“As we practice alone, but together, we explore potent practices that open the heart and mind to insight, intimacy, and interconnection with all life.”
I recently posted the quote above in a Yoga for Grief Support Participant Group,
followed by this:
How are you all doing this week? What have your practices looked like, and what
insights have you had?
Once it was posted, I felt a bit sheepish...because I have to admit that I haven’t been on
my yoga mat once. So, then I left the following comment:
"I haven’t been doing ANY yoga. I think about doing it a lot but haven’t got down on
the floor to do anything formal. I’ve been stretching in the shower and taking deep
breaths before I fall asleep. Lots of reasons for this: my brain is DONE at the end of the
day being one reason, and the second is we have a puppy at home and he is ALL
OVER me if I am on the floor (or the couch, or anywhere really)! Oh well- yoga will be
there when it feels more possible.”
I was trying to communicate that sometimes yoga takes a back seat to other things, and
that is OK. And it is, but...
I’ve realized that this rhetoric is a really narrow way of viewing yoga and it’s place
in my life.
Let me explain:
A few weeks ago, I was messaging with a friend of mine who practices yoga and
mindfulness. We were talking about people who were choosing to not physically
distance during the Covid pandemic and wondering why they weren’t, when the
risk of spread was so high.
“Is it our yoga that keeps us somewhat mindful?” my friend asked.
“I totally think that yoga and mindfulness makes people comfortable with discomfort," I replied, "I also think those practices keep us grounded and allow us to understand
interconnectedness and unity."
The restrictions that are placed on us right now, have the potential to make us more
“itchy.” We are itching for our favorite restaurant food. Itching to get campsites booked
and summer plans made. Itching to have a patio beer with our friends. Itching for all this
Covid stuff to be DONE.
“Everyone wants to scratch the itch," she said.
“Learning to recognize the itch and not scratch it is exactly it,” I said. “It’s all just mind-
stuff – craving, desire, habits – becoming aware of these and disengaging from their
power over us is what mindfulness and meditation are trying to teach."
*Mindfulness is an umbrella term for both formal practices (meditation and yoga are examples) and
informal practices (mindful awareness as you move through your day). Mindfulness is an intentional
quality of attention. You pay attention, on purpose, simply for the sake of non-judgmental noticing. You
notice the habits of the mind - the monkey mind, the habits, the cravings - but you create a gap between
their stimulus and your response. Mindfulness slows everything down so it can be captured in awareness,
and then asks, "What is the next right thing?"
Therefore, I must correct myself. I haven’t been doing yoga asana (the postures), but I’ve been very yogic and mindful in how I am living.
Most people think only of the physical poses when they think of yoga. In reality however, the poses (or asanas) are only a small part of a yoga practice. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali refer to 8 limbs (or parts) of a yoga practice. You can read more about them here, but in this post I’ll give you examples about being yogic in Covid times.
Limbs 1 and 2 - the Yamas and Niyamas:
The first two limbs are about ethical and moral principles.
The Yamas reflect how you are in the world and include non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-hoarding and how we use and direct our energy.
Covid living requires sensitivity towards public health ethics, and makes us critically look
at how our actions affect others in the world. I’m aware of, and understand how my actions may hurt other people, and I am choosing to live in a way that significantly limits harm. more vulnerable people.
I am self-isolating, washing my hands, wearing a mask in public places. I'm truthful and honest with myself and others about my exposure risks, which is required in my vocation as I work in a hospital with vulnerable patients (immuno-compromised and end of life). I don’t steal personal protective equipment from work as I know that front line workers need it and there are limited quantities. I have yet to hoard toilet paper.
I’m no longer just thinking about getting groceries – I’m thinking of how we are all connected – I’m thinking of the people who are picking the fruit, transporting it, stocking the shelves, scanning the items through check out. I am aware of how we are mutually responsible to each other.
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how to use my energy wisely and have come to the
conclusion that I can only do what I can do, and I've stopped fretting about what
others are doing.
This ethical and moral action in the world does not preclude the oath that I have to myself. The second limb, the Niyamas encompass individual observances to remain healthy and well. It includes: taking care of my body (using my neti pot, hand hygiene, rest, hydration), contentment (ie. not waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain), discipline (creating a routine and structure to my day), self-study and self-reflection (I’ve been reading, journaling, analyzing my dreams) and spiritual practices.
