If you’ve found yourself tearing up or all-out wailing during a yoga class, there’s nothing wrong with you. While your yoga practice can yield many physical benefits – like toning your butt – it also has the ability to shine a light into the darkness. Coming face-to-face with what’s in the shadows may get emotional.
Oftentimes, crying during yoga takes a practitioner by surprise.
However, yoga is known to have the potential to uncover deep emotions or trauma that have been buried, hidden, or otherwise obscured.
Why Does Yoga Make People Cry?
The reasons for crying during yoga are not always esoteric. Tears might fall as a result of frustration with the day or dissatisfaction with the stiffness of our body during the yoga session itself.
The silence of savasana might elicit tears because it’s the only time you’ve been still and silent all day and you have a moment to reconnect with your mind and body. You might cry tears of relief or exhaustion. Or because you didn’t have a time or place to cry until you stepped onto your mat.
Some describe unexpressed emotions as being stored or held in the body. They certainly exhibit physical symptoms including tightness, tension, and pain.
The connection between emotions and our bodies is embedded in our language.
“My stomach was in knots.”
“He’s a pain in the neck.”
“She gets my back up.”
“The weight of the world is on his shoulders.”
During yoga, as sometimes occurs in massage and other physical therapies, the release of physical tension can also cause an emotional release.
Physical Release Can Cause Emotional Release
Anecdotally, a movement or stretch has been known to trigger emotional release. Some examples are uttanasana (standing forward bend), back bends like urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog), or hip openers like eko pada rajakapotasana (pigeon pose) or ananda balasana (happy baby). The duration for which you hold a pose might also cause — or rather allow — tears to flow.
Sports psychologist Adam Gallenberg notes that “in yoga, we put our body in certain poses that we might refrain from doing in our daily lives, like opening up our chest or standing up tall.” It’s possible that such movements make certain emotions more likely to surface.
Breathwork is also linked to the release of emotions, as it engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps maintain bodily processes like digestion, as well as returning the body to relaxation after stress or danger by lowering blood pressure, and slowing your heartbeat and breathing.
What’s The Link Between Emotional Release And Yoga?
One reason emotional release happens so often in yoga is that a yoga practice encompasses three aspects: the physical, mental, and emotional. It wakes us up on all these levels.
Another reason such release occurs so frequently in yoga is that yoga prepares your mind and body for it. It can move you toward a position of strength from which you can accept, unpack, and deal with past trauma or powerful emotions.
Finally, release can occur when we are in the moment. When we are not projecting ourselves into the future or worrying about the past, we can be now, completely connected to the present. For most people, with all the potential distractions of modern living, this is a rare state of being. Turning down the noise of our own minds and being present for a moment is powerful.
For all these reasons, crying during yoga is not uncommon. In fact, some people use yoga specifically to trigger an emotional release.
Why Would Someone Want To Cry During Yoga?
Relief from pressure and pain.
Freedom from the past.
Acceptance and realization.
It’s a difficult road. The release itself is likely to be challenging. But the physical, mental, and emotional benefits make us stronger and more capable of living as we choose without subconscious restrictions.
Using Yoga To Work Through Emotions And Release Tensions
Some yoga practitioners intentionally use yoga techniques to elicit emotional release. If you’re interested in using yoga practices and postures for this reason, however, be cautious.
These practices may bring up powerful and potentially unpredictable emotions, and not everything that comes to the surface of our awareness is easy to look at or deal with. You don’t know what, when, or how much might be released.
Yoga techniques for emotional release include:
- Inward focus (Pratyahara)
- Focus on the breath (Pranayama)
- Specific asanas
The advice is usually to use such techniques sparingly. Just use one at a time. And leave a few days between them.
You might feel like you need to open the floodgates, but that’s not necessarily going to be safe or helpful. Emotional release is challenging. Too much can be counterproductive.
Slow, steady, and measured practice will be much more useful here. Your approach to emotional release would benefit from yoga’s focus on balance and harmony. Start slowly with one technique at a time.
First, a Disclaimer
If you know that you have had severe trauma or you have a history of psychological or emotional instability, working through emotions only with deep-release techniques is not recommended.
Those of us with a history of mental illness or instability require professional guidance, such as with a psychiatrist, and support to ensure we stay safe.
Inward Focus (Pratyahara) For Self-Awareness
Particularly in the fast-paced Western world, we can go through life checking off lists. We often attempt to act in the outside world without stopping to observe what’s going on inside.
