What Yoga Taught Me About Grief

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What Yoga Taught Me About Grief

I used to subscribe to the well-debunked, outdated theory that yoga was for long, lean, flexible women. None of those adjectives would ever be used to describe me.

After losing my younger sister to brain cancer, I knew I needed to find peace somehow. I'd been a registered nurse for 17 years, and as a former hospice nurse, could tell you all about Kübler-Ross' Stages of Grief—but nothing prepares you for losing someone you love.

A friend of mine swore by her yoga studio and I decided I had nothing to lose, really. I had no idea how much I stood to gain.

Denial

Some days it felt like I was waking from a dream. This could not be real. My sister was not really dead. With the diagnosis five years earlier, I knew this was the most likely outcome, but I could not believe my sister was no longer here.

I would see something in the store to buy for her for Christmas, or pick up the phone to call her. My days were spent reliving past conversations or trying to envision a future without her. It wasn’t until I got on my yoga mat and focused on being fully present that I truly faced the painful reality.

Anger

Yoga did not unleash my anger; it helped me deal with it. I cannot tell you the number of times an innocent well-meant condolence remark set me off on a rant to my husband and friends.

I knew it was unreasonable, but until I learned to breathe and unlock the other emotions that I needed to work through, anger was the only place I lived. It’s a lonely and unhappy place.

Pigeon, Wheel, and Legs Up The Wall seemed to help the most in this regard. Even now, if I am feeling overwhelmed those are my go-to poses for instant anxiety relief.

Bargaining

I thought maybe if I kept coming to every class, I would master all the poses and reach Zen. The more I practiced, the more I realized it is a journey, not a destination.

I might nail a pose one day and then be frustrated the next by an inability to repeat that success. My teachers were patient, kind, and very open about their own struggles with focus and balance at times.

I realized there was no amount of work on or off the mat that was going to make me ‘perfect’ in yoga class, or make my grief go away. It just is what it is and there is no way around it—no hiding from it in the past or skipping ahead to the future.

Depression

My doctor had given me medications to help with depression and anxiety. At the time, I felt like these were necessary to keep me going. Those who have had a loss whether it is a job, love, or death can attest that life simply does not stop and let you collect yourself.

After a while, I realized I didn’t feel sad and out of control all the time…yet I didn’t feel happy either. I just went numb.

Through tapering off the medications with my doctor’s guidance and continuing to be consistent in my practice, yoga eventually got me to the place where I could deal with the episodes of grief on my own and for that I am grateful.

Acceptance

My yoga practice helped me truly get to the place that I live in today. I am ever changing, yet I am always myself. Life experiences have shaped me and I am willing to continue to open myself up to all life has to offer in order to be molded into my best self.

This is scary, but there is no point in a life lived in a bubble. Coming to my mat, away from distractions, forced me to come face-to-face with my grief. It gave me the strength and courage to deal with it and continue to deal with it as it invariably ebbs and flows.

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.” ~Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and John Kessler

Thanks to yoga, I do feel whole again and stronger than before. Grief truly is a never-ending process and I am grateful to have yoga in my toolbox to help me cope.

 

Meredith Willisby Meredith Willis - Meredith is a wife, mother, registered nurse and aspiring writer. She recently relocated to the Bay Area, which is much more compatible with her love of all things vegan, coffee, and yoga. Connect with her on Twitter.

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