“Crying is one of the highest devotional songs. One who knows crying knows spiritual practice. If you can cry with a pure heart nothing else compares to such a prayer. Crying includes all the principles of yoga. ” – Kripalvananda
Swami Kripalvananda is the namesake inspiration for the well known Pennsylvania Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. This Center was established by Amrit Desai, a disciple of Swami Kripalvananda and one of America’s first major yoga influences. I don’t know what Swami Kripalvananda intended by this statement and my searches for commentary on the passage has produced nothing of note. Nonetheless the passage has always hit me in a visceral way and has inspired reflection into its meaning.
Crying has always been a mainstay in my life. As a child I’d find myself crying at the first days of school, as a response to bullying, in front of a sunset or in the face of frustration. Before I learned to manage emotional energy in different ways I’d feel a good cry pent up for weeks until a tipping point would finally shove me off the edge of my containment into a bawling frenzy. It would be a relief to bleed the valve of my emotional pressure cooker despite how much I may have resisted the absolute abandon that would come with a deep wail.
It’s somewhat of a miracle, in my opinion, that crying has become an essential part of my spirituality these days. It’s no longer something that occurs spontaneously when I can hold back no longer, but instead something that I seek if I know it’s been a while since my last release. I have a bit of an internal “cry-o-meter” and I make note if I feel the energy of a sob welling up in me. The need to cry can feel like an ache in my torso, an agitation clenched in my jaw, an anxiety lodged in my stomach. It can feel like the weak and struggling walk into the duties of my everyday life, or the mist of sullen eyes at a heart warming or wrenching scene in a movie. When the Deep Cry hearkens now, I don’t question it. I catalyze it. Whether it’s through contemplation on the things that I grieve or have hurt me lately or through a sad movie I get the energy moving through my body and out my eyes.
I’ve come to understand this movement of energy as natural as a deep releasing stretch, or a deep breath or the process of digestion and elimination. Crying is self care. Science theorizes that crying is a way to rid stress hormones from the body and also how the body produces natural pain killers in response to anticipated threat. It’s also assumed that crying is a way our send social signals to those around us that we are in need. In other words crying can be seen as natural, adaptive and important. Much of our problem with crying comes from our cultural heritage and the association with this natural act with weakness. But remember it’s no more weak to cry than it is to sneeze, stretch or poop!
Swami Kripalu’s passage about crying is a much needed affirmation of the act. Not only is it natural, but, as he claims, it is spiritual. For me, spiritual means part of a process of connecting to life and recognizing my place amidst the interdependent web of existence. So if crying is spiritual then, for me, it is because it helps me connect to my life force and my place as a natural being. When I cry I am connected to feeling in my body, I am allowing this feeling to be as it is and move as it wants to move. Sound familiar? I don’t know what Swami Kripalu may hold as the principles of yoga, but certainly I hold allowing authentic and natural feeling to be alive in my body to be one of them. In any pose I’m coming home to the present moment, which can only be known in my body and I’m sensing for the truth of my experience in that moment and through that pose. When I meet that truth sometimes it holds emotional content – fear trembling in my bones, anger burning in my muscles or a deep sob throbbing subtly in my chest. In this moment of yoga, as with crying, I sit amidst the natural truth of my body. Both are infused with the qualities of authenticity – mind and ego relax their grip for a few short moments.
So crying, like yoga, can invoke authentic feeling in the body. It can help us to merge with genuine internal experience, feel and express that experience. But why might crying be considered a devotional song? This is highly nuanced and personal I think. Certainly, as I engage with my life force as a spiritual practice, and I come to know it through yoking the mind and the body I then can see my own small and natural existence as part of something larger. My own biology is part of a much larger biosphere. My authentic expression of movement and feeling is like a voice in a larger symphony. I sing the song of my authentic expression, a holy mark on the fabric of a larger tapestry. When I cry I lay myself bare at the altar of my humanity – to me, bearing my own naked nature is the epitome of devotion to the intelligence that births me moment to moment. It says to my life force “I am here and I am yours”. I don’t need a figurehead in the sky in order for me to yield in devotion to what wants to happen within the borders of my sacred vessel. What I do need, however, is a yoga practice that serves as a moving prayer in honour the untame, dancing landscape of my inner life – one that includes a deep cry as the holy and wild phenomenon that it can be.