The prac­tice of yoga for grief may seem daunt­ing at first glance. Con­tem­po­rary media and fit­ness mag­a­zines depict model-thin women in the prime of their lives twist­ing into the most advanced expres­sion of pretzel-like pos­tures. They are strong; they are at peace; they radi­ate joy.

If some­one you love has died, the odds are you do not iden­tify with the image above. In fact, you may feel quite the oppo­site. The griev­ing body seems to col­lapse inward, the mind runs wild, and joy is nowhere to be found. The image of yoga is painted with vivid oils, while grief is ren­dered in a muted gray.

Grief and yoga have some­thing in com­mon; both are rooted in love. Grief is love. Yoga is love. You grieve because you care. Yoga will invite you to rec­og­nize that love and offer it towards your whole self: body, mind and spirit.

Grief and yoga pro­vide the poten­tial for growth. Grief forces you to change by assign­ing you unex­pected roles, remov­ing phys­i­cal, emo­tional, and mate­r­ial resources you once had, and chang­ing your assump­tive world into a new and unfa­mil­iar land­scape. You may not even rec­og­nize your­self. Yoga invites you to go beyond the sto­ries you tell your­self about what is hap­pen­ing and open to satya, or truth. Yes, you feel dev­as­tated. But you are still here; you are still breath­ing. The truth is you are not destroyed.

From the ashes of grief the ground of love will be fer­til­ized, the body will begin to open back up, and you will arrive changed, but intact, on the other side. In the begin­ning it may seem like an impos­si­ble jour­ney, but through the prac­tice of yoga you will advance step by step by step.

Yoga is a for­giv­ing endeavor. It does not require you to show up in any way other than how you are. A friend once observed that “there is no Super Bowl of yoga.” There is no need for you to per­fect a pos­ture so that oth­ers can approve of you. You don’t even have to do a pos­ture in any par­tic­u­lar way to expe­ri­ence the ben­e­fits. All you have to do is prac­tice, not per­form. You don’t even need to be in a good mood, calm, or hope­ful. Just show­ing up is enough.

What a relief.

The word yoga means to yoke or join together. It unites the mind, body and spirit and teaches you that you are already whole. You will learn to steady your mind by focus­ing on your body, to calm over­whelm­ing thoughts by focus­ing on your breath.

The prac­tice of yoga does not dis­count your expe­ri­ence of grief or sad­ness, rather it gives you a seat in the the­ater of your life; it is a chance to wit­ness the events of your life unfold exter­nally, so you can learn to steady your inter­nal world no mat­ter what scene you are in. No longer a pas­sive par­tic­i­pant in your play, you will learn that you have the power to direct your­self towards health, bal­ance and well being.

If you are already prac­tic­ing yoga you are aware of its abil­ity to calm your mind and restore your body as it simul­ta­ne­ously builds strength and flex­i­bil­ity, how­ever you may have some of the same con­cerns “com­ing to the mat” that those who are new to this practice.

First, you may be overly exhausted, phys­i­cally weak and feel like you don’t have any energy to put into a phys­i­cal prac­tice. There is no doubt that grief may leave you feel­ing depleted. Sec­ond, you may feel like your mind is mov­ing at such a rapid pace there is no hope of slow­ing down, so why bother. Third, your heart may not feel open to prac­tice, as your spirit feels irrepara­bly damaged.

These are exactly the rea­sons why you need to prac­tice yoga for grief. Right now you are like a jar filled with water and sand that has been shaken vig­or­ously. Yoga will allow the sand to settle.

Author's Bio: 

Heather became a Cer­ti­fied Phoenix Ris­ing Yoga Ther­apy Prac­ti­tioner in 2003, where she now men­tors practitioners-in-training. She earned a Mas­ters in Thana­tol­ogy (Death, Dying & Bereave­ment) from Hood Col­lege in 2010. Her focus is on help­ing the bereaved stay healthy and increase immune func­tion­ing through mind­ful­ness based prac­tices, relax­ation and expres­sive arts.

Her arti­cle “Liv­ing in the Body: Using Aware­ness of Phys­i­cal Sen­sa­tion to Cope With Loss” was pub­lished in the Octo­ber 2009 issue of The Forum, the monthly pub­li­ca­tion of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Death Edu­ca­tion and Coun­selors (ADEC), and her obser­va­tions of an 8-week Mind­ful Grief Sup­port Group was pre­sented at the 2009 ADEC Conference.

The National Fallen Fire­fight­ers Foun­da­tion invited Heather to present two work­shops at their 2010 Sur­vivors Con­fer­ence, which inspired her to develop the “Relax and Renew Toolkit: Prac­tic­ing Peace in the Midst of Loss,” and “Mind­ful Grief: Yoga & Med­i­ta­tion to Heal Your Body-Mind.”

She offers pri­vate Phoenix Ris­ing Yoga Ther­apy ses­sions, day-long retreats and Yoga for Grief groups in her home­town of Fred­er­ick, Mary­land and just about any­where she is invited to present.

Heather is a mem­ber of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Death Edu­ca­tors and Coun­selors (ADEC) and the Inter­na­tional Asso­ci­a­tion of Yoga Ther­a­pist (IAYT) and the National Honor Soci­ety Phi Kappa Phi.