When grief is fresh, and even in the following months or years, the issue of tiredness and fatigue can make it hard to want to do anything. And yet, movement of the body and exercise have been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety (Cramer, et al., 2013).
It may be difficult to motivate yourself to start hitting the gym or training for a marathon when in the depths of grief. However, yoga can offer a gradual way to reconnect with the body and to start moving again. Here are a couple of other ways in which yoga can be beneficial when grieving:
- Connect with emotions. Grief tends to come and go like the waves of an ocean. Sometimes the tides are huge and overwhelming. Sometimes they are small and gentle. Yoga can help remind us of this and teaches us to tolerate the “waves of grief”.
- Get moving. Grief is not just emotional or cognitive; it is physical, too. Yoga can assist in decreasing some of the physical symptoms of grief. And, since we often hold onto our emotions in our bodies, yoga can also help us move those stiff muscles. Research has also shown that yoga can help improve appetite, sleep, energy levels, and concentration (Neimeyer & Young-Eisendrath, 2015).
- Focus on self-care. Self-care is crucial while grieving. Spending time on the mat is a wonderful way to focus back on the self. It is a way to stay in the present moment. Remind yourself that you are important and that taking care of your personal needs is important.
- Regulate brain chemicals. Grief can create a number of changes in brain chemistry. For example, serotonin levels drop during grief and cortisol surges happen. Yoga can aid in regulating these chemicals and help to bring them back into balance.
- Connect with others. By practicing yoga in a group, you get to be around others without direct social interaction which can be tough sometimes when grieving.
Please remember to be gentle with yourself. Starting a yoga practice or returning to one after loss can be challenging. Try starting with simple breathing exercises and then body movements. It can take some time, and it is worth it!
IMPORTANT REMINDER: Yoga is not a substitute for mental health treatment. Please seek professional help if you are experiencing significant symptoms including suicidal thoughts.
Cramer, H., Launch, R., Langhorst, J., et al. (2013). Yoga for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Depression and Anxiety, 30(11), 1068-1083.
Drayer, G. & Doherty, K. (2014). Yoga and grief: A compassionate journey toward healing. Balboa Press: Bloomington, IN.
Helbert, K. (2016). Yoga for grief and loss. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: London, UK.
Neimeyer, R. A. & Young-Eisendrath, P. (2015). Assessing the Buddhist treatment for bereavement and loss: The mustard seed project. Death Studies, 39(5), 263-273.
Sausys, A. (1999). Yoga for grief relief: Simple practices for transforming your grieving mine and body. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Oakland: CA.
Streeter, C.C., Whitfield, T.H., Owen, L., et al. (2010). Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(11):1145-1152.