Letting Go of Grief with Yoga.
By Lauren Walker
Letting go is the hardest thing to do.
My mother has a joke (at least I take it as a joke!) in which she says, “Here, take this pencil. Now try to let it go. You can’t. You either open your hand and let the pencil drop, or you keep your hand closed around it. There is no trying.“
But when it comes to our emotions, feelings, attitudes, ideas and opinions, it doesn’t seem as cut and dry as that.
As Fall starts to take over, turning the leaves yellow and red and orange, setting out frosts that kill the bugs and the rest of the gardens’ bounty, we have an opportunity to learn this valuable lesson again. Autumn is the time of letting go.
It is the end of another season of growth, the end of another long and vibrant and energetic summer.
The hardest thing to let go of, generally, is grief. This is not just our own personal grief over lost love, or lost loved ones, but our grief over the condition of the world and the frustration at our seeming inability to fix the myriad problems facing humanity. This grief is carried in the lungs.
It makes sense that the lungs, whose function is both inspiration (the inhaled breath) and expiration (the exhaled breath), is responsible for grief. We are both inspired and we die, with the breath itself.
Martin Prechtel, in his wonderful teachings on grief, talks about the need to both grieve and praise for what we deeply love and have lost.
It isn’t enough to simply mourn, we must also exult in what we had, affirming to the Universe our intense love and devotion for what we have lost, proving, in the height of our praise, and the depth of our grief, the value of our experience.
I’ve learned and practiced many exercises over the years to help release grief and sadness from my life, and one of the most powerful that I’ve found, as well as one of the simplest, comes from Energy Medicine (as taught by Energy Medicine founder, Donna Eden).
Each organ has a sound associated with it, and the sound for releasing excess energy, or grief, from the lungs is a sustained sssssssssss.
This sound has many functions. Physiologically, it releases excess CO2 from the blood by slowing down and aspirating the exhale. It also calms the nervous system by limiting the amount of air being released and contracting the diaphragm.
Cross your hands over your lungs to hold important lung points, helping to keep the blood flowing and energy moving through this organ of deep cleansing. Hold your hands here as you exhale, sssssssssss. The lungs, along with the large intestine are the organs of release, clearing the body of toxins.
And grief held on to, becomes toxic.
A way to deepen this pose, and its power of releasing grief, is to add a simple backbend. While standing in Tadasana, simply lift up the heart and take a slight backbend in the upper back, at the same time, let the arms and hands drift back behind you at waist level.
This gentle opening of the heart allows you to actually experience the feeling of surrender. You can do this backbend two or three times, each time lifting your arms up slightly, to your chest level, and then ultimately over your head.
On each exhale, you’re speaking the sssssssssss sound and rounding your hands forward in front of your body to almost touch, but not quite, until the last time, when you cover your hands over your lungs, hugging yourself.
Put your mental focus on the grief you feel as well as the love you feel for what you have lost. As you bend backward, allow yourself to physically let go of that pain as well as the lost joy that you are holding on to.
You’re starting to release that feeling that you could control things, that you could have done something different to change the outcome. Allow yourself to surrender to the idea that there are forces in the universe at work, beyond your control.
Allow yourself to understand that you are not responsible for everything. And let go. Exhaling the sssssssssss sound facilitates this feeling so that it is not only in your head, but in your heart. It is through the heart that we heal. Back-bending is a very powerful and vulnerable thing to do.
To open up your heart like this, to allow yourself to feel deeply, knowing that you will one day lose what you care so much about, is the very pulse of life itself.
Bend back, open your heart, bend forward, cradle your own body with your arms and go sssssssssss. If the tears come, let them.
Allow yourself to feel the pulse of life, and trust that both grief and joy will come along again, and that you will be stronger and more powerful as you learn to both feel, and release these challenging emotions.
Lauren Walker is a teaching assistant for Donna Eden, as well as a certified energy medicine practitioner and a senior student of Para Yoga creator Rod Stryker. She is the author of the new book, Energy Medicine Yoga: Amplify the Healing Power of Your Yoga Practice (Sounds True, October 2014). Lauren started the Yoga program at Norwich University and now teaches Energy Medicine yoga internationally. She lives in Montana. You could contact Lauren via her website, Facebook or Twitter.