Tattoos & Grief

“We will meet in child’s pose”

As a Yoga instructor, I often say this phrase which means clients get into a pose on the ground, knees out wide or tucked in, their forehead resting on the ground.

Pre Covid, touch was an important part of my teaching.

When the student consented to touch, I would walk over, gently press into their hip for release, I may have pressed on their hands to ground them, remind them they are in a safe space or slid my hand on their spine slightly to ease spinal compression.

I was always aware of how vulnerable a child’s pose can be. I am grateful for the trust the students placed in me to come up behind them and touch them while their eyes are hidden, and their bodies exposed.

Often, I noticed students’ tattoos in class, I don’t have any; an anomaly in the yoga world.

It always fascinated me how people decide what to put on themselves–for life; What is so important to you that you etched it into your largest organ?

The ankle, the back, the shoulders, the waist, the arms, the neck, the wrist.

I have taught various forms of yoga for thousands of students in the years, so I have seen it all, the pictures, the religious symbols, the Harry Potter’s, I can see their love of something, but what always struck me was when I saw a name, initials, a date wrapped in meaning in black ink.

As a grief counselor, I would know instinctively this client I am touching has immortalized someone who has died. I could feel it instantly when my hands touched their tattoo.

I would stare at it and I would know.

I would know what they have done. They have not marked themselves to say “I love this person” or to “never forget” -no one forgets those they love who have died. It’s a loud testament, a testament to others:

I who walk like you and look like you but I am not like you–I have suffered-deeply and I want to tell you, my story.

Did it hurt?

I do not know, I do not have a tattoo, but I know, I know it did not hurt more than the person they lost. Does anything hurt after you have lost the most important person in your life? Was there pain? Yes. I am sure they had pain from the needle, but what can be more painful than loss. Everything we experience we experience through our physical senses; when that physical body is gone, we need something to remember what once was, we fear we will forget.

I wonder if in that pain of the needle was a deep-rooted pleasure, a release. The tattoo needle loud, the piercing of the skin, telling the artist their story and the meaning, the artists working on the largest organ to unify them with ink to their greatest loves and losses.

I’ve wondered if feeling the tangible physical pain helps cope more with the loss. I wonder if each time they see the message wrapped around their bodies from heart to spine, they feel connected to the loss, rather than suppressive toward it.

I see it and I’d acknowledge how vulnerable it is to have me, touch you in class when you can’t see me, I am behind you, your loss is behind you too, but you keep it alive through your own breathing skin; how powerful.

It lets you carry the memory of your loved ones everywhere — you know you can’t have a physical bond with the person who has died so you ink it in and I do look for it, I see it. It is there, it is out there, for the world to see, the pain and I see it, I see you. I see you, heart, I see you, dates, I see you, name, I see you, coordinates, I see you skin which is alive and pulsing and healed over but you are never the same, I see you pain. I see the pride you wear your tattoo of your loved one with, a symbol of the strength, the pain, the catharsis it means.

Your emotional world changed forever, and now, your body has too.


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Chereen Gamal


Sankalpa: I generate self-love & peace with those who come into contact with me. I am a licensed professional counselor…

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