Why I Cried During Yoga, and Why You Might, Too

“The body contains the memory of the whole life we have lived." - Mariana Caplan, Ph.D.

This morning I turned on my tunes and got deep into my yoga flow. Thoughts from my past and of the time surrounding the death of my half-brother began to wash over me.

I was immediately emotional and began to sob uncontrollably, from a depth that I hadn't felt in a long, long time.

I knew it was from the emotional release that came from practicing yoga, but until now, I didn't know just how common and completely normal it was to cry during yoga.

Yoga is more than just a physical activity, it is, in my opinion, a spiritual journey that focuses on our innermost feelings. It has the power to magnify and simultaneously lessen your frustrations, fears, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, appreciation, and more, making it a powerful tool for healing and growing.

With this emotional ebb and flow, it's completely normal, and sometimes expected, to shed some tears.

Clinical psychologist and registered yoga teacher Melody Moore, Ph.D., told SELF Magazine, “The body remembers everything and holds unprocessed tension. When we move our bodies and breathe, it gives us an opportunity to work out that tension. As it releases, so too does the emotional story or baggage."

Apparently, this crying-during-yoga phenomenon was more common than I'd first thought.

According to a study covered by Do You Yoga, science has uncovered three reasons why some people cry while in certain asanas.

1. The Need for a Mental and Physical Connection

We are focused more inward as a society than ever. Our reach, thanks to technology, is large, but our in-person, human-to-human connections are small. Even living with your significant other doesn’t guarantee that you are connecting mentally, emotionally, and physically in a way that is conducive to good health.

As a mother, I was told that skin-to-skin contact was a crucial need of my newborn baby. Subsequently, my daughter and I have touched every day since she was born, whether through breastfeeding, hugging, cuddling, and more. I truly believes she craves being near me for many of the same reasons adults also need human touch and meaningful interaction. Feel-good chemicals, like oxytocin, are released when touching someone you love or care about. Touching can also reduce stress and strengthen our immune systems.

According to scientist and yoga practitioner, Maren Hunsberger, “When we’ve gone too long without that touch fix, we can feel drained, empty, sad, and isolated. If your instructor touches you during practice, this may induce a flood of happiness-inducing chemicals, as well as the sudden realization of how long it’s been since you’ve been touched. This can result in mixed and overwhelming emotions,” including the need to cry.

2. Subconscious Emotions Rise to the Surface

I had not been thinking consciously of my half-brother in a deep and meaningful way for a least a couple of months prior to crying about him during yoga. However, when he did come to mind this morning, it was clear and focused, as though I realized what I had been oppressing for the last several weeks.

It felt natural, needed, cleansing, and therapeutic. The anniversary of his death is just a few weeks away, and he had been heavily on my subconscious mind. I knew this because I could now make connections with the thoughts I wasn’t initially aware of.

“While yoga can be a physically intense activity,” explains Hunsberger, “the poses and asanas of a practice can bring your brain into a deeply focused, neutral state. This helps you process anything that is bothering you subconsciously, but that you’ve been unable or unwilling to access directly.”

She also goes on to say, “Yoga gives your mind a way to process the feelings we bury and push aside. This results in the confusion you experience when suddenly overwhelmed by emotion on the mat, and it can take anywhere from moments to days to search through yourself and consciously pinpoint the original source of the emotion.”

Luckily, I did not have to wait days to pinpoint my emotions. However, don’t let that discourage you. Sometimes we are simply not as aware of our subconscious minds on a day-to-day basis.

3. Unreleased Physical Pain and Emotional Tension

A major area where I hold stress is in my jaw on the right side, exactly where it hinges. This isn’t really something that I purposely focused on releasing by practicing yoga, but I can attest, that after a solid two months of daily practice, I don’t feel the tension or the knot that once accumulated there.

It’s believed that the release of this type of tension, wherever it is you may hold yours, could be the catalyst for crying during yoga class.

Because yoga is seen as a holistic practice--treating the body, mind, and soul simultaneously--Hunsberger believes, “through yoga’s physical opening of your body’s muscles, tissues, and organs, deep-seated fears and sadness can be brought to the surface. Acknowledgement of the root cause of these feelings can then be addressed mentally, emotionally, and physically.”

When I began to cry this morning, my initial urge was to fight it, to get right back into my flow, but my body wouldn't allow it. Instead, I let the sadness course through my body like a conduit for my tears that so desperately needed a release.

Once it was over, I felt sad, but renewed, and well enough to finish my practice. It's something to think about if you are ever feeling tearful during yoga practice. My suggestion? Don’t hold back. Crying during yoga is a gift from the universe.

© 2020 Jamie Duncan