Grief Yoga

Healing Through an Ancient Art

Posted Jun 03, 2018

Bruce Mars/Unsplash
Source: Bruce Mars/Unsplash

It is the rare person today who has not heard of yoga or who does not belong to a yoga class. It has become the healthy thing to do. The history of yoga is rich and complex dating back thousands of years. It was a spiritual discipline developed to bring harmony between the mind and body. The word yoga is from the Sanskrit word meaning to unite. The type of yoga practiced today is very different from the original ancient practice. Yoga now has many different faces. There are classes in laughing yoga, hot yoga, harmonica yoga, power yoga, restorative yoga, goat yoga and dog yoga to name a few. Yoga offers many benefits. It is said to improve the immune system and coordination. It helps in the development of strength and flexibility. Yoga is a total mind-body workout that combines poses with deep breathing, meditation and relaxation. It is said to help people with arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems. Although not widely known, it can also help heal a broken heart through grief yoga.

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to the loss of something special to us. It is ever present in our lives in varying degrees. We experience intense grief with the loss of a loved one yet we can also grieve the closing of our favorite coffee shop or the retirement of our favorite physician. Grief and stress are stored in our bodies. Yoga helps us loosen the emotional and physical tightness in our bodies caused by grief. It is also a way to find peace and stability during a time when this is missing from our lives. Karla Helbert (2016), states “the practice of yoga addresses self-care, helps to integrate the experience of loss and supports feelings of connection and relationship with loved ones who have died.” [1] Grief yoga does not require any previous yoga experience. It is not necessary to belong to a yoga class to reap the benefits from it. Many of the recommended poses can be done at home. In reviewing multiple sources, there are many different poses suggested for grief yoga. There are, however, some poses that are more frequently recommended than others:

  1. Legs Up the Wall: In this pose you lie on the floor next to a wall and place your legs together vertically against the wall with your feet pointing toward the ceiling. Your body will be in the shape of an “L. Bring your buttocks as close to the wall as you can. Relax and place your hands by your sides with palms up. Focus on your breathing and just release the stress and tension in your body. You can hold this pose from 5 to 20 minutes. When you are finished, press your feet into the wall, roll to one side, bring your legs to the ground, roll over, and gently push yourself up with your arm. Sit up and wait a few seconds before standing. If this position strains your back, place a pillow or towel under the lower back for support.
  2. Child Pose: Place a mat on the floor. Kneel on the mat with your feet together; keep your knees at a shoulder width apart. Sit on your heels and rest your hands on your thighs. Bend your head and chest towards your thighs. Then move your head and torso toward the floor with your forehead touching the mat and your arms extended in front of you. Release the tension in your body. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to five minutes. When you are finished, inhale deeply and lift your torso.
  3. Corpse Pose: This pose is typically used at the end of a session. Lie down on a rug or a mat with your face up. Separate your legs and keep them at a shoulder width apart. Lay your arms by your side palms up. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. As you breathe, let go of the anxiety and stress. You can hold this pose for 20 minutes or until you are completely relaxed. The hardest part of the pose is staying awake.

In addition to the above restorative poses, there are also more active poses that you can do to address your grief such as the Windmill pose or the Camel pose. Today, there are many DVDs on yoga, instructional books and YouTube videos to help you. However, joining a yoga class provides someone who can guide and support you through the process. Group work can also help you not to be so isolated in your grief. Regardless of the types of yoga that is practiced, it is a powerful stress management tool. In our grief, yoga can help us see that even though the present moment is painful, it will shift and change and we can be alright.

References

[1] Helbert, Karla. (2016). Yoga for Grief and Loss. Philadelphia, PA.: Singing Dragon.