All of this has made me aware of my cravings and my habits. Slowing down has made me look more clearly at the choices I am making in all aspects of my life. I am more mindful by necessity, which by the way, is exhausting because I’m no longer living on autopilot and habit.
Limb 3, 4 and 5 - Asana, Pranayama, and Pratyahara:
The next 3 limbs encompass the yoga postures, breath work and turning your attention inward. I've already established that I haven't been consistent at all with doing the physical postures of yoga, but I have been moving my body on a regular basis. I’ve been breathing deeply before bed as I fall asleep. I’m aware of my inner state – my fatigue, my energy levels and my bandwidth. At work, I’m required to report to complete a health symptom screen which forces me to pay attention to my body.
The yogic art of this is knowing where the line is between awareness/assessment versus obsession/panic (some days it's a moving target), which brings me to the last few limbs of yoga...
The 6th Limb - Dharana:
Concentration: focusing the mind on ONE thing, not everything.
The potential for distraction into a slough of bad news is high right now. Mindfulness meditation and yoga have taught me that my mind, by it's very nature, tends towards distraction, problem solving, organizing and planning. Living in the reality of Covid reveals that we simply DO NOT KNOW the duration, path or outcome out of this. The mind does not like this uncertainty, and therefore tries even harder to figure it all out.
I'm aware of this. I'm also aware of the power and choice that I have to disengage from the merry-go-round of thinking that is so easy to spiral into. Basically, I try to think about one thing, not everything. I’m not multi-thinking, or multi-tasking and it's been quite lovely.
The 7th and 8th Limb - Dhyana and Samadhi:
These two limbs, meditative absorption (Dhyana) and bliss (Samadhi), arise spontaneously as a result of all of the other elements of yoga combined.
These limbs do not describe an escape to bliss, rather, realizing peace in your life, exactly as it is, without disturbance of your thoughts, judgments, habits, distractions, or distorted perceptions.
The literal meaning of the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj, which
means to join or unite. Covid has made me consider union on a broader scale, including all humans around the world but also extending beyond to plants, animals and the earth. We have all seen how our past actions have negatively affected the planet, and in recent weeks, how our current actions have created the space for the earth to regenerate and heal.
Having looked at Covid under the philosophy and framework of yoga, we can circle back to the quote that started this post, and read it again:
“As we practice alone, but together, we explore potent practices that open the heart
and mind to insight, intimacy, and interconnection with all life.”
―Mark Karly Coleman
For me, it takes on a whole new meaning.
As it turns out, I've been practicing yoga this whole time <3
The literal meaning of the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj, which means to join or unite. Practically, however, yoga is a method of discipline, technique, philosophy, and ethical conduct, with the aim being to completely know yourself and be at peace with yourself.
Most people think only of the physical poses when they think of yoga. In reality however, the poses (or asanas) are only a small part of a yoga practice. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali refer to 8 limbs (or parts) of a yoga practice. I’ve outlined them below*:
*Although I have listed the 8 limbs as separate, they are all interconnected and interwoven with each other. Yoga is a holistic practice that taps into multiple facets of mind and body, and has several cumulative effects. This synergy is difficult to capture with words. Nevertheless, I’ve broken down the 8 limbs of yoga below, to assist with your understanding of a holistic yoga practice, beyond just the poses…*
Interestingly, the purpose of yoga is the cessation of churning thoughts in the mind. Combined, these 8 limbs settle a fragmented, vacillating and distracted mind into a single point of focus. A calm and focused mind is one that can connect (unite) with the body. This focused attention and connection creates the freedom to live inwardly and outwardly in an aware and peaceful way. This is yoga.
Yoga for Grief Support: Yoga is not a fix for your pain, rather it’s a support that tends to the body and the mind. It activates your own inner resources to create the conditions you need to heal. In congruence with the word yoga meaning to unite, after loss yoga helps to “unite” all the parts of yourself that feel broken and dismembered; so that you are re-membering in a way that integrates the loss into your life, so you can eventually live well again.
Yoga encourages you to be an active participant in your own healing. It’s a tangible practice that you can do by yourself and for yourself. Often, the effects of a practice can be felt the first time your try it, which is encouraging, and makes it more likely you will do it again.
