When my Mom passed away I was heartbroken. My sister, mom, and I were like a triangle of connection. When you talked to one, the information got to the other. We all knew what was happening in each others lives and how each other was feeling. It was the kind of relationship where you call to say one thing for five minutes and next thing you know you’ve been talking for two hours.
After she passed I really cried. Mostly in the shower and getting ready. Ugly crying, letting it out. I had this sense of my world being shattered and really understanding that life is short and there are problems that cannot be fixed. Up until that point, everything had always worked out. Even when she was on her deathbed I thought maybe, just maybe, she would somehow turn this whole thing around and make a miraculous recovery. After she died, I sometimes had the thought it had been a bad dream that I would wake up from.
When she was gone there was such an emptiness inside me.
Even more confusing, I was two weeks pregnant when she passed and had a toddler. Her passing made me want to cherish every moment as a mother, but also there was such grief. I didn’t want a sad baby. I had to stay healthy, be there for my toddler, but I also wanted to close up. It was such an emotional push and pull.
Over a year later, after my second son was born, I decided to join a gym where they had babysitting and yoga. It seemed a good way to get a small break and also take care of myself. I’d done yoga in the past, but never consistently.
I quickly fell in love with Vinyasa flow, a class that was set to music which the instructor would time to the class so it would push you harder. Just when I got too tired to keep going a great song would come on and give me energy. I would leave feeling like I had wrung out all my stress and left it on the mat.
After about a few months, the instructor started doing more and more “heart opening” poses, as he called them. I firmly believe that some yoga instructors have the ability to tune into a room and know what the class needs. I can’t prove it, but I believe it to be true.
These heart openers were not hard poses, but they were a big challenge for me. I realized, despite my best efforts to deal with grief and remain present, I had been closing off my heart. The pain was so great that I had been withdrawing even though I hadn’t meant to.
Opening my heart toward the sky, this gesture of my chest facing upward with my arms behind me, this surrender to openness, was difficult. At first. Sometimes tears would stream down my face and I would wipe them away as if they were sweat.
Over time it became easier. My heart began to feel more healed and more open again.
As the months passed I began to feel as I did these heart openers, as I allowed myself to give more love and surrender to these postures, I began to feel my Mom was with me. I would tell my sister puzzled, “I really feel like Mom somehow goes to yoga with me.” It was as if in these moments of love she was with me, encouraging me to continue. Reassuring me that everything was okay.
I’ve heard Oprah say that when her dog died she grieved so heavily until one day she released it and that day she felt her Sophie was with her and her presence was even greater than it had been in life. Somehow her dog was with her more fully. She reapplied this story when Maya Angelou passed saying how we feel that presence even greater when someone dies. She quoted a line from Angelou’s poem Our Grandmothers, “I go forth along, and stand as ten thousand.” I “stand as ten thousand,” has stuck with me. I stand as ten thousand souls when I die is the way I interpret that. Opening my heart I felt that sense of oneness. A lightness that I was missing. A sense that I stand with others when I am open to it. A sense that my Mom’s love was coming through in my willingness to literally open my heart upward toward the sky.
This healing, this opening, came from a series of simple poses, which look like they would be insignificant.
Which may not have been as significant to anyone else in the room. Or maybe others wiped away tears disguised as sweat too.
I started yoga because I had back pain and wanted to strengthen my core.
Instead, I found a practice that grounds me and helps me heal emotionally.
That wasn’t the last time I’ve cried during or after a class. There would be many other times of pain, struggle, triumph and joy between me and my mat.
I’ve come to think that as we heal our emotional, we need that expression in the physical to move it through. Some of those twists and bends are releasing the emotional toxins and letting them go. They say it’s a mind and body practice and I’m starting to really get that it is true.
And I am grateful I discovered it at the time in my life when I needed it the most.
How about you? Did you find some physical practice which helped you with grief? Have you cried on your mat?
If you would like examples of heart opening poses, here is a link to Two Fit Moms’ Heart-Opening Partner Yoga Sequence to give you an idea.