We’re back from our trip overseas for my father-in-law’s memorial, and March has flown by us, between jet-lag, “spring forward” into daylight savings, a couple of drop-everything-else projects, renovating our new townhouse, and guests. It’s hard to believe that we’re in the last days of March!
I’m still processing all of the ceremonies, beauty, and emotions that I experienced as our family sent my father-in-law on his way and will share more thoughts about it at some point. For now, here’s a little taste of what I learned.
As we arrived at my mother-in-law’s house, the air was hushed with sadness even as dozens of relatives and friends filled the space. Cousins and sisters ushered me in one direction to see my mother-in-law right away. Though we don’t often speak the same language of words, we understood each other clearly with our tears and hugs as the shared language of grief. I realized something important that night that will help me so much in the future.
Even when you feel uncertain of what to say to someone who has lost a loved one, trust that you can show your support without words. Your presence alone makes a difference.
My husband’s brothers led him a different way when we arrived, and gave him holy clothes to wear for rituals prior even to entering the house, including a ceremonial head and face shaving. As days of observances and memorials ensued, we barely spoke for the first part of the trip because he was so busy. In Hindu culture, the sons hold many responsibilities for the rituals, and he spent most of the time those first days fulfilling them with his brothers.
As his wife, I also had certain roles to play, and I appreciate so much how my in-laws included me so fully, despite the language and cultural differences. I had the honor of performing a ceremony with the other daughter-in-laws, which required me to have my own priest to help me since I didn’t understand the instructions. I sang songs (some of which I did understand, thanks to yoga). I shucked peas, stirred one of my father-in-law’s favorite dishes as it cooked, and fried cauliflower pakora for a ritual feast offered to the deceased. I had never been so thoroughly immersed in grieving through ritual. As a result, I learned something that seems so obvious, and yet sometimes feels so hard to do.
Being wholly present to grief, while knowing that it is a dynamic state that you can and will move through, can somehow make it feel more manageable than when we resist it.
It’s easy to get stuck in the polarities of grief. On one side is the resistance, numbing, and running away from the negative emotions. I’ve definitely been there and done that. On the other side is getting attached to those negative emotions and feeling stuck in despair and depression. Been there and done that too. Here’s what I’ve found:
To allow yourself to swing the pendulum and feel grief fully without getting stuck on either end, somehow transcends the suffering. It doesn’t disappear. It just changes and becomes less overwhelming.
During the time leading up to our trip, while we were overseas, and when we returned, I turned to my restorative yoga practice again and again. When I started to think about why it was so helpful, a few key thoughts popped up for me.
Grief is exhausting, especially when you are really present to it in yourself and in others. Presence requires an expenditure of energy, and restorative yoga helps replenish that.
When you resist letting go, a gripping can take hold in the mind and the body. The denial and anger stages of grief represent an understandable clinging to the life that was, which is the flip side of our fear of death, or Abhinivesha, as we call it in yoga. Restorative yoga can help you release the gripping that can come from holding onto the way things were.
A more subtle magic of restorative yoga is the way that it helps you cultivate stillness in the body and mind, similar to meditation. That stillness helps prepare you to be more present in difficult situations.
It’s not about getting into the posture and turning off or zoning out. It’s about using the posture to be present, release, and go inside, while deeply resting. In this way, restorative yoga makes you more resilient, even though we usually think that working hard and suffering is what makes us more resilient.
Sometimes the hardest work is not to work so hard.
P.S. If you want to deepen your restorative yoga practice, I’m offering a special Candle Light Restorative class on April 5 (go to the weekly schedule to reserve your spot!), and a weekend immersion training in Chicago, April 5-7. Click here for more details on the full weekend. Check out my weekly restorative class on Sundays in Charlotte, NC too!