Yoga to Loosen the Grip of Grief

Both of my grandmothers died about 10 years ago. I was especially saddened when the one I was closer to passed away, but I can’t say I was grief-stricken. She was nearing 90 years old and, while I kept in touch with her, it had been a few years since I’d last seen her. She was far from a daily part of my life. I felt emotional at the news, but my life wasn’t shaken.

When my marriage ended, though, grief hit me with the force of a tsunami. As I walked the supermarket aisles alone, the sight of cashews in bulk had me sobbing uncontrollably. I no longer needed to buy them for my ex-husband because he and I no longer shared a home. I was leveled, flattened—it was the most painful death I’ve ever experienced.

There’s certainly value in talking to a therapist during such a critical juncture (and I did), but the effects of grief wreak havoc on more than our emotions. “Grief has bodily and spiritual implications, too, and yoga addresses all of them rather than just one aspect,” says somatic psychotherapist and yoga therapist Antonio Sausys.

Antonio says the physical effects of grief can run the gamut from chest pain to disruption of sleep, marked mood swings, and fluctuation of the menstrual cycle.  But he has seen yoga work as a powerful antidote. “The stretching, contortion, and contraction of the muscles, joints, and organs help rid the body of the chemical byproducts of grief,” he explains. “Yoga can help rebalance the biorhythms so that sleeping and eating cycles are normalized.”

Antionio recommends trying gentler practices, such as restorative yoga rather than power yoga. “People who are grieving generally don’t have the energy for rigorous practice,” he says.

Specific postures like vayu chakrasana, or Windmill pose, which engages the pectoral muscles, can combat the natural tendency to tense in the area of the heart to avoid unpleasant feelings. Tratak, a series of eye movements, can reset the pineal gland and alter the production of melatonin, normalizing sleep.

On a spiritual level, grievers may question the validity of their practices and their belief in God. “The mind has a problem with loss,” Antonio says, but “the spirit understands the impermanence of all things. Spiritual practice is one of the best courses of action for grievers, because the spirit has no conflict with loss.” He says meditation is one of the best practices to help grievers tap into their inner wisdom.

Pranayama can also be useful for calming the mind and emotions, Antonio says. “Altering the breathing patterns,” he notes, “alters the quality of the content in the mind.”

I wish I’d known that when grief had me in its grip—walking by those cashews might have been a much different experience.

Portland Helmich is the creator, host, and producer of the Kripalu Perspectives podcast series. She has been investigating natural health and healing as a host, reporter, writer, and producer for more than 15 years.

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Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing for more than 15 years, as a host, reporter, writer, and producer.

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