Divorce! Job loss! How yoga helped me release the grief


In our Reader Stories series, Unstuck readers share personal stories about getting stuck — and unstuck. Here, author and writing coach Jen Violi explains how yoga helped her move through the shock of loss. 

On the hallway floor of my new apartment, I sat and leaned against the closet doors. It felt safer down there, in part because moving around meant I would see painful reminders of my husband, now in a different state, now not living with me. Last month: us. This month: me.

In this moment, moving around also meant I might step on broken glass. Because, of course, the front of the frame of a picture collage of us had shattered when I tried to put it in the closet, out of view. Of course. Metaphors can be so distressingly obvious.

A grain of hope

Eventually I got up, led by a need to pee, as well as the part of me that felt enough tiny hope to clean up the mess and do something else.

Even though the rest of me longed to take up permanent residence in bed, that grain of hope led me to go for a walk, and when I found a yoga studio just blocks from my apartment, led me to take a class.

The warm yellow walls and bright green stem of a tall potted orchid, plus the mellow voice of Michele, the owner of the studio, soothed me. I loved the way she led the class in chanting that echoed around the room and into the sadness in my bones. As I moved, I found that my sweat glands still worked, and after class, I felt, well, better.

Time to flow

That seed of hope became multigrained when I bought a month’s pass for unlimited classes. Michele encouraged me to avoid restorative yoga, which basically involved prolonged resting in particular positions. She suggested that flow classes would serve me best, so that grief and anger wouldn’t get stuck in my body.

The idea of flowing felt dissonant with my urge to curl up into a ball of protest. I hadn’t agreed to this heartbreak. Stubbornness had often served me well, but despite my willfulness to make it work no matter what, my marriage had ended. If I was going to heal, I knew I needed to develop a new approach.

So I flowed.

The power of mindful movement

Every day for a month, I practiced yoga, even when I also lost my job — really, universe? I moved, often in sun salutations. Stretching arms high overhead, bending forward at the hips, stepping back and lowering into a push-up position, pushing my butt into the air for a downward dog pose, stepping into another forward bend, and raising my arms again. I often wept as I did this, coating the lenses of my glasses with a thin salt lick. I had to keep cleaning them, during and after class, until a few weeks later, the frames broke in half right at the bridge of the nose.

Another obvious metaphor.

I ended that month stronger than I’d felt in a long time — in muscles and more. I had new glasses and a new understanding that mindful physical movement could mobilize everything else. It dislodged me from the shock of loss, and my new physical strength translated to mind, heart, and the courage to start my own business.

Seven years later, I still land on the floor sometimes. But I don’t stay there for long. I trust that my body knows what to do, so I get up and flow.

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