Sunday, July 22, 2012

grief yoga

I don't think you understand how much you can hate your body until a child dies inside of it. I thought I understood self-loathing and cellulite-focused anger in my twenties. Then she died, and everything I thought I had come to accept about this body was destroyed with her. Burned in a fire. I raise my four arms like Kali. One holds my daughter. One holds my body. One holds peace. One holds forgiveness, and I turn them into the flames. I didn't get the ashes from that one. I didn't want them. They were a dark energy.

It is strange for me, someone once so aware of her body. I used to love these knotty old muscles, lifting babies over my head, challenging my body further than I thought possible, throwing softballs, and tumbling across my college green after a few drinks. I felt betrayed by this mass of cells. I held nothing like who I felt inside anymore. The betrayal kept coming. She died. I developed thyroid disease. It caused depression and anxiety. I had a hard pregnancy with Thor. Addiction. Miscarriage. Biopsies. Aches. Pains. Extra weight that won't come off with liquid diets and bike riding, and I stopped thinking of myself as strong, but someone diseased and frumpy. The goddess of destruction, my cells like little blue goddesses, tongues extended. "You are old, Mama," they taunt. "You are nothing like the athlete, mother, friends, lover, citizen, yogi you once thought. You are just black energy."

My last yoga class was a prenatal class with Lucia in my belly. I felt amazing doing yoga pregnant. And it was our time--Lulu and Mama's time. I talked to her as I rode my bike there. I said prayers to her. I saw her--gypsy curls of black and barefeet. She runs like a fairy through the backyard and wears long skirts and I tuck her into my arm and kiss her. This is what I saw when I stretched and meditated and lied in shavasana. I felt grounded and earthy. I felt beautiful. Truly beautiful. I was about to lose all of that, and had no idea. I would have grasped onto the grass, dug my toes into the soil and sprouted roots. I would have kept swaying, back and forth, in the wind. My grief might have sat less in anger and more in forgiveness if I stayed with yoga. If I could have been more of something that ineffable spiritual quality that I wanted yoga to be. But I couldn't.

I had bought it all. The balance and love and surrounded by golden light. I bought the yoga environment and the teachers acting like gurus and mentors and people interested in my pregnancy and baby. I believed they had a piece of wisdom that I wanted. And then she died, and the teacher and my prenatal massage therapist said nothing. No sorries. No condolences. And then I confronted them, they said what everyone else said, "I didn't know what to say. I wanted to give you the space to grieve." It was like seeing the man behind in the curtain in Oz.

Why, these are just normal people!

It seemed so impossible. I felt so angry against this hypocritical institution of yoga. One that spoke in words that sounded like spirituality and acceptance, but couldn't face the possibility that babies died, and that mine died.  And that love and wholeness I felt about yoga died with her. I resented yoga and all those lithe bodies that stretched and bowed in namasteI read once that namaste means "I honor the sacred in you." Death was in me. I felt dishonored by that silence, as though no one was bowing to me anymore. Death is the most sacred of acts. We all do it. We don't know where or when. We don't know how, but we will die. It connects us to all the worlds. And yet I felt shunned by yoga. It was a self-shunning. I exiled myself out of the new age community, because I couldn't see myself fitting anywhere other than a cautionary tale.

There is a local yoga studio where Beezus is taking little kid yoga now. It is lovely. It is not the same place I went to practice with Lucia, so maybe it feels different because of that. I keep thinking that I will go back to yoga. Every year I think I have come to a place of acceptance and readiness to face that first class and then it seems too much. I'm too fat, I think. Too damaged.

I am fairly positive that I will cry through my first yoga class, remembering her, honoring her and our connection there. It has been a long time since I cried. And it has been three plus years now since I practiced yoga in a studio. I have been using these two unaware people as an excuse. I have forgiven them. I have forgiven myself for reacting so judgmentally towards them. Just because you practice something beautiful, or strive for that balance, doesn't mean you achieve that in every moment of every day. And we aren't even supposed to be holy every moment of every day. We strive for grace, and forgive ourselves for not coming close to it.

Forgiveness is not something I do easily. Forgiveness has been a journey for me, not a suddenly landing. These women are just people. Young people. I might have been the first grieving mother they encountered, I don't know. Clearly, they had no idea what to say when something so foreign to their world experience happened. They meant well, I know now. They just didn't know. I'm not sure anyone quite knows how much a condolence means unless you have lost someone close. Three simple words--I am sorry. It means the world. It is an acknowledgement that she lived and I lost. I forgive myself for lashing out at them, because I did end up lashing out at both of them. It was not my best self either. I blamed them for a long time for destroying my love of yoga. I blamed them. My response was much worse than their action, I think now. But I still forgive myself for that, even as a cringe at my grief. I was Kali, goddess of destruction. I destroyed everything I cared about after she died. And it didn't bring her back.

