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Experiencing the Grief Physically
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Sometimes my grief seems like a knot at the base of my throat, like something pressing up from deep inside, wanting to escape. I scream when it occurs. Hard. Loud. Sometimes I shriek Tom’s name, and other times I simply scream like a beast, letting it go. For a brief while, the wail brings some comfort, shaking the lump away. A deep breath and the rest of my day follows. It’s shocking how physically intense grief can be. In our bodies, it manifests itself in a variety of ways.
Simply put, it’s a drain on one’s energy. Processing the changes in our reality requires a lot of mental work, and we end up hauling about a lot of energy. We may find it difficult to sleep, or we may be unable to sleep at all. We may not be able to eat for a while. When I was suffering the worst, I discovered that no amount of sweets or carbohydrates could ever satisfy my cravings.
Researchers are researching ways that grief affects our immune system. Our skin or hair may become problematic. People who have just lost a loved one are at a greater risk of dying during the first 24 hours after their death, according to research. For those who don’t have heart attacks, they could imagine they do.
“Broken-heart syndrome” (takotsubo cardiomyopathy) is a condition in which chest discomfort and shortness of breath are mistaken for the symptoms of an actual heart attack. In the aftermath of a stressful experience, the left ventricle, the heart’s primary pumping chamber, weakens temporarily, albeit no one knows why (and it only affects women). Within a month, the majority of folks are back to normal.
That being said, we do ourselves an injustice if we don’t take into account the bodily effects of grief while working to recover.
With his program and book Healing Through Yoga: Transform Loss into Empowerment, Paul Denniston set out to help individuals physically release emotional suffering by creating Grief Yoga.
As a child, Denniston was raised by devout Christians who forbade him from expressing his feelings openly.
“If we were experiencing despair or anger, we were instructed to pass it over to God, to pray it away,” he said in an interview. But he also observed his father store up emotions such as wrath, until “suddenly, they would burst, and be terrible to behold.”
Denniston, for his part, saw comparable traits in himself. A bullied youngster, he claimed, “There would be moments I couldn’t take it anymore and would strike back. Because of the intensity of my rage, it terrified me and caused damage to others around me.”
With age came the use of drugs and alcohol as a way to dull his senses. When he was 27 years old, he went to his first yoga class. “I recognized that the repressed feelings I had been attempting to run away from were really all within me.” The practice of yoga opened my eyes.
Denniston went on to get qualified to teach numerous yoga styles, including Hatha, Kundalini, and Vinyasa flow. He also served as a dance instructor at the acclaimed Stella Adler Studio for Actors. According to him, “my objective was to assist actors to become more expressive in ways that established stronger ties with themselves and their co-actors.”
In spite of this, when an accident left him physically and mentally damaged, he recognized, “I was still trying everything I could to numb off the sensations of loss and rage.” And this, combined with the death of a sister and stepson, inspired what finally became Grief Yoga. As one student put it, “I learned how to tailor an exercise to the needs of someone who was experiencing some internal fractures, both physically and emotionally.”
Release via breath, movement, and sound
Grief Yoga is accessible to any and all—no pretzel postures needed, and it may be done either sitting in a chair or on a mat. (Denniston’s book includes with access to online Grief Yoga videos to help you started, and he has an online community called Spark that gives a free first session.) As with other types of yoga, it starts with the breath. Denniston said, “When we breathe deeply, it permits us to feel profoundly.” “We’re not bypassing suffering, we’re not going around it. As fuel, we’re burning through it in a manner that empowers us to let it go.
As a long-time yogi, I discovered familiar positions like downward-facing dog and cat-cow in Grief Yoga, but this is less of a conventional kind of yoga and more of a metaphorical movement practice.
In areas where we are prone to becoming stuck, such as wrath and regret, Denniston altered the technique. “Grief is as distinctive as our fingerprint…everybody holds grief differently. They feel it in their backs, their hearts, and their throats, making it difficult for them to convey what they need and desire. You can’t get rid of it because it becomes stuck in your thoughts, causing restless evenings spent worrying about a future that seems bleak or dwelling on the past. A person’s jaw or stomach might be affected by their grief, which is why they grind their teeth at night. The hips are a storage area for a great deal of repressed emotion. Sometimes folks even remark of pain in their feet—their foundation has been shaken and it’s hard for them to walk and go forward.”
Sessions start with quiet dance and breathwork before things grow noisier and immersed in metaphor. With your arms raised high, you cry out: “Why, why, WHY?” You’ve broken free from the bonds of the past. (Once I get over feeling like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof kvetching to God, that one works for me.) After that, you may relax by giving yourself hugs and meditating on loving compassion.
There are a plethora of ways in which grief presents itself, and its physical affects are likely the most startling to many people before we enter its dark tunnel. Any form of physical exercise may help push you through to the other side of a grief wave, but Grief Yoga is primarily focused on helping us experience the pain, release the suffering, and build the emotional strength for whatever will come next in our life.
Grief is a drain on one’s energy; processing the changes in our reality requires a lot of mental work. We do ourselves an injustice if we don’t take into account the bodily effects of grief while working to recover. Paul Denniston helps individuals physically release emotional suffering by creating Grief Yoga. It’s the result of the death of a sister and stepson as well as Denniston’s own struggles with coping with grief. As with other types of yoga, it starts with the breath and allows us to feel profoundly.
Grief Yoga is primarily focused on helping us experience the pain, release the suffering, and build the emotional strength for whatever will come next in our life. Sessions start with quiet dance and breathwork before things grow noisier and immersed in metaphor. Any form of physical exercise may help push you through to the other side of a grief wave.
In order to maintain a healthy relationship, one must respect the other’s boundaries and listen attentively. Coercive tactics include questioning one’s character, ignoring boundaries, promoting guilt, and imposing one’s own reality on others. Expert manipulators switch between deification and vilification at will. When dealing with psychologically manipulative persons, the most essential rule is to assert our human rights when they are being infringed. Each of us has a basic human right to live our lives as we want, unencumbered by the demands of others.
This includes the freedom to define our own priorities and to say “no”. Manipulation aims to take advantage of both our weaknesses and our strengths. Each of us has a basic human right to live our lives as we want, unencumbered by the demands of others. This includes the freedom to define our own priorities and to say “no”.
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