I used to take your classes at Baptiste in Cambridge and Boston about 4 years ago, and I can’t remember how I learned about your blog sometime over the last year, but I did, somehow, and I’m so glad I did, because I am really grateful that even though you no longer teach [regularly], your blog still allows me to get some of the wisdom that I used to love so much about your classes. On that subject, I still remember being in eagle pose in one class of yours and hearing you say that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness—thanks for that; I remind myself of it frequently. I was wondering if you could do a post addressing grief—yoga and grief, how to take care of yourself when you are grieving, what are the best poses to most optimally meet emotional pain and transform it, which poses heal a broken heart, which poses most clearly show you who you really are, etc. I’ve been going through a really hard year and there are periods where I’m grieving really heavily, and during those times, when I could probably use yoga more than ever, sun salutations feel obnoxious and overwhelmingly strenuous to me, and my asana options feel limited. These days, viparita karani with my legs up the wall has turned into a part-time job of sorts for me, but I was wondering if you have any secret weapon restorative sequences up your sleeve.
Thanks so much,
Thank you for writing. The simple act of drafting this email shows that you have a healthy instinct for taking care of yourself. Perhaps you’ve heard the adage that joy shared is joy doubled, and grief shared is half grief? Put simply, your instinct to share your grief helps dilute it.
Yoga, too, will help ease the pain; however, I understand the feeling of being overwhelmed by a practice that is too strenuous, perhaps obnoxiously so. Grieving expends a great deal of energy, so a yoga practice, during times of heartbreak, needs to restore, rejuvenate, and heal. That means different things to different people, but it’s best to begin gingerly. If viparita karani becomes a part-time job, then so be it. Clearly, that’s something you need right now.
From my own personal experience, I have often felt that postures bringing the greatest level of support and healing are, well, supported postures. If you don’t typically use props, such as blocks, bolsters, straps, blankets, etc., now is a perfect time to start. Suffice to say that using a bolster just might bolster your spirit. I like using one under my spine in supta baddha konasana. Don’t have a bolster? Try firmer pillows such as those on a couch.
In general, poses performed closer to the earth will feel more comforting and reassuring when your life seems to be in upheaval. A few poses to try include half-pigeon, janu sirsana, and even gentle twists (which are known to be cleansing).
To balance all this emphasis on the lower body, you might try dolphin (downward dog, except your forearms rest on the floor). This pose is strengthening without being overly strenuous or showy.
Encouraging your heart to open is the last step toward healing. For this reason, gentle backbends are useful now, as they open the front-body, including your heart, chest, throat, etc. Again, these can be done with the support of blocks and bolsters if you choose. A few options include fish pose, dhanurasa, and urdhva dhanurasana.
Finally, you might try working with a mantra or visualization technique during your practice to make it feel more spiritual rather than strenuous. You could choose a traditional mantra such as “om shanti,” or you could create one of your own, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Visualize sorrow leaving your body, or summon an empowering image in your mind’s eye, one that makes you feel safe and happy, like the protective elephant-head god Ganesha (above, left), the warrior goddess Durga (right), or a serene place that makes your heart smile.
Have patience with yourself during this process. Eventually, the cracks and caverns in your heart will no longer feel empty from pain, but empty and open to receive greater amounts of joy.