Yoga for Grief and Loss
By Leigh Ann Mertens, RYT, CPF
My name is Leigh Ann Mertens and I co-facilitate monthly grief gatherings with our local Hospice Chaplain. We find these grief gatherings to be extremely supportive and helpful to all who attend. The movement and breathwork practiced in the yoga portion I teach produces magical results. There is an intimacy that is created in such classes just by being together in the same space for a dedicated reason. Immediately, there is a sense of support and understanding. Participants report to me that the sense of connection they feel when practicing together is both palpable and strengthening, and that it lasts for days afterwards.
I've learned from these gatherings the transformative power in bringing people together who are all experiencing grief in one way or another. Sadly, our culture does not honor or even welcome grief. We're given a very brief time span to deal with the technicalities that come with death and/or loss, but nothing near sufficient to confront and accept our feelings or even discover our own, unique way of grieving. Those of us who work with grief know that it has no time limit or even time span. It looks and expresses vastly differently for everyone. Grief can be incredibly isolating, so offering people a welcoming and safe space can be life changing.
I have one student who shows up for every class with a huge smile on her face and tears flowing down her cheeks. She says how happy and relieved she is to come to class because it finally feels safe to cry. It's been over a year since she lost both of her parents, and she feels peoples' discomfort and impatience with her tendency to cry. I gently witness and always allow my students to go through various emotions throughout the class. In addition to isolation, grief can also lead to immobilization which is why students who come in crying may leave laughing or vice versa. By getting their bodies moving, we get energy moving rather than suppressing it and allowing it to become stagnant and stuck in our bodies. I've had students thrilled to finally be crying during or after class because those repressed, often heavy, emotions are finally being released.
I've heard it said that grief is love with nowhere to go. These special yoga offerings to our community in Haywood County, North Carolina have given many folks somewhere to express that love and to grieve without explanation or apology. It is my deep desire and hope that this small movement will be a ripple that expands into a grief permissive culture!