Yoga doesn't just make you stronger and calmer - it can help you work through grief, too.
How yoga can combat grief
Despite living in an age of constant chatter, the subject of death is still a taboo one. People generally don't want to think about losing a loved one, says Ravi Seshadri, director of the Artistic Yoga brand in the UAE. "But when someone close to you passes away, your body changes on a physical and emotional level - you start secreting hormones associated with loss. However, the spirit of yoga encourages you to deal with feeling sad, lost, angry and so on. Our teachers are trained to tune in to your energy and act as catalysts to you processing rather than suppressing these emotions."
Seshadri explains that besides getting a bendier body, yoga works powerfully on a mental and spiritual level. "During our intense power yoga classes, feel-good hormones like endorphins are released while neurotransmitters called enkephalins act as pain killers. Certain postures (asanas) can alleviate emotional wounds too," explains Seshandri. "The corpse pose (shavasana) is particularly effective because it releases tension in the body and you learn to relax your muscles very quickly. It also creates more self-awareness and is a precursor to the deeper practice of yoga nidra (yogic sleep) that accesses the deepest layers of your psyche to release deeply buried pain."
According to Seshandri, pranayama (breathing techniques that regulate energy flow) is also a powerful tool when it comes to bereavement. "Prana means life force. When you mourn it has a huge impact on your life force. Grief often creates a mental shock and a jam in the flow of your energy. And if this energy isn't unblocked, it can manifest itself as a disease. On a physical level, pranayama increases the oxygen supply to every cell in the body and strengthens the nervous system and also increases your levels of the happy hormone, serotonin, which curbs depression."
"Various bandhas (energy transforming root locks or seals) also help pranic energy flow and control within the body and balance your endocrine system. Overall, they have an analgesic effect which lessens the feelings of loss," says Seshadri.
"Pranayama also sets you up beautifully to use loss as an opportunity to begin a more honest journey in life, by accepting death as a valid inevitability. It's an ideal opportunity to embrace yoga on a more profound level," he says. "With the continual practice of yoga, you develop a capacity to be centred under all circumstances and your relationship with the external world starts changing. You eventually break the cycle of fear surrounding death and then all other stresses in life seem petty."