No matter how hard we try, the death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship can drag us downward, down into depression and the physical symptoms of depression. Yoga is such a simple practice with such broad health benefits that everyone can benefit from it. Its simple components of focus, awareness, healing, and awareness of ourselves and the world are universal, always present. There is no need to learn complicated postures or martial arts techniques, and yoga just provides the base and your inner strength as a practitioner. Like any other physical injury, grief’s best healer is time and rest. An intentional yoga practice can guide us on the path of grief processing, physical well-being, and ultimately a fulfilling life beyond grief. Here are some simple, clear steps you can take for yoga to support your healing and the process of grieving.
It’s no secret that stress and depression have physical effects on the body. Once the grief begins to take its toll, stress hormones kick in and exacerbate the feelings of anxiety, sadness, and helplessness. Our focus turns inward, and we lose the desire to be active, which in turn tenses up muscles, tightens joints, and contributes to the overall physical feeling of dis-ease.
Find a moment of quiet (with the exception of the particular poses you want to do). A free of expectation, or “alone time,” when you focus your attention is the only time you can, with your eyes closed, truly be still. But finding such a moment can be hard when you are grieving.
When you’re feeling stressed, it may help to be completely quiet or shut down. Put your phone in your pocket or under your pillow. This is also an opportunity to work on a more comfortable meditation practice. Open your eyes and slowly look at a single point on your ceiling. Notice the shape of the ceiling. Open your eyes and be still for a moment. Try to be as still as possible and notice the solidness and detail of the ceiling. Notice the shadows and gaps. Notice the end of your nose. Notice the darkness of your eyelids. Notice the pattern of your bellybutton. Notice the surface of your elbows. Continue to be completely still. To continue practicing the next step, be even more quiet, and just quietly watch your breathing.
How in the world can a few minutes a day of focused breathing, stretching, and balancing possibly assuage the depth of grief we feel? Well, think about your responses to the stress: crying causes differentiation in your breathing pattern, often resulting in inflammation, exhaustion, and tension. Fear and anxiety also inhibit the natural flow of breath, as well as cause muscular tension. Physical exhaustion occurs regularly throughout the grief process and leaves us feeling like we simply don’t have the energy for even the smallest task, let alone nurturing existing relationships. A few minutes of yoga can help re-regulate our breathing, loosen and lengthen muscles, and move our grieving focus elsewhere. And even a little bit of that will help us gently on our path through grief.
The primary effect yoga has on grief is to turn the inward focus into a positive one. While grieving, our inward focus is on loss and pain. Yoga transforms that focus, even if just for a few minutes, into one of intention, well-being, and connectedness. Bringing grief to the yoga mat helps us engage the grief, experience it safely, and to eventually to move somewhere else. A restorative yoga practice can help us feel supported, and nurtured, while at the same time taking our focus off grief and pain and placing it gently around our own souls.
There are many poses helpful in a restorative practice, several specifically helpful for grief. Often beginning with curled or closed postures is helpful, because it helps us feel protected and safe. Moving into more open and grounding helps us progress out of fear and anxiety and the need for protection into trust and preparedness. However, you begin or end your practice, simply bringing mindfulness to the mat is the first step. Where you go after that, and at what speed, is entirely up to you.