Tears of Joy

One thing that many people experience in yoga or meditation is tears. I attended a Max Strom workshop once in which Max related this to unearthing hidden emotional trauma. I think that this can be true and that there can be multiple explanations for the same phenomenon that exist on different levels and the differing explanations do not necessarily mean disagreement.

But as a neurologically oriented yogi I like to think of this in neurophysiological terms. Our autonomic nervous systems are compromised of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system is vital for survival and confronting danger and threat, the flight-or-fight nervous system. Stimulation makes our heart race, blood pressure go up, gives us a dry mouth and makes our pupils dilate. The parasympathetic system does the opposite, slowing our heart rate, lowering our blood pressure and makes our pupils smaller. The two systems live in Yin/Yang balance subject to our own constitution and environmental factors.

I think that one of the main physiological benefits of mindful yoga practice is to modulate the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic in favor of the parasympathetic system. This conveys numerous physical benefits including decreased blood pressure that are a marker of a deep state of psychological and physiological relaxation.

It isn’t easy to monitor your blood pressure, heart rate, pupil size, gastric motility, galvanic skin response or any of a number of typical physiological parameters that monitor in the clinical setting during yoga. So we do our asanas and pranayama practice in good faith believing that it is good for us.

But when we get tears, regardless of what may be going on a psychic level, the mind and  body is showing us its gratitude with tears as a clear indication of parasympathetic predominance, indicating, at last, respite from stress and the battle for survival.

Your body, my body, our bodies are thanking us with tears of joy.

Thanks for reading,


This entry was posted in gratitude, meditation, mindfulness, neuroscience, Uncategorized, yoga. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Tears of Joy

  1. Thanks for this! I believe it’s important to explain why this happens as many yogis are scared when suddenly tears start flowing, taking this for a bad sign – whereas that’s the moment when we need to keep going because then we’re really onto something! 🙂

  2. rfreilino says:

    Great post, DFD. At LifeWaves, we’re really digging your explanation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic as the yin and yang of our bodies. Keep ’em coming!

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