Yoga is a process. We call it a “yoga practice” because each time you get on your yoga mat it can feel different and we practice ‘showing up’ with compassionate curiosity, tending to each moment, each sensation and each emotion as it arises. My only "rule" in exploring your mind and body through yoga is to be gentle and kind with yourself.
“Words fail to convey the total value of yoga. It has to be experienced.” – B.K.S. Iyengar
Michael Meade (who hosts a wonderful podcast called Mosaic Voices that talks about soulful mythology in our present day) describes the New Year as a rite of passage; a ritual to end the old year, and celebrate the start of a new period. A time of renewal, of beginnings. A threshold time. A liminal space; 2019 is gone, 2020 is yet to come.
Grief is also a threshold time. Grief plunks you in liminal space - betwixt and between two lives that don’t seem to fit; you live suspended between a past for which you long and a future for which you hope, to quote Gerald Sittser, from his book A Grace Disguised.
Living in liminal space is hard. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unknowable. In a society that has an abundance of drive to DO things, and become "better" (what does that even mean?), existing in a threshold time can feel like you are doing it "wrong."
This is precisely what grief calls us to do - slow down, and pause. Give yourself the time to be in emotional and spiritual intensive care. It’s in this threshold space that you figure out how to live your changed life, and that takes time, it takes living, and it's really, really hard. This is how loss and grief become an integrated part of your whole.
If you’ve been living moment to moment, or hour to hour to get through the early months after a loss, extending your mind into the future (planning a resolution at New Year’s) can be especially daunting and lonesome. Opens up a new abyss of grief and longing for things to be different. And yet, they aren’t.
I remember talking to a dear friend about this - how as time went on, and we started living day to day, then week to week, then month to month, it was harder in different ways. As such, the custom to make a New Year’s resolution can be wrought with anxiety, especially when life has changed so much already. If this resonates with your experience, here are some things to consider:
The Wound of Love by Maya Luna
I gave up
On healing my trauma
I gave up
On practicing the skills
To become whole
Today I gave up
Into that ever elusive
Better version of myself
Today I submitted
To the wound of love
I stopped pointing at it
Looking at it
I stopped this game of separation
I crawled inside the wound
And spread it open
I decided to wear it like a gown
I accepted my total and utter
To be anything else
Blessings to you all.
You're perfect just the way you are... I know it may not feel like it, but know your heart is still shining like the sun.
When a loss happens, it's natural to want to solve it right away. To do something, anything to make it better. But staring a grief support group too early can be counter productive.
These early days of grief remind me of something important.
Early on, there is a tendency to move away from the reality of the loss. This is a protective response of the heart.
I see this in myself. Instead of using yoga as a way to process what I'm feeling, I've been using it as a distraction. I want my practice to be sweaty and muscley and fast...not a lot of time to think or feel. This is what I need right now. It would be counter productive to the needs of my heart and spirit to force exploring emotions that I'm not ready to feel.
As time passes (and there is no set timeline), and numbness wears off, you will naturally move towards the pain and realities of the loss. It's often as the numbness fades and the realities of living with loss set in, that more support is needed. It is then, that a class like Yoga for Grief Support may be helpful.
In the Yoga for Grief Support program, we use yoga and meditation as a way to "go inside" and explore the pain and reality of the loss. One has to be "ready" to do this. Starting too early may feel like you are driving with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake.
In most cases (not all), it may take a number of weeks to a few months to be ready for a class like Yoga for Grief Support. Each circumstance is different, with a number of factors affecting someone's readiness. Sometimes, people start a group and realize it's too soon. That's OK too - it's impossible to know what this grief experience is like because each loss is so different.
If you want to explore this further with me, feel free to reach out via email.
I find the poem below, by Wendell Berry to be helpful when considering if you need specific grief support. Sometimes, it is when you don't know what to do, that you are ready to start.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
November was a rough month in my world. On November 14th, after a two year illness, my Dad died. He had pulmonary fibrosis.
Over the past two years, I have been mentally drafting a blog post called: When It Happens Again.
IT being death and emotional trauma.
I remember feeling such protest as I was considering the fact that IT could (would) happen again. A deep revolt and fear around knowing what grief is like, and not wanting to go down that path again.
