Since today is International Yoga Day, I wanted to share with you guys a certain type of yoga that’s changed my life. This isn’t the typical power flow that I practice everyday. This is about overcoming pain: Grief Yoga.
As many of you know, I’m all about moving my body in any way that I can on a daily basis. Without movement, there can’t be evolution and if you can’t evolve? You’re stagnant, last season roadkill.
When you move the body, the mind follows, which opens the door for transformation and evolution. This has not only proven to be true for me personally and professionally, but it has allowed me to overcome stress, loss, pain, grief and betrayal like nothing else.
Yoga has by far been the most impactful and transformative journey I’ve ever taken – spiritually, emotionally and physically. So obviously, I wanted to introduce you guys to my yoga teacher, Paul Denniston, who is largely responsible for the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional shape that I’m in today.
Not only is Paul an amazing yoga teacher, but he has created such a badass form of yoga that literally extracts grief from the body: Grief Yoga.
Besides Paul’s conventional yoga classes that I always take at Corepower, whenever I find myself in a state of grief (which has been a lot lately), I always take one of Paul’s grief yoga classes and if I can’t make it or am out of town, I get out his Grief Yoga dvd.
“In order to live, we must all experience loss. Life includes suffering and grief is our response to it. Whether it’s through a breakup, divorce, betrayal or death, losing someone or something we cared about brings grief into our mind and spirit. And that sadness and anger gets stuck in our body. As challenging as it is to deal with such suffering, the grief is actually incredible self knowledge that can be used as fuel to open ourselves up to more love” – my yoga teacher, grief yoga pioneer, and someone I’m lucky enough to call my friend, Paul Denniston.
What is grief yoga and how did you come up with it?
PD: Grief yoga is a movement based ritual with the intention of healing grief. It brings in many different forms of yoga to allow us to move through areas where we feel stuck within the mind and body and to honor unresolved grief that we may be holding onto. It creates a compassionate and safe space to embrace grief as fuel for healing. Instead of avoiding the grief, what if we just embraced it and moved through it so we don’t feel stuck and can open our heart up to more love and joy?
I came across grief yoga because I was finding healing within my own grief in a yoga class. There’s a balance between doing and being and as I would go to yoga class, I was all of a sudden struck by this sense of grief that I had been trying to run away from where I would go into a place of my doing mind to distract myself from the pain. But within the compassionate space of my yoga mat, it was like all of that unresolved grief kind of caught up to me and there was no other way to resist it. I could have just run out of yoga class and moved on, but something told me to sit with this, be with this and question what it was about. So, I went deeper to fully feel the feeling and allow it to pass. This transitioned me to a space of peacefulness and happiness because it was like I finally honored the sadness which then allowed me to come back in connection with joy, happiness and peace. And so, I became a yoga teacher. In the beginning of a yoga class, we create an intention and I just love the idea of creating intention. I thought to myself, “What if I created an entire practice with the intention of healing grief?” and that’s how I started grief yoga. I feel like we need to teach what we need to learn and so I aimed to create a class that I would want to take. Since yoga means union with the mind, body and spirit, I thought, “What if I brought together many different forms of yoga, all with the same intention?” A little Hatha, Vinyasa, Laughter Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Restorative Yoga – What if I brought these all into one specific class with the intention of moving through negative emotions that are holding us down, pushing through them; using them as fuel for healing and then lifting the vibration up to a space of joy and liberation?
When I think of the intention that I use in my daily practice and meditation, it’s always security. Security in my heath, my emotional and financial wealth, security in my relationships, security in myself as a woman, etc. And I think that sense of security is indirectly wanted due to grief that I’ve either gone through or am experiencing.
PD: Yes, exactly. The wonderful thing that I believe yoga helped you facilitate, and helps everyone to facilitate, is that it creates that sense of security within. You’re in this moment when you’re doing your practice and you’re not looking for a boyfriend or a partner to bring that completion to you. In that moment, you’re finding it within yourself. And you’re also within that sense of security as you begin to listen to your inner teacher about “When do I just need to take a break and rest?” “When do I need to take a step forward and maybe move and go a little further into the posture or emotion?” The thing that I love about that sense of security that you mentioned is that there’s an inner and outer security that happens within the class. I try to create a safe and secure place in my yoga classes and then on your mat, you feel safe and secure enough to where it’s like “I need to take a break here and honor myself.’ It then becomes about finding the security within.
I did a blog post on security and shared how when I discovered that security was habitual, it was such a game changer because it finally became attainable. It was no longer something that was just for the lucky or beautiful or privileged people. Feeling secure is a habit, it’s a practice and that goes right back to the yoga mat. I think that this is why more than any other teacher I have ever practiced with, your classes and this DVD have been the most transformative. I feel like everyone’s intention in every class they go to, and I can definitely attest to this, always involves overcoming grief or being able to overcome the impact that grief has had in our lives and so I think that’s really powerful. What are your thoughts?
