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Yoga & Grief: a practice, a process

 

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Me and Ganesh, Costa Rica January 2017.

2016: first Prince, next Bowie, then my younger brother. George Michael, Princess Leia. There went my childhood.

The world is a different place to me now. Even those times we weren’t close, even if we hadn’t seen each other for awhile…I knew he was out there. The closest flesh and blood possible. Ever since I was four. Now it’s like a phantom limb, a part of me that has died along with him.

People who don’t know ask, “how are you?” I hear myself answer “fine”. But there is this voice inside my head screaming, My brother just died!! I am anything but fine!!! Maybe I won’t ever be fine again!

The pain of losing him is palpable. It has different textures, depending on the day. Sometimes it is soft and quiet, like a blanket of grief. Other times it is sharp and stabbing, or pressing on my chest so hard that I am gasping for breath. Fifty shades of grief that I didn’t know were possible.

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He always loved the ocean, loved fishing from the time he was a little boy. Our mother is from an island nation, our father from northern Europe…he chose the sea, I chose the mountains. I’ve promised to return a little piece of him to the ocean he loved so much, every time I am there. It feels like the right thing to do, I know that somehow he is the one who gave me the idea. I began 2017 in Costa Rica, where I lead a retreat every January. Ironically, a few months ago I asked Bill if he wanted to come with me. Never one to commit to anything – he had a special distaste for my constant need to plan – but I could tell I’d piqued his interest. I certainly didn’t expect we’d share Costa Rica this way…but God laughs when you make plans, right? I know my brother is laughing with Him now. We need to extract healing from our grief, so it does not drown us. So I shared a piece of Bill at sunrise, and this memory will be sacred to me. I will create healing from my grief.

And I’ve decided that from death there must be new beginnings. I recognize that this is an ancient idea, but one I never fully grasped until now. I’ve always been drawn to Ganesh, the Hindu god of new beginnings. Now I am drawn to him in large part because I do not have a choice – when someone close to you passes away, you must begin anew. I now have a deeper, richer understanding of what he signifies.

Perhaps it’s a gift, the mindfulness of losing a loved one. There are many moments when I just cannot bear to delve into the labyrinth of the past, or think about the future he will not have. All I can do is be in the present. It’s the least painful.

I’ve never felt more drawn to my yoga mat. It’s one of the few times I stop thinking about him. Then in between breath and movement, I remember. And like a parent soothing a toddler having a tantrum, the breath and the movement ease me back to my mat, to the practice and the present.

I didn’t find a lot of joy in a holiday season that began with the loss of my brother. I stumbled to my yoga mat, and bathed myself in sweat and tears. My rock of a husband handled life for me, my sweet daughter poured her infinite empathy on me, my giant dog constantly protected me. I cried and cried, during a season that usually brings me so much joy.

This article in the February 2017 Yoga Journal really hit home: “Let joy in – how to find happiness, even in your darkest hour”. Particularly:

Like the ability to learn a language or love another human being, the ability to feel joy is something we’re all born with. And perhaps surprisingly, we can feel joy independent of whatever else we’re experiencing, even amidst intense physical or psychological pain and suffering, according to psychology research. 

My joy and my work is to teach people how to lead healthier lives through yoga. I am devastated that I wasn’t able to help my own brother with this. I thought we still had plenty of time. He was warming up to the idea, it was going to happen. Now, I am haunted by the thought that his death could have been prevented; but one thing is certain, I will dedicate myself to spreading the word of wellness even more now. This is the joy I can feel, independent of my grief.

I can only reiterate what I already knew so well – how much yoga heals. My intention in this world of new beginnings, in this world without my brother, is to further explore and ultimately share my own take on yoga for grief, when the time is right. For now, I am supremely grateful for the power of yoga to cradle my broken heart, to hold it gently and weave it back together with care.

Yoga is a lifelong practice. Grief is a lifelong process. The two go hand in hand.

Namaste.

Grief Support

  • In the first few weeks of raw emotion since Bill died, I searched the internet for comfort, sought solace in words. The best I found is Mindfulness and Grief, whose daily words of comfort have healed me in some small way. I can feel that healing adding up.
  • Spreading a loved one’s ashes isn’t for everyone. I found this article very helpful in making my decision to commit to taking a bit of my brother with me every time I visit the ocean, for the rest of my earthly life: The 9 Things No One Tells You About Scattering Ashes.
  • Read Yoga: A Treatment for Grief? to learn more about why yoga can help. As a yoga teacher, I believe the most important thing to do to help cope with grief is get on your mat. Creating a safe time and space to nurture your body and mind matters more than the actual poses you practice.