Three Activities to Help Heal a Bereaved Heart

By Ken Breniman

For the past 6 years, I have had the honor to hold space for hundreds of people in my Yoga for Grief workshops in the SF Bay Area.  Over the past year, this sacred gathering has found a sweet hOMe at Namaste Yoga and Wellness. I added the subtitle:  Healing Hearts, Healing Bodies because the grieving process is unique for each one of us and there are a variety of places within our being that unhealed energies or emotions can get stuck. I found that by offering a yoga practice that participants were able to release emotions that had become stuck in the body and helped them move through some very difficult mind states. I also always knew that just a half day of yoga or a 6 week series of yoga sessions could be a safe and supportive space for grieving yogis and yoginis but that it could not ‘cure’ the bereaved heart.   

So what might one do to patiently tend to a healing heart during an extended time of grief?   In my own personal journey and in hearing from participants of these gatherings, I have found that the following three activities have been helpful during the darker days of loss to channel the pain and anguish, and assist in working through the numbness.  These three activities also provide a safe go-to place even after the acute grief response has subsided and we come to realize that there will be waves of grief in the days, months or years to come.   kenbrenimanandmom

1. Journaling.

I started journaling when I was a teen and about two years before my mom became ill.  Journaling literally saved my life while I was trying to make sense of my mom’s sudden death. I look back at those journal entries and they were riddled with questions I still don’t have the answers to, but allowed me a space to let my heart’s voice be heard rather than shut down. Over the years, journaling has become my free (and always available) therapist and I continue to write in a journal on a regular basis.  Of course, there are times when the journal sits at the bed side for weeks but for me it has become one of the best tools in times of loss and grief and I highly recommend checking out this website on grief journaling.  

2) Tonglen Meditation     

This can be a powerful practice when done on a regular basis. Tonglen meditation is a Buddhist technique that helps a grieving person find a way to sit with the suffering using the in breath to find a way to release the pain, suffering, despair, anger or other unhealed energies so that we can open our hearts to feel relief, joy, forgiveness, and other healed emotions through the out breath.  Pema Chodron, a great Buddhist nun, has a graceful way of teaching Tonglen.  Check out Pema’s teaching here.

kenbreniman3) Creating an Altar in your home

Admittedly, this was the hardest one to begin for me because I somehow though that a nondenominational eclectic animist like myself who didn’t have any lineage or tradition, didn’t have a foundation for building a sacred space in my home.  Then it dawned on me, that is all the more reason to build one!  No matter what your beliefs or non-beliefs are, if you are mourning the loss of a beloved person, pet or the loss of some thing, (i.e. a relationship, a job, health) you deserve to have an area in your home that helps to ground and center you!  And even though it took me years to find out how powerful my tiny little bookshelf altar would be in my healing journey, I laughed out loud when I searched the web for a ‘how to build an altar in your home’ and found the simplest of instructions. Check out these three steps to creating an altar!

I am prone to borrow Mae West’s wisdom at times like these: “I didn’t say it would be easy, I did say it would be worth it.” I hope you find these tips helpful and if you have any healing tools that you would like to share or if you have any questions on how to deepen your healing practice, please email Ken or share in the comments below!

From my healing heart to yours, I wish you solace and peace in your healing journey.

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Mama Needs a Minute

Mama Needs a Minute is a short yoga sequence created by soon to be mama and Namaste teacher Ashley West Roberts. This short but powerful practice is aimed at taking a break throughout the day when you may feel wiped out, overwhelmed or simply in need of reprieve. Try this practice any time of day and focus on rooting down through your strong legs to get grounded in to this special time. Use props like blankets, blocks and eye pillows to help yourself find comfort in each pose and hold each pose for at least 8 breaths. You’ll feel good as new (and baby will too) when you’re done with this sequence.

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Mamas remember, your practice should support you. Practice when you feel up for it but be gentle with yourself. Practice one or all of these poses to reconnect with yourself and your baby. TIP: Use the wall in standing balances like tree pose to practice accepting support when you need it.

For more information on the full Prenatal and Postnatal offering at Namaste, including workshops and classes, please visit our website!

For another quick yoga sequence check out Ashley’s recent post 5 Minutes to Move.