PD: Security lies in that place where there’s a surrender to a power greater than ourselves. Whether that be to a higher power, to God, to creative consciousness, to whatever that is, I find because yoga is a union of mind, body and spirit, this is a spiritual practice. It’s not religious, but just spirit-filled. It brings that sense of security to trust that you know “I have angels all around me that are watching over me and I can trust that.” or “I can trust that divine intelligence lives within me to know that even in times of deep struggle, if I get quiet and listen within, the answers are there.” So there’s this sense of security that I find in leaning into a power that is greater than ourselves, knowing that we are taken care of.
What to do you now when you find yourself grief stricken? What do you recommend?
PD: I find everything that I need in an environment of stillness and observation. Whether that’s just taking a moment to sit and access what’s going on with my thoughts, my feelings, my body, or maybe you need to do that in a space of being active. It’s going for a walk. I find for me, that’s really helpful. I think the helpful thing for me is accessing a way to discharge it because in our deepest struggle, it’s so easy for us to get stuck in the mind and go to a place or fear and over thinking. And so getting connected to the body is a very helpful thing to do. Movement is key because it brings connection to the body. I also think that writing and journaling are powerful ways to discharge and release what’s stuck within us.
Can you expand on that? What are some good ways beyond the mat to discharge and release?
PD: I like f*ck you letters to get out the anger, but I don’t send them. You can’t move to the forgiveness early, sometimes you gotta write the f u letter to really let out the anger. I also call upon friends and mentors that I can process it with. Even sometimes in my biggest struggles, I’ll go to a yoga class and spend the whole class in child’s pose and I’ll have a good cry where no one can see it, but I’m supported within and I can experience it. It’s also giving myself the time to process and move through it.
I’ve done that many times in your class.
PD: I think that’s important. It’s so helpful, and it’s safe. No one can see that you’re crying, but you’re really honoring that grief and feeling the rain of the storm clouds so that they can pass and allow the sun to shine again, because it will.
How often do you teach grief yoga? Where do you teach? What are you doing with it?
PD: I’m located in Los Angeles and teach workshops and classes all around the country. I teach classes here twice per month. Last year, I taught this to over 4000 therapists and counselors. If people are interested in taking the class whether in LA or on the dvd, they can go to my website.
I can’t tell you how transformative your teachings and dvd have been for me. Your classes have been almost kind of like a grief exorcism. I know that it’s very hard to deal with death, but I do think that in some cases, breakups can be harder than death because in death, there’s finality. With a breakup, you’re mourning the loss of someone that is still living and breathing, which is
tough impossible. Do you get a lot of students coming to you that have gone through divorce and break ups?
PD: Oh yes, for sure. And that’s actually the next class I’m creating. It’s a ritual for healing after a breakup, divorce or betrayal. And again, one of the reasons that I find grief yoga to be so effective is because instead of looking to find completion and union in a partner, you find that union and space within yourself and then are subsequently able to attract healthier relationships into your existence. When we’re dealing with breakups and divorce, there’s a lot of feelings that are going on there. There’s feelings of anger and betrayal and I think those feelings need to be honored. That’s why I have techniques and exercises in grief yoga that can help push through those places of anger and betrayal so that we’re using those feelings in a healthy space and not hurting ourselves more. Through grief yoga, we are honoring the anger by recognizing that it’s a personal protector and indicator that we need to look within. Whether we are losing someone through a death or a breakup, the fact of the matter is that connection we had with that person helped our heart to open and even though our heart is broken, if we reflect on the lessons that we learned and we come from a place of gratitude, even gratitude for the heartbreak, that’s the most powerful way we can heal. This is what I aimed to create in this grief yoga practice – How can we let go of the suffering so that we can get back to this place that was intended for us all along and that is our birthright – a place of authentic love. A light is being shined on your wound that, if you let it, will facilitate your deeper understanding of your own patterns. You’ve got to find that connection and union within yourself. You can’t look to others.
What happens when we don’t allow ourselves to feel or we’re scared to feel? I know I’ve been there.
PD: When we don’t allow ourselves to feel feelings fully, they get stuck within the body and the body will remember so it’s important to create a ritual and give these feelings a healthy and compassionate space to release and discharge. Yoga is a great space to do that. When we’re dealing with grief, we can’t think our way out of it, we have to feel the feelings fully and so sometimes, as we feel the feelings, we need to become aware of the thoughts that we’re thinking. Are these thoughts destructive? It’s important for us to really become aware of them and for us to shift our way of thinking. The great thing about yoga is the body follows the mind and the mind follows the breath and when we’re aware of the breath and have a greater sense of awareness of the body, we can start to then really become aware of the thoughts. And when those thoughts are tearing us down or perhaps tearing others down, can we shift the thinking? Instead of saying “I’m a failure,” can we say “I failed in this but I’m also learning and I’m on the path to recovery.” Can we shift it to a positive affirmation? I bring Louise Hay’s Power Thought Affirmations into it too because it also allows us to honor the thought. We’re not denying the negative thought, we are simply shifting it to allow us to take a step towards our healing. This is why I love grief yoga. It’s so powerful because it allows us to create movement in all of those pent-up feelings and ultimately allows us to let go.
+ follow Paul
Grief Yoga website