My Yoga Teacher Makes Me Cry. Is That a Problem?

A few weeks ago I spent 3 days in Philly with DG.  I never wrote about it because, well, I have a really hard time writing about my experiences with him.  I feel pretty raw and fragile after working with David a lot of the time.  His workshops are always really intense – and not just physically.

I spent a month with him in Kovalam, India and yet still I am not sure how to articulate to people what that experience was like….”Uh…It was awesome, My practice improved, I changed the alignment of my chaturangas, I grabbed my ankles fully in my backbends, I didn’t get any new postures much to my annoyance but I understand why, I was frustrated by a lot of the lectures, I never felt like I was good enough for him, ummn… I cried a lot”.  But none of those sentences or sentiments can express the totality and intensity of working daily with a teacher like DG.  He’s amazing and I love the challenge of it.

But, when I practice with David, I cry.  A lot.  Can’t seem to help myself.  It’s not that DG is mean or heartless, no, not at all.  He’s certainly not warm and fuzzy, but he cares deeply about his students, even if sometimes he shows it in funny, awkward ways (perhaps if you’ve studied with him you can relate?).

OK – disclaimer:  I cry a lot in Ashtanga even when DG is not around, it just happens to intensify with his presence.  Ashtanga is a seriously powerful practice.  I remember vividly the first time it made me cry – I was shocked – it felt like my heart had been blown open by tornado!  Funny now looking back, I must have thought that would be a one-time incident.  But oh no, I’m totally that token crying girl in yoga class (every shala’s got one)!

Practicing Ashtanga makes me cry because I’m a stereotypical perfectionist and my body fails to live up to that perfection I foolishly want from it.  I cry because there’s pain in my body and I wish there wasn’t.  I cry because Laghu Vajrasana shows me point-blank that I am weak, and then I get stuck on the floor and some days that is just too real a metaphor.  I cry sometimes because dropping back over and over again makes my heart feel like it’s breaking and my breath gets sucked out of me and my lower back feels like it might snap.  I cry because as the postures open me physically, the emotions that have been stuck in the crevices of my body for years start spilling out everywhere and all I can do is cry. I cry some days because the world can be a really sad and unfair place and when I think of the people I know (and don’t know) suffering, it makes me feel hopeless and helpless.  Ashtanga rips me open raw, more vulnerable to these feelings – and that can be frightening.

Yes, I cry. But, I gain so much JOY in my life from the practice of yoga.  The experience of yoga makes life all the more authentic, all the more real.  From practice, I am more open, more observant and much more sensitive to myself, to others and the energies around me.  As I result, I am more aware and conscious of the feelings I feel, the sensations I sense and the stories I tell and am told.  Wow – what a gift!  Isn’t that beautiful.  I’m so grateful for yoga for all that.

But wait, then again, isn’t that “realness” of life and of emotion what so many people are running away from in various ways and vices (over-work, love affairs, booze and drugs, food, you name it…escapism runs rampant in our modern world).  When you practice yoga, you are forced to stare that raw realness in the face!  You can’t run away if you are committed to practice (ah, perhaps that’s why so many people quit…it’s too scary to keep looking into the jaws of the shark of reality).

So, back to DG.  One of my personal “issues” is that I really want to be “good”, to be “right” and to make people happy.  I’m afraid of disappointing people.  Even when I act like a rebel and like I don’t care what people think of me, it’s more or less a facade (that’s right, calling my own bluff here).   I’m aware of this in myself.  I’m working on find a level of self-love and self-confidence where it really doesn’t matter to me what anyone else thinks or feels about me, but I’m not there yet.

When I study with David, my clingy, childish need to be not only good, but the best (I was a perfectionist child, always on stage, entertaining people, always looking for attention and for people to tell me that I was “special”) comes out full force.  But David doesn’t give a lot of positive encouragement to me.  I think he clearly sees this need I have and he doesn’t play into it.  I can count on one hand the number of times DG has given me some sort of positive affirmation.  I can count on two hands (maybe three) the number of times he’s told me that I’m not strong enough and that I need to work harder. 

Perhaps that sounds mean or not supportive?  Sometimes I’ve felt that way too.  But the more time I spend with this practice, and with him as a teacher, the more I realize that this is just his way of working with me specifically.  And I think it’s doing something.  Since Kovalam I’ve been actively building strength, through the way I practice (more bandhas, more core engagement, longer chaturangas) but also through supplementing (his suggestion) by lifting weights, doing push-ups and pilates too.  I’m feeling stronger and stronger and this is really empowering.  I need someone to push me, even if I think I don’t want it, I need it.  In this sense, David’s method with me has been effective – I am working harder and I am getting stronger and I’m psyched about that.

In another and totally different way, his teaching has been effective.  In the past I’ve gotten worked up and hurt by things David has said (and not said) to me.  But now, it doesn’t phase me so much.  I’ve stopped looking for David to coddle me, because I’ve come to an acceptance that that’s not who he is, and that’s OK – I don’t need to be coddled, and more importantly I DON’T NEED TO DO MY PRACTICE FOR ANYONE BUT ME.

Here’s a quick story: One day in Kovalam DG really pushed me in class, then he gave this lecture that I totally didn’t agree with, and subsequently FY and I had a big tiff about it and I was really angry.  The next day I went to practice feeling super pissy about DG.  I told myself that I didn’t care what he thought or what he wanted me to do, I told myself to ignore him the whole time and not do what he had been telling me to do.  Turns out, I did do what he wanted me to do in terms of alignment, because, well, he’s right!  He’s a super gifted teacher.  Also turns out that I had one of the very BEST practices I had in India and all because I WAS PRACTICING FOR ME and for me alone.

