A Different Way Of Dealing With Grief: Yoga

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Health

Grief Yoga, to be taught at the Chatham Senior Center, is designed to expel pent-up sorrows and regrets.

CHATHAM — It’s almost impossible to reach adulthood without experiencing loss.

Early on, maybe a grandparent has died, maybe a relationship has terminated. As we age, we lose many loved ones and grieve for them. Just as stress can affect the body by tightening your muscles, clenching your stomach, so can grief. So how do we cope with all this sadness and loss?

Talking and sharing is one way to cope. Peggy Wilbur, for many years a Social Worker and Bereavement Counselor at Broad Reach Hospice in Chatham, leads people in doing just that. Yet “some people aren’t especially comfortable talking about their grief and experiences,” Wilbur said during a telephone interview last week. Wilbur, a licensed social worker and a resident of East Harwich, has lived on the Cape for close to 40 years. And now she is ready to lead groups in another way of releasing the pain of grief — yoga.

Through Grief Yoga, “we can reach another set of people than in bereavement groups,” she says.

Wilbur’s Grief Yoga class will be presented at the Chatham Council on Aging in two one-hour sessions this month.

“We store emotions in our bodies,” Wilbur says. “Physical movement and doing expressive work releases emotions whether or not they’re stored in the body.”

Grief Yoga is a very gentle form of yoga that is not about physical flexibility. “I don’t want anybody not to come because they feel they can’t do yoga,” she says. Wilbur’s class is suitable for people who have never practiced yoga. If your knees bother you, don’t despair — you can practice grief yoga in a chair. No physical limitations should preclude you from benefiting from this class.

At the beginning of the class Wilbur will focus on yoga moves. Next she will focus on releasing grief.

“People go inside, they get in contact with their body and emotions,” she says. “It’s contemplative in movement. It’s especially geared to helping people expel pent-up emotions such as sorrow and regrets. Probably the juiciest part of the practice is releasing the emotions.”

By the end of the class everyone should feel more connected to the world and to the others in class. “Grief can be so isolating. Everyone’s grief is different but there are similarities. Realizing how much is in common can further healing.”

Although she is no stranger to teaching yoga, this is Wilbur’s first time leading a Grief Yoga class. She recently studied Grief Yoga at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge. Her teacher was Paul Denniston, who created Grief Yoga after the searing end of a romantic relationship.

Denniston’s Grief Yoga blends Hatha, Vinyasa Flow, Kundalini, Restorative, Laughter and Let Your Yoga Dance yoga into a new exercise designed for transformation and healing. According to Denniston’s website, Grief Yoga is designed to “channel and release anger and allow unresolved grief a compassionate space to breathe and be released to help us connect to the resilient loving warrior within.” And instead of pushing away grief, “by moving into the dark spaces that we avoid, that keep us in suffering, we can express and release the struggle.”

“The training was very experiential,” Wilbur says of Denniston’s class. “We were doing yoga constantly and teaching it to each other.” The group would go through the Grief Yoga class at least twice a day. “There were times when it was really intense.”

So how does Grief Yoga specifically work? It uses yoga, movement, breath, sound and meditation to release pain and suffering to help students process grief and use it as fuel for healing. Emotional release is key.

“Students become aware of the present moment and where they hold struggle or pain in the body and mind,” Wilbur wrote in her class description. “In this way, students may let go of pain and reconnect to love and the gift of life.”

Unlike a bereavement session where people talk through their pain, there will be little talking during the yoga class. “People will be encouraged to make sounds during the expression and connection pieces,” Wilbur says. That will be followed with a silent piece. Each class will end with students in an “introspective, meditative place.” At the end of the class students should have “that good feeling you get when you’ve done hard work and you come to the other side,” Wilbur says.

While Wilbur’s class is offered twice this month, if interest is great, she will continue Grief Yoga in monthly sessions so that more people may explore it. The two sessions currently scheduled will differ from each other so you can profit from both. “I don’t want anyone to be bored,” Wilbur says.

Grief Yoga will meet on Tuesdays March 12 and 26 from 10:45 to 11:45 a.m. at the senior center on Stony Hill Road. Reservations are required as the class is limited to 12. If you wish, you can bring your own yoga mat. Call the Chatham Council on Aging at 508-945-5190 for more information. The class is free.