How Our Bodies Can Help Us Process Buried Grief

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It was more than the “Thanks for lessons, better luck with your next partner” kind of break-up. So much had happened.

Sharp words were exchanged, painful memories were created and the dream of “us together’ had shattered into a thousand pieces. Three months later, I was picking up piece #287. I felt emotionally congested. It was as if there was a thick glass between me and my experience of life.

I knew that I had to do something different.

I asked for help from the Universe. Then I waited for something to catch my attention. The answer came a few days later in the form of a promotional email for discounted Bikram yoga sessions. Without hesitation, I clicked on “Buy” and looked up the exact location of the yoga studio. Of course, it happened to be only four miles away from my apartment—I had probably driven by it a hundred times.

Bikram yoga is physically challenging initially, especially since I hadn’t been practicing yoga at all. I was already feeling emotionally, mentally and physically out of shape. To my great surprise, except for taking a few short breaks here and there, I was able to follow the teacher and complete the first class. I considered my first Bikram yoga session as a success and went again the following day.

If anyone had told me what was going to happen next, I would not have believed them.

There I was, ambitiously pushing my body beyond its limits when, maybe underestimating the intensity of the practice a little, I fell on my knees about 50 minutes in. The room felt hotter than it did in the previous session—my knees were weak and my heart was pounding twice as hard.

A wave of grief hit me like a tsunami.

The tears came from somewhere deep within my soul, somewhere I wasn’t used to visiting very often, demanding to be heard. And they had picked a very inconvenient time and place to emerge.

I started crying uncontrollably. THe ugly cry that you wouldn’t want anyone to see. But I couldn’t even care about the fact that I might be ruining the yoga class for others.

I just could not stop.

I curled up in a fetal position and kept crying on the yoga mat. Within about five minutes, the teacher quietly sat next to me and asked me if I was okay. She was watching me become unzipped in front of 20 strangers and treated it as if I just had a headache. That helped.

I tried to utter “I’m okay. Thank you.” All I could do was nod. I had lost track of time but according to my estimation, I had been crying non-stop for over 30 minutes. When the class was done and people were rolling up their yoga mats to hit the showers, I laid there for another ten to fifteen minutes. I knew I had to leave so I grabbed onto the crumbs of energy left in me to get up. I gathered up all the remnants of my composure and strength and dragged myself to the dressing room.

By then, I had started feeling self-conscious about disturbing people and overwhelming them with my grief.

I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone in the dressing room. A middle-aged woman approached me and said, “I had a similar experience four years ago. It was a tough one. Keep coming back. It gets better each time”.

Again, I nodded in silence.

Despite the shame I felt in the dressing room, I also felt emotionally held by these people—as if I was expressing their grief, as well as my own. My tears were also theirs. I was absolutely shocked by the deep compassion I felt coming from them.

Maybe, the reason why I had found my way to the yoga studio was because they needed to be a witness to the unbuttoning of my heart as much as I needed them to hold space for me.

It was all perfect. It humbled me.

I know that I owe my healing progress in the following months to yoga. I learned that, when all else fails, I can turn to my body for answers and healing. There is a lot of research out there about how emotions are held in the body and how the body keeps a cellular memory of every experience we have had that has a strong emotion attached to.

Reading this research is one thing, experiencing it firsthand is another.

I cried again in the next and the following session. But it wasn’t like the first time. They were big waves that didn’t last long. I could surf my way through them with the help of my miraculous body.

After the next three sessions, the crying and sobbing stopped. I was able to focus more on the practice and literally felt emotional strength build up in me as I gently pushed my body to stay in the yoga poses.

As I found new levels of endurance and flexibility in my body, my emotional climate started to adjust accordingly.

At the end of one month of consistent practice, I felt more open and definitely lighter. When a new wave of grief or heartache hit me, I was able to move into the emotion and let it flow through me much more easily. I no longer felt emotionally blocked.

Something happens when we allow the body to stretch and move in different ways than it is used to. When we push our body beyond its current limits, other aspects of our life seem to rise up to the occasion and get ready for an upgrade. Our body will show us the way.

If you are feeling stuck emotionally, please consider taking up a new physical exercise or healing practice that you are called to. You will be very glad you did!