How yoga can help us with loss and grief

Category : Asanas (Postures), General advice, Philosophy 18th September 2022


In Memoriam HM Queen Elizabeth II
1926 – 2022

Inside Yoga 324 (18/9/2022)

When we lose someone we care about, our feelings of loss and grief can be felt in numerous ways, and when it comes to the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II we as a nation, and for many across the world, have felt this loss as if it were the loss of a family member.

For the majority of the UK’s population we have only had one monarch, 70 years is a long time, we have known nothing else, so understandably, the death of the Queen is going to be felt and noticed, whatever our own opinions might be and what we thought of the Queen.

Over the past 10 days, many have said that the death of the Queen has triggered memories, and with it grief, of losing one of their family members, a gran, a mother, or another part of their family. For many, she was the nation’s mother or granny.

My mother, who at 94 is the same generation as the late-Queen, is currently not well and being looked after as “end of life” care, which means I have been preparing for the worst, so when the Queen died last week, I think my emotions were mixed up, to the point I was probably reacting as if it had been my own mother who had just died. Grief can be a mix of emotions, feeling the loss of the Queen, mixed with the feelings of losing a family member or close friend.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote about the collective consciousness through which we feel as a group shared emotions and thoughts; and this is what we have seen across the country, a population sharing something profound and historic. Even those who would otherwise be disinterested are connected to this experience of collective consciousness.

In Buddhism, the interdependency of all things, also called dependent arising, is a theory which also explains how we have been swept up in this wave of national mourning. Dependent arising describes how nothing is independent of other phenomena, everything is interconnected, like a stone thrown into a pond the ripples will spread and reach the far side of the lake.

Nothing happens in isolation, and we as people are interconnected, whether we like it or not, or do what we can to separate ourselves, we are interdependent, and connected to events and people around us. Hence, the past week where we were all aware of, and connected to, the experience of mourning the Queen’s death, and through this, mourning of others, perhaps those close to us.

The feelings of loss and grief can and do vary for us, and what is important for us is to know how to cope and manage how we feel. Across the world, cultures and societies might appear to be varied and so different, but most share the practice of mourning. Many require a period of mourning, as we are witnessing here with the period of national mourning leading up to the funeral on Monday, September 19th.

It offers us a way of focusing and containing our feelings and with it our grief. The tears, the public showing of grief is acceptable and in some societies expected to be seen. It can help channel emotions and hopefully help us pick ourselves up after the mourning period and carry on with what could be called normality (which is perhaps an odd expression?).

Unfortunately, I have lost two brothers and a father; with the loss of my younger brother being the hardest and most painful. In the months and years following his death I depended on my yoga practice, and with it, my work teaching to keep me going. It helped me get through my period of grieving, if there is a finite “period” to grief? My experience is that grief never ends, but its painful impact diminishes with time, as we learn to live with it. Something which helped me cope with my grief and carry on, involved the image of a fried egg, advice offered me by the counsellor I saw at the time!

When we first experience grief we can feel raw, struggling to cope, and the mere mention of our loss can trigger extreme pain and tears. Picture an egg in a frying pan; at first there is only the yellow yoke, without the white egg around it: the yellow yoke is our grief, vulnerable and fragile without the protection of the egg white. As time passes, the amount of egg white around the yoke increases, and this offers us a buffer which protects us from the painful feelings of grief. So with time, we can think of our loss without the intense pain we initially felt. I found this helpful, because we don’t want to forget the person we’ve lost, even though sometimes we are asked, “have we moved on and over our grief”? We will always feel the loss and have our memories, but we want to be able to remember without being being overwhelmed.

Similarly, I have found my yoga practice a great support during hard times, including times of grief and loss. In the same way, as above, it is not about forgetting but helping us to live with loss. When we practice yoga asanas (exercises) and meditation, the principle aim is to focus completely on the practice, using the exercises and discipline as a way of giving us a break from these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings: a chance to rebalance how we feel.

Yoga gives us a practice designed to remove what we do not need in our life. It is not about reaching some special place. We are already physically there, but we need to use the practice to shed the stuff which is stopping us from feeling OK, and balanced.

I also call the unwanted negative stuff the backpack of burden. Our baggage can, at times, feel heavy and possibly too heavy to get on with our daily routines, whether it is work and/or family life. Through practice we do our best to empty or lighten the load inside. And carry on with our life. Yoga keeps us going. And as you would expect, we keep returning to practice as this backpack continues to fill up. Such is life. Stuff keeps happening.

The loss of Queen Elizabeth is felt in different ways, and for many, it has also been reason to celebrate her life, as we also celebrate those close to us we have lost. The nation has paused to mourn since she died on September 8th and when Tuesday arrives, the day after the funeral, what we call normal life will resume. And we will have memories of this historic period, one way or another.

A thought for the week: Any questions or comments contact me via the blog reply panel below or email gary@yogabristol.co.uk

Link to previous article about backpack of burden: https://www.yogabristol.co.uk/2016/02/22/backpack-of-burden/

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(1) Comment

Liz Millar
1 year ago · Reply

Thank you for sharing Gary

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