“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
It was a dark and wretched time for me. My heart broke not only for my brother’s baby, 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.
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Yoga To Help With Grief
I had been introduced to yoga years before and had tried it on and off, 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 and even with beginner’s classes 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— and emerge 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 to] integrate your grief into who you are, and into your body as well [becoming] an exercise in self-compassion. It helps you live in your body with your emotions.”
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga is based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang, opposing yet complementary forces that can characterize any phenomenon. Yin can be described as stable, immobile, feminine, passive, cold, and downward moving. Yang is depicted as changing, mobile, masculine, active, hot, and upward moving.
In nature, a mountain could be described as yin; the ocean, as yang. Within the body, the relatively stiff connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, fascia) is yin, while the pliant and mobile muscles and blood are yang. Applied to yoga, a passive practice is yin, whereas most of today’s hatha yoga practices are yang: They actively engage the muscles and build heat in the body.
Today, yin yoga 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 and has become for me a time in which not only have I learned to let my body go without resistance, but in which I can let my thoughts 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.
“The improvements to flexibility and chi flow are valuable [in Yin Yoga], but they are secondary to the practice of becoming intimate with and accepting of the current state of the body and mind in any given moment.” ~ Sarah Powers
Yin Yoga For Emotional Grief
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.
Simply put, I grieved for no longer being the woman I had known myself to be. It was in yin 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.
“When you’re grieving, the simple fact of whatever loss you must endure is hard enough to face. Yet many of us do things that increase our suffering. We flee the moment, either by attempting to deny a reality that seems insufferably cruel or by imagining a worst-case scenario that might well never occur. We react to actual loss with fear of further loss. We convince ourselves we cannot survive the present crisis (emotionally or even physically), or that the loss is so unfathomable that we don’t want to.”
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. And among its benefits include a time for comfort and a space to place your grief.
All I have to do is practice on a regular basis and the rest more or less happens on its own.
(This Article previously appeared in a different form on Elephantjournal.com).
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