Some weeks ago, a student of mine asked me for advice after class. I noticed she’d had a particularly tiresome practice. She seemed frustrated with her practice. She opened up privately when the room cleared out. Her dog had recently passed away from a seizure in her home. She was overwhelmed, shocked and grief stricken. Through her tears she asked defeated, “ Are there any yoga poses or breathing exercises I can do to help me feel better?” I empathized with her knowing if my own puppy had left my life it would be an enormous loss.
I scanned my mental glossary and demonstrated Viparita Karani, legs up a wall pose. Essentially, all that was required of her in this asana was to sit as close as possible to a wall and swivel her legs up against it. My training advised me that it relieved feelings of fatigue, insomnia and mild depression, all traditional symptoms associated with mourning. I was unsure if this simple Asana could be of much use when grieving. I had never been requested advice of this nature before. As she looked at me hopeful, I felt somewhat obliged to offer her guidance. It was with slight trepidation that I recommended Viparita Karani, I am not a therapist nor had I any personal experience with yoga and grieving. I looked to the Hippocratic oath of “at first do no harm”. At worst, this pose would do nothing. It is a widespread restorative pose for many conditions. At best, she might feel uplifted. In concert with this, I suggested she put an eye pillow or towel over her eyes and try just to focus on the breath. I had her brings her hands to her belly and breathe deeply and fully into the abdomen, attempting to lift her palms and move them slightly outward with her breath. I instructed her to make her exhalations slightly longer than the inhalations, a calming Pranayama. With so much focus on breath and movement of the belly, her mind might become relieved of the tremendous onus she had put on herself. I gave her my best space-holding hug and she was on her way.
Three weeks later, after a brief absence, she returned to my yoga class. She had a familiar smile once again. She moved through her practice with grace and control. When she closed her eyes in Savasana, her face looked serene. Afterward, she approached me with her regular enthusiasm explaining to me that she took the advice to heart and was feeling back to her normal self. “I thought the key to feeling better was to keep busy, keep moving, constantly find activities. But you were right. I needed to slow down. I needed Savasana. When I was breathing, I felt better and calmer. I realized that my dog’s passing was not my fault- there was nothing I could do. I thought the trick was keep busy but it was exactly the opposite. Every time I was sad, I laid in Savasana or I put my legs on the wall like you said. I just breathed. I just laid there and breathed.”
I felt a massive gratitude that I was able to help her. She reminded me that slowing down and surrendering, even to our moments of sadness, are necessary steps to becoming whole. It seems that our lives of career, friend and family obligations are so busy and perpetually bombarded by media, communication and to do lists. It pains me sometimes when I walk in to the yoga shala to see students texting, reading e-mails and then quickly slipping muted phones under towels or sweaters. We are so constantly connected that we have become trained to feel naked or un-whole without our techno apparatus. We are so scared of missing tiny socially mediated moments that we forget to enjoy the seconds in our present surroundings. It is so rare that we give ourselves permission to slow down and do nothing. Five to seven minutes of Savasana following a vigorous yoga class is wonderfully healing and recuperative, but it may not be enough when we are at our mental or physical breaking point.
I remember once I had the flu, but still the Tapas, the burning enthusiasm, to attend a yoga class with my favorite teacher. Once there, I completed half of a sun salutation and thought I might faint. I decided to listen to my body and took Savasana. I laid still and drifted into a blissful state between dreaming and consciousness. About 25 minutes later, I felt a warm hand on my shoulder. The instructor leaned in, “Lauren,” she whispered, “I’m so glad you’re here.”
I was so fortunate at that moment to be in an environment of complete love and acceptance. With just five words, this yogini was able to create a safe-haven in which I could, on my yoga mat, completely surrender to what my body needed and the way I felt at that moment. On my yoga mat, I had a six by two foot world where I could be completely in the moment, feel my body, mind and soul in its entirety and respond to its needs. I laid motionless on my back and enjoy the bliss of those minutes. Minutes of allowing my body to melt, heal and breathe. Sometimes we all just need to let go and let be. Even if we are not sad, injured or sick, tranquility can still be a gift we give ourselves. We should see it as a positive to enjoy moments of stillness, enjoy deep breathing and embrace doing nothing in order to return to our natural energetic selves.
“Shine until tomorrow, let it be” – John Lennon.
Lauren Rudick is an international yoga instructor based out of Montreal, Canada. She specializes in teaching yoga to athletes, injury prevention/recovery. Her classes are infused with humor and positivity, helping students build confidence on and off the mat. When not teaching she dabbles in making yoga inspired jewelry. Lauren’s joys in life include her dog Julius, snowboarding, singing in the shower, beaches, being barefoot, climbing trees and spontaneous world travel.