We know intellectually that all of us at sometime in our lives suffer loss and the trauma that ensues. When this happens, our entire being experiences grief. Our mind and heart, as well as the cells and systems of our body respond to loss. Physical symptoms may include headaches, insomnia, digestive problems, a feeling of heaviness, fatigue, and depletion. Mentally we may have difficulty thinking clearly, making decisions, and remembering things. Emotionally, we may feel anguished, anxious, depressed, powerless, or angry. Spiritually, we may sense a loss of meaning or purpose in our lives.
So how can yoga help us to heal?
Yoga sees healing as “a change in mind, in perception, in attitude” so that “mental, emotional, and physical suffering are alleviated,” and the person’s quality of life improves.1 One reason yoga is effective in healing is because of its holistic vision of the human system. Everything is interconnected.
Try this experiment. Stand with your hands resting on your heart; slowly open your arms out to the side as you breathe in; slowly bring your hands back to the heart as you breathe out. Do this 4 or 5 times. Then mentally focus on the word “peace” as you breathe in and open your arms; focus on the words “in my body,” as you breathe out and bring your hands back to the heart. Next, mentally focus on the word “peace” as you breathe in and open your arms; focus on the words “in my mind” as you breathe out and bring your hands back to the heart. Finally, focus on “peace” as you breathe in and open the arms; focus on “in my heart,” as you breathe out and bring the hands back to the heart. Repeat this series with your mental focus on the words two more times.
Now sit down in a chair and take a minute or two to notice – without making any judgments – how you feel. Does your body feel more relaxed? Is your breath slower? Is your mind quieter? Do you notice any sense of peace emotionally, even a twinge?
Another way in which yoga encourages healing is in the practice of observation and acceptance. Yoga develops our awareness by requiring us to observe the effects of what we do in our practice, just as you did in the exercise above. Our observation is without judgment. It is a training in learning about ourselves, and accepting where we are at a particular moment in time. This practice of non-judgmental observation and acceptance prepares us to deal with change, and our struggle to accept our loss.
The vision yoga gives us of our human system and the practices it gives us to touch all dimensions of our being with awareness and acceptance empower us to begin our journey from suffering to healing.
If you or someone you know is grieving the loss of a loved one and would like to explore the healing potential of yoga, please contact me. A five week “Yoga for Life, support for those who are grieving” session begins Thursday, September 5th.
1 Desikachar, Kausthub. “The Yoga of Healing: Exploring Yoga’s Holistic Model for Health and Well-being.” International Journal of Yoga Therapy. No. 15 (2005) 17.