night.



  4. Thank you for this beautiful sharing. Much like the other commenters, backbends make me cry. The thing is that now I’ve got that phrase stuck in my head and I need to get past it rather than make it ‘ my story’. In savasana though, not so much. Once or twice in many years of practice.

    Tim Feldmann’s article on Elephant has been swirling around my mind lately, about the ‘mistaken expectation of joy in yoga’.

    I recently went to a workshop with Michael Hamilton and his explanation was that through asana you use the physical body to move into mental spaces to help release blockages there, which can make the non pretty stuff come up.


  5. I have never cried in class but come close, both times following the death of my parents during my first backbends class.


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