March 14, 2017

How Yoga got me through a Year of Grief after my Boyfriend Died.

“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” ~ Megan Devine


I did yoga before my boyfriend died.

After his death, I went to yoga with desperation to have some sort of control and for someone tell me what to do, because in the face of grief we lose our sense of direction.

My boyfriend Kevin was a healthy 58 with a fabulous physique that I intended to stand next to for the rest of my days. After two decades on the bridge of friendship, we walked across into a place where there were no walls, a place that felt like home.

I’m the writer, but it was he who wrote me dozens of handwritten letters. After five decades and numerous failed relationships, we made space for each other as neither of us ever had. Knowing each other’s sharp edges, our love smoothed us the way diamond against diamond makes way for light. I called him Fire and he called me Ice.

I knew his potential to burn me, but instead, I melted into something more. He said, “I’m all in,” and showed me what that looked like. This was the deep connection we longed for, with our playful friendship along for the ride.

We each willingly and consistently made the eight-hour drive between us to spend days, weeks, and even a month together. We talked of living together.

On March 4th, 2016, I eagerly anticipated another visit. Kevin was always early, but this time, he was late. He tended to call several times a day. That day, he didn’t pick up his phone.

When I got the news about his death, I thought, What? Are you f*cking kidding me?! He’s dead? That’s not possible.

But it was. Angels snatched him in the night—an unexpected heart attack in his sleep. I dropped the phone, fell to my knees, and howled.

I sobbed from my soul. My body screamed with sadness. My reality was wronged. Darkness whispered my name.

For weeks after the three services—a memorial, a celebration of life, and a gathering of girlfriends (mine, not his, because that would be weird)—I couldn’t get myself to do anything. I was inconsolable to the point of it being frightening. My heart hugged itself tightly for protection and began to close. Grief gripped me.

Brushing my teeth became the only step I might take in a day, unless you include walking in the woods and wailing like a mad woman.

In the face of Kevin’s death, I couldn’t imagine going to work, playing nice or polite, or God forbid, professional. And I didn’t have to. I don’t have a “job.” I’m a writer.

Yoga gave me a place to go.

It took everything I had to drive two miles down the road. I’d been taking classes for months, but I still didn’t know the “rules” of yoga.

I told Addie, the teacher, about my boyfriend, asked her if it was okay to cry in yoga, and if she could please focus on opening the heart. She hugged me and said yoga tears are the best kind, that I could stay in child’s pose the whole class if I wanted, and yes, of course, the heart.

On the mat, I was told to breathe. I needed to be told.

I stretched my hands high to the sky, as if God or Kevin or angels could reach down and save me. Sometimes, they did. Or, perhaps, the practice did. Yoga offers us a path to save ourselves.

Sometimes, when we don’t know what to do, or there’s nothing that can be done, doing what we know grounds us. I needed to be grounded and reminded—in a way that felt real—that there’s some sort of perfection in this imperfect life.

I felt at home among strangers. Yoga folks didn’t expect me to talk. They didn’t invade my space, even when tears rolled down my face during savasana (also known as corpse pose—the irony!).

After one class, a couple of gals offered hugs. Although I normally resist people touching me, grief ignites a new foreign hunger. A woman named Heather held me as a mother would and said she wouldn’t let go until I did. I melted into her like a child.

Yoga allowed me to go slow, breath by breath, movement by movement, and to just be on my mat and be at peace with that. I learned there’s no shame in child’s pose. Even on the kitchen floor in the middle of the day.

Yoga isn’t a competition or something we master and then stop. It’s a practice. So is grief: effort and ease.

And yet, it’s easy to fall off our yoga practice, a day at a time. As excuses go, “my boyfriend died” is a pretty good one.

Days stacked up when I couldn’t get myself to leave the house. I wanted to do what I was told not to: isolate. Socializing seemed an insult to my soul. Friends worried and wanted to help.

But it wasn’t groceries; they couldn’t carry the load for me.

Finally, one Thursday, I used yoga as an excuse to reach out. I texted two girlfriends saying I’d go to yoga if they’d pick me up. Their answers had exclamation points. Then, it started to rain. I made a cup of tea and relaxed on the couch with a dozen reasons to back out.

I wondered if there’s such a thing as grief yoga. I googled it—it is a thing.

Paul Denniston, creator of Grief Yoga, writes, “The class focuses on healing a broken heart to bring us back to love instead of suffering. Something healing happens in a compassionate yoga session focused on embracing the feelings of grief. The postures, movements and breathing techniques allow students to befriend their body and relationship with loss. The graceful yet powerful movement helps them access their submerged feelings. We can embrace our grief, or it can swallow us up.”

Many people don’t realize how all-encompassing the pain of loss can feel, and how it can affect us physically as well as mentally and emotionally. Denniston created Grief Yoga “because our bodies remember the pain.”

Learning about yoga’s softening potential, I felt hope. I got off the couch.

Although the classes I attended weren’t labelled “Grief Yoga,” I showed up with the intention of yoga helping me through my grief process.

Yoga’s simple, but rarely easy. Grief’s wretched, but not a death sentence.

Grief, writing, and yoga can serve as sisters carrying us through hard times.

People I love will die, especially if I live to be 100, which is my intention. So, this isn’t the first and it won’t be the last time I’ll grapple with grief. As we know, grief and heartbreak are part of experiencing loss, not just with a loss of life, but the many losses that are a part of living. It doesn’t matter if it’s the loss of a job, relationship, parent, pet, spouse, or even a house. Loss hurts.

We all grieve something. To compare our grief is as helpful (or not) as comparing ourselves to other yogis.

Grief can be brutal, and sometimes a b*tch of a coach, but she carries wisdom and heart. Grief softens us, and we strengthen with each yoga practice.

We practice being present. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by a song or a movement. Yoga opens me up—even to tears—right there, in class, on the mat.

Still, yoga offers strength, safety, connectedness, and authenticity as we make our way through life’s hard moments which are impossible to plan for.

Shortly before my boyfriend passed, I told him I was considering going on a yoga teacher training retreat in Belize. He said, “Yeah, Ice, go!”

Three months after his death, I went—craving retreat. Unfortunately, my grief followed me. Spilling my tears into the turquoise water, I realized there’s no running away. On or off the mat, if we don’t own our pain, it owns us.

In Belize, after practicing yoga two to four times a day for six days, the last unplanned practice on the last day felt excruciating. Not in my body, but in my unmanageable mind.

What? Are you f*cking kidding me? Haven’t we done enough yoga?!

That was my practice for the day. Yoga mirrors life.

Off the mat, I find myself thinking: Haven’t I done enough? Eaten enough vegetables, drank enough water, seen enough loved ones die?

Since my man died, and I’m not ready to leap into another’s arms yet, I do yoga. Actually, yoga does me, the way a good man can. It balances me on the inside. When we’re broken, yoga helps us breathe, stay present, and practice living another day.

It’s like that Rolling Stones song: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”

I wanted my man. And I didn’t know it, but I needed yoga.


Author: Alice Lundy

Image: Author’s Own; We Are Social/Flickr

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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