How Yoga Can Help You Cope With Life, Death, And Grief
I have never been a religious person, yet I can understand why devotion to a set of beliefs would be comforting – especially when dealing with questions of mortality. I was raised Catholic, but even as a young child I mistrusted some of the dogma – especially the implication that all people who didn’t hold your faith were going to hell.
Although I always connected to the idea of a Godly energy, what didn’t resonate was the concept of a being that judged human behavior and sent people to either eternal damnation or heavenly glory. I will be forever grateful for my years growing up in the church because I felt bonded to a higher spirit, yet as an adult I felt the need to explore different paths in order to truly understand what God meant to me.
How Do You Conceptualize Spirituality?
When you don’t have a specific religious belief system, you are left with a lot of possibilities regarding spirituality. Yet it is overwhelming to be left to your own devices, because to conceptualize such profundity without an explicit structure is daunting. You can approach these greater Meta questions through philosophical discourse or scientific reasoning, but there will always remain that unexplainable mystery of existence that can never be articulated through language.
The meaning of life, where we are before we are born, where we go after we die – these questions represent the existential hole in our souls that is often filled by religion. When faced with these ethereal inquiries in a real way because tragedy knocks down your door, you can often feel lost, scared, and confused.
Dealing With Death
The first time I had to actually confront mortality was when my best friend died when I was 20. We had been attached at the hip since 8, and there was no one in the world I was closer to. As children, we would go to sleep holding hands just to see if we would wake up that way.
When we were together it felt like home, so her death not only catapulted me into a frenzied state of mourning, but I also felt a part of my spirit died too. Every morning I would wake up with the same bleak realization, “Bitty is dead today, and there is nothing I can do about it.”
After 10 months of a severe depression, my mother suggested I see a professional to talk about my feelings. I could barely function, so I went in desperate search for help. The therapist asked me one question, and this question forever changed my life. “Well Toni, how do you think your friend Bitty would feel about your reaction to her passing?”
It’s Okay To Be Sad
I knew what everyone had been telling me. That she wouldn’t want me to be this upset, or how she would want me to be happy and live my life. Yet it was the truth of my answer that set me free. “She would be happy. She was my best friend! Of course I am going to miss her. If I weren’t this destroyed, Bitty would kind of be like WTF?”
At that moment I realized it was totally okay that I was so sad, because I was honoring the life of someone who meant everything to me.
I decided to keep loving my friend Bitty with the same commitment I always had. We could stay connected in the spirit world, even if she wasn’t physically alive. Thankfully, all this was happening around the same time I was first introduced to yoga.
How Yoga Has Helped Me
My newfound understanding of death was in such harmony with the lessons I was receiving. The physical practice, along with meditation and stillness, allowed me to integrate this thinking into my life. No longer was I paralyzed by grief, but motivated to make meaning out of the loss of such a special person.
I vowed that this experience would forever push me to be better, and her death wouldn’t be in vain.
The deeper my practice became, the more I could find the space in my heart, mind, and body to allow Bitty in. I began to truly understand the oneness of all things and how love is the fabric of the universe that connects the space between. That time and space are meaningless when it comes to the true power of unconditional eternal love.
We are all a part of each other and the cosmos that created us, and the bonds we develop are unbreakable if you keep them safe in your heart. The lessons of yoga saved my life because it helped me to accept the loss without abandoning the love.