Mindfulness for the Broken Heart: Practicing Yoga and Meditation As a Way Through Grief

The concept of mindfulness is becoming more and more acknowledged in Western society. In a society where everything’s about speed, it’s not uncommon for people to use yoga and meditation as forms of stress relief. But they might not realize what these powerful spiritual practices are able to help with beyond that.

When we lose a loved one, the experience of grief takes a toll on both the mind and the body. Our bodies become very tense, our thoughts become very scattered, and our routine gets thrown out the window completely. This is where yoga and meditation can really help with grief. In this article I’ll share some insight about mindfulness, how it can help the grieving process, and some simple ways you can try it yourself.

Gentle As a Rabbit

As the child of a Zen Buddhist father, the importance of mindfulness was taught to me from a very young age. It wasn’t an act of sitting down, crossing your legs, and closing your eyes… mindfulness was something that permeated through day-to-day life. My own day-to-day life consisted of raising rabbits. I had 2 rabbits that I loved with all of my heart, and the rabbits loved my dad. They would come and sit beside him as he meditated on his cushion, closing their eyes and obviously tuning into the peacefulness of my father’s state.

One day, one of the 2 rabbits was killed in a tragic accident. I was heartbroken, and so was the surviving rabbit, who had to learn to live now without her sister. My dad and I watched her to make sure she was okay, and we were surprised by how she just went on with her routine as much as she could… washing herself, eating her meals, making her bed in the hay. She knew what had happened, but she stayed peacefully focused on going about her day. My rabbit was practicing mindfulness.

When faced with the agony of grief, you might have turned everywhere for answers but inward. The practice of mindfulness brings you back to yourself, and to the healing you intrinsically have inside.

Can Yoga and Meditation Really Help with Grief?

When we are grieving someone we love, our minds dart back and forth between different painful memories or fears for the future. We can find a lot of peace by simply finding a way to calm that overactive thought process. The way to do this is through remaining mindful of the present moment. Buddha himself said, “There is a way to be purified, to overcome sorrows and grief, to release suffering… This is to be mindful.”

Heather Stang, author of Mindfulness & Grief and yoga therapist, believes there are a number of important ways meditation can help with the grieving process. It can help you get into a healthy sleep cycle after losing someone you love. It can get rid of physical tension like headaches, stomach aches, and an “aching heart” feeling. It can even boost your immunity.

But perhaps the most vital thing that yoga and meditation can do for those who are grieving is to guide them gently back into the present moment. If we just focus on the present moment, things become easier to handle, and the fear, anxiety and hopelessness starts to dissipate slowly. In the words of Buddhist monk Jack Kornfield, “The heart opens and in its own time, little by little, gaps of new life – breaks in the rain clouds appear.”

When faced with the agony of grief, you might have turned everywhere for answers but inward. The practice of mindfulness brings you back to yourself, and to the healing you intrinsically have inside.

Yoga and Meditation Techniques to Help with Grief

If you want to give yoga and meditation a try for yourself, there are some simple ways you can do it at home (without the need of expensive yoga classes or finding a meditation group).

  1. Mindfulness Meditation for Grief

In mindfulness meditation, you sit in silence and pay attention to what you are feeling. That might sound awful – after all, the majority of what you’re feeling could be very painful emotions. The idea is that when you give yourself time and space to sit with your thoughts, feelings and memories, you’ll start to achieve some important healing. You’ll process what’s going on for you in a healthy way, in a safe way.

This guided mindfulness meditation by Jack Kornfield is a good place to start.

  1. Compassion and Loving-Kindness Meditation

I was personally helped very much by being shown Metta meditation, also known as loving-kindness meditation. In this form of meditation, we bring to our minds images and repeat loving phrases that ultimately leave us feeling warm-hearted and compassionate towards all living things. That includes feeling compassionate towards ourselves – a very important state to bring ourselves to in a time when we need to be showing ourselves a lot of self-care.

Here is a guided Metta meditation by Heather Stang that is worth trying.

  1. Gentle, Nurturing Yoga Positions

Your usual yoga routine might feel virtually impossible when you’re dealing with grief. That’s because your body has different needs now, and it needs to be gently nurtured rather than stretched in all kinds of directions. Yoga teacher trainer Sarah Ezrin says, “The body’s desire to curl inward is an evolutionary response to stress and trauma – a way to protect the vital organs.” She goes on to say, “I have also come to believe that our impulse to fold in when grieving is a way to keep the pieces of the heart together after it breaks.”

  1. Practising Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Everything you do during your day can be a meditation. Washing the dishes… brushing your teeth… vacuuming the floor. Practice mindfulness by simply staying as focused as you can on the task at hand. Aim to put all your love and attention into doing what you’re currently doing as well as you can. Staying centered in the present moment like this will allow you to get through each day more comfortably.

A Natural Cycle You Can Trust

Even with all the pain you feel with your loved one gone, practicing mindfulness will connect you with a healing power that’s simultaneously inside you and all around you in the universe. Over time, your breathing will become easier, and your body will become more relaxed. You’ll become attuned to the realization that grief isn’t just about endings, but also about healing and new beginnings. Kornfield assures us, “This is a natural cycle you can trust – how life and the heart renews itself. Like the spring after winter, it always does.”