Good Grief

Ok this post will have nothing to do with Charlie Brown or the Peanuts gang. But I will note that my mom always told me I was a bit of a Lucy. I guess that means that you can give me a nickel next time you see me for this bit of thought.

My Grandma Mishler on my wedding day. She was a genius and wore slip-on shoes and wrinkle-free fabric.

My Grandma Mishler on my wedding day. She was a genius and wore slip-on shoes and wrinkle-free fabric.

Today is the sixth anniversary of my grandmother Margaret’s passing. It is very fitting that near this anniversary I have focused intention setting in my classes around loss. This is a topic I have wanted to approach for weeks but I wasn’t able to find the right way in. I read about grief trying to understand what universal truth there is in the experience of it. This week, I was given some guidance on how to hold space for my students so they could reflect on loss in a safe way.

I want to back the train up for a moment. There is another reason why it is so fitting that I share this lesson on the anniversary of my grandmother passing — her dying was what first brought me to yoga. I wasn’t looking for anything from yoga other than a way to distract myself from the reality that my last living grandparent was dying. I didn’t know that it would entirely change my life over the course of the next six years.

Margaret Mishler was an amazing woman who was my first example of feminism in action. She was a working mother (and grandmother) who taught her daughters and granddaughters they could do anything. Her laugh filled the room. Her stories were incredible. I wish I had known her better during her time with us on Earth.

When she was diagnosed with liver cancer she knew that it would be her end. I lived in Wisconsin at the time and wasn’t often able to visit her in Michigan during those last months. But I learned that through my yoga practice, I could offer her my strength and could connect to her that way. This is partially the reason I was so drawn to a powerful practice; I needed all the strength I could muster for this mission.

The final time I saw her was on her “last good day” a term that is familiar to folks in the cancer community. She was up and telling us about her trip to a Detroit Tigers (or her boys as she called them) game. I know it was the power of my practice that allowed her to be present with me during that visit. I know this practice can connect, support, heal, and serve us in mysterious ways.

Back to the original purpose of this post…

Camel pose, a mega heart-opener. For some folks, this pose might make them feel as though their heart is breaking open. For me, I feel a buzzy and loving sensation.

Camel pose, a mega heart-opener. For some folks, this pose might make them feel as though their heart is breaking open. For me, I feel a buzzy and loving sensation.

I wanted to share with my students a way to understand grief through their yoga practice. A teacher of mine explained that the way to approach this topic was not from the “we’re all going to die some day” angle. It is much better to invite my students to cherish the memories they have while mourning that new memories cannot be made. If you can do these things in parallel, you can grieve in a very healthy way.

In my reading, I came across C.S. Lewis’ book “A Grief Observed” chronicling his experience losing his wife. In the very beginning he likens the feeling of grief to that of fear. I thought about how we hold fear in our bodies and where that could hide as tension and pain. Then I came across the words of Thich Nhat Hanh,

 “Enlightenment is when the wave realizes it is the ocean.”

These pieces became the building blocks of my teaching. I focused on a sequence that would target the areas in our bodies where we hold fear and grief. And I used the imagery of water to help students think about those they lost as simply in a new state of being.

I was feeling very self-conscious sharing a topic so heavy with my students. I generally have a more lighthearted style. But instead of feeling push back from students, I was greeted with welcoming ears. Someone even thanked me for approaching such a brave topic. The holidays can be a time when the festivities serve as a reminder of who is no longer with us which is another reason it was the right time to share this intention. I am not sure anyone had the same life altering connection with their practice that I had 6 years ago, but maybe they could offer someone they love a bit of strength and power too.