Anyway, this yoga studio is having a workshop today and next week called Grief and Yoga, and it is a way to release grief through movement. I already paid for the class so I feel obligated to go. I want to go. I am ready to move past this. I am ready to have my body back, reclaim it from the dead. I thought maybe this would be a good way to cry through a class. To come to a place of peace with yoga. Combining the thing that took me out with the thing I once loved. Facing that fear, though, maybe that is the most important thing to do right now. My old body needs the truce. And so does my soul.


  1. I hope the grief yoga class is a peaceful re-entry into the world of balance and restoration. I keep thinking how yoga would be good for me, but I have also been unable to go back yet.

  2. All you can do is try...sending love to you, Angie.

  3. Oh how this rings out to me as I sit here with tears in my eyes.
    "I don't think you understand how much you can hate your body until a child dies inside of it. I thought I understood self-loathing and cellulite-focused anger in my twenties."
    I remember lying on the floor after Kai was born, crying at what my body had become. Nothing remained of the athlete I had been just 9 months before.
    And then she is a whole new arena of self loaathing. My body failed me for which I could try and come to terms with...but when my body failed my child it is something I don't think I will ever be able to forgive. It is weird how in-tune with my body I used to seems like another lifetime.

    I too used to ride my bike around and talk to Camille...if I had known she would die would it have been different? would I have "grasped onto the grass, dug my toes into the soil and sprouted roots. Would I have "kept swaying, back and forth, in the wind."???

    I found yoga after Camille's death. I would lie in shavasana and cry. Sometimes I would cry all the way through a yoga class...but it helped me find some breathing room with my grief once a week.
    Now that I am pregnant, I stopped going about 3 months in. I didn't want anyone to know I was pregnant and I didn't want to switch to a peace loving, everything is grand earth loving hippy prenatal yoga where other mamas have no concept of the utter hell of baby death can be. I couldn't be around all that nievity and bliss. I felt to dark for it. Like I would be cast into a dark corner.

    Kai loves to do yoga, I encourage it because I believe in so much of it. It is in my bitterness when my thoughts lash out against "The balance and love and surrounded by golden light."...It all feels like words spewed forth and tastes like bile in my mouth after my baby died.
    But when I sit and I say those words, and I breathe in and out, when I sit and try and find a peaceful place, when I am not consumed with my bitter angry thoughts, I find yoga to be incredibly helpful and soothing.

    We have a yoga instructor coming to one of our pregnancy after loss support groups to help us with stress reduction. I am looking forward to it. I want to believe in it, in something. I hope you go to the class, I hope you find it helpful and you are in a place that you can utilize it as a tool instead of being in that bitter hateful spot I described above.

    I wish we could go to the class together, we could cry and reach inside and try to find a ball of light, we could OM and try to forgive ourselves.

  4. This post was amazing. I was so angry at those two women when you first mentioned what they did to you. But then as I read your post, you guided me on a path of forgiveness and by the end I felt compassion toward them. Thank you for that journey.

    I hope you find something positive in yoga again. It has truly changed my life for the better and I hope it can help you too.

  5. I hope that you find this class to be healing. :)

  6. I went to acupuncture with someone I dearly loved through my pregnancy with Kai. I wanted, needed to go back after we lost him and didn't for well over a year because I was too afraid. By the time I went back I was no longer crying every day, or even most days, but something in me knew that I had one last physical space- her office- in which I needed to sob and wail and mourn. I walked in the door and cried for 20 minutes while she held me in her arms, and then I went back for 3 more years- had we not had a C-section with the Monkey, she would have been our doula. Sometimes there is just one more place we need to cry. And that's not a bad thing.

  7. It took me months to go back to yoga after Charlotte died. I'd been in the studio in a prenatal class the morning of the last day she was alive in my belly. I felt beautiful. And less than 24 hours later she was gone. For a while, I blamed yoga for her death. I think I am beginning to let go of that. A few weeks ago I started going back to yoga, but to a different class. I'll never set foot in a prenatal class again. But this one is a restorative class. Most of the folks in there are at least 20 years older than I am. I am the only pregnant person in there. I don't chat with people, and nobody bothers me. My teacher is the same one who taught my prenatal class. She's a babyloss mom, too. I think that's the only reason I'm able to go back. Because I know she gets it. Last week I walked into the studio and cried and cried and she just held me. Going back -- it's not the same. But it's good in the moments I allow it to be. Angie, I hope you can find some peace on your mat, make space to mourn, and develop a new practice if that's what's right for you.

