By Carmelene Melanie Siani
“Faced with grief, most people seek solace by drawing close to family and friends, seeing a therapist or a member of the clergy, or perhaps joining a support group. All these things bring comfort, but there are times when Eastern spiritual practices like yoga can bring healing when nothing else can.” ~ Catalfo
I started practicing yoga 20 years ago when my brother’s baby died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
It was a dark and wretched time for me. My heart broke not only for the little one, but also for my brother whose ragged sobs over the phone in that middle of the night call I kept hearing over and over again.
“I can’t stand the unfairness of it,” I’d cried out to a friend. Without warning my feelings would overcome me like an unexpected ocean wave in the middle of the desert.
“Have you ever tried yoga?” she asked quietly. “It can really help with grief.”
My friend’s words tugged gently on a truth deep inside me.
I had been introduced to yoga years before and had tried it off and on but always for its physical benefits alone, never considering it as a container for emotions—let alone grief. After my friend’s suggestion however, I started again with beginner’s classes and found myself struggling. I struggled with my body and with my mind and even with the whole concept of yoga and grief.
Slowly however, I began to feel as though the stretching and strengthening of my physical body brought with it a stretching and strengthening of my emotional body as well and I could feel the anger and grief loosen its hold on me.
Yoga allows you to probe your grief—to go into the pain, not run from it—emerging somehow more whole and free by focusing on your immediate physical as well as emotional experience. Rather than trying to ‘get over it’ or ‘work through it,’ yoga helps you integrate your grief into who you are, and into your body and becomes an exercise in self-compassion. It helps you live in your body with your emotions.”
Today, it is yin yoga that is my practice of choice and I do it more for the banquet it offers my emotional and spiritual hunger than for what it offers my aching back.
Each yin pose, or “shape” is held for 4 to 5 minutes of slow, deep, breathing and stretching, allowing the body to simply fall into itself. Unlike the other more active yang types of yoga, yin is a passive practice that invites me to melt into its various poses. It has become a time in which not only have I learned to let my body go without resistance, but I can let my thoughts come and go without resistance as well.
There have been many occasions while holding a yin shape that tears have spilled from my eyes as my body and my mind do what it needs to do to unload stored tension and stress.
Recently I was diagnosed with an illness that caused me to lose much of my mobility. It wasn’t however the pain and physical dysfunction that was my greatest difficulty so much as it was the grief I carried.
I grieved for my neck and shoulders that used to not hurt and for my back that used to be able to bend. I grieved for my legs that I once was able to fold in front of me and for not being able to take long walks by myself.
I even grieved for not being able to stand in the kitchen and cook anymore. Simply put, I grieved for no longer being the woman I had known myself to be.
It was in yoga that I was able to allow my grief to have its way with me and to stop clinging desperately to the one thing that I would never have again—-the years that the illness had stolen from me.
I am not a yoga instructor.
I am merely a person who has had her share of losses and is seeking a yin way to balance and integrate them in a very yang world. I have found that one way to do that is through the practice of yoga—which among all its benefits also provides a comforting time and space for grieving.
All I have to do is practice on a regular basis and the rest more or less happens on its own.
Editor: Dana Gornall