Inhale, exhale, breathe... and cry: How yoga helped me grieve

Yahoo Lifestyle
The healing powers of yoga. (Getty Images)
The healing powers of yoga. (Getty Images)

Knees bent and spread apart. Feet positioned at a half-diamond just beyond my behind. Torso resting between my thighs. Head resting gently on the mat. Arms stretched out in front of me.

Inhale, exhale, and breathe. And breathe. And breathe. And … cry.

And pause to wipe the tears from my face. Pause to look around to make sure no one else saw my silent tears that felt so loud. Pause to feel ashamed. Pause to feel the anchor of grief holding a grip on me like a weight never to be unmoved.

The yoga class I took in mid-October went a little like this. A close friend of mine, a friend I met my first semester in graduate school seven years ago, was killed at the end of August in a car accident. When I learned the news of her death, I was out of the country and thousands of miles away from home.

Crying through yoga was a sloppy attempt to do something, something other than stumbling through my life as a zombie as I coped with the loss of such a good friend. I stopped working and awkwardly informed editors I couldn’t finish pieces. I let texts and most one-on-one contact on social media pile up and go unanswered.

Anxiety characterized most of my interpersonal bonds with others. I experienced either a subtle pressure to be my same self despite grieving or my grief being too overwhelming for others to interact with or acknowledge. I oscillated between disappointment and frustration with most people because of it. I was tired all the time, numb even. I drank a ton of red wine and had sore throats due to dehydration the morning after. Although I peg myself as a crier, I didn’t cry. I stared into space as my body ached.

A friend had a suggestion: yoga. She suggested I try slower, more meditative yoga classes, different from the faster-paced vinyasa classes I’d taken before and detested. Her outlook was that yoga could be a way to nurture and care for myself during a difficult time. I signed up for restorative and yin yoga classes after purchasing a monthly pass for new students at a nearby studio.

All I had deep within the throes of early grief was the mat. The experience of yoga. The motion of returning to the mat, returning to myself, being still in an audience of one. Deep breaths, a stray tear falling if it may. Ironically, it’s all I have now, too, as the days turn to weeks and the weeks into months, as the time lengthens since I last saw my friend alive and full of life.

On the last night I saw her, we danced, and drank, and laughed until we couldn’t anymore. She was my plus-one to a silent disco on a hot, sticky night in July. The type of sultry, Southern summer night where the heat hangs heavy. We made a late-night run to Burger King; she ordered a veggie burger because she was a pescatarian and me a Whopper because I was ravenous. Her boyfriend was our chauffeur and shook his head with a smirk as we laughed and joked.

Yoga hasn’t healed me.

It has not been a magical pill. It has not given me a warm and fuzzy answer to how I am whole again after arguably one of the worst situations to befall my spirit. It hasn’t stopped there from being moments where the sheer magnitude of the loss of such a close friend hits me with a deep thud in my chest. Where my breath leaves my body for a few seconds as I ponder the disbelief of something thoroughly illogical.

My budding yoga practice — as I fumble through the poses, as I roll my mat into a cylinder at the end of each session and whisper of namaste — signals another day building toward something. Building toward a new form of self-awareness. Awareness of my place in this world deserving of giving the same love I freely give to others to myself. Awareness of the depth of my love for my friend. I am surprised as I continue to mine undiscovered layers of how deeply she was loved and etched into this gargantuan heart of mine.

Yoga is my safe space where I can grieve with no audience. Where my grief isn’t too complicated or uncomfortable for others. Where it isn’t too complicated or uncomfortable for me. A safe space to gaze at my grief, to hold it near and dear. Or to find a way to delicately move forward, with myself intact.

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