Grief, anger, anxiety, sadness, resentment, shame…
All words we don't usually use in Yoga class. But why? We are all sure to bump up against most, if not all, of these emotions throughout our lives. So why don’t we talk about them? For starter it not just in Yoga that we do not talk about grief, anxiety, resentment, etc. these feelings are not talked about at all in our society.
In our Western Society, most people tend to suppress, ignore, or deny those emotions that are uncomfortable, anti-social, and painful to experience. Right? When was the last time someone casually asked you... how are you? And you said I’m sad today or I’m feeling anxious today. Probably never. How come? fear of making yourself seem a certain way to others, or making the other person uncomfortable?
There is a cultural stigma around feeling bad, in general and even in yoga. Have you ever heard your teacher say… place the bottom of your right foot on the inner thigh of your left leg and reach both arms up…. and be happy. ? Ok, It’s true they say that eternal unending joy comes with self-realization, however if you are anxious, or sad, maybe you just lost your house, or your job, or a loved one, unending bliss probably feels farther away than Jupiter from you. Someone telling you to be happy will not help. Unfortunately we are not given the tools in school, or from our parents, or in yoga teacher training, to deal with our own grief or the grief of those around us.
Fortunately, yesterday I took two workshops with Max Strom, an amazing yoga teacher, writer, and speaker. Max researches, contemplates, and brings to light these taboo subjects most people are afraid to talk about. I learned about Max many years ago when I read his book “A life worth Breathing” and loved it. So when I found out he was having workshops at Yogaworks in Larkspur, without even reading the titles or descriptions of the workshops, I decided to join in. I am actually really glad that I did not do my research ahead of time, because had I known what the workshops were on anxiety and grief I might not have signed up in the first place. I myself do not suffer from anxiety, also I have not experienced a crisis recently. However, Max so poignantly pointed out that for all of us "our next crisis is just around the corner'. With the privilege of growing older, comes the price that eventually we will lose people or things that we love. It is fact of life not frequently discussed but I am so grateful to Max that now I have some tools to deal with these situations as they arise.
In the first workshop Max spoke about and gave practices to help relieve anxiety and move into stillness. Max explained that in 2 years anxiety and depression are estimated to be the leading cause of disability around the world! That is crazy. He emphasized the importance of teaching students to breath properly. Most teachers (not all) meticulously instruct postures, but give little lip service to the breath besides deep inhale, complete exhale. But how do you take a deep exhale and complete exhale? And as a practitioner, do you breath correctly while you practice? As a teacher, do you instruct breathing techniques in your class? If you're not sure Max, has a DVD Learn to Breathe, that I recommend checking out. The breath is one of our most useful and effective tools that we have to shift our nervous system and calm the mind, both of which will greatly benefit everyone, but especially people suffering with anxiety.
In the second workshop that day, Max spoke about grief as the result of a crisis. When experiencing grief, the support of your community, friends, family, is the most important thing. Sadly, you may have heard the saying “they just need to be alone right now” or “Give them some time space to process” this is misinformation. We need to gather together during times of crisis, to share our experience, to support each other, not matter how uncomfortable, embarrassing, painful, or awkward.
To be clear; the grieving process takes time and it is not easy. But it is a important, necessary process, so if you are experiencing grief give yourself permission and time to feel. When we avoid, deny, or suppress our feelings, they get stored inside our bodies, wreck havoc on our health, and eventually resurface. So even though grief doesn't feel good, it is good to feel grief. Max suggested this passive backbend to those experiencing grief or sadness, to open the heart and allow emotions to move through. You will need 1-2 yoga blankets or towels and a bolster or pillow. Fold the blankets or towels into long flat rectangles, and lie across them, position the blankets behind your shoulder blades to open your chest. Place a bolster or pillow behind the back of your legs. (see photo above) Lie in the passive back bend for 10 mins and then come out and lie flat on your back for a few minutes more to let the back muscles settle. You can do this everyday.
To recap, if you are experiencing grief or anxiety, know that you are not alone, make sure you have support of family or friends and if you don’t seek help. Gather, share, cry, be with loved ones. Give yourself time, both grief and anxiety take time to overcome. Learn to breathe properly and then breath to heal. If you know someone suffering from grief or anxiety, show up for them 100% and they will return the favor when the roles reverse. Max Strom says “The only way past grief is through it” however we don't need to go through it alone.