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Grief is universal.
We all experience it throughout our lives, no matter what our background, race, or nationality. It’s a unifying human experience.
Our relationship to grief is often determined by our social upbringing. And for many of us in the Western world, it’s a challenging emotion to deal with.
With our fast-paced lives, taking time for conscious periods of grieving isn’t really encouraged. We’re expected to stay strong and composed—to move on quickly. We’re wiping our tears away and saying, “I’m sorry,” apologizing that we’re showing emotion in public.
Grief is a complex emotion made up of a myriad of feelings—sadness, anger, helplessness, disbelief, numbness, guilt, and even bitterness and hostility.
We fear it because we’re afraid it will overwhelm, disempower, or break us. So we try to avoid it.
But grief, like any other strong emotion, needs to move through us to be integrated and healed. If we constantly push it away, grief will store itself in our bodies, our minds, our spirits, eventually affecting our physical and emotional well-being.
We might experience physical pain, digestive issues, a compromised immune system, or sleep problems. Suppressed grief is also often the underlying cause of anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), grief is primarily stored in the Lungs and Organ, which are constantly drawing in what nourishes us and letting go of what is no longer needed—on a physical and mental-emotional level. (In TCM organs are spelled with capital letters to emphasise that their function isn’t only physical, but has mental, emotional, and energetic properties as well.)
When we silence grief, our Lungs can become constricted and our breath weakened. We end up losing the ability to take in what truly sustains us.
One way to support ourselves during periods of grief is to take time.
Yin yoga can be a powerful tool to help us process our emotions and allow them to move through us.
The following sequence is designed to stimulate the Lung meridians—the energy channels that nourish the Lungs—that wind up from the solar plexus area around the navel through the diaphragm, entering the Lungs on both sides, and continuing along the front of the shoulders and down the inside of the arms, ending at the thumbs.
Please note: practise with caution.
Not all poses are suitable for everybody, especially when dealing with specific injuries and conditions. Move out of a pose immediately if you experience any pain, stabbing, tingling, electrical sensations, or numbness. Go only as far as feels sustainable and workable for you.
Holding times are just recommendations. You can always come out of a pose earlier or stay longer, if that’s what your body is asking for. Take your time to transition between poses.
Child’s pose with forearms elevated (5 minutes)
From a kneeling position, with toes touching, let your upper body settle onto your thighs, hips sinking heavily onto your heels. Your forehead can rest on the floor, a block, or stacked hands. If it feels appropriate, bring your arms overhead, fingertips slightly reaching forward.
To emphasise the stretch through the front of the arms and chest, elevate your forearms with blocks or a bolster (books work great as well). Let your whole body surrender to gravity.
Begin to sense your body in space and let your awareness drop into your physical sensations. For a few minutes, simply notice what is present for you right now.
Eventually, direct your focus down into your belly. Sense the movements of your breath, with inhales pressing against your thighs. Without any force or strain, let the exhales naturally become a little longer over time.
Allow every breath to reassure you that you are safe and held in the pose.
Sphinx (5 minutes)
From Child’s pose, slide onto your belly and prop yourself up onto your forearms, elbows shoulder width. Check in with your lower back—you want to feel a mild compression, but no pain or pinching.
To decrease intensity, move your forearms further away from you.
Draw your forearms energetically toward you (without moving them) and allow the breastbone to reach forward through the gate created by your upper arms. If over time your body invites you to move deeper, elevate your forearms onto blocks or a folded blanket.
Again, let your attention settle onto the sensations of your breath moving the belly against the floor.
Broken Wing pose (3 to 4 minutes each side)
From laying on your belly, extend your arms out to the side like the letter T. Turn your head to the right, lift your right leg slightly, and begin to mindfully roll onto your left side. Only go as far as feels manageable.
Bend the right leg and put the right foot behind your left leg like a kickstand for extra stability. Your right hand can either slide underneath your left cheek for support or gently press into the floor in front of your face to find a deeper rotation.
Stay for three to four minutes, maybe moving deeper over time by allowing your right arm to open up and over your torso toward your left arm. Let the breath be your compass to guide you to your appropriate edge. If you cannot breathe fully and effortlessly, back off as much as you need to.
To come out, slowly roll back onto your belly and rest for a few moments before moving to the second side.
Puppy pose (3 to 4 minutes)
From laying on your belly, press yourself up to all fours. Place a folded blanket or towel under your knees for cushioning. Keeping your hips above your knees, walk your hands forward, allowing the chest to sink toward the floor, with biceps framing the ears. You can either rest your forehead or chin on the ground. Let your belly, chest, and armpits melt toward the floor continuously.
If you experience any discomfort in your lower back, try engaging your abdominal muscles slightly.
Wide-legged Child’s pose with twist (3 to 4 minutes each side)
Come back to all fours. Bring your big toes to touch and let your knees go wide, creating a mild tucking along the inner leg lines. Lower your torso onto your thighs. Thread your right arm underneath your left as you turn your chest slightly to the left, resting your right shoulder on the floor. Your right palm can face up or down.
With your gaze to the left, either rest your right cheek on the floor or support it with a folded blanket. Your left arm can reach forward alongside your ear or reach around toward your right inner upper thigh.
Slowly switch sides, this time threading your left arm, underneath the right.
Half Butterfly with side bend (3 to 4 minutes each side)
Roll yourself up from Child’s pose and bring your legs out in front of you. Sit up on something like a block or a bolster to elevate your hips. Keeping your right leg straight, bend your left leg and bring the sole of the left foot to the inside of the right thigh.
If the back of the right leg feels tight, try bending it as much as you need to alleviate tension. If your left knee is floating high up in the air, support it with a block or book.
Now, bend your upper body to the right, arching over the right leg and gently rolling your right ribcage toward the left. Place your right elbow onto the right thigh or a block and rest your head into your hand. Keep rotating your chest to the left. Your gaze can land wherever is most comfortable for you.
Reach your left arm up and over your head to the right. If that causes you any tingling or discomfort, simply rest your left arm by your side.
Mindfully switch sides once you feel complete. Shake out your legs in front of you to give them a nice release as well.
Supported Fish pose (5 to 7 minutes)
Sit on your mat with a bolster lengthwise behind you. Start with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Slowly recline backwards over the bolster. Should you experience any discomfort in your lower back, try sliding a folded blanket or block underneath your seat to elevate your hips.
(If you do not have a bolster, a rolled up blanket or towel work perfectly as well. They can go lengthwise under your torso or crosswise underneath your shoulder blades.)
Rest your arms alongside your body, out to the side like a big T, or reach them overhead. Your legs can be long, bent with feet flat on the floor, or soles of the feet together with knees falling wide to the side.
Now, let your whole body sink heavily into whatever props you are resting on, allowing yourself to be supported and held. You can anchor your busy mind by bringing your attention to those body parts that are in close contact with the floor.
To come out, bend your knees, put your feet flat on the floor, and gently roll over to either side. Rest curled up on your side for a few deep breaths.
Find a position that is comfortable and restful for you. You could lay on your back, maybe with some support under your knees and your head. You could curl up on your side if that feels safer today.
It could be very soothing to place a folded blanket or some sort of extra weight onto your lower belly and to cover your eyes with a light towel.
Take a few deep breaths in through your nose and with an open mouth gently release your exhales, wrapping yourself in the comforting sound of a few sighs.
Then let the breath settle back into its natural rhythm and rest in this safe space for as long as you like.
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