Updated: May 26, 2020
Yoga for Grief changed me forever.
It gave me perspective, permission, and a safe container to express myself through movement, breath, and sound. It allowed me to see and feel that I am enough, that my feelings are valid, and that they deserve my attention, my compassion, and to be expressed in powerful ways. I have experienced an excessive amount of loss. Looking back on the road trip of my life, I honestly cannot recall a time when grief wasn’t sitting shotgun.
I had a lonely childhood. I was bounced around a lot between my parents and grandparents because my parents struggled with substance abuse and weren’t always able to care for me. Even when I was living at home, things were rarely “normal” in our household. Convinced I was experiencing things that my peers were not, I never felt safe talking about things or expressing feelings freely.
I was spoon-fed heartwarming sentiments like, “Children are to be seen and not heard,” “Crying is weakness,” and my personal favorite, “What is wrong with you, is it that time of the month?” Good times!
I hid behind erratic behavior, anger, and lots of sarcasm, which acted as protective armor against being vulnerable with anyone, and I began to form life-long patterns of suppressing my emotions.
In 2010, I separated from my then-husband and moved from Boston to Seattle to accept a new position with a consulting firm. I was excited to start this new chapter, but I arrived with a very closed heart, desperate for a new sense of “home.” The job was demanding, requiring a lot of my attention and intense critical thinking. I attended every happy hour I was invited to, and I was drinking a lot, trying to escape the office stress and avoid being home alone. I was ignoring the tsunami of sadness, hurt, and anger that raged inside of me. “Just lock it away and keep moving,” was my mantra.
I was grieving two HUGE life changes—separation from my partner and a move across the country—but did not recognize my experience as “grief” at the time. To me, grief was reserved for death. The only option I saw was to be strong and carry on. I mean, I was the one who wanted to end our marriage, so what right did I have to grieve the loss? And I only lived in Boston for a few years, so it’s not like I was THAT ATTACHED, right? Wrong, as it turns out.
My entire support network was back home in Phoenix. Just three years earlier, I had left my family and friends to move to Boston. The move was my idea, as I’d wanted to get out of Arizona and expand my horizons, but it still came with grief and loss. They never tell you that you can grieve positive change, too.
So all this was added to the pile of suppressed and devalued emotions.
Within a month of settling into my new apartment and routine, I decided to get a membership at a yoga studio near the office. I had dabbled in yoga a bit in college but thought it was “boring” (in hindsight, it looks a lot more like, “It was hard so I quit”).
This time around I was eager for an activity to help me decompress and improve my physical health. Best decision I ever made. My mat became my refuge. It wasn’t easy, but each time I showed up I was able to hold a pose a little longer or start to find my Drishti (focused gaze). I was focusing on the quality of my breath for the first time ever, slowly building resilience... except at the end of each class laying on my back in silence I would feel ANGRY. I hated Savasana (corpse pose)! Sustaining stillness, calm, to just be…yeah, I wanted to run for the hills. My trusty mantra, my safety mechanism “Just lock it away, keep moving”—was suddenly being ripped away, and I was not happy. But I kept showing up, and with time, the anger softened into acceptance. My armor cracked a little. Tears began to flow and the more I physically opened my heart through yoga practice, my ability to feel its emotions expanded along with it. I was beginning to see the light.
New Love and More Loss
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2012. I had recently moved in with my future husband, Ryan and had just quit my consulting job to start an event planning business. It was a huge leap of faith. NYE morning, I got a call from my mom’s phone, but it was her roommate on the other end. He was crying and stuttering, and I was straining to make out what he was saying.
I’d received one of these calls a few years prior when I was living in Boston: Mom had dropped into a diabetic coma. The hospital ICU kept her sedated for 6 days until her pancreas stabilized and she came out of it. I figured this call would lead to a similar outcome.
But it didn’t. This time, she had multiple heart attacks and was dead before 9AM.
I sat in bed, speechless. Mom was gone. I couldn’t breathe.
A month earlier, when we’d last talked, she said hurtful things to me and I hung up on her…for the first time in my life. There was a lot of back story on how things got to that point, and why I did what I did, but none of that mattered. Our last conversation was a fight, and there was no way I could forgive myself.
This couldn’t be how our story ended, dammit! But there I was, making phone calls, notifying family and friends. Contacting the morgue and cremation facility. Booking plane tickets. No time to feel. I must plan, I thought. After all, I was a certified project management PROFESSIONAL. I’d just spent 6 years of my career problem solving in crisis mode.
After the memorial and all her affairs were in order, I was left with no direction. What now? I had this business idea that was barely a business. No job, but at least I had Ryan…and I had yoga.
Becoming a Yoga Teacher
I really started to lean into my practice. I moved to a yoga studio with less heat and with more slow, restorative practices and meditations on the schedule. This community introduced me to yogic philosophy and it was eye-opening. I had searched my whole life for a sense of spirituality that I resonated with, and this was speaking my language. In 2014, I signed up for their teacher training and spent 5 months cracking wide open.
The physical poses were only a fraction of what I experienced in teacher training. I learned to look at myself, how my past had shaped me, how to release what wasn’t supporting who I wanted to be, and how to step into my power and voice as a teacher. It was painful, messy, empowering, and beautiful. I cried more than any of the 20 other students in the program. But while I was eating up the self-work and philosophy portions of the training, I struggled with the physical demands of the asana practice. I walked away with a chronic wrist injury and apathy for teaching heated Power Yoga.
Instead, I learned to teach Yin, Restorative, and Yoga Nidra because they resonated with what yoga had really become for me: a way to heal my spirit through stillness, release, and introspection.
Closure and Healing
For years, I continued to struggle with Mom’s death and the lack of closure. I began seeking guidance of psychics and mediums. Anyone who could give me a sign that she knew how much I loved her and how sorry I was that I didn’t see how much she had been struggling. As I battled this grief, three more family members died.
My event business never took off, so I went back to consulting. I wanted to be a healer but wasn’t sure of my voice or where to put my stake in the ground. I studied to be an Ayurvedic wellness counselor. I trained in Reiki, Roll Model Method, Integrative Movement Therapy, and Bedside Yoga.
Then I found Grief Yoga®. I signed up for the teacher training immediately because it resonated so deeply. When the training completed, I knew THIS WAS IT: a way to integrate all the teachings I had collected over the last decade and channel them through the voice of grief. Connection with freely feeling whatever is present. To let out the roar, to wail, to dance, to laugh, to beat a pillow, to feel into the complexity of constantly changing emotions. I had found my voice.
Your grief deserves a voice too.
If you feel trapped by conditional belief systems that encourage your suppression; if you feel like it is NOT okay to struggle, feel pain, and express emotions in powerful ways; if you feel that your grief should be over quickly or that you should change the subject for other people’s comfort…
Let me be your guide in saying NOT ANYMORE!
Join the FREE Yoga for Grief and Emotional Liberation private Facebook group to connect with this practice and a community where your story and emotions are always welcome.