I Created ‘Grief Yoga’ Because the Body Remembers the Pain We’ve Felt, By Paul Denniston

BY PAUL DENNISTON

Join Paul and David Kessler for their workshop Grief Yoga at Golden Bridge Yoga NYC on Sunday, May 1st, 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm.



“Men don’t cry, toughen up and be strong.” As a shy kid growing up in Southern Texas, I was taught that sadness was a sign of weakness. I never felt like I fit in. I would isolate myself from others. That disconnection happened socially, but also physically too. I began to overeat and drown my feelings. I avoided gym class for the fear of being ridiculed.

As I became older, I ran away from any feelings of sadness or grief by becoming active. I put on a happy face and became very busy. I avoided anything or anyone who was a “downer.” I didn’t attend my grandfather’s funeral. Even as I was well into adulthood, I avoided my best friend’s mother’s funeral. I knew her well and disappointed my friend when I wasn’t there for him.

I began to feel a calling to attend a yoga class. After much resistance, I finally allowed myself to experience yoga. Something opened up within my body that allowed my mind to calm down and focus on the present moment. Tears began to flow. I experienced peace. As I continued taking yoga classes, I would catch myself constantly focusing on the past, or fear and anxiety of the future. As I learned to surrender to the present moment, my body opened up to feelings. The thoughts of my critical mind and feelings of not being enough started to come up for me to compassionately embrace. I would observe and allow them to pass. I would surrender to feelings on my yoga mat and located where I was experiencing the sensation in my body. After experiencing them fully, I felt lighter afterwards. I started to tune into my body and listen.

My broken heart would bring up failed relationships that I was still processing. Yoga allowed my chaotic mind to become focused in the present and say it’s okay to just be and feel. I explored emotions that I had numbed and kept hidden so well that I didn’t know they were there.

I went deeper into my yoga practice and became a teacher. This practice helped me to be more centered, clear, focused and empowered. I wanted to share this amazing tool with others. Then I broke my wrist and was out of commission for a bit. I had to slow down. My wonderful old dog Angel was sick and not doing well. I felt like my body was breaking and so was hers. The sadness was back again. Once more I brought it all to my yoga mat. I learned patience and surrender. Luckily in time, we both healed.

As a teacher, I love setting an intention for a class. I became fascinated in creating an entire practice with the intention of healing grief and loss. As I embraced my own grief, I learned how these feelings are universal. We all experience loss. If we don’t fully honor the loss and our feelings, it can become stuck within the body. The body remembers.

I continued on my yoga journey studying under masters like Gurmukh and Seane Corn. I become a teacher of many branches of yoga including Hatha Yoga, Vinayasa Flow, Restorative Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and Laughter Yoga. I volunteered giving Compassionate Heart Touch to people in hospice in their final stage of life. I studied loss with grief expert David Kessler.

I decided to create a class that I would love to take. My intention with my Grief Yoga class is to create a ritual to use pain and suffering as fuel for healing. I knew that unresolved grief was the shadow aspect of the heart. I wanted to create a special sacred yoga ritual. I was inspired by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief and focused on exercises to help students move through anger, regret, disappointment, and loss. The class focuses on healing a broken heart to bring us back to love instead of suffering. Something healing happens in a compassionate yoga session focused on embracing the feelings of grief. The postures, movements and breathing techniques allow students to befriend their body and relationship with loss. The graceful yet powerful movement helps them access their submerged feelings. We can embrace our grief, or it can swallow us up.

I teach this class to Bereavement Groups, Cancer Support Centers, Addiction Groups, and those dealing with break ups, divorce and death. I’m teaching what I need to remind myself. It’s okay to show vulnerability. That vulnerability isn’t a weakness; it’s actually a place of strength. As I travel teaching Grief Yoga to therapists and counselors, I recognize that grief is actually a gift. We run from the pain of loss. Grief is the gift of healing. It’s an expression of how much we’ve loved. Life is precious. With Grief Yoga, I’ve learned to honor the love, not the pain. I’m grateful that it has helped me and so many others heal our feelings of loss and move toward empowerment.

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