“Let her scream!” Raya insisted, as a student’s yells pierced through the yoga hall during a medical class. A Senior Teacher was lifting the student's shoulders in Dwipāda Viparīta Daṇḍāsana while another teacher was lifting her hips waaaay up.
Raya’s comment was shorthand for: She is experiencing intense sensation in an āsana that will heal her. Don’t let her stop doing the pose just because she is paining, complaining, or fearful. Indeed, the seasoned teachers did not stop, kept her in the pose, and repeated it several more times.
Although we are typically coached to “keep our cool” in yoga practice, it’s not unusual to hear grunts, moans, and an occasional scream in the practice hall, especially during the medical (Remedial) class, with students coming with sometimes quite serious injuries and illnesses.
Usually they don’t even realize they are making such sounds, and they have no control over it. Occasionally when I have received very strong adjustments, a sound will simply pop out, absolutely involuntarily. It’s not a scream of pain. It’s a response to an intense sensation, an arrival at a place I’ve never been before, often a surprising place and experience. Typically we are not even aware that we are making noise, and are so deeply absorbed that we are oblivious to what is going on outside of our intense inner experience. Even those who are rather reserved, quiet individuals will have the occasional, seemingly out of character outburst, during an āsana adjustment.
Sometimes the teachers will do a strong adjustment to “test the waters,” seeing how much a “patient” (as they refer to the students in the medical class) will tolerate, how far they are willing to go, how determined they are to heal, and how much they are willing to trust them and trust Iyengar Yoga. They want to see if they’re going to be worth their time.
Immediately after that medical class, Rajlaxmi led a beatific Prāṇāyāma session. She commented on how creating space in the body is making room for the spiritual body. She described how subtle space is—ākāśa, and how we are actually welcoming spirit into our physical beings. She talked about the inner light we all contain, but that it’s covered up with the emotional body through the kleśas, and mostly invisible to us. We worked all through class in creating the space in ourselves for spirit, and to let the inner light through.
It reminded me of eurythmy, a movement art based on sound, in which every vowel and consonant has an expressive archetypal gesture. We all intuitively understand the relationship of movement and sound. We can’t help but say “Ahhh” at the sight of a beautiful waterfall or rainbow. We coo “Ohhh” when we see a little baby, and “Mmmmm” when we see delicious food. Sounds just come out of us, both from intense pleasure and displeasure and everything in between.
Rajlaxmi’s poetic observations and the outcries I heard in the medical class made me realize we are actually welcoming or expelling spiritual forces and energies through our vocalizations. When we silently utter “Om” as we do at the beginning of each of Prashantji’s classes, we are shaping our vocal apparatus around the syllable, even if the sound is unheard. When we work with the sound forms in Prāṇāyāma in his classes, I am finally understanding that we are shaping the ākāśa within, and as such, manifesting God in that inner space.
So I’m also extrapolating that the vocalizations we occasionally make are an expulsion of negative spirit within. That perhaps Abhi and Raya are wringing out the demons, so to speak, that keep us bound up and in pain. That the grunts and yelps and yelling are elements of a yoga exorcism of sorts.
I am trying not to go woo woo on y’all. I’m trying to keep it super-grounded real. So whether one is atheist or a fundamentalist Christian or anything else, I hope you can relate to my observations, that the Iyengar Yoga practice is to drain ourselves of what no longer serves us, and to create space for the next stage of our evolution. You could say, we’re ridding ourselves of our former selves and making way for our higher selves. We’re constantly creating ourselves anew.
“Why does it sound like you are all having childbirth pains?” scolded Geetaji in an intense backbend class some years ago. We are frequently coached to keep our focus within, stay calm, and breathe through the intensity instead of grunting and moaning our way through a challenging class. I understand this and practice this, but sometimes the sound pops out, completely involuntarily and unconsciously, like a cough or a sneeze. Maybe it sounded like childbirth because we were actually giving birth to ourselves on some level.
Not that every yoga class should be punctuated with screams. But we must expel our inner demons, whatever it takes, those forces that hold us back, that keep us stuck. May we, with sensitivity and self-compassion, tune into our ākāśa, and make space for the inner Divine, whatever it takes.