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.


Yoga Poses for Seasonal Allergies

The pollen vortex has sucked me in, swirled me around, and tossed me back and forth a few times for good measure before spitting me out again. In short, seasonal allergies have made me their b*tch. Itchy eyes, snotty nose, swollen sinuses, coughs, sniffles, wheezes… there is no Neti pot, herbal tea, bee pollen, local honey, or over the counter allergy med on this beautifully blooming earth that can save me.

Thus, I find myself turning my focus towards yoga. Again. Here are some asanas, or poses, that can help to relieve some seasonal allergy symptoms. Good luck!

alternate nostril breathing yoga pranyama

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) – This breathing technique helps calm the mind, enhance rest and relaxation, and support the circulatory and respiratory systems.

Begin in a comfortable seated position. Place the left hand to your left knee, palm facing upward. Bring the right pointer finger and middle finger to the space between your eyebrows, also known as your “third eye.” Seal your lips, inhale and exhale through your nose. Close the right nostril with your thumb, and inhale through the left nostril. Close the left nostril using your ring finger (both nostrils are now sealed), pause for a moment, and lift the thumb exhaling through the right nostril. Repeat for 10 rounds of breath.

seated side stretch yoga

Seated Side Stretch – This stretch gently releases the intercostal muscles (the muscles between the ribs) which can become overworked and exhausted due to wheezing and coughing. Their primary job is to help expand and shrink the size of your chest cavity as you breathe.

Begin seated in either Sukhasana (easy pose, aka: criss-cross applesauce) or Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose, aka: sitting on your feet). Reach arms overhead on your inhale. Exhale, fold to the right, bringing your right fingertips to the floor. Keep the sitz bones grounded, avoiding letting the left hip lift. Stay here for five breaths. Repeat to the left.

cow pose yoga

Cow Pose (Bitilasana) – Stretches the front side of the body and abdominal muscles, which can get tight and sore with constant coughing.

Start on hands and knees with a flat back or in “tabletop” position. Hands should be beneath the shoulders and knees hip-width distance apart. As you inhale, lift your heart and tailbone towards the sky, allowing your belly to drop towards the floor. Exhale, returning to a neutral spine. Repeat 10 times.

shoulderstand yoga

Supported Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) – Helps to improve drainage and open nasal passages. Hold for one minute or less to avoid creating sinus pressure.

Lay on your back with arms alongside your torso, palms down. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor about hip-width distance apart (approximately two fists between your feet). Press your shoulders and palms into the floor, while hugging the knees into your chest (feet will no longer remain on the ground). As your tailbone and pelvis begin to lift from the mat, bend your elbows and bring your hands to the back of your torso (try to keep the elbows drawing towards one another, and in line with the shoulders. Raise your pelvis so that it is directly over the shoulders and the torso is perpendicular to the floor. Begin to straighten the legs, extending your heels towards the ceiling. Flex your toes towards your shins and squeeze legs together. To avoid pressure on the cervical spine, push your shoulders into the floor so that the back of your neck floats away from the floor. Gaze towards the chest, making sure not to turn the head to either side. Stay here for 5-10 breaths.

halasana plow pose

Plow Pose (Halasana) – Releases muscles in the back of the neck and base of the skull, which helps to loosen and clear drainage.

From Sarvangasana, bend at the hips and allow your feet to move towards the ground overhead. You can continue to press hands into the back of your torso, or you can release your hands from the back and stretch the arms out behind you on the floor, palms down. Another option is to interlace your fingers behind your back and press your first into the floor. Stay here 5-10 breaths. When you’re ready to move out of the pose, bring hands to your back and lift back into Svarganasana. Lower on to your back, slowly and with control, one vertebra at a time.

fish pose

Fish Pose (Matsyasana) – Opens the chest and neck, while stimulating the thymus gland. The thymus gland is located behind the sternum and between your lungs, and produces T cells which contribute to the body’s immune system.

Begin seated with knees bent and feet planted about hip-width distance apart. Keeping the legs where they are, move to a reclined position with your elbows beneath your shoulders and hands reaching towards your feet (forearms should be parallel and hugged closely in towards your body. On an inhale, press into the palms and begin to lift your ribcage towards the sky. You can look towards the ceiling, and if it isn’t uncomfortable for your neck, begin to drop the crown of the head towards the floor. Eventually your head might actually rest on the ground. This pose is traditionally done with the legs in Padmasana (Lotus Pose), but for most people it’s most comfortable with the knees bent, or legs straight and toes flexed towards the shins. Stay here for five breaths. On your last exhale, lower your torso and head to the ground and hug your knees into your chest.