  8. I went to yoga one Monday, and I was the most pregnant person left in the class. All of the other mamas had gone off to have their babies, and I was still waiting. We talked about how I was next, and how I would certainly not be able to attend the next Monday, as I'd certainly have babe in arms. She died the next Monday. Unlike you though, my yoga teacher who was actually a friend of the family, attended Hope's funeral. I never saw or heard from her again, but it meant a lot to me that she was there on that terribly solemn day.
    During Angus' pregnancy, I summoned the energy to do yoga again, but not pre natal yoga, no way. I did regular yoga in a regular class with a bunch of frumpy middle class women and just had my movements restricted. I kept my head down and tried to avoid eye contact and conversation as I didn't want anyone asking "is this your first?" or "how long now?" I stopped going when the teacher said to me one week that she was sure Hope's soul was coming back to me with the new baby. Horse shit. That teacher did however appear on my doorstep one morning when Angus was a few weeks old to give me a baby gift. She also invited me to a mamas and babies yoga class, but I never went.
    I haven't been able to go back to yoga of any kind, but I am working on forgiving my body and making it strong again. Three babies in three years, one of whom died inside of me as you know, have left me feeling so weak and broken for such a long time. Learning to love this baby carrying and nurturing vessel, despite the things it has done wrong, feels like a huge and necessary step for me to take in my continued path of healing.
    I took so much out of this post, Angie.

  9. Yes yes yes, to so much of this post; and to Renel and Sally's comments as well. So much resonated into every cell of my being, Angie.

    I TAUGHT yoga. Preached yoga. Lived yoga. Before he died.

    I haven't touched a yoga mat in almost two years now.

    But a grief and yoga workshop, maybe I could do that.

    Love to you. xo

    1. (meaning maybe I could GO to that workshop. Certainly not teach it.)

  10. I did prenatal yoga with Eliza and thought of it as our special time together. I believed in it, and her death was so shocking in part because I just thought that people who cared enough to do prenatal yoga wouldn't have their babies die. I did yoga afterward, at a different center, trying to feel strong again. I cried a lot during shavasana, but I also breathed deep breaths again. And, like Sally, I did regular yoga when pregnant again. No blissful pregnant mommies classes for me. I didn't always believe in it, but sometimes I felt like Eliza and the Deuce were the most sacred parts of me, so connecting with them through yoga made perfect sense.

  11. I so want to go to Yoga. I am fearful of how the breathing and quiet moments will affect me but I can see how it could be good for grief. Maybe returning to Yoga will be healing and good for you. I hope it brings you that thing that you are searching for.

  12. Angi, I'm glad the yoga went well. (saw your update)
    I went to pre natal yoga with Ernest, and found it tremendously helpful, although very difficult, and I cried a lot.

    "I exiled myself out of the new age community, because I couldn't see myself fitting anywhere other than a cautionary tale."

    This sentence jumped out at me, to a certain extent I've done this too.Though in my case it's based more around the homebirthing community here in my city. I was an active member of my local hb group, I hosted a meeting at my house just a few weeks before Florence was born.I'm still a supporter of home birth, but I feel I'm nothing more than a cautionary tale myself, and I back away silently from anything birthy in the most part.

    I hope the yoga continues to go well. x

  13. I connected so much with this post. Thank you Angie, once again, for sharing.
    I didn't do yoga, but I did meditate at home near the end of my pregnancy. I envisioned labour, and manifested contractions in my mind, and "practiced". I pictured my son and all his aliveness. I tried to centre my journey, and envision his safe arrival. I felt him move while I sat still, eyes closed, breathing, clearing my mind of all things... and focused on the labour I was going to take on - medication free. I started to believe in my baby, and the realness of the pregnancy. I felt the climax on life's horizon approaching. (Working while pregnant, not really thinking too far ahead, I would often 'forget' what I was).

    When he died, I felt like such a fool. Not many knew I meditated my way through my last 4-6 weeks of pregnancy... but I didn't even care about them. It was ME. My relationship with MYSELF was now proven hocus pocus bullshit. Who did I think I was? What did I think I was doing? Envisioning? Breathing...enabling...promoting... health? I felt so useless. And a lot of the time, for the most part, still do.

    I have somewhat exiled my old self from my life. She got everything so wrong. But she had so much hope - I want to start to let her live again. There's nothing wrong with her. She's down, but not out.

    I hope your yoga expereinces go well. There is nothing wrong with you... and there never was. I no doubt believe that you've always been as beautiful as you are today.

    Be well Angie, love to you

  14. I cried through my first class back to yoga (and the second, and third . . . ). My rule for crying was that I would stay through my tears if I was able to be quiet, if I was able to breathe through them. Just once I had to leave and heave in ragged sobs in the bathroom (though there were times I did that in the car on the way home).

    Before Henry died, I went to challenge myself. I pushed and felt strong and kept going and going. After he died, I needed gentle. I went to classes that were quieter in tone and included more meditation. I worked at being in the moment and not letting grief and anxiety overcome me. I found, sometimes, a quiet that was not so terrible as the quiet in my house.

