The Yoga of Grief

I fully intended to write a positive and uplifting post about my introduction to and subsequent infatuation with yoga, but just as yoga isn’t all bendiness and enlightenment, life isn’t all peaches and cream.  Lately, it’s been full of grief and heartache, betrayal and rejection.  Don’t get me wrong.  On the whole, I have a beautiful life, and I’m grateful for what I have.  But all those positives are sometimes difficult to remember when jarring and unwanted negativity comes creeping in.

Lately, it appears that just when things are going smoothly, something seemingly catastrophic comes barging in to rain on my parade.  Am I being overdramatic?  Perhaps.  However, I have some pretty reliable and ancient sources backing me on the whole suffering thing.

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is dukkha, or suffering.  Inevitably, somewhere along life’s paths, we all encounter something that causes us pain.  This would be a pretty dreary philosophy if not for the understanding that dukkha is caused merely by attachment, and that man can break free from that attachment.  We can take a page from Eckhart Tolle’s book(s) and view suffering as a path to the destruction of the ego.  Or, we can go all sports psychology and insist that pain is weakness leaving the body. Either way, there are methods for relieving suffering, and this is a good thing.

That’s where yoga comes in.  Yoga’s focus on breathing, presence, and
acceptance can go a long way towards alleviating suffering and kick starting the grieving process.  For the past few days, I have craved time on my mat, and I’ve let yoga be both an escape and a release, a place to forget and a place to remember. Other than the love of my husband and children, it’s been the only thing that has helped ease what has sometimes seemed like a mountain of emotional pain.  I’ve focused on gentle backbends (Bridge, Cobra, Locust), anything that will open my heart and lead towards acceptance, and hopefully, eventually, healing.  As I settled into Savasana in my most recent practice, I truly focused in on being supported by the earth, of knowing that I’m in good hands, both physically and spiritually.  I breathed and let go.  And suddenly, life was good again.

I’ve recently discovered the writings of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, and her philosophies about the ups and downs of life make a whole lot of sense to me. In essence, she states in order to fully embrace the positive aspects of ourselves, we must also recognize the negative.  On the same token, if we are to appreciate the goodness in our lives, we must acknowledge the bad as well.  These may seem like “well duh” statements, but they’re incredibly difficult to apply to daily life.  We all want to increase the positive and decrease the negative, even to the point of desiring perfection.  I’ve experienced this same longing for perfection recently, saying to myself, “If only this or that wouldn’t happen, then my life would be perfect.”  Really?  Is my happiness really dependent on perfection?  If so, I’ve got a whole lot of unhappiness coming my way.  And if I did somehow miraculously achieve perfection, would I really want it?  Probably not.  I have the sneaking suspicion that perfection is boring…

4 thoughts on “The Yoga of Grief

  1. i think that’s how the path is characterized for everyone. things go well, things go horribly, periods of peace, periods of your mind attacking you from every which way…. all within the space of a week or a month. the path of meditation isn’t a peaceful one for anyone, its characterized by struggle. people often thing that once they start meditating, they should feel at peace all the time and if they dont, theyre doing something wrong. well id say its exactly the opposite. if youre not struggling, youre not growing. feeling bad isnt the problem, how you relate and react to those feelings is the practice.

    glad you found pema! i absolutely love love love her teaching. im currently abroad so im far removed from any community or teacher (that can speak english at least), but pema has been my lifeline. ive downloaded every single audio book and recorded dharma talks of hers i could find and have been listening to them everyday before or after my meditations.

    if youre interested, i really really recommend “how to meditate” by pema. ive been practicing for 7 years now but still learned and grew so much from the “basic” instructions on this cd.

    best of luck to you!

  2. Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. I think that sometimes I expect everything to always go smoothly, since frankly, that’s the way things usually go. And when things get turned upsidedown, I’m left wondering whatr went wrong. Most of the time, nothing went wrong. I just have to remember the Zen saying that whether things are going well or thing are going poorly, “It will pass.” And thanks for the Pema suggestion. I’ll defnitely be on the lookout for it.

  3. I read this post either this morning or yesterday. I came to your site after you responded to my post today.
    I’ve been practicing asana for 12 years. A couple years ago I fully embraced the eight fold path of raja yoga (ashtanga). I was also greatly influence by Tolle and The Power of Now and A New Earth.
    I feel so blessed because whatever ripples occur in my life I am sure they are minimized.
    I’m going through a second divorce where we have been separated for TWO YEARS and the divorce is still not final. Today I saw my wife’s new boyfriend. I felt like I got punched in the chest when I realized what I was seeing. I stayed calm on the exterior. Felt the pain. And as I was taking care of my daughter at the beach, I wrote a poem about the experience. I’ve been using poetry lately to express my feelings, some good, some fantastic, and some a little sad. As I type these words I am completely content, happy, and I wish my soon to be second ex-wife all the happiness in the world. It feels nice. But at 9:10 this morning PST, my chest took a blow to the heart.
    I just wanted to thank you for your comment and wish you and your family well and offer you encouragement. The practice of yoga has helped me more one with all, peaceful, and compassionate.


  4. Beautiful post. What I love about yoga is that it allows us to take a step back and focus on one breath at a time and detach from everything else for a moment.

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