This mental blog post I had drafted was going to be a piece around how I would cope with grief the next time 'round, based on everything I had experience and learnt since the first time 'round.
I never did write that post.
I kind of wish that I had - then I could refer back to it as a little pep talk for myself.
Now that IT has happened, all the best laid plans I had mentally made, have dissolved into the cocoon of shock.
I'm steeped with numbness and shock that has dulled the realities of my outer and inner world.
My mind isn't working as quickly. I'm forgetful. I start 16 different tasks in a day and don't complete any of them. I didn't brush my hair or my teeth today and I have nothing to show for how busy I felt.
I don't feel the protest the way I thought I would. That must have burned itself out during my dad's illness as I watched him slowly (and then quickly) decline.
My anxiety is gone. I was paralyzed before his death about what was going to happen. Now it's happened and I've been relieved of that worry. That lack feels numb too.
And yet, the world says speed up when everything within my body and mind says slow down. I feel this tug of war in my gut and my chest and I dread having to navigate it; It takes so much extra energy.
I know the numbness and shock serves a purpose. The heart can't feel the full reality of the loss at once. It is not worth forcing myself out of this cocooned place.
My wise body/mind/spirit will naturally dose itself with the pain and the reality of the loss, in it's own time. My conscious mind may not be privy to this timeline.
So, what do I do?
I start right where I am.
Be gentle with myself.
I've noticed more intrusive thoughts in the past few days around the circumstances of his death. This too, I know is normal. Instinctual even. There is a natural tendency to go over it all, again and again. Cognitively trying to make sense of it.
While *the world* wants me to get on with living, and get back to life, I know that pausing, even going backwards into the past is important grief work. It makes the unreal real, and is an important part of processing the reality of the death.
I've found myself gently approaching the pain and reality a couple of nights ago. I drove by the hospital and looked up to the window that was his room. It made my chest ache. I want to live-backwards. I want to spend some time reviewing what-the-hell-just-happened.
I'll probably write it out. Get those thoughts out of my head and onto paper. I may even walk from where I would park my car, to the unit he was on, just to remember and feel it when I'm ready to.
But, who knows! Grief is unpredictable, and living-in-the-moment for me at this time means responding to whatever need arises, when it does.
It's all vital work. Grief work. Mourning work.
I do know that this time 'round I am part of (and can rely on) a community of people who "get it" to support me and I feel all those people in my cocoon with me.
This time 'round, I'm more open to receiving care and being cared for. That feels really nice.
Thank you. To those near and far, known to me and unknown. The grief warriors that live this every day.
We are not alone.
Before and After Loss: A Neurologist's Perspective on Loss, Grief and Our Brain by Lisa M. Shulman, MD
"I expected grief to be unbearable sadness, but it wasn't that at all. It was profound instability." (preface, page xi)
The above is the quote that starts this book. I read it. Stopped. Read it again. I can relate to that, I thought.
I actually thought that many times throughout this book - which is what I liked the most. I saw myself in the pages. That, combined with the science she describes, helped me understand my own experience of grief and trauma in a much deeper way. Not only that, this book is a rabbit hole of quotable quotes and excellent references. The bibliography is pages long...a gold mine for a book worm like myself.
Lisa Shulman is a Neurologist, and this book is a memoir of her own experience with grief before her husband died, and after, as the title indicates. Her personal experience is combined with her knowledge of how the brain works to organize our reality...and in the case of grief, how it it becomes disorganized and damaged after a loss. The neurology of grief.
Lisa writes about her life with Bill (her husband) when he was sick and dying. The one thing that struck me was how their intimacy with each other was a barrier throughout his illness. "We're stumbling because we care to deeply for each other" (page 6). I found it heartbreaking to look into such an intense and personal time in their life and relationship...but, as Lisa writes later in the book, the trauma and disorientation of loss is based not only in the biology of sorrow, but the biology of intimacy. Our brains are wired a certain way because of our relationships and intimate bonds. Reading about Lisa's life with Bill before his death helps to illustrate this point in the "After" section of the book.
