Yoga for Grief and Healing

Grief can be defined as our reaction to a loss, whether it be life, heart-break, empty-nest, or any unexpected life change. If you watch television or listen to the news, you know the images and events that we have seen all too often, are now part of our daily tapestry.

We sometimes store these events away in our physical or energetic body, run from them, avoid them completely, or numb them away. I believe the only way to get to the other side, is thru.

I do not believe there is any one correct way to grieve, but I do know the effects of not allowing yourself the opportunity to feel what you feel. I always remember the simple words of my teacher, after bringing up tears I had been holding back for nearly a decade, “Better out than in”.

According to Eastern medicine, we hold Grief in our lungs. So this series is the opportunity to slow down and breathe into whatever you are sitting with. I also think this season, or any season for that matter, is a good time to give yourself extra attention. You deserve it! After-all when we honor our needs, we are more available for those we love.

There is no one way to do anything. But I’m starting to believe it takes support, a safe place, and the willingness and courage to dive inside.

The Benefits of Singing Bowls and Sound Therapy

The first time that I heard a Tibetan Singing Bowl, the sound enveloped me. The undertones gradually changed into undulating overtones.  I began to want to know more about the Tibetan/ Himalayan singing bowls, so I found Jodie Roberts, a Shaman and sound healer, and started studying with her. I acquired bowls of my own and began learning how to play.  Eventually I began studying with Suren Shestha a Tibetan sound healer from Boulder, CO, using  techniques that were commonly used hundreds of years ago. After some time with Suren I decided to continue studying, practicing and going to trainings and workshops in England and Nebraska. I like to say that I am always a student learning more all the time.

I truly cannot express enough how healing the sounds of these instruments are.  Because of the power of these healing tools, I use sound in all my classes and do private sessions at my home, incorporating gongs, chimes, drums, conch horns, rattlers and flutes in sound concerts.

There are so many benefits of Tibetan Singing Bowls:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety significantly

  • Lower anger and blood pressure

  • Improve circulation and increases blood flow

  • Deep relaxation and pain relief

  • Chakra balancing

  • Increase mental and emotional clarity

  • Promote stillness, happiness and well being. Stimulate the immune system.

  • Aid the immune system and fibromyalgia and psoriasis in individuals that meditate

Perception, Body Dysmorphia and Sensation

As human beings, we have the unique capacity to accept our perceptions as truth. But if we really pay attention, we often learn that our perceptions are, in fact, pretty far off from the truth. Being with what “is” can be painful and our perception of discomfort or pain turns into a story: “I have tight hips, I’m not flexible, I’m not good at yoga, I shouldn’t be here, I hate this body, the girl next to me has a perfect body, I wish I had a different body, I need to go deeper so I become more flexible, etc.”

This is a common example of cyclical negative thinking. These thoughts are not only self-loathing and dysmorphic in nature, but they take us out of our body and away from the momentary experience, and often cause us to go beyond our physical capacity. In other words, this is a great way to get hurt.

Sensation can come in handy in these  cases, but here’s the catch: in order to really notice sensation, we have to pay attention. When we pay attention, we begin to see that not everything in us is as broken as we perceive.

The, “I have tight hips,” story becomes, “I feel intense sensation in my outer right hip. This is uncomfortable. Can I sustain this? Can I sit with this? Can I breathe?” The experience is no longer about the hip. The experience is now about the momentary experience of, “What does this feel like?”

Understanding that pain and discomfort are normal human experiences, and that we have the capacity to be with pain, is hugely empowering for many people. It can pave the way for us to heal emotionally and physically.

Here’s the kicker: We can’t really ever get rid of these thoughts. Body Dysmorphia feels very real. Losing a loved one is incredibly painful. A broken heart leaves us shattered and terrified of loving anyone new. These are all legitimate and painful human experiences.

But what if it’s all just sensation? What if we could notice a broken heart just as we would sensation in the outer hip during an asana practice? What if we took it even a step further and noticed that when a certain emotion came up, it was almost always accompanied by a dysmorphic thought about this body?

The dysmorphic thought is our perception and we work on guiding our mind into the sensation. What does this feel like? So we can notice and then we ask ourselves: “I’m noticing that I am sad. I am also noticing that I feel terrible about my belly today. It looks swollen and bloated. ” And then we go there, where it’s uncomfortable: “There is sensation in my belly that I don’t want to feel. I feel sad and there is sensation in my belly. Can I sit with this and reathe?”

More often than not, the sensation will override the negative thought. From there, the work is to sit with the sensation and then the mind wanders again, so we guide it back — Again and again and again. That’s meditation.

Equanimity and Grace Under Pressure

I find myself sitting here, racking my brain in an attempt to write a clever blog post, but my brain is recounting the fight I just had with my husband about not having enough space in our kitchen (my kitchen is fairly spacious – it was absurd) and putting my screaming toddler down for a nap for the second time within an hour.

My brain is racing. How can I find the clarity to write anything intelligible? I need to do yoga. I don’t have time for yoga. Oh right, Nadi Shodhana.

So I practiced Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing – twelve rounds, maybe two minutes, and I find a little bit of space and clarity.

I always considered myself to be a decent writer. I even had a short story published in a college publication when I was in high school. This was before the internet, so it took a little bit more effort back in those days to get yourself published. I’m dating myself, I know. My verbal skills were a different story, though.

I was self-conscious to a fault, especially under pressure or adversity. Let’s just say I didn’t always leave the best impression when it was most important for me to make an impression. You really didn’t want to see me get mad. I was a blithering, red-faced, crying mess. This pretty much led me to avoid confrontation as much as possible.

When I was younger, I participated in various performing arts, and I struggled with stage fright. Sometimes it was debilitating. I remember a time I was asked to play piano for a sweet group of older women who were in a fine arts group. I had played the song a hundred times, but I froze, and my fingers would not work.

As the kind ladies nudged me to relax, I was sweating and short of breath. This was probably one of the least threatening situations for a performance ever, and my nervous system betrayed me! I pretty much gave it all up once I was done with college. What sweet relief it was to not have to worry about stage fright any more!

I suppose it’s not that surprising that I discovered life requires those things of you. That’s the path to adulthood, right? I found myself interviewing for jobs and giving presentations at work, and that familiar fear would creep up and sometimes screw me up.

While I’ve always prided myself on my writing skills, today I find myself struggling to write effectively. When I have the time to write, I realize the space in my brain that used to store grammar rules and spelling skills has been fogged with worries and emotions and to-do lists mostly pertaining to the needs of my family. Not only do I struggle to find the time, but my brain is ever-fuddled with the duties of motherhood.

You’re probably wondering, how does ANY of this relate to yoga? Well, let me share with you some secrets that I’ve learned.

Somewhere along the path to the present, I found myself in yoga teacher training, and I began to discover how much yoga goes beyond the mat. There was someone in my life at the time, with whom my relationship and communication skills were REALLY conflicted. It wasn’t someone I could really write out of my life at that moment. I struggled daily and dealt with the awful emotions of bitterness and hate, and it took a serious toll on my life and well-being.

My teacher training had just begun, and I began to study the relationship and consider different tools that might help me get out of it. I learned about Bhakti Yoga, the practice of loving every being unconditionally. I thought maybe it would help me in my life, so that’s what I did. I didn’t say or do anything differently.

I shifted my thoughts toward that person and began to open my heart. Initially, it was exceedingly difficult, but once I got over the hump, I began to have empathy and truly see into this person’s heart. I saw myself there, and I realized I needed to practice love and compassion and forgiveness toward myself, as well. And then guess what? Everything got easier. The way my life began to shift was amazing. Love made everything better. Love was the answer.

Not to get too far off track on the topic of love – I was still battling this issue of stage fright, and I was studying a profession in which I would be speaking in front of people ALL OF THE TIME. What was I thinking?! I had much self-doubt about being a yoga teacher, and honestly, even after 6 years, I still often do. What I realized is that the tools I was learning to teach were the tools to help me overcome stage fright and communicate more effectively.

Instead of being paralyzed from fear of doing things the wrong way, I learned to forgive myself when I made a mistake and knew that it was all part of my path, and someone would learn from it. Maybe me. Maybe someone else.

I learned to practice mindfulness. I learned tools to help me relax and be present and find space within conversation so I could act rather than react. I learned the psychology of asana and pranayama and how they affect so much more than your body. I still learn beautiful new things through the practice of yoga every day.

Most importantly, I’m learning not to run from confrontation but to sit with the discomfort and pain that life has to offer, knowing that life can be deeply satisfying when you acknowledge both lightness and darkness.

Yoga enhanced my communication skills, and my goal as a teacher is to share these tools with students so they, too, can communicate more effectively and find equanimity and grace under pressure. Join me in my upcoming Yoga and Communication workshops so we can explore and enjoy life and all it has to offer!

Mealtime Mindfulness

What if I told you that with a few simple adjustments to meals, your food can not only taste better, be gentler on your system, but also help you feel full and nourished faster? These minor changes also lead to saving money on groceries and feeling healthier. It’s true and it’s easy.

Here’s the deal. When you eat without being present, your body cannot properly digest because it feels stressed. For example, when you scarf down a breakfast taco over your laptop at work because you were running late, you’re not going to get much out of that meal.

Digestion occurs when your nervous system is in a relaxed mode, that is to say, you are operating from a Parasympathetic State. When you’re stressed or feel rushed, you are in the sympathetic state and energy is sent to the muscles to allow for fight or flight.   All energy is diverted from digestion and sent to your muscles and cardiovascular system.

When you eat while stressed or rushed, food is not broken down because of a decrease in stomach acid, leading to gas, bloating, cramping and stomach pains. When in stress-mode and unable to properly digest food, it doesn’t matter if you are eating the healthiest of foods. You will still be losing out on those important nutrients because you just can’t absorb them.

There is a drastic difference between being full and being nourished because we are not what we eatwe are what we digest.

Just as is practiced in yoga and meditation, mindfulness, presence, awareness or however you call it is extremely beneficial when applied at mealtimes. You activate the parasympathetic nervous system & turn on that digestive fire when you take the time to be present with your meal.


Here are some simple tips for moving into a more relaxed state before and while eating, or as I like to call it, Mealtime Mindfulness:

*CREATE THE SPACE

-Turn off the television. Put away phones and computers.

-Clear the table of bills, homework, unnecessary clutter or distractions.

-Use your fancy/fun dishware.  If it’s for special occasions, you did wake up this morning and that is always cause for celebration!

*SET YOUR INTENTION

-Sit down, take 3 deep breaths. Long deep breathing is a quick way to turn on your relaxation response.

-Ask yourself, what do you want from this meal? How do you want to be nourished? Set the intention of what you want to take in.

-Give gratitude or say a prayer.

*SLOW DOWN

-Chew: when you chew your food properly, your body releases digestive enzymes in the stomach that help to break down food.

-Do not multitask if at all possible

-Eat with your hands. Yep, eat with your hands. It’s much harder to type while your hands are holding food. Touch is a powerful sensory tool and when we eat our hands, the brain signals our stomach that we are about to eat, we relax & assimilate more nutrients from our food.

*SHARE

-Schedule meals with friends and family to give everyone time to adjust any scheduling conflicts. Aim for having a shared meal at least twice a week.

-Prepare food together if possible. Potlucks are great and family-style meals (passing food to each other) are a powerful way to give and feel nourished