So, you thought you might try some yoga for your grief?
Yoga certainly has benefits for the bereaved. Practicing yoga (and some martial arts like Tai Chi) teaches calming and focused breathing techniques that anchor us to the present moment. It supports mindfulness meditation that calms our bodies and eases our pain. From yoga, we learn gentle (as well as more vigorous) body movements that can help us to release the tension, anxiety, and fear that emerges in some griefs.
Maybe you’ve found a good class and a teacher who is happy to mentor you in the techniques that may seem odd, different, or just new. You bought a mat, and you have comfortable clothes. What can stop you from moving forward?
Well, some people worry that their faith might interfere with the yoga practice. Maybe it’s really the other way around: they worry that yoga might interfere with or even be against their faith. More specifically, some people of strong Christian faith have expressed that they think God won’t approve of practices that don’t come directly from Christianity.
Having a spiritual life is important to how we process our grief, and I encourage active exploration of whatever spirituality people have. I’m a practicing Catholic Christian, so I know the deep benefits of an active spiritual life in working with my grief and in supporting people who are bereaved. I believe that faith in God is a crucial aspect of understanding why and how humans grieve and the love that is connected to loss, particularly death loss.
Yet, some people have shared their worry that because yoga is an ancient practice connected historically to the Buddhist and Hindu peoples, God won’t approve of it. Others have expressed worry that adopting some of the Eastern philosophies, although they’ve been taught in the West for many years, is a sin and a way of letting darkness into their lives. With yoga, a different language introduces new ideas, and that can be off putting for people with these worries: himsa is used for harm and ahimsa for giving no harm, asana for pose, chakras for the energy points from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, and yoga nidra for yogic sleep that accesses the deep unconscious. Yoga itself means union or to yoke, join, or integrate. Different uses of prayer hands (hands connected with fingers together) for bowing to each other with respect and gratitude might make some people feel as if they’re worshiping the other.
I believe that doing yoga isn’t sinful or dark just because it’s different or calls upon beliefs by names we don’t know. Humans have always borrowed activities from other cultures, as I think we should if we’re to see humanity as one family and not one divided by race and culture. Yoga can be a useful practice whether one ascribes to the yogic beliefs or not.
In fact, many yogic beliefs correspond to Christian theology: We shouldn’t harm others. We should take care of our bodies as temples of the Lord. We have been given the breath of the Spirit as our energy. We should pray meditatively and contemplatively. We are yoked to Christ, whose yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28–30), but there will be times of great effort in our lives (1 Corinthians 3:9 and 1 Corinthians 15:58, for example). We should honor Christ in each other, being respectful and grateful for whatever the other person has given us. In doing so, we work for God.
Yet, everything we do, we can do in God’s name (1 Colossians 3:17), and that includes yoga practice whether for grief or just good health. Take God to the mat. Use this yoga time to honor God’s Spirit—whatever and however you see God. As you move through the poses, talk to God as you see God. Tell God about your grief and how your losses have changed your life. Ask for what you need. Rail in pain at God. Express your awe of God in the Sun Salute or your anger when doing Warrior poses. Laugh with God when you think of how you look doing a Downward Facing Dog or Cat and Cow poses. Bless and thank God when you rest in Child’s pose and take such time to connect with God’s blessings for you.
God can come to the mat as your Friend, Supporter, Parent, and Lord. Don’t worry about other people’s beliefs regarding yoga. Engage your own beliefs about God’s love to help you when using yoga for any purpose but especially when you use it for help in working with your grief. If you ask, God will come to the mat with you. What better yoga companion could you have?
© 2023 Beth L. Hewett