There is something about how Lisa Shulman writes. It is surprising - she captures perfectly, states, emotions and thoughts that I've had, but a) haven't been able to put into words, or b) hesitant to talk about for fear of...I dunno...judgement maybe? For example, her disdain for condolence cards (I remember feeling this way) and her desire to be more a part of "the other side" with Bill, than the side of the living (yep, I've felt this too). In her words:
Condolences: Hundreds were received - all unwelcome. "I'm moved when I sense the grief of others, but i envy how they touch down in my world and return to theirs. Condolences don't begin to fill the canyon of loss" (page 42).
After his death: "I continue to live with Bill, in an inner world where, from moment to moment, i’m conscious of his response to the day’s events, to how my life unfolds. He continues to guide me. I was his muse; now he is mine" (page 46).
*As I write this, I'm finding it hard to limit myself to just one example of a piece that "hit home" for me...*
She captures a lot of the nuances of the grief experience that are irrational, heart centered and spirit based very clearly and wholly.
Hence, when Lisa shifts from writing about her personal experience of grief, to one more of science and reflection on the neurology of loss I got tense. I was worried that this beautiful piece of writing was turning cold...rational...cerebral. But, in the end, it didn't at all - she was able to still be both - rational and irrational. Head and heart. Mystical and scientific. She still used her personal experience to illustrate her points, but she refers to many studies, outcomes, and sciencey things, like the neuroplasticity of the brain. The overall effect works. I was fascinated by the science that explains so much of what I experienced personally with grief. Everything from dreams to mindfulness to post-traumatic stress.
I've learnt over the years that I don't need proof of anything beyond my own personal experience when it comes to grief, but it really was reassuring to understand some of the biology and neurology behind grief.
“[G]rief is a manifestation of neurologic trauma, and is evidence of injury to brain regions that regulate emotions. Grieving is a healthy protective response. It’s an evolutionary adaptation to promote survival in the face of emotional trauma, one where the injury goes undetected since daily function is preserved.” (pg 142)
I found the end of the book very hopeful. She writes extensively on the science of emotional restoration and healing - from meditation to medication. She illustrates how a heightened nervous system post trauma can be tamed by periods of meditation, and warm companionship, where a healthy outcome is self-exploration and growth. She believes in both mindfulness as a way to immerse oneself in witnessing their grief, but also periods of distraction which give much needed rest.
"Since grief and loss cannot be avoided, how can we manage stress to increase our potential for growth and reduce the risk of maladaptation? Encourage the protective benefits of stress and avoid the harmful effects. Right balance of periods of distraction with periods of mindful meditation where we recall our difficulties." (page 100)
Do you know the phrase, "don't tell me how much you know, until I know how much you care"?
Well, by the end of this book I truly believe that Lisa Shulman doesn't only know about how the brain changes after a death, but she cares.
“As i walk the line between my own experience of bereavement and my background in neuroscience, I confess my “scientist hat” doesn't’ always fit quite as snugly as usual. Instead, this hat is cocked to one side, leaving room for special moments that defy explanation and bring comfort” pg 101.
In summary, this is another book I'd like to add to my shelf permanently (the copy I read was from the public library). It's a book I'd refer to again and again....and, of course, to tackle that bibliography :)
It's October, the month of Canadian Thanksgiving, and messages of gratitude are inescapable. I came across an article online that was titled "Go From Grumpy to Grateful in 5 seconds!!" It irritated me.
I'm irritated by the simplicity and instantaneous of it. Especially in October, when the bereaved are staring Thanksgiving in the face, wondering about how to navigate this "holiday" of gratitude, togetherness and abundance, when life has been irrevocably changed by something as uncontrollable and in-suppressible as death and grief.
Grumpy to grateful in 5 seconds
The premise is that changing your language from "I have to" to "I get to" creates more gratitude. For example, changing the statement "I have to go to work today," to "I get to go to work today" does make me feel more grateful for the fact that I have a job I love. I do find that it shifts my perspective in a positive way, and I'm not denying that this could be beneficial. But, with grief, I'm not so sure it's a helpful strategy. Especially in the early days and months after a loss.
I think back to the first Thanksgiving after Cam died. I could have said, "I get to go to our family dinner," but the only person I was looking for in that crowded room was him. I could have said, "I got to have him in my life" instead of "I have to live without him," but NO...at that time, the amount of instinctual protest I felt over his death screamed without end "I HAVE TO LIVE WITHOUT HIM IN MY LIFE." Gratefulness felt trite, empty and impossible.