Yoga practice — particularly when maintaining inward focus — boosts mental and physical self-awareness. We can learn to feel physical sensations and the minute physiological changes within.
From there, we can start to feel the physiological changes associated with emotions. Meditation practice helps us observe emotions without judgment, which can help us explore them instead of categorizing and shutting them away.
Focus On The Breath (Pranayama) For Connection With Emotions
When we focus on our breath, we move our awareness to our chest and belly. Following the movement of air in and out of our bodies can help us release and connect with very deep emotions.
Breathing out through the mouth is an effective way of expelling emotions, including frustration and anxiety.
When combined with sound, exhaling can become even more powerful and effective at releasing emotions.
Vocalization To Energize Your Practice
In many cases, people keep quiet regarding their emotions. We bite our tongues and swallow our anger.
Vocalizing stirs things up and helps release such stifled emotions.
Growling might make you feel stronger and more powerful.
Sighing is commonly associated with releasing anger or frustration.
You decide what sounds to make. It doesn’t need to be any sound in particular. It just needs to feel right to you.
While you might feel self-conscious doing some of this in a group session, you’ll be more comfortable letting yourself go alone, at home, with a pre-recorded video.
When it comes to shedding tears, let yourself cry. Weep if you need to. Holding in tears — and their associated sounds — can stress the body and mind. Tears purge stress chemicals from the body and release “feel-good chemicals” oxytocin and endorphins.
Note that you can be vocal about positive emotions that surface, too. You might wish to laugh. Do it. Whatever the noise, vocalization adds a powerful dimension to your yoga practice.
Asana To Align Physical And Emotional Release
Backbends and hip openers are the primary asanas that help release emotional tension. Asanas that work on the throat, chest, shoulders, and hips are commonly used to release emotions, although you can use any posture that feels right for you.
With yoga as your guide, you’ll be able to hone in on the areas of your body where you hold tension and you’ll be able to use specific yoga postures to begin release.
As ever, listen to your body. If you feel like you’re releasing tension or pent-up emotions, you might want to hold that asana for longer than usual.
As Melissa notes, we often approach yoga practice as if our bodies are symmetrical. They’re not. If you want to hold an asana longer on one side than the other or perform a movement more deeply in one direction because you feel something, let yoga guide you.
The most popular poses for emotional release include:
Adho Mukha Mandukasana (Downward-Facing Frog)
This is a great pose for opening the hips. From table pose, walk the knees outwards as far as comfortable. Support your upper body with your forearms flat on the ground. Hold to open the hips, groin, and inner thighs.
Utthita Svanasana (Extended Dog/Puppy Pose)
From table pose, point your tailbone up towards the ceiling. Slide your hands forward on the mat until your head reaches the ground. It’s similar to child’s pose, except you keep the hips up and over your knees. Allow your chest to sink.
Parivrtta Utkatasana (Chair Pose Or Twisted Chair Pose)
The deep squat of chair pose engages the muscles of your legs and back and helps you find balance and strength in your core.
With a deep twist of the thoracic spine, this pose is excellent for detoxification. It focuses on internal organs, thighs, glutes, and hips.
The Work We Put Into Releasing
The release of intense emotions is not an end but a beginning. Processing those emotions might involve exploration, acceptance, integration, and change. It’s going to take time.
To work through your emotions, consider safe places you can inhabit during your practice and after your practice.
During yoga, you can always retreat into the safety of child’s pose or the peace of savasana. These are excellent poses that help you feel and integrate emotional energies other poses might release.
After your yoga practice, process the new feelings and emotions by using such methods as talking them out with a friend, going for a walk, drawing and painting, or journaling.
You Don’t Have To Cry…
If you go your entire life without breaking down in a yoga class, that’s absolutely fine.
Not everyone needs a deep release. Some traumas require professional support to unpack.
Furthermore, not crying during yoga could be a sign that your life is pretty balanced and you’ve managed to get through the years without bottling up too many powerful emotions. Go you.
…But It’s Totally Fine If You Do!
For those who do cry, having strong emotions arise can be shocking and overwhelming. It can be problematic or feel embarrassing when you reach that glorious state of catharsis right there in the village hall, fitness center, or park.
Try not to worry. The spirit of yoga is such that if it happens during a class, people will most likely be sympathetic, providing support that can make it easier for you to deal with emotions that arise. People pass gas during yoga – so who’s to say you shouldn’t cry?
And not only has your instructor probably seen it all before, but they’ve most likely been through their own emotional journey.
Block or no block, tears or no tears: your yoga practice is unique to you.