Benefits Of Yoga For Grief Relief

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You can feel something welling up inside. Perhaps tears fill your eyes, or it shows up as feelings of frustration and anger. Loss, sadness, and grief can cause heaviness in our bodies. It can sometimes seem that certain feelings or thoughts stick to us and become trapped inside. Can your yoga practice be a tool for grief relief? Yes, and here’s how.

In the body, grief or sadness might show up as tightness, heaviness, fatigue, or unexplained pain. In our minds, we may feel trapped in painful memories or obsessive thoughts. Grief is described as deep, poignant distress. Some sorrow symptoms include irritability, exhaustion, fatigue, pain in the chest, tightness in the throat, trouble sleeping or eating, confusion, depression, difficulty focusing, and difficulty socializing. 

Losing a loved one, friend, pet, relationship, job, or way of life can feel like a thousand-pound weight has been dropped on us. “Many of us have experienced real losses because of the pandemic — lost lives, job loss, suffering relationships, career paths that are suddenly uncertain,” said writer & poet Maggie Smith in an interview for CNN. She goes on to say, “The center of the Venn diagram where uncertainty, grief, anger, sadness and confusion overlap is a very dark place. We need to draw upon the best parts of ourselves to get through this: our resilience, courage and belief in what is possible.” 

Calming the mind and strengthening the body with yoga and meditation can assist you with coping. Finding sthira and sukha (stability and ease) on the yoga mat can be helpful when we’re not feeling steady or sweet. 

Smith goes on to say, “My friend, the poet Dana Levin, said something recently about healing versus endurance. Healing is the ideal, right? We want to be better. But endurance suggests something different, which is not that we get over the thing. Instead, we learn how to carry it better. Realistic expectations are important. No daily practice is going to make everything OK. But it can make things a little better. And that might help you be more functional, or more yourself.”

The practice of yoga can provide emotional and physical benefits. 

Here are 5 Benefits of Yoga For Grief Relief

  1. Relieve emotional and physical tightness. Constriction in the body shows up as pain and feelings of tightness. Practicing yoga asana can help increase blood flow, stretch muscles and ligaments, and improve physical strength. The physical practice can also help stretch out tight spots, allowing us to become more expansive. There’s a joy in that. 
  2. Focusing on your breath can calm the mind. The mind’s function is to think. Sad or painful memories or stories might be playing on repeat in our heads, but placing the focus on the breath can redirect your energy.
  3. Moving the body into poses or asanas can increase blood flow. Yogic movement can also improve range of motion, stretch out tight spots and lessen pain. 
  4. Yoga & Meditation invite us to turn inward. Going inside allows us to connect to our true self, inner strength, and peace.
  5. The practice of yoga can affect the autonomic nervous system by reducing stress, reducing sympathetic activity, increasing parasympathetic activity, lowering blood pressure, improving the sense of well-being, and decreasing anxiety levels. 

Relief from loss and sadness may not come quickly. Let that be okay. In a world where we seek instant gratification, allow yourself to slow down and feel it all. Be gentle and kind to yourself. A regular yoga practice can help you to change your relationship to your feelings of grief. 

Can you sit with the feelings of grief, even welcome them in. Allow them to be, just as they are. Though it may feel hard to get out of bed or resume regular activities, incorporating yoga on your journey to healing or acceptance can redirect your focus to the present. Your practice may also help balance the body & mind and loosen the emotional and physical tightness in our bodies caused by grief.

Grief Relief Yoga Sequence

  • Balasana: Childs Pose – Folded Leaf Variation
  • Supta Jathara Parivartasana: Reclined Spinal Twist
  • Cat/Cow: Durga-Go
  • Parivrtta Prasarita Padottanasana: Windmill Pose
  • Ustrasana: Camel Pose
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana: Bridge Pose
  • Viparita Karani: Legs Up the Wall


Written for Pilgrimage Yoga by Kara Willingham


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