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  • Writer's pictureGreen Olive Yoga

Yoga Minded Grief

As a small child, I have a memory of my grandfathers funeral. One of those childhood memories where the details are foggy and uncertain but there is also a pure knowing about it.

I wasn't overly close with this man but I was aware of his importance in our family. I was also aware, seemingly from birth, the more I handled my own shit, the better off my parents were.

So on this day, at my grandfathers funeral, I discovered if you force a yawn it stops the crying response. And then one by one I taught my cousins that yawning put a stop to tears. I was the baby in my family at this time and had no reason to hold in my tears.

Nor was there a reason for me to round up all the children and teach them to hold in their tears. Regardless of the necessity or logic behind this act, I sat in the pew of a small southern church and experimented with different ways to push my emotions aside... and then I felt the need to teach all the other children to do the same. At no time did I feel like the adults should know this trick. Something told me this was their time to feel and us kids needed to make sure we weren't distracting them. As a child, no older then 6 or 7, I was using my breath to avoid this confusing sadness called grief.

This story is the perfect example of yoga minded grief. I knew nothing of yoga or grief during that funeral but I figure out you could use your own resources to push through the feelings you wanted to avoid. In other words, I had perfected the stage of denial.

For those of you unfamiliar with the five stages of grief, this is a good article written by someone much more qualified than myself...

If you are interested in the short version, think DABDA. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The stages are experienced in no particular order and they are not a one and done phase. We may cycle through these phases for hours, days, years; even a lifetime.

As a child, no older then 6 or 7, I was using my breath to avoid this confusing sadness called grief.

Needless to say, one day in my early 20s, I was in my car at a stop light and suddenly cried for all the people I had lost over the years. These tears came on with a force of memories; emotions I had long forgot about were front and center.

I had always been the type to let things roll off my back. Not easily offended and rarely brought to tears. Nothing really phased me. The tricks I practiced as a child became rooted in my identity as I entered into the teen years. I truly didn't understand emotions are an unavoidable part of our human experience.

The day my grief hit had been a normal day. Nothing particularly interesting was happening in my life but the denial phase was abruptly put to an end and depression was ready for some attention. The next several years were ruled by emotion. The stages of grief, long ignored, were wreaking havoc. I felt EVERYTHING. No yawning my way out of it either.

Time passed and emotions settled into a manageable ebb and flow. Highs and lows became standard protocol and I was no longer holding onto denial, nor was depression and anger demanding attention. Life would fall apart and then back together. During this time, yoga found me.

It wasn't long before I was in a full fledged love affair with the eight limbs of yoga. I practiced daily and took my 200hr teacher training. I could not, and still cannot, get enough knowledge about this delicious practice. If you are reading this blog, it is likely you have a similar soft spot in your heart for the wonders of yoga.

Often times a yoga practice leads to a wider knowledge of 'alternative' healing techniques; this rang true for me. Workshops, private lessons, mentors, energy practitioners, acupuncture, book and more books. And as I discovered all these wonderful and truly amazing holistic practices I heard more and more and more... do this pose to open your heart, breath this way if you want more energy, bring mindfulness to this body part if you want healing. Manifest.

Somewhere between learning to connect sun sals and ujjayi it became apparent my husband and I were still not pregnant. Years passed and no baby. Yoga became my yawn. I was convinced I could utilize the techniques I learned and manifest a baby.

Yoga became my yawn.

Except this time I wasn't using my tool for denial, I was using it for bargaining. I dedicated my meditations, my asanas, my pranayama to fertility. Energy healing, earth baths, herbs, acupuncture... all dedicated to fertility.

Slowly bargaining wore off and it was time for my old friend, denial. Yoga was happy to accommodate. Month after month, my yoga practice was helping me avoid my grief.

Enter anger. Anger is a little harder to avoid.

Anger doesn't give a f*ck about meditations or breathing. It doesn't give a f*ck if you ate all the right foods or got enough sleep. Anger is loud. Anger is in your face; well... more like in the face of your coworkers and family members. And no matter what healthy holistic trick I tried, the anger got louder and louder.

However, I still wasn't getting the message. Because true to the stages of grief, they were overlapping. Anger was holding hands with denial and bargaining was helping me move forward. The thing about anger is... it is easy to blame outside circumstances. The job, the friend, the family member, the traffic. Anger is easily displaced and hard to accept the true source.

By now I am sure you are wondering what my point is. What is yoga minded grief?

Yoga minded grief is the (mostly western) ever present idea that you can "positive" your way out of negative. There is an endless and every growing body of knowledge about different ways to fake acceptance. To trick your mind and body into "accepting" your circumstances. To live in the phases of denial and bargaining.

Please understand, the same exact tools we use to avoid and deny our feelings can be used as beautiful methods to live deep within the human experience.

Grief is a difficult road to navigate but the stages are beautifully orchestrated by our system to maintain homeostasis. Each step is necessary and important.

Acceptance is the ultimate and final stage of the grieving process. And by final I do not mean finite. You may find acceptance for a period of time and then circle back through the phases. I would like to take it a step farther and say... during the really big losses, you are likely to circle through the phases .

Grief is a difficult road to navigate but the stages are beautifully orchestrated by our system to maintain homeostasis. Each step is necessary and important.

Once again, depression was my saving stage. Depression hit hard and fast just like it did the first time I was faced with true grief. One moment, all of a sudden, I was no longer fine. I could hardly get out of bed. The weight of the loss infertility brought into my life was so thick I could hardly breath. Denial was abandoned and reality was suffocating. I understood my previous anger clearly and more importantly, I got a cold hard look at all the bargaining I had done.

I had abandoned my ascension practice and the pure love of source to chase after my desire to grow my family. I listened to all the advice about how I could alter my inner world and a baby would appear in my family.

This advice has turned into a multi-million dollar industry that promises to get you the job, the relationship, the life you want. Just manifest it. Hard work, the right diet, the right attitude, you name it there is a self help book dedicated to it. And somewhere along the way yoga was packed up into this trend.

Humans grieve loss. The loss of another human is the most significant loss and the least subject to advice about diet and mindset. However, all loss comes with grief. Break-ups, lay-offs, divorces, infertility... these all illicit the grieving process. If your favorite houseplant dies, you may very deeply grieve the loss.

So I would like to be a voice in this community that loudly states, "yoga is not a substitute for grief". It is a beautiful companion that will patiently keep you company during your denial, anger, and bargaining, it will embrace you during your depression and it will be there with you when you find acceptance. And when the denial phase of grief inevitably wears off, please remember you are perfectly imperfect and you don't need to do or be anything better to get the life you want.

I entered the world of grief teaching others to avoid and deny their emotions. As I now enter the world of yoga, I would like to teach others to accept and embrace their emotions. Feel the pain and the pleasures of life with the simple observation one only finds through the practice of yoga.


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