August 11, 2016

Yoga for our Grief.

Flickr/Matthew Ragan

In 2015, my best friend of 40 years, confidant, and soul sister, Kaiya, passed away from brain cancer.

I was by her side and devastated by her death. Only three months later, my cherished big sister—my first and deepest connection in my life, my idol and my mentor, Susie—succumbed to lung cancer.

How was I to actually live without my big sister or my soul sister? We were going to grow old together. I was bereft as these women I loved and adored the most were not by my side, as they had always been and I thought would always be.

My yoga practice gave me the tools to embrace my journey of loss without getting lost. Being no stranger to grief, I drew on experiences to help me navigate through these fresh losses. I became aware that resilience carries us forward.

I began my practice and study of yoga just before my first deep and devastating loss, as my father passed, 12 years ago. Although the practice was new to me, yoga offered a place to be quiet, be present, be sad, and yet move in the way that was comfortable and comforting to me.

I continued my yoga study and practice as both the ancient philosophy of yoga and physicality of yoga nurtured and nourished a longing in me that I never knew existed. When my mother’s health was declining, I was able to share with her some breathing techniques and the perspective that maybe we are not humans having a spiritual experience, but we may just be spiritual beings having a human experience. She passed in peace five years after my dad.

From my experiences, a grief writing workshop, and my own meditations, I designed Yoga for Living with Loss to provide a safe haven for gentle movement, authentic feelings, and a compassionate heart as we live with  our deep losses. Leading this transformative class has become one of the most profound experiences for living with my own losses and allowed me to invite others to join me on this journey.

We don’t “get over” being in grief; it ebbs and flows through our hearts as we live with it for the rest of our lives. However, when our mind and body are connected through breath, movement, and meditation, we can find a presence that honors our beloved, ourselves, and this life we are now living.

The beauty of the eight limbs of yoga, the rich exploration of the seven chakras, my own five rhythms of resilience, and the experience that deep loss can only come with deep love provided great solace for me. I understand that the cycle of life continues, each day offers us new opportunities, and our emotions—happy or sad—are real and deserve our attention and self-compassion.

As I navigate my own losses and share with others in bereavement, I incorporate a few of the Eight Limbs of Yoga as a road map to embrace the cycles of our lives.

The Eight Fold Path is the foundation of yoga philosophy written down in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, approximately 200 AD. This sacred text provides an eight-step path to live with meaning and purpose in peace, good health and harmony.

There is no better time for seeking meaning and purpose than in bereavement.

Five of the Eight Limbs that resonate as we practice Yoga for Living with Loss are:

1. The Yamas are the study of our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. In grief, we may have anger, frustration, stress and more aimed at the departed, at our family members who do not meet our expectation, or ourselves. The Yamas remind us to immerse in kindness, truth, honesty, self-control, and charity to ourselves and others.

2. The Niyamas inspire our self-discipline and spiritual observances. We explore how we live with our grief yet stay on a path that serves us as our own lives continue.

3. The Asanas are the familiar postures practiced in yoga where we immerse in the constant balance of strength and flexibility. Asana gives us a place to release and realign our grief physically. We hold anger in our hips, grief in our lungs, and angst in our minds. With physical postures we can move those emotions, understand them, and release them without restriction.

4. Pranayama are breathing rhythms that are the connection between body and mind to become totally present. When we are shocked or very sad, we can lose our breath. With various breathing techniques we can concentrate and fill ourselves with being present. A full inhale nourishes, expands, and opens. A full exhale cleanses, extends, and releases.

5. Meditation   gives us the opportunity to be very still, to witness our thoughts, and to connect with the deepest part of ourselves. In grief, we need time for self- compassion, and inner quiet to find our our center.

Yoga for Living with Loss also aligns with my own Five Principals of Resilience:

1. Steady Legs: Our foundation is in our legs that hold us up, even when we feel “weak in the knees.” Being steady is not being rigid. It is how we hold our selves and others emotionally in times of grief when we feel so unsteady. The pose associated with this strength is Mountain Pose.

2. Strong Core: With strength we can continue while in deep grief. We strengthen our very center to stay balanced. The poses for this are Abdominal Lifts, and balance in Tree pose.

3. Open Heart: With compassion for ourselves and others, we can navigate the unknown with love. Our hearts have been broken and we often shut down to shield ourselves. The poses are Camel or Bridge.

4. Soft Jaw: How we “speak” to ourselves and others can bring tension or relief, truth or dishonesty. The tension held in the jaw is grinding and harsh. Softening our jaw and our intention releases strain. The pose is Lions Breath.

5. Still Mind: Being in gratitude, sending love, and clearing out thoughts that don’t serve give us a place to rest. The pose is Savasana.

Yoga can provide each of us with a personal and sacred practice for our minds and bodies to physically grieve and deeply experience our loss… without getting lost.


Author: Sheena Nancy Sarles

Images: Flickr/Matthew Ragan ; Flickr/Jem Yoshioka

Editor: Erin Lawson

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