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We all meet the difficult journey of grief at some point.
We don’t “heal” from grief, we learn to live it. The deep loss, which can only come from deep love, becomes a thread in our personal tapestry. Having a yoga resource can be an opportunity to navigate our losses without getting lost.
Just as I was beginning my yoga journey, my dearly beloved father passed away. In my grieving, I found a tiny piece of solace in my yoga practice where my wonderful teachers offered Buddhist and yogic teachings along with breath and movement.
When my mother passed away five years later, I was able to find a source of comfort in my yoga study. As I practiced the asanas, the physical practice, I also immersed myself in the study of yoga philosophy and meditation. I could spend time with my parents’ spirits in a new way that was certainly sad, but also comforting. I was introduced to the concept that in death, the relationship doesn’t end, it just changes. That was an epiphany for me!
Then in 2015, I experienced my most devastating of losses. My best, soulful, and magnificent friend of 40 years, Kaiya, passed on after a 17-month journey with glioblastoma. I was crushed by her death. Three months later, my fabulous, wonderful, big sister, Susie succumbed to lung cancer. My two most intimate confidants, mentors, and personal cheerleaders were gone from my physical life. The two, strong, amazing women I had leaned on and learned from were gone. The emptiness was bottomless.
And then there was my yoga. My yoga practice held a space for me for grief, presence, solace, stillness, and movement. I immersed myself in yoga as the tears flowed during my teacher training and continued studies. I found the study of the chakras, the seven main physical, emotional, and spiritual energy centers to meet my mourning in a way that opened a passageway for me.
I joined a local hospice support group for “grief writing.” What color was my grief? What animal was my grief? I wrote letters to my beloveds. The others in my group were as deeply grieving as I was. They were also deeply bent over, stiffened by their grief, congested, and unmoving. I spontaneously encouraged the group to gently move in their chairs and breathe with consciousness. They felt better!
Much to my surprise, I was then asked to lead a class of yoga to “heal” grieving. I said that there was no healing to our grief; we needed to learn how to live with our losses. I was then inspired to share what I have learned and continue to learn about the truly never-ending grieving process.
Grief is such an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual roller coaster that our grief can easily become congested in our physical bodies. The chakras provide a many-layered framework for exploring where our grief is held, what areas of our physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies are congested with grief, and how to balance what we can uncover as an excess, or deficiency.
Each of our chakras offers information on the emotional impact and physical manifestation of our grief, and the spiritual awakenings from our grief:
Root chakra: I am.
When I feel ungrounded, unsafe, and untrusting I look into my root chakra, my mudlahara. I find I can put myself on the earth, breathe into my root, and practice gentle yoga that focuses on my feet, legs, perineum, and lower spine. I can breathe into that space, say affirmations that I am safe, and have all my basic needs for survival met.
I visualize the color red, hold my hands in a configuration, a mudra, that connects me to the earth—such as Chin Mudra, which is referred to as a gesture of consciousness.
The shadow side is fear that my safety and security are threatened. How can I feel safe when the people that were my foundation are no longer physically present? Awareness of what gives me stability is what gives me the strength to live with my losses.
Sacral chakra: I feel.
In svadhishthana chakra, my grief is the deep loss of connection both to those recently deceased and all the loved ones who have passed before. If my hips, lower spine, or lower belly become uncomfortable, I know my flow is congested.
I meet this water element by moving in gentle yoga, taking a walk, taking a bath, and being aware that this orange chakra is a center of pleasure. I hold my hands as a bucket at my lower belly.
The shadow of svadhishthana comes from the guilt that I am experiencing pleasure while I am grieving. We move through our grief, not around it—or pretend to avoid it, which never works. I allow the flow of my emotions to release my grief.
Solar plexus: I do.
Just above the belly button is manipura, our energy of self-esteem, self-motivation, and claiming our place in the world. In our grief, we cannot do; we are not motivated.
Our tears can douse the fire of this third chakra. Just doing the little things can ignite a sense of who we are now—in this new form, without our loved ones. The color of manipura is yellow for fire; the light that can shine on our way out of this darkness.
The shadow of shame that we are not who we think we need to be drags us away from our presence. Our grief resides in our alchemy of change, our fire.
Heart: I love.
Our heart chakra, anahata, is in the center of our chest where we are heartbroken and our hearts ache from grief. When we feel lost and unloved, the practice of self-love and self-compassion is vital.
The green color represents growth; so being in nature provides the opportunity to see all things are born and all things die. We are part of the cycle. We can become open-hearted in our grief by being as compassionate and loving as much as we can, both to ourselves and to others.
The shadow side of anahata is grief. This we know.
Throat: I speak.
Our creativity is how we communicate, whatever that looks like in this chakra, visuddha. From simply making a cup of coffee to creating a museum painting is the same in terms of creating something.
A sore throat, a stiff neck, or pain in our jaw, can be our body telling us we need to speak, to communicate our truth.
Our throat chakra energy, visuddha, is sound. Our grief needs to be spoken of, to be acknowledged, to those who can hear and listen. This blue chakra of sound represents the courage to express ourselves authentically.
The shadow side of visuddha is lies. Telling ourselves and the world the truth brings ease to our throats in our grief.
Third eye: I know.
Between and just above our brows is our third eye, known as ajna, where our intuition, insight, and the light of knowing resides.
In our grief, we can get headaches or vision problems. Sitting in meditation and listening to our inner voice can bring comfort. Maybe we “know” that our loved ones are nearby. As my best friend was dying, she told me that the “veil is very thin.” I believe this is our third eye, our knowing.
The element of anja is light, we see out with our two eyes and see inward through our third eye.
The shadow side is illusion, not seeing clearly but holding an illusion that just isn’t so. The illusions that our relationship with those who have passed were perfect or that they are coming back are haunting.
We intuitively know how to grieve when we intentionally listen to our true inner voice.
The crown: I understand.
Just above our heads, like a halo, is sahasrāra, the center of spirit, enlightenment, wisdom, universal consciousness, and connection to higher guidance. This white light brings us to the divine energy where the spirits of our loved ones reside.
In our grief, we pray, and ask, “Why?” We meditate to listen. We seek solace in our loss in our crown chakra. We can experience nightmares or hallucinations.
The shadow side is disconnection or separation. We are all one. While our own grief is like no other, all of our grief is universal.
The synergy of my passion for the study and practice of yoga and the chakras, the journey of grief from the passing of my loved ones, life’s many transitions, and my desire (Divine intervention?) to help others led to my creating “Yoga for Living with Loss” as a style of practice.
Through a variety of breathing practices, gentle yoga movements, a deeper understanding of how our bodies react to grief, an examination of our specific chakras, meditation, and our need for connection to others, this practice helps us to navigate our losses without getting lost.