This practice comes from Yoga Journal, my go-to resource for online yoga information.
Whether you’re dealing with a recent loss—in the form of an ended relationship, divorce, death of a loved one or pet, losing a job or home, even infertility—or if old, unresolved grief starts bubbling up, a nurturing, heart-opening yoga practice may help you move through it with greater ease and grace. Using yoga as a form of self-care can help you process grief and help with the energy loss that accompanies such difficult emotional processes.
Why Loss Can Physically Hurt
First, understanding why loss hurts can help you process it. Studies show, for example, that when you’re in the throes of romantic love, areas of your brain’s pleasure centers are overloaded with feel-good neurochemicals, including dopamine and oxytocin. But if you lose that love, those chemical levels plummet and stress hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol, and epinephrine flood in, bringing with them anxiety and sadness. That influx of stress hormones also launches your nervous system into fight-or-flight mode. As a result, extra blood flows to your muscles, which tense up for action, sometimes causing that tight, squeezing sensation in your chest. Losing a parent, pet, job, or anything you felt a strong attachment to can evoke a similar psychological, emotional, and stress response.
How Yoga Can Help Heal Heartbreak
There are many other reasons heartbreak literally hurts. But the good news is, like physical pain, heartache will fade, too. And that’s where yoga can prove transformative—yoga practices have been shown to effectively treat the stress and depression that can be associated with any kind of loss. In fact, a growing body of research shows that asana and pranayama can improve your mood and soothe your nerves so that you can be happier and calmer under pressure, and therefore more resilient during times of grief. When she suffered the loss of her mentor, Seane Corn, a yoga instructor, began working with her own practice to process her grief. She designed a practice which she did every day to get her body grounded, release muscle tension, breathe out physical and emotional pain, and “keep the energy moving” to keep depression at bay.
Set an Opening Intention for Your Yoga-for-Heartbreak Practice
Sit tall, your hips higher than your knees. (This may require a blanket or cushion.) Gently close your eyes, bring your hands to Anjali Mudra, take 5 deep breaths, and then recite this intention:
May this practice reconnect me to my body, ground me in the here and now, and heal me from my grief. I ask for clarity and for the strength to let go of any limited beliefs that keep me resistant to change and unavailable to growth. Instead, may I open my heart, see beyond reason, accept without condition, and love without hesitation. May this practice be blessed.
Focus on moving slowly with your breath. The more active postures keep energy moving in the heart, while the restorative poses give your central nervous system the opportunity to rest, which can relieve some of the deep fatigue that often accompanies grief. Practice every morning in a quiet, private space. Throughout the sequence, put your physical sensations into words: “tense,” “tired,” “heavy.” Then name your emotions, too: “heartbroken,” “angry,” “scared.” This helps you to be present so you can begin to heal, instead of shutting down or running away from your grief and prolonging your heartbreak. Remember to exhale fully to release physical and emotional tension.
From Downward-Facing Dog, come into a lunge with the left foot forward. Keep your fingertips on the floor and the back leg straight as you elongate the chest forward. Take 4 breaths before placing the back knee on the floor. Inhale and lift your torso. Square off the hips, then interlace your fingers behind the back. Inhale and send the hands back, opening the chest. Softly gaze forward and take 5 deep breaths, bringing awareness to tension in the chest and increasing circulation around the heart. Release and step back to Down Dog. Repeat on the other side.
From Down Dog, return to a lunge with your left foot forward. Keep your right hand on the floor (or a block) as you inhale and bring your left arm up, twisting from the middle and upper spine. Reach back through the right heel and forward with the chest, keeping your hips level to create stability. Gaze up past your left fingertips and hold for 5 deep breaths, continuing to alleviate tension in the chest and open the heart. Release, step into Down Dog, and repeat on the other side.
Lie face-down on the floor. Interlace your fingers behind your back and on an inhalation, lift your chest, legs, and hands. Extend through the toes and lengthen, gazing straight ahead. Hold for 3 breaths, release, then repeat. This backbend counters our tendency to roll the shoulders forward and collapse the chest—one way we often protect our hearts when we’re grieving. Release to the floor and come to Child’s Pose.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Lie on your back with your feet directly under your knees, hip-width apart on the floor. Inhale and lift the hips off the floor. Clasp your hands underneath you, rolling the shoulders toward one another to expand the chest. Close your eyes or softly gaze up, taking 4 slow, full breaths. Release, then repeat 2 more times. This heart-opener invites us to be strong yet safely vulnerable; it also brings blood into the brain and glands that help regulate our hormonal and central nervous systems. Release, hugging your knees to your chest.
Stay on your back and cross your right leg over the left. Drop the knees to the left. Reach your right arm out along the floor and place your left hand on your right knee. This twist and the nurturing, restorative poses that follow are meant to help you surrender and consciously relax. The most important thing is to release, closing the eyes and tuning in to the breath and the present moment. Stay here for 8 to 10 breaths. Inhale, come back to center, and switch sides. Finish by bringing both knees back to the chest.
Sit up and arrange a bolster so it can support your torso and head, placing one edge against your left hip. Bend your knees to the left. Turn toward the bolster and lie down, resting on your right cheek. Close your eyes. Let your arms relax on the floor or the bolster; there should be no discomfort. This pose soothes the nervous system by activating a rest-and-digest response, grounding the body, and quieting the mind. Stay here for at least 2 minutes. Then switch sides.
Restorative Seated Forward Bend
Sit up and extend the legs straight out in front of you. Stack the bolster on your thighs. Inhale and lengthen. Exhale and fold forward over the bolster. Turn your head to one side and relax your arms. Rest your forearms and hands on the floor alongside your legs. Relax your feet. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and rest for at least 1 minute.
Then, transition into Restorative Corpse Pose (Savasana). Inhale to sit up, extending your legs straight out in front of you. Place the bolster back on the mat, at the base of your spine. Lie back with your spine and head supported on the bolster and the arms and legs heavy on the floor. Breathe softly here for 2 minutes. Try not to think. Instead, relax completely.
May your grief pass, may you find peace. Namaste.