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December 1, 2016

The Day Yoga became my Grief Therapist.

courtesy of author, Sarah Lamb

*Photo: The author’s sister.

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I’d never felt joy like the joy I felt on the second saddest day of my life.

I awoke with a yawn, half in dreamland. I’d had a dream that I walked on water. Well, I was being held by someone with hands so comfortable they could have been wings. The woman in a white sundress who flew above me was not an apparition—not in my dream at least.

Remembering those ivory hands—one graced by an amethyst ring—made me smile as I turned my head to face the window beside my bed. The gray October sky outside my window reminded me of a day I’d already lived and forgotten. I’d forgotten that day until this moment, when my refreshed smile turned to stiff lips and a crinkled forehead.

A dread fell upon my body—a heaviness I experienced a year ago on this day, at maybe this exact time.

In that heavy, groggy moment, I dragged myself up.

That body—mine—that floated on water in dreamland felt like lead. Heavy leaden steps thudded down the hall to the bathroom—the hallway where I saw her a year ago on this eve. When I saw her, she was a ghost, complete vapor. I shook my head as if to shrug off the intensity of that memory and release it into the ether.

I still hoped it was all a bad dream at times. But that day reminded me it was my life.

As I washed my hands, I imagine washing off the lead that day poured into my cells. As the water ran across my fingers, I felt the heaviness fall into the drain. For a moment, a glimmer of those light hands lifting me up in my dream tickled my consciousness. For a moment, I saw an effervescence float up with the steam from the water running over my hands.

I walked back to my room, still heavy, except for my hands, which felt tingly and warm. I got dressed with a sense of hope. Perhaps my family pancake breakfast would cheer me up. Perhaps we could all find solace in each others’ syrupy smiles.

Before I did anything else, I rolled out my yoga mat. I felt called to practice. It was my solace when I felt hopeless or heartless or shameful. For the past year, I’d been too grief-stricken to practice Vinyasa or the Hatha style yoga I’d come to love. Instead, I had my own restorative practice. I used blankets and pillows because, poor college student that I was, I couldn’t afford studio-style props. But that, I realized studio-style props didn’t matter.

I grabbed my yoga strap, which I placed snugly around the outside of my touching feet and held toward my waist. I plopped thick blankets under my knees and rolled one up to put under my spine. I got myself bound up in supta badha konasana and I lay there. I lay with my arms outstretched and breathed in deeply.

I let out a sigh.

I lay there, waiting to cry—waiting for the avalanche of tears to come from that deep, wounded, abandoned and questioning place.

I waited.

And as I waited, I felt the props holding my body. I felt the props supporting me as I breathed.

Suddenly waiting turned into being.

I was breathing here. I was here. Present. I was held and supported.

My inner loneliness and lead-laden heart suddenly turned into something light and airy and free. A smile beamed across me. It started on my face, yes, but then it expanded. That smile expanded to encompass all of me—the me I knew and the me I only had glimpses of so far in my life. That smile, it turned to bliss.

I was breathing. I was present. I was supported.

Suddenly the dead-weight of the memories I woke with lifted. Suddenly she was telling me—the woman in my dream, the one who lifted me so high I was floating on the water—she told me to play today. She told me she wanted us to celebrate her life and not mourn it. It was Halloween. It was the day she died. It was a year since she’d been gone from her physical body.

And, thespian that she was in body, she also appeared to be in spirit.

Play, Sarah! Get them to play—for me! I want to see smiles. I want to see joy. I want to see celebration! She said to me from the ethers.

I unwound myself from my reclined bound angle pose. I rolled over and sat up and closed my practice. I closed it with an open heart and clear mind. I felt centered. The heavy rain cloud that poured tears of mourning over my head for the past year suddenly vanished. The veil of illusion—of separation—was lifted off of me.

I was here, being and breathing in my human body, and my sister wanted me to enjoy that experience for her. My helping heart had been waiting all 22 years of its life to be told to live for someone else. Being selfish did not feel right to me—ever. Selfishness did not feel right to my sister, either. While alive, she felt my pain as intensely as I felt hers. Suddenly, I had a reason to let my pain go: for her. She didn’t get to live without pain and suffering. Perhaps my joy and the joy of all of her loved ones could feed her spirit what it didn’t get to receive fully here on earth.

Pain or no pain, I had a mission: to let her friends and our family know that this one year memorial was a celebration and not a mourning service. I called up her friends and told them to dress in costume. I shared her message and carried her light into the dark night that we call All Hallows Eve. We played the Beatles song, “Come Together,” and as the words, “Come together right now, over me” echoed through our backyard, everyone felt tingles.

What happened to me on my yoga mat held its resonance in the circle of voices reading and sharing stories about my sister—their friend and daughter and niece—that turned the pain into lightness and liberation. What we found was true yoga. We found presence. Eyes and hands and hearts meeting, expressing, acknowledging the moment.

In the moments we shared, Rebecca Marie Lamb was not dead. She was alive. She was coursing through the prana (life-force energy) moving through all of us.

So, every time I roll out of bed now, even 15 years later, I still hear her mantra:

Sarah, play. Play for me. 

And that’s what I do. I play with my moments throughout the day, both on my mat and off, one breath, one movement at a time.

When I experience it all as moments, I digest with grace. My overwhelm, my heaviness, my anxiety, it all becomes a bit more effervescent.

When I am in the moment, really and truly here and now, it’s truly as if those hands are pulling me gently from above, helping me float above the illusion of heaviness, making walking my life’s path an effortless journey. 

Thank you, dear sister in spirit, for leaving me with the gift of savoring each moment, easy or challenging as it may be. Your connection to my practice has taught me that each breath is like a ball of light, continually allowing me to experience the here and now in all its potency.

~

Author: Sarah Lamb

Image: Author’s own, of her sister

Editor: Toby Israel

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