My aunt unexpectedly passed a few months ago from a non-COVID related illness. As you can imagine, It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for my family. Unfortunately, grief is a significant part of life and in the COVID-world we live in today, it is at the forefront of our minds as so many people are experiencing grief in some way. Whether it’s due to loss of a loved one due to death or a breakup, or loosing your job or home---it can be extremely devastating.
Grief encompasses our entire being---our mental/emotional being AND our physical bodies. Some days it’s near impossible to function and other days it may be a more “manageable” undercurrent of sadness and anxiety. The grieving process takes time and is unique to everyone. I’m not an expert in grief counseling but I have received some relief through various yoga and mindfulness practices I used during this difficult time. In this blog I will share the practices I embraced and how they supported my healing process of my aunt’s passing in hopes that it provides some solace for you too.
Double-down on Self-Care
My primary advice is to double-down on your self-care and treat yourself with love and compassion. Do the things that will feel nurturing and comforting to you. Some days that will be to stay in bed most of the day----the trauma your body and mind is experiencing is exhausting and rest is clearly an important part of any healing process. After rest, then at some point we need to engage in practices that can help us move through the grieving process. If we don’t process our emotions, this sadness and stress can manifest in other more harmful ways such as depression or disease.
Emotions are stored in our bodies
Grief can cause a physical reaction in our body. When my aunt was admitted to intensive care I felt a nauseous-like tension in my solar plexus (the area just below the sternum). It never fully went away until weeks after her passing. The solar plexus is the 3rd chakra, or energy center within the body, and it represents our personal power. Rightly so, I was experiencing a strong sense of helplessness and anxiety over my aunt’s situation. The solar plexus is also a key area where emotions are stored. The nervousness I felt in my solar plexus was fear, sadness, and loss of control. Not solely because of my aunt’s death, but it was also very painful to see my family suffering. I wanted to help ease their pain and stress. (I know it’s not my job, but it’s how I react under these conditions---probably a defense mechanism, so I don’t have to feel the feelings. Something for me to work on in the future.)
Reflecting on the entire experience I realized that the discomfort in my solar plexus would intensify when I had to do uncomfortable things. For example, when supporting other family members deal with their sadness or when I had to deliver the news of my aunt’s passing to her sisters---brings tears to my eyes to recall that experience. Not having much experience in this situation, I felt powerless. I put so much pressure on myself to be supportive, caring and a good listener. (I tend to immediately go into “problem-solving mode” and I realize that what is more helpful is for me to just listen.)
The emotions of grief are unique to everyone and generate different responses in our body, mind and spirit. Other common areas in the body that we may hold emotions include our heart space and our hips. If you are currently experiencing grief, take a few moments to notice where you feel it in your body. Sit quietly, close your eyes, take a few long, deep breaths. Scan your body and notice what you feel. Where do you feel tension in your body? Identifying where the grief energy is located can help you on your healing journey.
Yoga + Mindfulness practices to help you heal
I engage in a variety of mindfulness practices on a daily basis. But when I was going through my aunt’s situation, I stopped for a bit. It was difficult for me to perform even basic tasks as I was in shock and denial that this was happening. For example, I have a consistent mediation practice. But during the situation with my aunt, I found it difficult to meditate. So I didn’t. I treated myself with compassion and gave myself permission to take a break. My advice is for you to consider doing the same.
Once the realization of the situation became clear and the shock wore off, I was able to take steps to start processing my grief. I sifted through my “mindfulness toolkit” and decided what I thought might help me. Recognizing that the heavy tension settled in my solar plexus, I did things to balance that area of my body. Here are the 3 practices that resonated with me the most: 1) chakra balancing using healing crystals; 2) pranayama breathwork; 3) compassionate and honest communication.
Chakra Balancing using Healing Crystals - Once we locate where we feel the energy of grief or suffering in our body, then we can engage in practices designed to clear the blockages and re-establish balance in that energy center in order to heal and move forward.
For me, I needed a crystal that would balance the energy in my solar plexus, so I pulled the pyrite crystal from my Elevate You Healing Crystal Kit [insert link]. In the morning before getting out of bed, I placed the pyrite on my solar plexus for a few minutes. While laying there I engaged in sama vritti pranayama (described in detail below). I also kept the pyrite near me throughout the day knowing that it was helping to restore my personal power and motivate me to do everything I needed to do to get through this difficult time.
Over the coming days, I started engaging the other 4 crystals in my Elevate You! Healing Crystal Kit to help me on my healing journey:
Selenite to clear negative energies
Labradorite to simply trust my intuition
Lapis Lazuli to communicate honestly and authentically
Celestite to keep me calm and stop me from over thinking
Pranayama Breathwork – Grief can increase stress hormones in our body that amp up our parasympathetic nervous system which in turn kicks in our fight-or-flight response. Breathwork is an effective tool for calming our nervous system so we can then be able to focus on the healing process. As I shared above, I started incorporating a morning breathing practice. I didn’t have that much energy to do anything too intense or long. So, I started off with just 3 minutes of breathing with the pyrite crystal positioned on my solar plexus.
The simple technique I used was sama vrtti, wherein the goal is to make the inhales and exhales take an equal amount of time and effort. While doing this I imagined that my breath was gently caressing the negative feelings located in my solar plexus----kind of like how you pet a cat or dog to calm them and comfort them.
Here’s how to practice sama vritti:
- Set your timer for 5 minutes
- Sit in a comfortable position
- Elongate your spine
- Close your eyes
- Then inhale to the count of 4 silently
- Exhale to the count of 4 silently
- Direct your attention to any areas of your body that you may feel tension and imagine your breath is soothing the discomfort
- Keep repeating this counting pattern until you hear the timer
I also used this breathing practice at times during my day when I felt my stress being triggered by certain events. Like when going through all of my aunt’s photos picking the ones to display at her celebration of life.
Compassionate and Honest Communication - Dealing with a death in the family causes a variety of emotions that bubble up to the surface for the entire family. Sometimes the death of a loved one creates a beautiful opportunity to bring the remaining family members closer and other times it does the opposite. In either scenario, it takes a conscious effort to respond with compassion.
Satya is a yoga practice that teaches us to be mindful and truthful with our words, but to do so in a way that will cause the least amount of harm (ahimsa, the practice of not harming). As I approached each difficult conversation I needed to conduct, I relied on the 3 filters of speech: 1) is what I have to say truthful? 2) is it beneficial to be said? and 3) will it be heard? If my answer was yes to all of these filters, then I would say it. If not, then I didn’t.
Using this check list helped me to have the capacity to hold space for other family members. I listened more and was very careful to focus on facts and not my opinions---especially when relaying reports from my aunt’s doctor. Everyone was under so much stress and any embellishments would just exacerbate the stress. Believe me, I wasn’t perfect---but that wasn’t the goal. My goal was to just do the best I could and these tools helped me do a little better.
It’s experiences like this that remind us of the connection between our mind and body and highlights the importance of caring for our entire being. If you are experiencing grief, I hope my experience inspires you to engage in practices that will nurture you through the process. Furthermore, this experience reminded me of the importance of our connection with each other and that sharing ourselves with those we love is also an important step to healing.
Finally, I’d like to say a few words about my Aunt Patti:
She was one of the kindest and sweetest person I every knew. Her smile made you smile. She had a positive spirit and loved helping others. She was a wonderful mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt and friend and she made a positive impact in our lives. She is greatly missed by many.