Simple Yoga to Feel Better

By Alissa Lesperance, CPT and Rebecca Simon, LMSW

When a loved one dies, there is a sadness that often cannot be put into words. However, we can describe feelings of loss within our bodies. For example, we describe suffering from "heartache" and "heart break" and many people express feeling physical symptoms like sharp pains in their stomach, trouble catching their breath, getting out of bed, or even struggling with poor vision. When we are sad, when we feel broken, when we have had a devastating loss in our lives, our physical bodies can hold on to that pain.

Many feel that yoga postures can contribute to better overall mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. Yoga can be done in the privacy of your own home without expensive equipment or a huge time commitment.

It is not uncommon to hear people say that they are "bad" at yoga. There is no such thing as being bad at yoga. The reason you will hear teachers describe it as a "practice" is because it is just that. The most important aspect of yoga is simply to try it. Yoga poses will not cure heartache, because, unfortunately, there is no cure for grief. There are, however, many tools we can use to continue to check-in, support, and care for ourselves as we process our sadness. Because yoga doesn't require great athletic skill, a gym membership, or special equipment, it can be something we turn to when caring for ourselves.

Below are a few suggested poses as a starting point. It is beneficial to practice all of these poses in their restorative, supported versions. Restorative poses allow the body to relax (because in order for the mind to relax, the body must relax). These poses can lead to improved immune function and sleep, while also calming anxiety. If you have any questions about these poses, you can Google their names to view images and even videos to help guide you through them.

As you process your loss, practicing simple yoga postures may help some of your the physical symptoms feel better. Before you start, though, be sure to check with your doctor to make sure your symptoms aren't related to any kind of physical illness.

Supported Bound Angle Pose ("Supta Baddha Konasana")

  1. Sit on the floor with the soles of the feet pressed together and knees open to the sides. Your feet should be as close to your body as is comfortable without straining or tucking the tailbone. You may choose to use a yoga block or pillow under each knee.
  2. Place one or more blankets, lengthwise on the floor behind the body to support the spine and head. You may choose to use an additional pillow to slightly elevate the head as you lay back onto the blankets.
  3. Position yourself so that you are sitting just in front of the blankets, gently lower yourself to the floor.
  4. Allow your arms to open at your sides with the palms facing up. Close your eyes, relax, and breathe.

Supported Child's Pose ("Balasana")

  1. Kneel on the floor, placing the toes together with pointed feet and keeping the knees wide. Sit back toward the heels.
  2. Place a bolster or rolled up blanket lengthwise between the knees.
  3. Fold forward onto the blanket (make sure the blanket is long enough to support the torso and head)
  4. Turn one cheek toward the blanket and lay the arms alongside the torso with the palms facing up. Allow the shoulders to relax and the lower back to broaden. Relax and breathe. After some time, turn the opposite cheek and repeat breathing and relaxation.

Supported Bridge Pose ("Setu Bandha Sarvangasana")

  1. Lay on your back with arms alongside the body. Bend your legs and position feet hip width apart with the heels close to the buttocks.
  2. Root down firmly through both feet and begin to press the hips off the ground, moving one vertebra at a time until you come to rest on the shoulders and feet.
  3. Once the hips are lifted, you may choose to place a yoga block or a couple of rolled up blankets under the hips so that you can relax and enjoy the benefits of this heart opening pose without effort.
  4. Allow the outer shoulders to roll underneath the body and let the palms face up. Relax and breathe into the heart and hips, lengthening and opening the front of the body.

Alissa Lesperance, CPT is a Certified Yoga Instructor and Rebecca Simon, LMSW, is the Family Services Coordinator at the Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank