Guest author and cambio teacher Shelby Palmeri returns to offer up her experience of grief and its relationship with her yoga practice. There is a lot to be taken from this week's installment of Yoga Living Project so read below to see what resonates with you. If you have an experience you'd like to share, reach out to Austin at
On Grief and Yoga
It is no secret that grief visits everyone. It does not discriminate between young and old or rich and poor. It meets you wherever you are on your path, doesn’t care about your plans or dreams. It is unpredictable and unreliable. Some meet it early in life then come to know it again and again. Others go decades without ever connecting with grief, only to have a chance encounter just when they had almost forgotten it existed.
My mom experienced it before me (as most of our parents do), with loss of her younger brother then the early loss of her own mother. At the time I was too young to understand her experience, too unaware to empathize with her sadness and despair. Grief was still this far off idea, something I’d seen in passing, but yet to look right in the eye.
My chance to do so came soon enough though. At the ripe age of twenty-one, my boyfriend of two years took his life.
Although everyone experiences loss, not all are as fortunate as I was in that I already had a consistent yoga practice. I practiced the morning he died. Unaware that grief was looking for my apartment, I did sun salutations next to my huge living room windows.
No one really tells you what grieving feels like, and this is because there is truly no way to accurately describe it. For every bit that you can put into words, there is just as much that you cannot, the physical expressions, the mental blocks, the haziness, the laziness, the fury and the tears.
No teacher I’ve ever had or book I’ve ever read has said that yoga is the key to happiness. But rather, the key to yoga is that it allows you to sit with, just to be with, whatever emotions are there. Be they happiness, be they grief, yoga gives you the space to allow it all to wash over you. It teaches you how not to pack up and run when those emotions make you uncomfortable.
During my grieving process (a process that I’m sure is still ongoing), my yoga looked different everyday. Sometimes, I’d put on a 90-minute power video and sweat out my emotions. I’d do jumping jacks and push-ups and planks until I was out of my head and in the moment, relishing in quivering muscles and a sweaty shirt. But much more often, my yoga did not take that shape, did not resemble what we may think of as a typical session.
No, most importantly to my healing, my yoga was rolling out my mat then laying down on it, keeping a journal on the floor next to me, queuing up ancient sounds on YouTube. I’d rest in corpse pose for hours, sometimes my brain drifted off to other times and places, other times it stayed busy thinking, tears forming a puddle on the mat next to my cheek bones. I did every sort of meditation you could think of. Guided by strangers on the Internet, and guided by the voice of my soul.
I’d picture the person I lost, starting at his toes, envisioning every detail up to his mop of blonde hair. I’d write him. I’d write myself. I’d soak in my tub till the water went cold. I’d spend time with my parents and call my friends. I saw my therapist and read self-help; I looked for signs that he was still with me, asking the universe to throw me a bone in the form of synchronicity and coincidence. I’d watch the shows we used to watch together, listen to our favorite songs on repeat. I’d scream into my pillow. I would scream into my steering wheel.
To me then, and to me now, all of this was my yoga. This was me being lucky enough to have the tools that I needed to care for myself when grief came knocking. Yoga is so much more than most give it credit for. It is healing and it is vital. Yoga is giving yourself the time that you need when you need it. Time to grieve is unfortunately not something most people take for themselves. Had I not taken this time in the months immediately following my loss, I am not sure where I would be.
Grief is not linear; it cannot be put in a box, and fortunately neither can yoga. I know without a doubt that my yoga practice helped to make the mucky process as neat as it could be. This practice of self-care was imperative- it helped me accept what had happened to me and eventually to see all the beauty and good that came from it.
Don’t be intimidated by the yoga! Don’t be intimidated by the grief. Let your practice be what it needs to be, and let your emotions be there, too. When grief shows up to destroy and debilitate, allow yourself all the time and space you need to recover and rebuild.
“This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival...
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight...
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”