May 18, 2016

Getting to the Bottom of Grief with Yoga.

tattoo mandala yoga on the beach

Yoga finds you when it needs you, doesn’t it?

Despite being a fairly dedicated practitioner for the past 16 years, sometimes going to class has often been more out of habit than need. Other times, like now, as I try to get out from under the grief of the death of my marriage, yoga knocks on the door and offers me open arms and respite.

At the end of long days, where I have no more energy than what is needed to read a magazine or play the snake eating dots game my 11-year-old got me addicted to, my mat has been calling.

Tonight, I listened.

I knew there would be tears. While two months ago, there were many, they’d pretty much dried up as I tried to go on with life. Tearless though I’d been, life weighed heavily and physically on me. It was all I could do to write an article for a client without stopping mid-sentence out of sheer mental exhaustion. My days felt impossibly long, especially when my son was at his father’s. I was unmoored. And just like a meteorologist, I predicted moisture on the horizon.

I started in Mountain Pose, and whispered, be gentle with yourself, something I find myself saying often, forgiving myself for drinking a beer or two midweek, hitting the gym twice a day, or knocking off work early to watch Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce. There are worse ways to handle grief.

As I dove into a forward fold, I willed the blackness to drain from my body down into the ground. The earth would take it. I didn’t need it.

I straightened my back, looking forward to the good things in my future. In plank, I was reminded how strong I was, unwavering and solid. In Chaturanga, I sent more of my grief into the ground.

I flowed until I hit Pigeon. Oh, Pigeon. My favorite pose, so of course, it was the one where the tears came. I’ve heard that we hold emotions in our hips, especially women. I’m not sure why that is, but I could feel the frustration, the pain and the melancholy I’d been holding inside unfurl from my hips. I sobbed as I leaned forward. I let the tears come. I knew I needed to have this, to let it out and try to find the bottom.

Yoga can dredge up emotions that we’d rather leave buried. Rather than filling up our time with busywork that keeps us from really feeling, suddenly we have no place to go. The mat is a place of openness and honesty. You just have to be open to it.

And I was.

The second side was better. I made my way up to Warrior I, where I stretched my arms to the sky, as if to ask the goddess, the divine, to bless me. Either that, or to ask why? Why did this happen to me?

In Warrior II I stretched my arms out wide, reminding myself of just how much I wanted in the world, and how much I deserved. Again, I cried. I cried for the losses I had experienced, and for the loss of self I couldn’t seem to get around. I knew I would heal from this, but it overwhelmed me how long it was taking. I’m a “git ‘er done” kind of gal, and was ready to move on. Only my grief wouldn’t let me.

I sat quietly and meditated, first, cross-legged, then in Savasana. I told myself that grief was okay, and that crying was an outlet to move me toward being whole again. I promised myself that I could come back to the mat any time, that the mat would support me and listen to my heart.

Grief is a funny thing, especially as it relates to divorce. There’s no getting through it any quicker than the Universe wants you to. No fast-track plan including therapy and staying busy will get you (or me) through it any faster. Grief has its own tempo. Sometimes it hides in the closet and allows you to have a nearly-normal day (and thank goodness for that). But the next day, it’s back again, as if to say: Helloooo! You didn’t forget about me, did you?

But yoga can help. We all have our practices, but ask yourself: why are you on the mat today? Is it because it was on your calendar? Or because you have an intention you want to work through? Something that you need to focus on that you can’t in your day-to-day life?

When yoga beckons, I try to listen. Sometimes it knows better than we do what we need for our own mental and physical well-being. Pay attention to the urges you have to get on the mat. Do the pose that’s calling you, and if it opens up uncomfortable emotions, experience them fully.


Author: Susan Guillory 

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: With permission from Yaisa Nio, taken by Ajay  Krawczyk at Trimurti Yoga. 

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Susan Guillory