Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Healing After Loss: How Yoga, Meditation and Community Helped Me Grow Through Grief

by Heidi Haskell, CSOY alum, Boulder 2016





I’ve never felt more supported by community in my life than during a yoga teacher training. To go through such an intensive experience, with everyone taking time out of their lives to become more educated teachers and human beings, just builds incredible connections.


I was especially grateful for those connections during my third month of training, when I received a gut-wrenching phone call that my dad had passed away. I found out the night before a long weekend of teacher training. I knew it was going to be a rough weekend for me, so I wrote a Facebook message to the training group, letting them know in advance.  


Showing up to training that weekend, while grieving, taught me a lot about myself, the power of community, and really emphasized how yoga and meditation can provide comfort during such a painful time.

Closing Off Is Not the Only Option

I showed up to training, bright and early the next morning, swollen eyes, red nose and all. Everyone stopped what they were doing when I walked in, greeted me, and let me know I had their full support.

This was a new experience for me. I’m so used to shutting down and closing off my heart when something painful happens. I can very easily go into Stepford wife mode in order to function. I also do this to prevent myself from appearing vulnerable to others. It’s not easy for me to let people know I’m hurting.

Thankfully, with the support of this group, that didn’t have to happen. I felt safe to keep my heart open and fully experience and express how I was dealing with this sudden news. There’s also nothing like getting 20+ hugs and authentic “How Are You’s” every day, when you need it the most.



The Power Of “How Are You?”

Most of us say “How Are you?”, so casually, without thinking, and without actually caring what the answer is. I feel that the power of an authentic “How are you?” is often undervalued, and this training experience really drove that point home for me. Because they knew what I was going through, I experienced 20+ people asking me “How are you?”, at various times, and they actually cared what my answer was.

When they asked, it reminded me of the fact that I had been momentarily pushing some emotion down that needed to move and be processed.  It encouraged me to check in with myself, and answer honestly, with the support to fully feel what I was feeling. That’s incredibly empowering and healing. It’s really fascinating to me that even though I was in a great deal of pain, I still had never felt my heart so open before. I can completely attribute that to the love and support of the group since I was not expected to hide my emotions from them.

In addition to the support of this community, I also found refuge in tools that helped me to process things on my own as well.



Yoga

Yoga has helped me through many tough times in my life. Physically moving and strengthening my body helps me to feel more empowered, release emotion, as well as strengthen my ability to stay present with challenging asanas/situations. As you can expect, being immersed in yoga teacher training at the time of my father’s death was incredibly convenient.

When something painful happens, it’s very common to want to curl up in a ball, under 20 pounds of blankets, and not move for days. I know that’s how I felt when my dad passed. It’s counterintuitive and incredibly scary to ask yourself to open up when you’re feeling like that. One of the best ways to help your brain understand that you are in your power and that it’s okay to stay open during that time is to move your body.

There’s a great Ted Talk from Amy Cuddy that talks about the power your body has over your mental/emotional state. She explains how having an open body expression for just a few minutes can actually increase your sense of empowerment and wellbeing. Can you imagine what a full hour or more of yoga can do for you?

The toughest part about doing yoga while grieving, for me, is getting myself to just show up. When I don’t feel enough inner momentum to leave the house and go to class, I just keep reminding myself of how I will feel after and that usually gets me there.

Once I start moving in class, I immediately notice changes in how I feel. It’s not that yoga takes away the heaviness of what I’m feeling, but instead, it helps me see things I’m struggling with from a different perspective - all from just moving and intentionally breathing.



Meditation

Meditation was another powerful tool for me while I was grieving. The teacher training had helped strengthen my home meditation practice, which thankfully became a routine for me by the time of my dad’s passing.

When fear, anger, and sadness became its strongest, or when I felt like I wanted to close off my heart the most, I found ease in meditation. Sitting still and being present with the full spectrum of my emotions helped me to not resist them. It also helped decrease the strength those negative emotions had over me. Instead, they were able to move through me as I acknowledged them.  

I really like Gina Caputo’s metaphor about meditation, that it’s like sitting in a poopy diaper - because that’s exactly what it feels like. Being present and fully feeling icky, terrible things is not something that’s easy to do, but it’s really one of the best ways you can prevent yourself from getting stuck in whatever you are feeling. Meditation increases your capacity to sit with what is uncomfortable, not react to it, and move on from it.



Moving Through Grief Is Work - But It’s Worth It!

When something painful happens, it’s like someone picked you up and dropped you off in some wilderness, on the other side of the earth, and you’ve got to find your way back home. There are many ways to get there, and you’ve got to find what works best for you. No matter which way you choose, whether it be meditation, yoga, or something else - it takes consistent dedication to showing up and walking through the mud in order to make it to the other side. It’s an unpleasant yet powerful opportunity to explore all sides of yourself with curiosity.  Eventually you’ll make it through, and you’ll be much wiser for it.

I could have chosen to take the weekend of my father’s passing off from teacher training, and make it up another time. I showed up because this training and being with this group of people fed my soul to do so. I’m forever grateful to this group, to our teachers, as well as my own family for skillfully holding space for me when I needed it the most, making me feel incredibly welcome to show my vulnerability, and supporting me fully during that time. , family, community, yoga and meditation all gave me the support and tools I needed to make it through with an open heart.




As an RYT-500, Heidi has a deep passion for bringing people together. She sees yoga as a tool to help break down barriers to connection, both with yourself and with others, facilitating playfulness, creativity, and strengthening your sense of calm.

With studies in voice, theatre, and psychology, you’ll find an influence of each in Heidi’s classes, as well as an anatomical approach to sequencing.

Heidi has studied with and is greatly influenced by teachers Gina Caputo, Caitlin Rose Kenney, Amy Baker, Keri Bergeron, Cheryl Deer, Kate Mulheron, Pam Sammartino, Christine Raffa, and Debbie Valois.