A yoga practice can provide many benefits, but I don’t know of anyone who joined a yoga class for the purpose of triggering a “good cry.” Not all yogis experience emotional tears, but if you do, it’s ok. Yoga class and your practice should be a safe space to process emotions.
The physical practice of yoga penetrates our fascial network, which, in short, is the fibrous connective tissue encasing our organs, muscles and tissues. It is believed that emotion can be stored in the body, so it stands to reason that manipulating the facia might induce tears. Additionally, different breathing techniques practiced in yoga may be another point of access to stored emotions.
I learned a lot about the value of tears in the personal experience I’m about to share with you. I was age 58 and working full-time when I joined a 200-hour Hatha Yoga teacher training program. I’d been practicing yoga for six months to help with some persistent body aches I was experiencing, and I also hoped to move the needle on a sense of feeling stuck in my life.
I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. About midway through the training program came a day when my confidence was at a low point and my doubts and dis-ease were peaking. I’d already experienced a crying episode during warm up that morning and my emotions were on edge. Add the tension created by social anxiety and the atmosphere was ripe with all the elements necessary to produce a perfect storm.
The teacher began an exercise calling on students randomly to stand in place, state the Sanskrit name of a posture of her choice, then teach the posture with no more than 3 concise instructions. I was on the back row doing my best to avoid her line of sight and silently chanting “not me, please not me, not today.”
My lizard brain shoved my prefrontal cortex off-line as I proceeded to rise in place. The teacher informed me my posture was Tree Pose, which I knew well, yet there I stood in full panic unable to access its Sanskrit name (Vrksansana). Worse still, it is a balancing posture requiring a sense of grounding to achieve, and what little I possessed that day had just been launched into outer space.
I awkwardly reached the end of my instruction thanks to some verbal clues graciously provided by fellow students. Their assistance landed with me like a life preserver being tossed to a potential drowning victim. Afterwards, I wanted nothing more than to escape the building, but I managed to make it to the lunch break without unraveling.
Sensing my distress, two students quickly reached out to me and offered their friendship and support. Their kindness and compassion enabled me to soldier through the afternoon session. One of those students I would later think of as my “angel.”
I was unable to suppress my emotions any longer and tears streamed down my face for the duration of the 20-minute drive home. I made it to the house, changed into a sleep shirt, and curled up in bed. I accepted the fact this would be an “ugly cry.” It was.
The next 24 hours were filled with a rotation of sobbing and napping, followed by gentle tears that triggered the cycle all over again. It was a depth of crying I’d never known (or allowed), and I don’t think I could have stopped if I had wanted to, and I didn’t (want to).
I periodically received encouraging text messages from the “angel” I mentioned above. My significant other, sensing this was not a problem he could solve, resigned himself to regular check-ins bearing hugs and snacks. These kindnesses were my lifeline in what I now refer to as the “big purge.”
Yoga is a somatic practice, but I would not say my experience was typical. The combination of my practice and the additional pressure of teacher training had triggered the release of a multitude of emotions I’d allowed to build up over time. I’m certainly no scientist, but I believe my body used “a river of tears” to reset and restore equilibrium to mind, body and spirit.
Yoga teacher training remained challenging for me, but the trash had been emptied and enough space had been created to meet those challenges on a level playing field. In the end, l did well on my written and practical exams, and I received my certification.
My crying episode had also aroused a desire in me to learn more about the relationship between yoga and our emotions and dug out this article on One Flow Yoga.
For any of you considering taking up a yoga practice or signing up for yoga teacher training, please don’t let my story scare you. The beauty of a yoga practice is that it gifts each of us with the unique experience we need to have, even if it turns out to include a river of tears!
Please join in the conversation. Can you recall a time when a serious cry improved your well-being? If you practice yoga, have you noticed a specific posture or postures that tend to make you cry?