Why do we cry sometimes during yoga?
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I don’t remember the first time I cried on the carpet. Maybe because it happened so often that it seems like a normal part of my practice.
when i came back to Postpartum yoga More than a decade ago, my body was a wreck from a twin pregnancy that arrived prematurely, three months to the day after my mother’s death. From depression and grief, I cried on the carpet as well as on the rug.
My grief was the obvious cause of those tears. But my crying on the carpet wasn’t always due to sadness. Or even anything that I can easily identify.
On days when my body feels like cement and my breath feels stuck, my tears speak of frustration. Other times, a release tear crept into a hip opener or a forward bend. Sometimes the prolonged submission in the yin pose or the semi-hypnotic state I find myself in yoga nidra leads to tears of unknown origin. More often than not, tears come Savasana. And sometimes the tears are because a whole storm of the elements—the situation, the vibe, the music, the teacher’s words—reverberate deeply.
Yoga has an uncanny ability to open up our feelings, even those we don’t know we have. Teachers tend to explain the tears produced by saying that we store emotions in our bodies and that our practice can release these feelings.
What do yoga teachers say about crying during yoga
says the yoga teacher against Moscowwho taught Yin Yoga Classes for nearly 20 years.
The common explanation teachers often give is that we accumulate mental and emotional stress in response to everyday life, and those experiences linger in our bodies. As we settle into the rhythm of our practice by intentionally slowing our breathing and aligning it with body movement, we switch from the sympathetic nervous system (known as the fight-or-flight or freeze response) to the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming rest and digestion response).
In this more relaxed state, the theory goes, muscles and connective tissues release physical tension and other pent-up tension. “Students begin to access these ‘stored’ feelings on a subtle level when both body and mind are relaxed and alert in a yoga class,” says Moscow.
And this can stir up… things.
What does science say about crying during yoga?
The belief that emotions are stored in the body is also found in psychology. in The body keeps scorePsychiatrist and trauma researcher Bessel van der Kolk connects his observations from 30 years of research in neuroscience and clinical therapy with trauma survivors. According to Van der Kolk, there is a complex interplay between our mental, physical, and emotional response to trauma.
His observations led him to believe that repressed emotions eventually manifest as physical symptoms, and he began to explore non-traditional therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including physical movement such as yoga and certain types of exercise.
Although not all tears are associated with acute or chronic trauma, van der Kolk’s research offers tremendous insight into the relationship between our emotions and our bodies. In particular, about the possibility of releasing pent-up emotional tension through certain forms of movement, including the practice of yoga.
How your breath may be related to your tears
Although the exact mechanisms of how yoga, in particular, triggers an emotional response are not fully understood, research and anecdotal evidence suggests that breathing plays an essential role in triggering our emotions.
“From my experience teaching tens of thousands of people for 27 years, I can say with certainty that breathing patterns are the way to go,” he says. Max Stromis an author and breathing instructor who TEDx Talk Anfas has 3.5 million views. “A way under the armor we wear for protection. It’s the perfect tool for emotional healing.”
Based on his conversations with neuroscientists, Strom says it’s not yet known exactly how breathing and emotions interact, and exactly where in the brain and body this happens. “We know that the nervous system is in every part of the body, and it’s where we experience our emotions,” he says.
And there is no doubt that breathing can calm the body by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. When we breathe slowly and in tandem with the rhythmic and embodied movement, which yoga teaches us, there seems to be some amount of natural intelligence at play. “Crying is not a problem to be solved,” Strom says. Crying is genetically coded.
What do you do when tears happen?
There can be many complex reasons why you might feel teary in a yoga class. It could be pent-up feelings. This may be the only time you have in days to slow down, feel and process your feelings. It may be due to the release of hormones caused by movement, which can affect your feelings, he explains Melissa Renzi Licensed Yoga Teacher and Social Worker.
As a yoga teacher…
“We can’t assume why someone is crying,” Renzi says. “But yoga teachers don’t need to know why in order to teach using trauma-informed principles.”
It starts with not trying to “fix” the situation for the students. In his drills, Strom suggests teachers step back for a few minutes before approaching the student to offer support or tissue paper. “If you go to them prematurely, they might quit and put the whole thing back down again,” he says.
According to Strom, students are often afraid to allow themselves to feel what’s inside them, let alone release it. In fact, he continues, we often expend enormous amounts of energy trying to suppress our feelings under the misconception that if we release them, they will destroy us.
Instead of approaching the students, Renzi takes a different approach. “I prefer using supportive language that emphasizes welcoming all feelings and experiences,” she says. “I also point out a lot about choice, by asking students to pause, move, or choose an anchor point like the ground or the sound they hear.” This brings the students back into physical reality for a moment and may return them to a sense of safety.
But actually crying may not feel safe for some people. “Being vulnerable can feel – and in fact be – unsafe for people of color and LGBT people,” he says. Tamika Caston Miller, a traumatized yoga instructor. Historically, being vulnerable has hurt QTBIPOC people. Asking them to be unarmed and open with you can be a huge demand for trust. Did you build it? “
What Caston-Miller has found to be particularly powerful for traditionally marginalized people is “when the yoga teacher is able to create a container of safety and alliance.” This is achieved over time and involves welcoming and witnessing students and creating a space where they are respected for who they are.
The “freedom to be authentically” says Caston Miller comes from being in an affirming class that can be transformative. “It can lead to moments of letting go of all our feelings — our anger and our despair,” she says. She explains that creating this affirming relationship over time can help teachers support those who consciously work through systemic and developmental trauma.
As a student…
If you are a student and find yourself starting to cry, try not to panic. Although crying in a yoga class may be upsetting or embarrassing, it is completely normal. There is no need to suppress your feelings or feel ashamed of them.
“When you do yoga, which is a combination of breathing and movement, even simple alignment can change things. Explains Todd Norian, founder of Yoga. ashaya yogaIt is a heart-centered yoga practice. Norian suggests approaching your tears with the “Three Elements.” Namely, curiosity, compassion and courage.
Monitor any feelings you are feeling. There’s no need to pressure yourself to understand why you’re crying or feeling a certain way. Simply notice the feelings.
Give space to your feelings and try not to fight whatever you’re feeling. No judgment. This can help normalize the processing of any feelings that come to mind.
Researcher, storyteller, and author Brené Brown has spent the past two decades exploring courage, vulnerability, and shame. As she explains, vulnerability is an act of bravery. It’s okay to allow yourself to be real. In fact, this is necessary.
A good class cry may be exactly what you need to release pent-up stress and frustration. It can release some of the heaviness associated with those feelings.
However, if difficult feelings persist, consider consulting a licensed therapist who can help you deal with them. Your yoga teacher is not equipped to help you resolve past experiences, no matter how knowledgeable or kind. The role of yoga may be to bring awareness to what may need further exploration rather than to offer a solution. And perhaps to understand how the lesson of slowing your breathing, especially your exhalation, can help you to experience emotions on the mat.
In my case, I think if I wasn’t used to triggering pain in my body, I would still be stuck there. I’ve come to rely on the mat as my little rectangular island, a space where I can tackle life’s challenges — whether I cry or not. Something is always changing there, even if I don’t necessarily know what it is. I just know that I usually feel better.
Regardless of what science can or cannot explain, I think Strom’s reminder helps us understand why. “The goal is not to tie ourselves in knots. We are really tied in knots,” Strom says. “The goal is to untie the knots in our hearts.”
About our contributor
Kari Havranik is a food and wellness writer, yogi, and Reiki master living in eastern Pennsylvania.