Have you ever heard or said, "be gentle with yourself?" I know I have...
I wanted to write about the intricacies of this statement...
In my yoga groups, through my newsletter and on this blog, you've probably heard me talk about how our society is grief illiterate and emotion phobic. We, the bereaved, are constantly surrounded by messages of "toughening up" and encouraged to "get on with life." We receive messages that push us to ignore our emotions ("crying isn't going to bring him back"), and rally against our instincts ("you can't grieve forever").
There are so many "shoulds" in our society - you should drink 8 glasses of water a day, you should do yoga, you should be productive, you should exercise, you should rest, you should, you should, you should. There is so much pressure to perform a certain way, and with a lot of judgement around how that turns out.
Now layer on grief; Acute grief is so destabilizing that you don't even have the brain power or emotional space to consider a state like gentleness. You're in survival mode, and it can feel anything but gentle.
All this to to say: If you find the concept of "being gentle with yourself" challenging, those might be some of the reasons why.
Living with grief is hard. It's mentally and socially challenging. You'll have difficult thoughts ("if only" thoughts, and "would have, should have, could have" thoughts, guilt and anger thoughts and emotions), and learning to live in a post-loss world can be like learning to walk again. You'll fall down a lot. It takes a ton of self-grace, self-compassion, self-space and self-patience to navigate life after loss. Being gentle with yourself puts this grace, compassion, space and patience into action. It helps you to make choices and decisions that are aligned with your "grief needs."
In one of my yoga groups this month, we explored how "being gentle with yourself" happens in the real world. Here are some of the take-aways:
How does all this relate to yoga? Well, a holistic practice of yoga (i.e. one that is not just focused on the physical body, but on the mind, and on life!) increases self awareness and promotes loving action. With more self awareness it's more possible to make self-supportive choices and function from a place of grounded-response rather that reactive-reaction. This leads to more gentleness and compassion.
In the real world, being gentle with yourself can look like this:
As you can see, "being gentle with yourself" can be anything! It all depends on context and if the action arises from a place of non-judgmental awareness and deep care for your self and your *present* (and ever changing) needs.
There's no "right" way to do this, there's only the way YOU need to do it right now. If that can be a gentle and loving way, it makes it more nurturing, tolerable and sustainable.
I'd love to hear from you. What does being gentle mean to you, and how does it happen in your life? How do your yoga practices help?
* this blog post originally circulated in the Yoga for Grief Support March 2022 newsletter. To sign up to receive a monthly copy click here