    I miss yoga and the stretchiness in me and the strength and the quiet. I want to go back. I found yoga to be very powerful for grief release. I often left class exhausted but with something loosened that I didn't even realize was stuck. I hope you have a powerful experience with it too, Angie.

  15. Forgiving your body. Powerful and important. How quickly we forget the good things, the living children our bodies did carry even if they did so imperfectly. I hope you find a way back to yoga.

  16. Commenting late, already knowing the class went well. I am so happy you found yoga again.

    My first class was just weeks after Calla died, and I cried almost the whole way through. I kept going back until I found out I was pregnant with O. Like Renel, and Sally too, I couldn't deal with the earth-mama image people wanted me to have. Or something like that. It was just too hard. I practiced all through my pregnancy with E; one of my favorite pictures is of me in Triangle, my huge belly floating in front of me.

    I love yoga, I believe in it, and try to live my life by the principles taught at my studio. I find it both empowering and liberating, while paradoxically tying me to everything I love and know is important.

    It was so hard to go back. I am so glad I did, and I am am so glad you did, too.

  17. 'I wanted to give you the space to grieve' - Angie, I've heard that one a few times too, which usually makes me want to pummel the offending party in the face. I wasn't the one that needed space to deal with my grief, clearly those people were the ones that needed space from my grief.

    I've been thinking a lot about my own relationship to my body since my Max died, and I really got a lot out of reading what you've shared here. I come from a different place than you - one where I have been profoundly uncomfortable with my body for pretty much my whole adult life. I was never comfortable in it; never knowledgeable about it; always scathing of its deficiencies.

    After Max died, though, I felt something I'd never experienced before - a beautiful tenderness towards my body and what it had accomplished, as well as what it had suffered through. I looked at myself in the mirror on the day I got home from hospital, my stomach all sunken and shrivelled up, and I just cried over and over again 'my poor body, my poor body'.

    I feel more nurturing toward it than ever before, despite the fact that it also let me down by expelling Max into the world so long before he was ready. It's been a real eye-opener for me to have these feelings of tenderness and appreciation, and I am working on growing them.

    I hope the class went well.

  18. I could so relate to this. I had a reallllly hard time going to yoga after my son died. I would go to a Anusura class that had really thought provoking messages to lead you through class but sometimes they were just...... not for someone who has buried a child. It left me feeling isolated and angry. not strong and balanced. But i worked through those emotions and continue to do yoga.
    As you put it so well, they are just people in yoga pants with just as much fault as the rest of us. They don't have anything figured out more or less then we do.
    Always love reading your words, Angie. I may not always comment but i am here reading and thinking of you and Lucia. xo

  19. I so relate to this. My husband and I lost our daughter in January, and then I miscarried two weeks ago again, and the feeling of death inside is so strong. The feelings of disappointment in people around us is very present as well. My husband and I go to yoga together, and our instructor there has been one of the few people who has reached out to us in this and has become a friend...but other friends have been silent, and people in churches have been the most disappointing. The lack of acknowledgement of even saying a simple, "I'm sorry" seems to be prevalent. I really struggle with that aspect of grief that seems so common to us all. I'm so glad you were able to go to a grief yoga class. My yoga instructor really encouraged me to attend classes early after our loss to just break into the habit again, and I cried through every class in the beginning months...still do at times depending on the week. But I find it so therapeutic, and my instructor encourages me to cry through it. We are going on a yoga retreat in the mountains in a couple weeks, and I'm really hoping it will bring a new level of healing or break from our routine in this grief. I hope you found the class a huge release from the darkness of death you feel inside. I've found that though there is darkness, there is also light, and you can still honor that light despite the darkness...sometimes it's not as easily recognizable, but it is there if we are quiet and let it reveal itself to us.

  20. That sounds like the perfect opportunity to step back into studio practice. I hope tou' share how that experience was...

  21. Thanks for writing this post, Angie. And as always, thanks for the honesty. I was teaching yoga through my pregnancy, and after Nathaniel died, I felt like all of my yoga practice was for naught. Here I was in the most desperate time in my life, and breathing alone was so excruciatingly painful. Every time I would try to just breathe, the words GOD HATES ME would blare through my brain. How could I connect to a power greater than myself, because that power clearly despised and rejected me? I would try to imagine the appropriate yoga guidance through the despair, and when I would summon my teachers I could not accept what they said because they had never had a baby who died. What could anyone know about my heart if they didn't have a baby who died? This very real, very physical shattered heart? Who could help me navigate to an easy breath? I believed for a long time that yoga could pull me through, but I ended up surrendering that, too.

    I'm curious about your grief yoga workshop - what they focused on (postures? breath? visualization?), what life story brought the teachers to work with grief, and how you responded to the experience.


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