In the past, wrote a blog post about this experience, and outlined some ways to make gratitude more accessible while grieving (you can read it here)...but this week, I was reminded by a grieving friend that sometimes, gratitude just isn't there. Period.
It got me thinking...
This divisive mindset of grumpy or grateful, or sad or happy, sorrow or joy, isn't helpful. It doesn't capture the complexity of human emotion, nor does it promote understanding the parts of ourselves that are so obviously calling out for attention and compassion.
What is wrong with feeling grumpy instead of grateful? I think it's an appropriate way to feel if someone you love has just died, and Thanksgiving is approaching. Just because it's October, doesn't mean your grief vanishes and is replaced by gratitude in 5 seconds!
If you find yourself unable to feel grateful this Thanksgiving, try releasing the struggle to feel something you don't feel. Don't engage in a discordant battle with yourself. What if you gave yourself permission to just feel what you feel?
Invite the sorrow to sit beside you at the table, so it doesn't have to struggle or compete for your attention. When there is no battle inside, you can listen to yourself and your needs with more clarity. What do you really need to feel more peace/balance/support/recognized/acknowledged/heard etcetera?
The integration of grief requires authentic expression of your experience. Especially the hard stuff. And, it also requires safe people and places for you to explore your grief and changed self. May your Thanksgiving plans include some of these people and places....
With time, no timeline, and from a place of true integration of your loss(es) and grief, gratefulness may spontaneously arise. And, because you'll have been practiced at paying attention to all aspects of life (the beauty and the pain), it's presence and your awareness of it will be even deeper.
I'd love to know your thoughts on this:
What is Thanksgiving like for you this year? And, what has gratitude/gratefulness been like in your experience of loss?
Wishing you moments of peace this weekend.
And a Free Video for You!
This summer, I created a poll on instagram to ask you about your experiences with savasana: Do you practice it? What's the easiest part about it? The hardest? Did it change after your loss?
I got lots of replies. Here is a summary.
Do you practice it? Yes and No. Some practice it regularly. Some did and don't any more. Some don't. The reasons for not include: not having the time (even though you know it helps, it's hard to make the time for it), and being fearful of what will come up during the pose (primarily emotion). For the ones that do, repeated and consistent practice was helpful in releasing chronically held tension. However, even with this knowledge, maintaining a regular practice of savasana was a challenge.
What's the easiest? Some reported a feeling of relaxation: "Sinking into the earth," while other reported other things like crying or sleeping.
The hardest part? Almost everyone reported the swelling of emotion or the activity in the mind being the hardest part about the pose. Finding the courage to do it was another. A couple of people mentioned the name - Corpse Pose - being disturbing enough that it was a barrier to their practice...and when the name corpse pose was used by a teacher loosely during a class, the practice became triggering, unsettling and unsafe.
Did the practice of savasana change after loss? With this question I was hoping to glean information around the effect that grief had on one's ability to relax. For most, it did change after loss - in the ways mentioned above. For some, they had never practiced it before, so post-loss it was a new experience.
What have I noticed as a grief-sensitive yoga teacher?
In my experience, teaching yoga as a supportive practice for grief, I've noticed how important savasana and relaxation are to living with loss. So important in fact, that I weave the essesnce of savasana into the entire class. The relaxation of effort that one finds in savasana isn't only present in the last 3, 5 or 10 minutes of class, but it is part of the entire experience of yoga asana and mindfulness throughout, especially when it comes to coping with difficult states of mind and emotion.
To me, savasana is an orientation to yoga. An emotional stance towards your practice. This pose embodies the nature and purpose of the entire practice.
And yet, when I go to "regular" yoga classes, savasana is skimmed over, or worse, skipped completely. If it's not, the guidance is around relaxing the body, with less advice on dealing with mental tension, and usually NO advice on how to deal with emotional release during the pose...which is a very a common experience of those grieving. And so, this important pose - one that embodies the heart of yoga, and is exceptionally helpful to those experiencing ongoing states of suffering - becomes one that is avoided and misunderstood.
