A great friend of ours died suddenly and unexpectedly a few weeks ago. I knew from previous experience that the immediate aftermath of shock and bewilderment we felt would last a little time and that the whole experience could not be processed yet, but I wondered if yoga would help.
I had a feeling maybe it would be a way of allowing some of the emotions to find some space/ begin easing their way out. Maybe begin some kind of processing which my mind and emotions could not yet truly manage. They were still in a state of shock and confusion.
In fact I found yoga provided many things:
For a start the comfort of the daily routine of getting on the mat, a still space in the day just to be in my own body and focused on something simple, and a safe way of allowing my body and mind to be with the grief at a time when it was too overwhelming and too early to be dealt with through thinking and emotional processing.
I’m sure any yoga would help, but MFML does have two classes it suggests for grief:
Andrea Kwiatowski’s ‘Calm Abiding Yin’, a beautiful class which I have recommended in a previous blog, and Leila Sadaghee’s ‘Nurturing Practice – Grief’ which is beyond my physical limitations as yet.
In the last few weeks I have sought out and found some other classes that have particularly helped me and have suited my emotional and energy needs. The best for me have been very breath-centred. These are nourishing and supportive classes which I would recommend to everyone.
Jean Hall’s ‘Awaken to Yoga’ is a calm and soothing ‘no rush’ practice with a strong breath focus.
I love the slow repetitions of a stretch and knee to chest movement at the beginning which allows a lovely soothing rhythm to get established with body and breath. Similarly, a repetition of cat cows movements with added sighs on the out breath felt very calming. These flow movements are wonderful when the world suddenly feels stuck in a terrible place. I moved out of some of the downward dogs to child’s pose to suit my energy. It finishes with another lovely breathing section, filling the chest with breath like water into a cup which I liked and found the water analogy both energising and softening. Her kind voice feels super nurturing. A really fabulous practice for any time when you need extra support.
Andrew McGonigle, Dr Yogi’s class ‘Yoga for Stress Relief’ is another class which I found really helped.
He encourages use of a strap, blankets, bolsters to support the body and encourage letting go and, again focuses on breath, using breath to initiate movement. The pace, flow and gentle expectations make it very relaxing and gave me time to be aware of tension in the body and feel it release with both breath and movement. It is meditation with movement, particularly useful at a time when sitting meditation might be extra difficult.
Dan Peppiatt’s Yoga Nidra has been another great practice to revisit many times during these weeks.
The first few times I did fall asleep (sorry Dan!) But I can now confidently write about it knowing that I have indeed heard the whole session! I love Dan’s style and voice which invite us to be mindful of our own wellbeing and listen to our own needs.
The beginning of this is amazing as Dan’s way of leading us through sound towards focusing on, tightening and then letting go of every part of our body until all that is left is our breath is the most amazing sensation.
I literally feel at this moment in the yoga nidra that I am nothing but my breath which feels awesome.
He invites us to lengthen our breath by imagining at as a knotted string being gently unteased and lengthened and this really helped me use my breath to calm my nervous system. Within the yoga nidra, he also encourages us to visualise our body turning in space. This was one step beyond the more common yoga nidra practice of feeling lightness in the body, but again it was amazing. My body felt so light I felt light hearted and supported and actually joyful. I finished feeling at ease physically and emotionally.
Mimi’s Immune Booster series is a recent addition to the MFML collection and this has also been an excellent class. Grief and trauma have been shown to lower the immune system in some people so this must be helpful.
There are some lovely breathing and movement practices to release toxins. The cloud breathing, which has already had some positive love on the MFML Movers Group, was particularly beautiful – grounding and releasing in a flowing way.
There are also some nourishing inversions. I find the head down inversions make me feel released in a carefree childlike way (because it’s like hanging over and swinging round a bar as I did when a child?) and the feet up inversions also give me a lightness that makes me think of flying. I know I’m sounding bonkers here but it’s all literally awesome stuff!
Finally I have to again mention Clive Fogelman’s 90 minute ‘Yoga for Self Care’ class, which I have written about before.
It is a beautiful nurturing class which with its slow pace, mindful attention to the body allowed me to focus completely on my own self care, which again is so important at a time when the focus is on supporting somebody else – filling your cup so that you have something to pour for others!
So yes, yoga definitely helped me through those early stages of grief.
I found it a massive support and even though sudden death is not something that can be ‘thought out’ or ‘made sense of’, the act of handing it over to my yoga practice helped me to avoid getting stuck in those patterns of thinking.
I trusted yoga to help and I think it did. I felt yoga helped my body make a space for the grief and begin to accommodate it somehow. I felt less overwhelmed and more patient with the process.
When grief is so big it’s often hard to find ways of expressing it especially when it is dwarfed by the greater losses of the family involved. But holding emotions in is unhealthy and ultimately toxic.
Yoga, I think, helps emotion move through more naturally. The movement, the stillness and the breathing help, and at times of stress when our breath may naturally quicken or shorten or become more shallow, paying attention to breath and using it to heal and soothe is so important.
The feelings of joy I felt were also healing and important I think because when grief comes it can overwhelm all other emotions and being able to accept and enjoy moments of different emotions is healing, a healthy way to come back into touch with the wholeness of life, to re-ground and eventually allow yourself to move forward.
Kate Blake is a former teacher who’s life was changed by illness. Kate’s column tells how yoga has brought joy into life with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and shares tips about the best classes to choose on Movement For Modern Life.
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