By Christina Winholt Raccuia
2016 was a trauma-filled year for me, as I experienced multiple losses. I lost my mother, a pregnancy, a relationship, and my home.
When we experience such loss, we also lose all of the hopes, dreams, and expectations connected with those people or places. Grieving is unique to each individual and we each have our own timeline for grieving. I was in a state of shock and couldn’t comprehend how brutal physical grief can be—I lost my appetite and couldn’t sleep. My body was tight with tension. All I wanted to do was curl up on my bed, go to sleep, and pretend it was a bad dream.
After feeling numb and paralyzed for months, in January 2017 I decided to resume yoga; it has been my lifeline ever since. During a time filled with large and intense feelings of sadness, pain, and anger, my yoga practice saved me. It has helped me maintain balance. I have allowed myself to experience any feelings I was having during the practice. Initially, I cried a lot. There were times when tears covered my face and either the instructor or one of the assistants would lay a soft hand on me as a way of saying, “You are safe here and I will hold you through this.” It was and continues to be incredibly comforting.
On one level, my yoga practice was physically enlivening. It awakened my senses, increased awareness of my body, and made me feel better. But, on a deeper level, yoga fortified me and gave me perspective. I realized that if I could stay within that moment—maintain my breath in a different pose—I could handle it. In any situation, if you can breathe through it, you can handle it. Life is suffering, The Buddha says, and we don’t get to live and not lose because if we care about anyone or anything, we are going to experience loss.
Faced with grief, most people seek solace by drawing close to family and friends, speaking with a therapist or a priest. However, there are times when Eastern practices like yoga can bring healing like nothing else can.
After all of my losses, I feared further loss. I wanted to know where my children were at all times and feared for my dog. I convinced myself that I couldn’t survive the present crises emotionally or physically, or that my loss was so unfathomable that I didn’t want to survive. I was clinging to the one thing I didn’t have in the present moment: what is NOT. These are precisely the situations in which the wisdom of yoga tradition can be enormously helpful. Asana, breath work, and meditation taught me to focus on my present moment and accept what was. I am slowly starting to experience a life after loss.
Yoga allowed me to probe my grief—to go into my pain, not to run from it. I somehow emerged more whole and freer, by focusing on my immediate physical and emotional experience. Rather than trying to work through it, I have attempted to integrate my grief into who I am, and into my body as well. I try to exercise self-compassion. Yoga helps me to live within my body and with my emotions.
Christina Winholt Raccuia is a psychotherapist with offices located at 23A West 10th Street.