That is why I created this video. I believe that savasana should be taught and practiced with the same depth of technique as headstand or a fancy arm balancing pose. I believe that the teaching of it should include, not only the body, but information about how to consciously relax the mind, as well as the emotions. And it's not simply "letting go" (a phrase that in its popularity has seemed to lose any real meaning). It's more about becoming deeply aware of your states of mind and emotions, and from there, working wisely with them.
So, I hope you enjoy this video.
The first 10 minutes are a preamble about why savasana is hard. I recommend you listen to it and take some time to reflect on how our modern and western view of relaxation has shaped your experience and ability to relax.
For the practice, you will need a couple of blankets - one rolled up for behind your knees (or a bolster) and one folded for your head (or a small pillow). It may also be nice to have a blanket to cover up with.
If you want to explore some of the topics I mention in this video, I have numerous blog posts on the subject:
I had an exceptionally emotional week last week for a number of reasons, and had an upsurging of raw grief by the end. I was done. Exhausted. Mentally, physicaly and emotionally. I was sleepy in the car and anxious to get home, have a hot shower and crawl into bed. Which I did. But once I was lying down, self talk that resisted rest started to bubble up.
While my legs felt like lead, and they literally sunk into the mattress, my mind started to come up with all-the-things I could be doing - stuff like: dishes, sweeping the floor, this blog post. When my legs didn't respond to that call to action, my mind started getting dramatic: "If you don't get up now, you may never get out of bed again." Has this happened to you?
"If I start crying now, I may never stop."
"If I rest now, I may never stop."
What is this?!
Dramatic Sandy was worried I'd lay there forever and never get up again. Wise Sandy piped up with a reality check: "You'll be out of bed in 20 minutes to pee." I had to giggle at this internal dialogue. Myself cutting myself some slack to both rest, and give myself the space to do so. Sure enough, I was out of bed later that night (a couple of times), and I did, in fact, get out of bed the next day.
Why do we do this? Why do we mentally resist rest when our bodies so deeply need it?
I have a few theories...
First, we live in a society that values efficiency and productivity. We hold an unusual status symbol: being busy. It's as though being busy equates with being needed...indespensable...valued...respected by the capitalist machine that makes the world go 'round.
We see this in our view of the body as well. The body as a machine. We become practiced at ignoring our instincts to stop - we work when we are sick, we take medicine to get rid of the sore throat and congestion so we can continue on as normal. We adhere to the only-a-few-days-off-after-a-death-rule, returning to work right after the funeral and before the reality of the death has even sunk in. We are always reachable by text, email, messenger or phone, and responses are expected quickly. We push ourselves, without taking care of ourselves. My car gets an oil change more frequently that I take time off work, for goodness sake.
Second, this addiction to busyness has become a coping mechanism. If I'm busy, I'm distracted. I don't have time or space to feel. Which, at some times, can be helpful. Other times, not so much.
Third, our own personal self-talk and beliefs around rest (which have perhaps been contaminated by points one and two above).
I noticed my self-talk/thought while I was lying in bed last week wondering if I'd ever get out. It went something like this: "If I succumb to my fatigue, I've given up." And "my need to rest is proof that things are as bad as they seem, and I can't handle it."
Look at the language I've used in the previous statements: succumb, given up, rest means things are bad, I can't handle it. The language I've chosen, highlights my beliefs about rest...interesting. And worrisome.
(Be careful how you talk to yourself because you are listening).
I'm reminded of the yogic teachings around the constant churning and agitation of thoughts in the mind. The verse in the Yoga Sutras that reads, Yoga citta vritti nirodhah (Chapter 1, v. 2) and means "yoga is the resolution of the agitations of the mind." Judith Hanson Lasater recently described this on the Feathered Pipe Blog. She described the agitations of the mind as being continual and both conscious and unconscious. They are also the root of our lack of understanding about who we really are and what reality is.
Noticing my agitated thoughts around rest has got me wondering: How has my culture shaped my beliefs around rest? How do my beliefs about grief and suffering relate to my beliefs about rest? How is resisting rest working for me? How is my identity wrapped up in my ability/inability to rest? What is my reality?
(Yoga is the state in which the agitations of consciousness are resolved).
