I've been sad lately. My heart is heavy. My emotions are just beneath the surface and I'm finding it hard to balance releasing them, and controlling them....there never seems an appropriate time to do either. Maybe it's the long dark nights, maybe it's the Christmas season....I feel like I need to retreat into myself.
Earlier this week I nurtured myself with a gentle restorative yoga practice. I write "supports" because it holds you up where you are at. It's not a magical cure, nor is it a potent elixir of joy. It's simply being as your are and doing what feels supportive and comforting. When I ended my practice I didn't feel magically cured of my sorrow, but I felt cared for, empowered that I did something for myself, more relaxed and less tense, my mind felt calmer and more creative and I could breathe deeper.
I wanted to share it here as an example of how yoga supports grief - for you to try and/or share with others who may benefit.
I try to make the physical space as comforting and relaxing as possible: dim lighting, candles, heat lamp (I live in Canada and it's December - this is a MUST), no distractions (ringers off). I decided to not play music. Sometimes I do, but for this practice I felt like silence was the best. For the practice itself I used the following items:
If you don't have a bolster, you can fold a thick blanket to make one. I would fold the blanket like an accordion, so it is 3 folds high and has some thickness to it. If you want something a little thicker, you could also use a bedroom pillow that is rolled (lengthwise, so it is as long as possible) and wrapped with a towel to keep it together. Another option is to use a rolled yoga mat.
I used a bolster from Halfmoon.
The intention of this practice was to allow whatever arises emotionally to be felt and experienced as it moved through me. This includes all emotions - sadness, anxiousness, relaxation, contentment...the whole spectrum.
You can hold each pose for as long as you wish. I moved from one to the other when I felt it was time - when my body and mind said "I want to move now." In each pose I focused on breathing - full deep breaths that create space (literally and figuratively) for whatever I was feeling. With each breath I imagined my body opening from the inside out, unlocking doors in my heart, and accepting ALL my emotions just as they were - without changing them, or pushing them away. Creating space to hold up the complexity of it all.
I started in prone savasana. I chose this pose because it is very soothing. I was feeling vulnerable and exposed, and being in this position feels protective and calming.
I positioned myself on my stomach on the bolster - the bolster isn't pressing into my throat, but comfortably between my breast bone and my pelvis. I adjusted my legs and arms so they can easily relax on either side of the bolster. My head is supported on a foam block (or pillow) so my neck feels long and relaxed. I like to cover myself with a blanket to feel even more secure and cocooned in this pose.
I focused on feeling the expansion in my lungs and back as I breathed in this position. With each in-breath I felt the space grow bigger and with each out-breath I relaxed my body. Paying attention to whatever feelings were present, as well as any sensations I felt - like heaviness in my limbs as they relaxed, subtle vibrations, soothing heat from the blanket etc. I witness and watched as the sensations and feelings changed and moved through me. The emotion and vulnerability faded to a more relaxed and heavy state.
When I felt like moving out of this position, I moved into a supported childs pose. In this position I continued to breathe into the back of my body - creating space for myself to just BE. In supported child's pose I turned my head to the left for a number of breaths and then to the right for about the same amount of time, to balance the muscles of the neck.
From child's pose I moved into this supported twist. I began sitting beside the bolster (with it extending away from my body) with my legs folded beside me. Then I turned my torso so my front body was facing the bolster and I walked my hands forward lowering my body onto the bolster. I kept my head facing the same direction as my knees which is a less intense version of a twist.
The other option is to turn your head the opposite direction of your knees to increase the intensity of the twist.
In both of these supported twists I simply focused on breathing deeply - expanding on the in-breath and relaxing on the out-breath. I tried to staying mindful of what emotions arose, and how they were expressed in my body - for example anxiousness and an inability to fully let go expressed as clenching my leg muscles. I made a conscious effort to stay away from the story of the emotion, and instead, feel the emotion as it made itself present in my body, and witness it as it moved through me.
Next, I layed on my back on the bolster in this supported variation of bridge pose. I started sitting on the bolster and positioning a yoga block where my feet will be (see photo). Then I laid back onto the bolster, wiggling around until the top (head end) of the bolster came to the lower corner of my shoulder blades. I lengthened my lower back by bending my knees and tucking my tailbone under, then straightened my legs and found the yoga blocks to support my feet. I continued to breathe and each inhalation I would try to expand my chest/heart. With each exhalation allowed my spine to cascade over the bolster so my shoulders would release with gravity towards the floor.
Lastly, I removed all the props and stretched out flat on my mat for savasana. I covered myself with a blanket and covered my eyes with an eye pillow. I just laid here for a while and noticed what it felt like to lay flat on the floor. I took my time to surrender completely to nothing! When I felt ready to move, I slowly made my way to sitting.
I ended with an impromptu prayer to myself. I joined my palms in front of my chest and mentally acknowledge and accepted all of my emotions, not needing to understand or have answers to them but just to let them have space within my being to be felt and expressed.
I am proud to announce that I have a relaxation CD for sale! I created this CD as an audible relaxation practice - that can be done in your own way and your own time. It's another way that I hope to bring the practice of yoga off the mat and into daily life.
Savasana is the final relaxation pose in every yoga class - the act of complete and conscious surrender of the mind and body. I joke that this is the hardest pose in all of yoga - if you've ever had trouble falling asleep or relaxing you know what I mean.
The body must relax in order for the mind to relax, and the mind must relax in order for the body to relax. Savasana is a holistic practice. Practice being the key word. It doesn't always come easily. However, as with many tools we have in our "toolbox of life," conscious and mindful relaxation is something we can learn and cultivate with practice.
This CD is about an hour long, and made up of 3 separate tracks which are about 20 minutes each. It can be done as an hour long relaxation session, or you can choose one of the three 20 minute practices. The tracks are guided relaxation, so you just have to turn on the CD, lay down and follow the voice guided instructions.
The benefits of relaxation run deep. It is the natural antidote to stress, and further to that, the antidote to the effects stress has on the body and mind. Relaxation lowers the heart rate, and blood pressure. It slows and deepens the breath. It has an synergistic effect on the nervous system - balancing out the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (rest and restore) nervous systems. This leads to improved sleep, better immune function, improved digestion, and higher energy levels. It can also help to decrease feelings of anxiety and panic, and increase feelings of clarity and creativity.
In a society where stress runs rampant, and in lives where loss creates high levels of prolonged stress, relaxation is an invaluable tool.
You can find the CD to purchase here. Or just click on "store" tab above. The CD can be purchased as an MP3 file for 9.99 or you can purchase the compact disc for 14.95 plus shipping fees.
"Light be the earth upon you, lightly rest." - Euripides (484 BC - 406 BC), Alcestis, 438 B.C.