Yoga for Grief: 7 Practical Techniques

Fall is in full swing, and the trees are shedding their leaves in blustery Eugene, Oregon. This changing weather reminds me that November marks the middle of the season to both let go and give thanks.

Letting go in the fall can be difficult.

We let go of the sunny, warm weather; the trees let go of their leaves; and sometimes we're called to let go of something or someone we weren't ready to lose. 

It seems like so many people tend to pass on in the fall. I lost my dear, wonderful grandma recently, and a number of my friends are also in the midst of grieving friends and family who have gone too soon.

The pain that is left when we lose a loved one can be confusing and sad, but grief can also offer us a roadmap toward healing. 

In times of grief, I turn to those things that bring me comfort, those things that bring people together, those things that inspire me to see beyond the pain.

For me, that thing is yoga.

But yoga for grief can go beyond your regular studio class and enter into the more intimate spaces in your life. Here are my suggestions for grief-soothing, heart-healing yoga:

1. Try a difficult flow

Emotions can get stored in our bodies, and sometimes rigorous exercise (even when it might seem counter-intuitive) is the key to releasing tension that you might not realize you're holding.

I like doing difficult flows in studio spaces, at home, and (weather permitting) out in nature.

2. Meditate

Give your mind the break it needs. Meditation can help us to break up thought cycles that often occur as we move through the stages of grief.

So much has been written about meditation, and people practice many variations. I think it's important to find one that works for you and stick with it. I am grateful to my teachers who have shared these techniques with me.

3. Pranayama, The Yogic Breath

When you’re grieving, it can be difficult to breathe. Engaging in even simple pranayama exercises (such as nadi shodhana) can help you move energy through the body, allowing your emotions to arise and subside naturally.

4. Read

Yogic philosophy states that yogis are distinct because they radically accept reality for what it is, facing the good and bad of life with courage. Challenging times can make this difficult, and you might find comfort in reading the philosophies, stories, and reflections of other people who have faced similar circumstances. 

5. Bhavana

In yoga bhavana refers to deep contemplation, which is a part of yoga not often taught in class. Deep, introspective yogic contemplation can help you explore your grief. Perhaps try journaling about questions you have.

Here are a few questions to get you started: How can I be thankful in the midst of loss? How can I honor today's reality while still honoring the past? How can I seek wholeness in life in this moment? If I could say something to my grief, what would it be? What would my grief say to me?

6. Practice Restorative Yoga

Although this might seem to go against Technique 1: Try a Difficult Flow, you can use restorative yoga after a difficult flow or as a separate practice. Your restorative yoga practice allows the body to gently work through and detox emotions from the body.

For more information on Restorative yoga, check out my post on 5 Reasons Why I Love Restorative Yoga (And You Will Too!).

7. Astro-Practice for Grief

In my astrology sessions, I teach my clients how to use their charts as a guide to help them navigate challenges, decisions, emotions, and relationships. All too often, this includes a discussion of loss.

I don't blog much about these astrological approaches, as the approaches are fairly complex and unique to each individual. However, these approaches are by far my favorite way to explore life's many challenges and so get a mention.

If you've had a reading and know which areas of your chart to activate, you can use yoga to activate your chart. Take an astrology reading with me to learn more. (Note: group astro-practice workshops will start being available in January 2018).

As always, you alone are the one who knows how to understand your own soul, wants, needs, and desires. May you find gratitude and comfort in your practices.