I've been following the Nap Ministry on Instagram for a while now. Contrary to the resistance to rest, their slogan is REST AS RESISTANCE. This is from their website:
"The Nap Ministry is a meditation on naps as resistance. It is an artistic, historical and spiritual examination on the liberating power of naps. It re imagines why rest is a form of resistance and shines a light on the issue of sleep deprivation as a justice issue. It is counter narrative to the belief that we all are not doing enough and should be doing more. We are community centered. We are focused on radical self-care."
These are some of the phrases from Nap Ministry Instagram page that have inspired me to reframe how I view rest:
I know that a very limiting factor with regards to rest and grief is being unable to sleep. Here again, we can broaden our narrow view of rest to include other things.
Rest is a huge part of integrating loss and grief.
Grief and rest cannot be "managed" simply by an act of will. It takes surrender. Letting go of the conditions that create more suffering. Letting go of the conditions and agitations of the mind that create rules that simply don't benefit. Letting go of the to dos, and shoulds, simply surrendering to what is truly needed in the moment. So often it's rest.
Kate Inglis is a Canadian author - not that that really matters, except for the fact that somehow, because we live in the same country, I feel more akin to her. Although, having said that, the more probable reason I feel this way is that she has written a deeply personal book about grief, that resonated with my heart.
I don’t think my little book review will do it as much justice as some of the reviews on her website or on Amazon, but I will share what I really liked about it.
This memoir is about Kate’s experience when her twin boys were born prematurely. One survived, one did not. Notes for the Everlost is a poetic, raw, and moving account of the trauma and grief of her heart wrenching loss.
One of the things I enjoyed the most about this book is Kate’s writing style. She uses creative images, metaphors and explanations to capture aspects of grief that are exceedingly difficult to express with words. She weaves the harsh reality of loss through a layer of lyrical and melodic expression; not in a way that dampens the raw feelings of grief, but in a way that makes it even more powerful. Her words appease the rational and intellectual mind while speaking directly to the abstract and transcendent heart. And, it works. Grief, afterall, is an experience of the heart.
This memoir is immensely honest about the depth of pain in grief. Reading it brought back memories of my own grief - and it invoked fear within me. Fear of “it” happening again. Fear of feeling the shock and impossibility of loss again. This, though, was buffered by an undercurrent of hope that ran through the text. Kate has masterfully crafted the book in this way - somehow capturing wholeness in brokenness. As I was reading, I knew that if (no, when) it happens again, I will survive it and cope.
Some other aspects of the book that I found really helpful were:
The trauma of the healthcare settings: Kate captures the chasm of life saving - in the cold, clinical silos of healthcare - with life ending, and the resultant grief and trauma. I think this is an aspect of healthcare that goes largely unnoticed but is a HUGE dimension of grief - the effects of complicated, complex and emotional medical decisions that people deal with long after they leave the hospital.
The misconceptions of grief: Kate dispels the misconceptions of grief the run rampant in our society. She understands how our society mis-handles grief and she writes about her experience in navigating this.
She gives practical strategies for dealing with jerks. Perhaps they are well meaning jerks, but, under the pressure of grief, this practical advice is invaluable.
She includes the spiritual wrestling and rumbling. The mysterious. The unseen. Loved that.
And, lastly, the book ends with a number of pages where Kate writes her reflections year after year. Whereas many grief books only tackle the first year, Kate writes about how her grief was:
each year for 10 years! I’ve always struggled with how to understand and explain how “healing grief” feels after so long...and she captures the spiral* of it perfectly.
In summary, if you love reading, poetic and detailed images, and memoirs about grief, I'd recommend this book. I think people who have suffered the death of a baby would find it especially resonate, due to the commonality of experience. Having said that though, I thoroughly enjoyed it even though I don't fit that description - I think there is enough universality in the specifics of Kate's story that many people would connect with.
Buy Notes for the Everlost: A Field Guide to Grief here:
Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.
*Spiral: A quote by Ashley Davis Bush from the book: Hope and Healing for Transcending Loss
“Grief is like a spiral. You feel like you are going around in circles and coming back to the same material. But in fact, your grief is always in motion. This means that you come back to what seems like old feelings at a slightly different place on the path. You are changing, integrating, grieving, moving deeper, moving higher, always along the turns of this grief spiral. Be patient with yourself in the process.”
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