It's not just for babiesHave you had a good cry lately? Whether you weep from frustration, grief or pain, passion or compassion, joy or gratitude, crying is healthy. Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle observed that dramas that caused the audience to cry produced a 'catharsis', a restorative emotional climax or cleansing. Swami Kripalu called crying "one of the highest devotional songs. If you can cry with a pure heart, nothing else compares to such a prayer."
In Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears, author Tom Lutz refers to work by William Frey, a biochemist who collected tears shed by subjects watching sad movies and tears produced while cutting onions. The emotionally induced tears contained leucine-enkephalin (an endorphin or natural opiate-like pain reliever), prolactin (released from the pituitary in response to emotional stress), and high concentrations of various proteins and hormones. Characterizing crying as an exocrine process, like exhaling, urinating, and sweating - all of which release toxic substances from the body -Frey, like Aristotle, concluded that crying is a natural way of restoring balance to the body, and may, in fact, stave off depression.
If tears are restorative, why don't we cry more often? Some people resist crying because they're afraid if they 'let themselves go' they won't be able to regain control. LeslieBeth Wish, clinical director of the New England Institute of Family Relations, found that when the women in her study sample became brave enough to cry, they didn't cry for very long at all. (Other research shows the average time for a happy cry is two minutes; seven minutes for a sad cry.) After crying they felt more in charge of their emotions. Like a river, tears move us from one place to another in the flow of life.
A few years ago, crying clubs began cropping up in Japan. People get together after work and watch sad movies or tearjerker television serials to trip the tear switch. The trend migrated to London, where twenty- and thirty-somethings gather at clubs to cry, even using onions to stimulate tears. Feeling refreshed and revitalized afterwards, people find it easier to talk about difficult things; the release of 'toxins' promotes social bonding.
If there's no 'crying club' on your block, almost any movie worth remembering has at least one weepy cathartic scene, magnified by the musical score. You can always count on Samuel Barber's Adaggio for Strings, Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony, or Mozart's Requiem Mass to trigger the waterworks. Most importantly, pay attention in your daily life when you feel that lump in your throat, the sting of saltwater in your eyes. Open the floodgates. Let it out. Tears water the soul and free the body. (Pass the tissues.)