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Namaste Teachers Share the Best Yoga Advice They’ve Received

We asked Namaste Yoga teachers one question: what is the best advice that you’ve received regarding your yoga practice? (spoiler: we have some seriously wise teachers!).

Here’s what they said:

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Judy Rukat

When I began my teacher training with the late Larry Schultz, I had NEVER practiced yoga before and was not enjoying the training (to say the least). Yoga broke me down, humbled me and was too much for me in every way. In fact, it felt like a sort of painful death. I approached Larry with my discontent and he told me, “You are on the path to becoming a great teacher,” and GENEROUSLY gifted me my teacher training because he believed in me. That’s real yoga.

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Richard Rosen

A friend of my wife is a professional astrologer and psychic and he once gave me a free session. Though I’m not a psychic kinda guy, I went just to be polite and he told me that “as a yoga teacher I’m not working with people’s bodies as much as with their souls” this advice has stayed with me now for many years.

 

Elana Morgulis

Elana Morgulis

I think the best advice I’ve received was a simple reminder mid-pose to notice the quality of my breath. If my breath felt constricted, I could gently back off. It gave me permission to be gentle with myself, and I experienced a profound relief and freedom within. Whew, I feel good just thinking about it!

 

 

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Reba Gray

Master the practice of ahimsa (cause no injury or harm). Make that the most important thing in your yoga practice right now.”

 

 

 

 

kenbrenimanKen Breniman

The best advice I received from my teacher Darren Main, was when he said: “Ken, teach from your heart!” He really encouraged me to connect to my authentic self and through following his wisdom,  I have focused much of my on-the-mat and off-the-mat healing on connecting to Source so that I can teach what the students want/need without my  worries or doubts getting in the way.

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Annemaria Rajala

I draw constant inspiration from one of my teachers, Sam Chase. He told me that a yoga practice should “meet us where we are and help guide us toward what we desire to become.” I strive to live by this on a daily basis.

 

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Poh Teng

My favorite advice is something passed down from senior practitioners of Eknath Easwaran’s Passage Meditation and the collective wisdom of the satsang. “The spiritual path is not easy. It is similar to climbing a mountain. On our trek towards the summit, the conditions of our journey change all the time.  Sometimes, the sun shines brightly, the weather is fine. Maybe the incline isn’t even that bad.  We experience progress during our travels and we feel pretty good about ourselves. Other times, the weather is dreadful and we cannot find shelter. Maybe the trek around the dark side of the mountain, where the sun is hidden from us, is longer and harder than anticipated. Maybe we come to an obstacle in our path that causes what appears to be set backs. (sic) In our own time, we eventually arrive at the summit where we meet each other. Keep practicing. And all is coming.”

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Julia Beauchamp

The best advice I received from a yoga teacher was about how “the inhale is a rising up and the exhale is circling down”. In this way we create an energetic loop around the spine every time we breathe. The change of direction above the head and below the tail bone are important, crucial points of transition– the moments in between when time stops and for a moment we cease to exist until the loop picks up momentum again.David Schlussel

David Schlussel

“Practice less, more often”

 

 

Domonick Wegesin

Dr. Domonick Wegesin

“Just fucking do it” from mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat- Zinn.

 

 

 

Naushon Kabat-Zinn

The best advice I have ever received is from my teacher Baba Hari Dass, who always said “Teach to Learn.”

 

 

rosy schlussel

Rosy Schlussel

My teacher Sofia Diaz has said some things that have stuck with me for many years, here’s a couple of zingers: “Yoga is the willingness to feel what you have committed to through being alive.”

 And a little more complex & shocking, perhaps: “The difference between dragging your body around behind you like a dead dog on a leash and yoga, is the answer to the question: “Are you in love?”

 

Claudia Florian Mccaffrey

Claudia Florian-McCaffrey

The best yoga advice I’ve received from one of my teachers was to “get on my mat for just 5 minutes.” This taught me that all I needed to create a practice was a mat and my breath. After those few minutes I had the choice to stay on my mat or finish my practice and it worked! I never stayed on my mat for just 5 minutes. I got inspired to take care of myself because those five minutes felt great and I wanted to stay longer!

Tara Sullivan

Tara Sullivan

Best advice about my practice was from my teacher Sharon Gannon who said, “The best way to uplift your own life is to do all you can to uplift the lives of others.”

What is the best advice you’ve received from a yoga teacher? Please share in the comments!

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