“Lie still with your palms facing upward, ready to receive. This is your final posture of class – savasana,” my yoga teacher’s voice filled the heated room and I tried to stop my thoughts from wandering. With nothing in particular in my mind, I closed my eyes and felt hot tears streaming down my cheeks.
A League of Their Own made the line, “There’s no crying in baseball,” famous. While I suspect there could be crying in baseball, despite Tom Hanks’ insistence, there is definitely—one hundred percent—crying in yoga. And as it turns out, I’m not alone in my desire to sob during savasana, or other yoga poses for that matter. Professionals have weighed in on the topic for years, and it turns out lots of people experience what I did during a recent yoga class – an overwhelming need to let out some tears, regardless of feeling emotional or sad upon sitting down on the mat. Although there isn’t too much scientific data into why we’re prone to cry during our yoga practice, there is some great reasoning out there as to why so many yogis get the blues.
On a physical level, yoga requires that the body contorts into various shapes that allow us to feel vulnerable. Specifically, poses that target the hips, back, and chest are believed to incite high levels of emotion, as they’re responsible for releasing toxins in various muscles and joints, and opening up the body in ways that we don’t normally do in our everyday lives.
Additionally, the exercise’s focus on mindful, deep breathing can also lead to tears on the mat. By consciously breathing slowly and steadily, instead of at a more normal, quick pace, you are activating a different part of your brain. Slow breathing shifts activity in your brain from the medulla oblongata to cerebral cortex. This changes the pH levels in our blood, which can cause you to feel more calm and relaxed during your practice.
In addition to physical benefits such as helping you burn calories, increase flexibility, and improve balance and posture, it’s been proven that yoga is beneficial for other bodily functions and mental health. The regular practice of yoga can lead to better regulated moods, lower levels of stress and anxiety, and is even credited with bolstering the body’s immune system. Of course, yoga is not a cure-all for those who have physical or mental health problems, but it can certainly provide relief in some cases.
Many instructors ask students to set an intention for their practice – a point of focus at which to guide the class. By focusing on something, be it a general mantra like “bravery” or something more specific like “having the courage to pitch a new idea” during an upcoming meeting, we allow ourselves to feel exposed. By thinking about what drives or ails us, the exercise class becomes much more personal, and can bring up emotions that we don’t allow to surface during other times of day.
These bodily and spiritual benefits can give us an understanding of why it feels so damn good to cry during yoga class. Your guard is down, and your mind and body feel like it would be an okay time to let out any pent up frustrations you experience in your everyday life. Although this can feel a little embarrassing, and even times overwhelming, when you’re in a room full of sweaty strangers, it’s best to ride the yogic wave and let the tears fall where they may. By exercising your body and mind during a yoga class, you’re quietly giving your body permission to make you feel a teensy bit better – even if that relief comes in the form of tears.