Yoga and Grief

Yoga and Grief

By Ellen S. Gibson

I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.

–Edward Thomas (1878-1918) from his poem, “Lights Out”

My mother died at the end of December. It was not completely unexpected. She was 93 years of age. She lived a long life, a good life, but had been in declining health for some time.

My mother, the person who had always been there, is gone. Her chair is empty, and my emotions are raw. I feel so tired. I cry at random times.

Mostly, though, there is this hole in my heart. And so many questions! She isn’t here now to answer them. . . I want to know more about her father. I want to ask what it was like to go to college in Boston, a girl from West Minot, Maine arriving in 1944, at the height of World War II.

I remember being about 8 years old, and I had used a derogatory term (unknowingly to me at the time), and my mother’s reaction was immediate and clear! She admonished me and explained why it was disrespectful, unkind, and not to be repeated. The lesson was well taken, and I have never said such a thing again.

Thinking about it now, I see a young woman whose life-long convictions were shaped by the Depression, a world war, the Holocaust, and two nuclear bombs devastating Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I wish I could ask her about it.

Walking into her kitchen the morning she died, there on the counter were 11 gift-sized loaves of date nut bread, ready for her to wrap for Christmas. The chickadees flitted to the feeder at the window, and her chair was turned in that direction. Her ceramic cookware lay on the shelves; recipes filled her old notebooks; cards waited to be addressed on her desk.

What is the sum total of a life? How do I keep her close and not just let the memories fade away, lost amidst the daily tasks that fill the hours?

As the emotional fog begins to dissipate a little, the question I pose is this: how can yoga help me through this loss?

One way is through the support of the yogic mindset: the gentle reminder to treat myself with loving-kindness, to give myself time, to honor my body’s need for rest and calm, to remember to breathe. With grief, stress, and worry, energy becomes stuck. Life-healing, life-giving breath is always there–calming the nervous system, providing both a pause and a source of recovery.

Then there is remembering to be grateful, have gratitude for the person she was, the books she read and gave to me, the food she made for me, her letters, her encouragement, her ever-abiding interest in me. There is grace in knowing that I carry her in my DNA as I live and breathe. Passed down through my siblings and me to our children and their children, she continues to live.

Yoga asanas open the channels of the heart, provide ways to connect back to oneself, get the blood flowing and release clogged energy channels. In mountain pose, I stand tall, lift up my arms, and gather in the limitless sky. In tree pose, I stand–bruised but strong, able to contemplate my place in the world. Beyond the shadows, there is light. Beyond grief, there is hope.


Blog Contributor Ellen Gibson

Ellen S. Gibson is a writer, educator, student, part-time farmer, cheesemaker, mother. She really does enjoy wearing different hats. Her day job is with Maine AgrAbility, a program that supports farmers with physical and mental limitations (and doesn’t that describe everyone?) to continue their work in agriculture. She has introduced yoga and mindfulness to her clients to address arthritis and musculoskeletal injuries from farming and gardening. She writes the Maine AgrAbility blogGotta Lotta Livin’ To Do

She lives and writes from her farm on Stearns Hill in West Paris, raising Nubian goats and managing this historic farm.

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