In Ayurveda, there are urges to not resist and doing so is harmful to the body. An urge can be yawning, going to the bathroom, burping, sleeping, crying, etc. Holding in these urges can put stress on the body and interrupt proper detoxification processes. Every urge has a purpose that connects to helping movement and cleansing. We regenerate a lot during sleep, which is why the body has an urge for rest. We may need to cough to clear the throat or drink water for cellular hydration. Crying is an emotional urge that carries more importance than we may think.
In the Vedic texts, there are the 13 urges to not resist, called vega dharana or vega vidharan:
Belching, flatulence, bowel movements, urination, sneezing, thirst, hunger, sleeping, coughing, yawning, crying, vomiting and ejaculating.
The Ashtanga Hridaya (Vedic text) also mentions the urge to heavily breathe after exertion. There are other urges that we can think of such as laughing, screaming or shouting in an urgent situation. Other urges could even be dancing, singing or speaking your mind.
If we look at the life of a baby, no urges are resisted. What comes up for them is almost immediately manifested with their little bodies. Babies cry constantly, sleep a lot, yawn freely, eat when they are hungry and wear diapers for their frequent elimination. So when did we learn to resist urges? We may have learned to suppress bodily urges due to cultural standards of politeness and cleanliness. Some urges are seen as inappropriate or gross. There may be fear around a safe place to use the bathroom or interrupting a situation to do so. We may not eat or drink because we think we are too busy to stop a task. We may stay up way past the point of being tired because we have a deadline to make. We might resist yawning in avoidance of the impression that we are bored or tired. We may resist sneezing or coughing because we don’t want to be perceived as a germ spreader. Our bodies are changing moment to moment and when we allow these urges to be released, we allow regeneration and detoxification.
Crying is a natural urge that has often been culturally deemed as weak or inappropriate and is very often suppressed, at least in public. Out of all urges to resist, crying may be the easiest to suppress. We may find ourselves in situations where we don’t want to be pitied or comforted for our tears. Something upsetting may have happened or resurfaced somewhere we think we have to be composed. Crying is an important release that allows feelings and emotions to be processed in the moment that they arise. Grief, sadness, anger, disappointment, frustration or feeling misunderstood are all emotions that may cause tears to flow. The other benefit of crying is replacing shame or embarrassment with vulnerability and authenticity. A healthy way to cry if not in an ideal location is to excuse yourself and have a moment with the process. It never feels good to swallow tears and pretend everything is fine. The emotions we feel are valid and don’t need to be explained away or disregarded.
Tears are not always coming from negative or sad emotions. Maybe we have tears of joy, but these flow with much more ease. Tears of joy are backed with the emotion of love and happiness. There still may be a tendency to hide them due to vulnerability, fear of misunderstanding or judgment of a deeply feeling heart.
Here is a breakdown of different tears based on the doshas:
Kapha: joy and happiness, sweet taste, scanty and come from outer corner of eye
Pitta: anger, hot and sour, fall from center of eyelid
Vata: frustration, grief, bitter and astringent, fall from inner corners of eye
Lets explore the reality of the tears as a detoxification pathway. We wouldn’t hold in our urine and hope it would just go away, it is a detoxification pathway that has to empty itself. Think of crying in the same way with relation to emptying the emotions. They need to release and can’t just be reabsorbed by the body, nor would we want them to. Majja dhātu (the nervous system & bone marrow tissues) works to eliminate emotions through tears, which Dr. Lad calls “liquefied crystals of emotion”. So by crying, we are allowing our nervous system to gather emotions that need to be washed out through our tears.
Holding back tears can cause disorders of ālochaka pitta, which is a subdosha of Pitta that governs the eyes. Disorders can be shortsightedness or farsightedness, conjunctivitis, burning and light sensitivity. “The root cause of an ālochaka pitta disorder is suppressed tears and avoidance of seeing reality”(1). Other than eye issues, suppressing the tears can cause unresolved emotions to store in the connective tissues. The intercellular space in the connective tissues is the seat of the subconscious mind. These stored emotions can break down and cause problems in our cartilage, tendons, ligaments, skin, bone tissues and more. Many of us also hold emotions in our stomach, causing digestive distress and appetite issues. Unresolved and stored emotions can furthermore affect our sleep, energy levels, mood and quality of life.
Luckily we have tools like meditation to help us observe the present moment and all that arises in this wild human life. There are many types of meditation, from breath awareness (Anapana) to visual/guided meditation. We can focus on our breath of life, watching the thoughts come and go and staying aware of each passing moment. Whatever feeling that arises is welcome to be witnessed and observed without judgment or reaction. Pranayama and Yoga Asana are also great tools to drop into the body and work to regulate the nervous system.
Ayurveda is a lifestyle medicine that is a combination of tools and practices for whole wellbeing. May we slow down and be present with healing and releasing, moment to moment. May we carry compassion for others and ourselves always 🙂
(1). Textbook of Ayurveda. Fundamental Principles of Ayurveda: Volume 1. Lad, Vasant.