Yoga for Grief

I never really thought about how yoga can help the grieving process until I started to emotionally prepare myself for the anniversary of my best friend’s death.

It’s been thirteen years since we lost Matt. A tattoo on the inside of my left wrist is a subtle reminder to live the way he would. To the fullest. I think of him often, and while the day-to-day living has gotten significantly easier… somehow on this specific day my heart breaks all over again. On this day, instead of remembering the bold, beautiful, exciting, and vibrant things Matt brought to my life, I remember how it felt to loose him.

When consumed by sadness, my feelings begin to manifest in physical ways: My body feels heavy and lethargic, my throat and chest are tight, I have zero appetite, and trouble sleeping. Today I began experimenting with a few asanas that target the areas I’m holding onto my grief. I treated my practice as if I were nursing a physical injury instead of an emotional one. I began moving slowly, gently, mindfully, with intention and zero expectations… the results exceeded my expectations. With each breath, each movement I felt more physically energized. During savasana, I allowed myself to be. Today being included a lot of tears. Afterwords if I felt emotionally stronger, focused, and more grounded.

Child’s Pose (Balasana) – Child’s pose is a grounding pose. It gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles while calming the mind and relieving stress and fatigue.

Sit your hips towards the heels (place a blanket under your feet if it is uncomfortable to sit on the feet) with your forehead to the mat and arms reaching overhead. Take 5-10 deep breaths here.

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) – Stretches the chest, shoulders, abs, and back while strengthening the spine. Opens the lungs (therapeutic for asthma), creates energy and heat in the body, and helps to relieve stress and fatigue.

Lay on your belly with your forehead on the mat, and palms beneath the shoulders. Draw the elbows in towards the ribcage and bring the legs together with the tops of the feet pressing into the floor. Slightly scoop the tailbone under and press your pelvis into the mat while lifting the upper body. Test your height by lifting your hands by the mat. The feet stay connected to the ground. Hold here for 3-5 rounds of breath, or lift on an inhale/lower on an exhale three times.

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) – Stretches shoulders, hamstrings, calves and ankles, hands and feet. Strengthens the arms and legs. Improves digestion,

Begin in a tabletop position with the wrists below shoulders and knees hip-width distance apart. Spread the fingers wide apart, tuck your toes under, and on an exhale lift your hips into the air. Press the mat away from you with your hands, and rotate the triceps towards one another so that the “eyes” of your elbows face the front of the mat. Shoulders roll down and away from the ears, drop the crown of your head towards the earth, and gaze past your knees. Keep a slight bend in the knees, lift the sitz bones towards the ceiling, and make sure that the outer edges of your feet are parallel. Eventually, the heels may begin to stretch towards the ground. Take 5-10 breaths in this pose.

Low Crescent Lunge (Salamba Anjaneyasana) – Releases tension in the hips and stretches the hamstrings, quadriceps, and groin. The hips are said to be where we hold emotion and feelings like sadness, anger, anxiety, and frustration. Opening the hips helps to release physical and emotional tension.

From downward-facing dog, step the right foot between your hands and lower the left knee to the mat (you can place a blanket under your knee if you experience any discomfort). The right knee should be directly over the heel so that it is creating a 90-degree angle. Lift the torso on an inhale and either reach the arms overhead, or place the hands on the top of the thigh. Lift your pubic bone towards your navel. Stay here for 5 breaths. Repeat with the left leg.

Humble Warrior (Baddha Virabhadrasana) – Stretches the chest, shoulders, neck, and back. Strengthens the core, legs, calves, and ankles. This pose symbolizes bowing forward in reverence, and surrendering to where we are in this moment.

Begin in Warrior I. The right leg is forward with toes pointing towards the top of the mat. The left heel spins down, connecting to the floor with toes pointing towards the front left corner of the mat (approximately 45-degree angle). Bend the right knee so that it is directly over the right heel.

Interlace the fingers at the base of the spine, and widen through the collarbone. Begin to lower the torso. Begin to bow the torso forward. Eventually you may be able to reach the arms overhead, and release the head so that you’re gazing past the left knee. Push into the right foot to ensure your right hip stays in line with the left. Take 5 breaths here and reverse on the other side.

Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) – Strengthens and stretches the legs, calves, and ankles. Stretches the inner thighs, hips, chest, and shoulders. Builds stamina and concentration, and inspires finding peace in the moment, especially in difficult places.

Start with the right leg is forward and toes pointing towards the top of the mat. The left heel spins down at a 90-degree angle (the outside of the foot is parallel to the back of the mat). Bend the right knee so that it is directly over the right heel. Stretch the arms so that they are parallel with the floor and in line with your shoulders, creating a “T” shape. Press the shoulders away from the ears and hug the shoulder blades together. Turn the head to the right and gaze past the right fingertips. Remain here for 5 rounds of breath and repeat with the left leg forward.

Camel Pose (Ustrasana) – Stretches the abdomen, chest, throat, hip-flexors and quadriceps. Stretches and strengthens back muscles. Provides release of stress and anxiety.

Begin kneeling with the knees hip-width distance apart (knees should be directly under the hip points), toes tucked or untucked. Bring the hands to the low back/hips with fingers reaching towards the floor. Lengthen the tailbone towards the floor and draw the elbows towards one another behind you. On an inhale lift the ribcage and on an exhale take a slight backbend. Hands can stay at the hips, or they can move to the heels. Press into the feet and think of sending the hips towards the top of the mat. Gaze can be towards the ceiling, or you can drop the crown of the head towards the floor if it isn’t uncomfortable for the neck. Remain here for 5 breaths.

Supported Fish Pose (Matsyasana) – Stretches the belly, intercostal muscles (muscles between the ribs), chest, upper back, neck, and throat. This is a grounding backbend which helps to focus and lighten your mood. This particular variation utilizes a block, so that you can relax and allow gravity to do the work.

Begin seated with knees bent and feet planted hip-width distance apart. Keeping the legs where they are, lower to the elbows which are beneath your shoulders and hands reaching towards your feet (forearms should be parallel and hugged closely in towards your body. Place a yoga block on the mat, and lower down so that it supports the space between the shoulder blades. Extend the legs, drawing the big toes towards one another. Stay here for 5-10 breaths.

Corpse Pose (Savasana) – Relaxes the body, calms the mind, relieves anxiety, and helps relieve stress and mild depression.

Lay on your back in a neutral position. Feet should be slightly wider than the hips. Allow the toes to fall away from the center of the body. Slightly tuck the pelvis to lengthen the low back, wiggle the shoulder blades beneath you to create more space in the front side of the body. Soften the jaw and relax the space between the eyes. Aim to stay here for 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of practice, but honestly, stay here for as little or as long as it feels good.

This week I was reminded that it’s okay to acknowledge your pain and sit with it. Grieving (even years later) isn’t a setback, but a reflection that this loved one was important to you. However, it’s also important to get up and move forward. Even if it’s slowly. xx

“Unravel my worries about whether it might always be this way. Keep me present to my healing process. Help me engage my grief with consciousness. Remind me that every tear shed comes from the tribunal source of life, the river of my vulnerable heart.” -Pixie Lighthorse, Honoring Sorrow from Prayers of Honoring Voice.