Ten years ago, I sat isolated at home, stuck in depression after a breakup. I had experienced so many setbacks in life, and this one stopped me in my tracks. The relationship ended because they told me I wasn’t enough. Their words were really a reflection of a belief I had suppressed all my life.
It was hard for me to express my vulnerability. I wasn’t showing anyone how sad I was, because I was never really taught how to deal with loss. I tried to avoid the sadness and isolated myself. I tried to drown out my feelings, but I just kept falling deeper into the hole. I felt broken, physically and emotionally.
When I first arrived in yoga class, my heart was broken. I was overwhelmed with my critical thinking. I was comparing myself to others. I was judging my body. My mind was being cruel. I had taken those thoughts from past relationships, and they had become a running commentary that I was living with every day.
In the compassionate space of my yoga mat space, I recognized my wounds and my patterns. But I also saw my resilience. I felt the hope to heal. I wanted to get better. I wanted to be kinder to myself. The emotions that I had been avoiding all moved through me, and I felt a powerful release that moved me to my core. I began to stretch my wounded areas, both physically and emotionally. And I chose to sit with my heart and love myself in that moment.
I became a yoga teacher because I was deeply moved by this practice. I knew all those unresolved feelings that I had been running away from for decades were stuck in my body. I was holding so many issues in my tissues, and yoga was teaching me to heal. I immersed myself in learning from experts in grief and loss. I studied with David Kessler, William Worden, Elisabeth Kubler Ross, and Marianne Williamson.
I wasn’t taught how to heal heartbreak in my life. I was taught how to avoid it and run away from it. But I saw, in my yoga classes, that if I surrendered to it and let it wash over me, I felt cleansed. I saw that the grief was there to help heal the pain.
This understanding inspired me to create Grief Yoga, using movement, yoga, breath work, and vocalization to transform grief into fuel for healing. By moving into the dark spaces that we avoid, that keep us in suffering, we can express and release the struggle.
One of the areas I witnessed where it’s easy to get stuck is anger. The body remembers all the resentments and hurt. When anger is not discharged, it can become a boiling teapot that eventually explodes, hurting others and ourselves. As a teacher, I want to hold a wounded heart with compassion, but also to help people learn how to consciously channel their anger as another avenue for healing.
When I teach Grief Yoga workshops addressing breakups, divorce, or betrayal, I see that, when a relationship is over, we want to run away from the pain. But, if we go a little deeper and learn from it, the end of a relationship can offer amazing wisdom and lessons that can open us to developing deeper relationships in the future. We can become aware of relationship patterns that no longer serve us, or find healthy ways to release unresolved anger and resentments. But the only way out of the pain is to move through it, and to recognize that it’s okay to show vulnerability in the process.
Grief Yoga isn’t about physical flexibility; it’s about emotional liberation. It offers a compassionate space in which to express and release the struggles that hold us down, and to plant the seeds of a new belief, bringing us back to love.
Paul Denniston is a certified teacher in Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Laughter Yoga, and Let Your Yoga Dance®. He teaches has taught Grief Yoga for bereavement groups, cancer support centers, and addiction groups, and trained more than six thousand therapists, counselors and healthcare professionals around the world. griefyoga.com