Why do I teach yoga as a method of grief support? The easiest answer to this question is because yoga helped me after I suffered the death of my partner in 2006.
I didn't see the benefit of yoga right away, but I went to regular yoga classes - more because it was something to do than anything else. Over time, I noticed I was sleeping better, and breathing deeper. When I was calm, I felt more calm...and when I wasn't I felt more aware that I wasn't. I learnt movements, positions, stretches and breathing exercises that I could do by myself and for myself when I needed it. Rolling out my mat, sitting down, closing my eyes and taking a few conscious breaths became a ritual.
Ironically, in the stillness and quiet of the yoga studio, my grief began to bubble up and bubble over. Slowing down in yoga made me aware of everything that I had pushed down and pushed aside to simply get through my days.
I felt awkward in a room full of young, fit, bodies in fancy yoga clothes. I felt disheveled, and haggard. I sat alone on my mat before class started, annoyed at how happy everyone was. During the class, I'd burst into tears during twisting poses. I'd stifle my tears during savasana. At the end of class I'd roll up my mat and hurry out of the room, not wanting anyone of those happy people to see I had been crying. There were sometimes over 20 people in those classes, and I felt immensely alone.
I didn’t understand why I was crying. I didn't know why twists caused it. I didn’t understand why I felt so crazy all the time, and angry about happy people. I didn’t understand the black hole of emotion that opened up when I learned to meditate. And yet, in every class a yoga teacher would say or do something that felt supportive and helpful; and I wished there was a yoga class specifically designed for someone like me. Someone who was grieving.
Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” So I did. I studied yoga. I took notes and wrote down reflections after each class. I went to counseling and grief support groups. I started to learn about grief in MY body and mind.
I took my yoga teacher training. I got certificates in Bereavement Support, and Death and Grief Studies. I applied my knowledge around the therapeutic use of activity from my professional career as an Occupational Therapist.
Over time, I developed a class where grieving people could do yoga, learn the benefits, apply the wisdom and cry if they wanted to or needed to. A huge piece of the class is education about death and grief - dispelling misconceptions, and learning (re-learning) the natural, instinctive response to loss that our society has so carefully tried to avoid.
There is a prayer flag I made, hanging in my back yard, that quotes the Talmud. It sums up why I am so passionate about supporting other people who are bereaved and grieving. This flag is hanging in view of my kitchen window and when I see it I am reminded...
"Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly NOW. Love mercy NOW. Walk humbly NOW. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.”