This guest-post was written by a member of our Yoga Teacher Training program, Julie Raineault.
I am sure you can relate to the great feeling you get when someone suggests you sigh in class and the room shares this big beautiful ahhhh moment. Maybe not everyone joins the first time but by that second or third time more people join and it really sounds positively delightful. But why is it okay to sigh in the studio but when you are out in the world everyone seems to think there is something wrong.
Well these are questions I sought to answer, not just because I love how a room full of sighs reminds me of The Heart of Gold’s (the ship from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy) oh so lovely sighing doors, but because my body sighs…A LOT.
So through the course of my leisurely swim into the World Wide Web I have learned a couple things that will hopefully empower you all to let out a big beautiful sigh and just enjoy it.
Sighing occurs naturally in the body several times an hour subconsciously as a way to give your lungs a stretch and to keep them from rigidly performing in the same breathing pattern. This keeps all areas of your lungs functioning optimally and ensures all your beautiful little alveoli can effectively oxygenate your blood.
This, of course, does not explain why a person sighs in a difficult emotional situation. Some speculate that the feeling of a sigh is satisfying and feels like change or release to our bodies so that action is triggered subconsciously when we feel uncomfortable mentally or physically. The feeling our body experiences when we sigh is a feeling of relief, we reset the respiratory system and fluff up our alveoli, heck just thinking about it feels good! So if you are in a challenging emotional state why wouldn’t you want to have a big sigh to change your body’s experience?
The studies I read all pointed to one common finding, people hear sighing and connect it with emotional discomfort or unhappiness. None of the studies I read were able to explain why that is the case but, from what I have gathered from my reading, it appears that our society automatically connects these two things together. Karl Halvor Teigan, winner of the Ig Nobel Prize for his study called Is A Sigh ‘Just A Sigh’? Sighs as Emotional Signals and Responses to a Difficult Task, suggested that we see others differently than we see ourselves. We may recognize that our own sigh carries no meaning but when someone sitting next to us sighs we assume they are unhappy. He went on to suggest that we hold ourselves as the exception to this assumption. I can see how this plays out as a regular sigher constantly being asked ‘what is wrong’.
So, what does this all mean to me and why do I keep talking about a science fiction novel in relation to yoga? Well, because, until we can enjoy our practice on a spaceship that has had its doors programmed to have a cheerful and sunny disposition to give us that oh-so-good-whole-room-sigh-feeling as we cross the threshold of each door, we will need do it ourselves, here in Galactic Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, better known as Earth.
So to close I ask that you reconsider your opinions on a sigh the next time you hear one float out of someone passing you in the street, working close by, or even in the grocery store, maybe join them in a sigh see if you can perhaps start a new trend.
And to paraphrase from the great wanderer of the galaxy, Ford Perfect, please remember, if you’re going to survive out here you are going to need to know where your towel mat is.
By Julie Raineault