I’ve had quite a bit of grief and loss in my life in the past year, and yoga has helped me endlessly navigate these tumultuous waters.
A little over a year ago, my abuelita (my grandmother) passed away. She was the woman who raised me, so it was like losing a mother. However, she almost made it to 102, so it was easier for me to make peace with her passing. I even wrote her a note the night before her death, telling her she could go, that we’d all be ok. Coincidence perhaps, but she exhaled the very next day.
I mourned her loss before and after her passing, by journaling, playing her favorite songs, and visiting the ocean, which she grew up watching. I sent her white light, loving thoughts and, after she died, I continued to talk and write to her. I still do.
After that, I’ve had three more losses, and each of those knocked the wind out of me. One was my beloved and beautiful friend Belinda, who died of cancer in her early 50’s, leaving behind two children the age of mine. That loss broke my heart for her children, for her husband, for her siblings and parents. Belinda had said to me a few weeks before her death: “Why are people afraid of getting old? All I want to do is grow old and see my kids grow up.” But she left the same way she lived: reassuring friends and family that she wasn’t afraid. And she told us all to keep on living and laughing. Belinda was, perhaps, my best friend ever. It’s been a year and I miss her dearly.
At the end of last month, another friend, Lucía, also battling cancer and also in her fifties, died. She left behind a daughter in her 20’s. She had told me months ago that she knew she would not grow old. She knew and she was always searching for positive ways to deal with it.
The latest was only two weeks ago, Silvia, also taken by cancer. She was Belinda’s aunt and the person who had introduced me to her. She was 15 years older than me and she also leaves behind a beautiful daughter, in her early forties, and two grandchildren. And a bunch of friends who still can’t believe we will never see her. Her words to me were: “At least I’ve lived a long life and done a lot of things.” That was moderately comforting. But still.
These losses all left me feeling heartbroken, physically exhausted and mentally impaired. My concentration was so poor that I started to become worried and thought of going to the doctor. I was making a lot of mistakes in my work as a writer, and I had to ask for deadline extensions, which is unusual. I realized my writing was riddled with typos and I would miss words altogether or parts of a sentence both when speaking and writing. And on top of all that, the heaviness of the loss wasn’t letting me breathe.
I’ve learned that every new loss seems to compound all prior losses, and so the grief process is a little different every time. I’m happy to report that my mental capacities seem to be back to normal, although I feel I now have four phantom limbs, one for each of the people I’ve lost recently, and that’s something I have to cope with on an ongoing basis.
We all experience grief and loss and will continue to do so until it’s our time to go. In the meantime, I’ve armed myself with a few books to help me navigate this process however many times it presents itself and now I have under my belt a few practices that help me get through it all.
Reading about grief and loss
Two books that are helping me navigate this particular season are Making Friends With Death, A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality, and Yoga for Grief and Loss. No matter what your beliefs are, I think it’s always interesting to explore death from all perspectives. We just don’t talk about it or even contemplate it enough. Most of how we cope with life, from addictions to procrastinating are ways to avoid the thought of death. Oddly, reading about death is comforting. I do want to feel I’m ready or at least, ready enough, when it’s my turn to go.
Practicing uplifting yoga asana poses
When my energy was so low, when I was feeling so very sad, going back to my handstand drills and arm balances was extremely helpful. I noticed my balance and my strength were off, but being inverted increased my energy and uplifted my mood. You don’t have to do handstands or arm balances, of course. Wheel pose, bridge pose or any heart opener, held for as long as you’re comfortable, will help. Keep in mind you could at some point feel vulnerable and overwhelmed, so listen to your body and be in tune with your emotions when in these poses.
Setting time aside for energizing forms of pranayama
Nadi shodana (alternate nostril breathing), Bhramari (bumblebee breath) and ujjayi breath (also known as ocean breath or victorious breath), all helped me bounce back from the shallow breathing I had allowed myself to fall into. I set aside a few moments several times a day to practice pranayama for around five minutes at a time. When nothing else seemed to work, at least I could focus on one thing: my breath.
Leading others through a yoga practice
When I stepped on my yoga mat as a teacher, after losing my friends, it dawned on me that most likely everyone in the room had dealt with some kind of grief and loss in life. Perhaps someone was dealing with it at that moment. And so teaching the class with that in mind, helped me put together a healing practice where we focused on the breath, on hip and heart openers and, most especially, on gratitude and watching and honoring our feelings, whatever they may be.
Meditating until I could be a witness to my emotions
Yoga nidra is my go-to practice when I’m emotionally exhausted. Also known as yogic-sleep, this guided meditation and relaxation technique helps me reset when I don’t have time for a nap. When a few more days had gone by, then I was able to meditate until I could be a witness to my emotions without feeling overwhelmed by them.
This is but a summary of how yoga and meditation can be of assistance during loss and grief. Yoga has so much to offer in difficult times, that it would be impossible to fit in a blog post. That’s why there are books, courses and even conferences around the subject. I’d love to hear how you navigate these dark nights of the soul because, at one point or another, we all go through them.