That experience (and I continue to have setbacks as well as recurring examples of this lesson) was big for me.  I realized that day that I don’t need my practice to impress anyone.  I don’t need to “look good” doing it.  Yes, I care about DG’s approval, but not so much that this is all I care about, because I know that my practice is MINE.  It is my individual experience and expression, it’s different every day and some days it’s prettier than others.  Oh well!  Some days there are tears.  But each time I’ve cried on my mat has not been in vain.  Each time the practice rocked me so hard that I cried, I got to know myself a little bit better, I saw things just a little bit clearer and I felt more and more ALIVE because of it.

So, “My yoga teacher makes me cry”?  Not so much.

The practice of yoga opens me up to my own tears and my own Self and that’s not a problem at all.  No siree.  Keep ’em coming.




22 thoughts on “My Yoga Teacher Makes Me Cry. Is That a Problem?

  1. I really get what you’re saying. I’ve been going through of bit of the same thing since I did my first dropbacks this past week. It’s a relief to really FEEL, but on the other hand it is overwhelming.

    • hi samantha.
      thanks for your comment and for stopping by lila. congrats on your first dropbacks! dropbacks were a big hurdle for me, and they continue to be so, especially when i take a break from them – starting up again brings back all the original emotions and fears that i experienced when i first tried. it’s a powerful learning experience to trust yourself (and your teacher) enough to bend over backwards like that!
      blessings 🙂

  2. totally understand and I am with you! You should’ve seen me the first seven years of my practice. A bawling wreck or so angry I would hurt myself. Gotta love that Ashtanga. Tears you from the inside out. <3<3<3. Can't wait till Kovalam next year!!!!

    • thanks joy – you are such an inspiration to me! i love practicing with you. i’m looking forward to this weekend and more DG intensity/awesomeness in kovalam! whoop whoop!

  3. I am totally the crying girl in my shala– this morning I cried after both parsva dhanurasana and kapotasana. For whatever reason (yoga magic, I’m betting), the intensity of backbends often causes that physical reaction in me even if I’m not overtly feeling anxious/frustrated/whatever. Soooo, I’ll be easy for you to spot the next time you and FY are practicing in DC 🙂

    I related to this post a lot, and I’m happy for you that you’ve had such a great experience of growth.

    • Kapotasana is like “The Notebook” of asanas – such a tear jerker…hehe. Well, glad I’m not alone with this whole crying on my mat thing…sure feels like it when I’m in the midst of an embarrassing sob-fest. We will be up in DC hopefully next weekend for a kirtan on Saturday so maybe we will catch you at Faith’s on Friday…it was be fun to meet up if you want! Blessings and thanks for reading my bloggy blog.

      • Oh, great! I’ll keep an eye out for you. I wear my hair in two braids, no bangs, and will probably be near the front because I have to get there so darn early. (I probably won’t be crying on a Friday because primary has fewer Notebook postures, haha) Basically I’ll be the one smiling and waving.

      • sweet. you know what we look like, so give a wave. we might not be there super early on friday (i like to be a bit lazy on fridays…hehe), but hopefully we will catch you before you slip out!

  4. Hi Frances.

    I’ve been trying to find if I ever wrote about my ridiculously tearful class with Tim Miller in Tulum. At the end — I got a lot of adjustments, including a forehead-to-forehead one in garba pindasana — Tim said something to the effect of: “Yeah, it looked like you were cracking apart a bit.”

    He can do that to you.

  5. Wow, insightful post… I love the connections yoga fuses between body, soul and spirit – brings up all sorts of emotions that we didn’t even know we had, at the same time our body surprises us with physical wonder 🙂

    • thanks lou…indeed, yoga practice goes deep into the emotional and spiritual bodies, it’s pretty awesome stuff… i appreciate you stopping by my blog.

  6. I haven’t tried Ashtanga but I also cry during yoga. No idea where those sentiments come from but if I hold it back during the practice you can bet that’s not just sweat rolling down my face in final corpse pose.

    • hi minerva,
      thanks for your comment. yoga and its effects are profound for sure. doesn’t matter what style one practices, it just matters about the heart and devotion you put into the practice.

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  13. Hi Frances,

    After a few days of tearful practice, I had to come back to this post to read it again for encouragement and support in knowing that I am not the only one crying my way through Ashtanga! We have a new teacher in Charlottesville (John Bultman), and like you, I can be approval-seeking. Rather than telling me how “good” my practice is, he has been pointing out places where I need to build strength and push myself deeper, beyond what has become a “comfortable” place. Plus, the challenges I am facing on my mat are running in parallel and helping me to recognize habits and patterns that are not serving me off of my mat–so it’s a time of change and (hopefully) growth, which brings fear, and thus, tears… Thanks for your reflections and your reminder that this is an intense and transformative practice, so it’s okay to cry sometimes. 🙂

    • Hi Lindsey.
      Thanks for your nice comment. I’m happy to know that my post provided you some encouragement and support. This practice is tough, it really puts us up against our “issues” face-to-face. That’s the beauty of it of course, the growth and transformation of which you speak, but it takes some guts and resilience to keep at it. So good on ya, keep it going, and remember what Thad always says – “Better out than in!”

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