5 Reasons to Try Yoga or Mindfulness to Help You Cope With Grief

30 March 2022
Sanctuary by the lake

If you are new to yoga or mindfulness, incorporating them into your daily life may feel like a daunting task.

But in reality, they are more accessible than you might think – and can be a valid part of your self-care routine if you’re experiencing grief, says Centre for Care & Wellbeing facilitator Carmel Arnold.

In western society, much of our language around wellbeing – words like ‘wellness’ and ‘self-care’ – is relatively new. However, the practice of yoga and mindfulness is anything but.

In fact, these techniques are thousands of years in the making. Yoga – the practice of performing specific stretches or postures with controlled breath – has been traced back at least 5,000 years to northern India. Meanwhile, mindfulness can be described as the art of constant awareness – letting thoughts, words or ideas come and go without attaching any judgement to them – and has its roots in Buddhist philosophy.

For Carmel Arnold, a facilitator at the Centre for Care & Wellbeing, an out-of-the-blue encounter with yoga as a teenager was all she needed to fuel a lifelong passion.

“I had a beautiful first experience with yoga,” explains Carmel. “My dad took me to a class with my sister. It was quite out of character for him, but I loved it. I remember thinking ‘You’re allowed to do this? You’re allowed to just be?’”

It’s this philosophy of just being that can make yoga and mindfulness so helpful to anyone at any stage in life – but especially when it is at its most difficult. Here are five reasons to try yoga or mindfulness if you are experiencing grief, loss or other challenges in life.

A photograph of yoga and mindfulness facilitator Carmel Arnold at the Centre for Care & Wellbeing
Yoga and Mindfulness facilitator Carmel Arnold at the Centre for Care & Wellbeing.

1. They teach you to be present

If you try yoga for the first time, you may feel as though you are able to leave some of your everyday stresses behind – even if just for a moment. For Carmel, that’s part of what made yoga so appealing when she first discovered it several decades ago.

“Life just sort of slipped away for the hour and a half that I was there,” she notes.

And it’s part of what the practice is designed to do. “It’s about moving towards a healthier head space, trying to be present for that time,” explains Carmel. “This means trying to be in the moment, and not thinking about the past and future for at least the session.”

But this sense of ‘being in the moment’ is not just confined to what happens during the class. “The hope is that it carries on beyond the mat.” And with regular practice, it will.

2. They can help diffuse stress

As mindfulness organisation Smiling Mind explains, physical movement is a powerful way to diffuse stress or anxiety, by combatting the ‘fight or flight’ response that is automatically triggered during moments of acute anxiety. Yoga is an excellent, safe form of gentle exercise that combines movement with mindful breathing for extra effect.

Similarly, mindfulness can be very helpful when you are facing a distressing emotion. One way to stay mindful is labelling your emotions as they arise, for example saying to yourself, “my body is telling me that I am feeling frustrated/sad/angry”. This has been proven to reduce activity in the part of the brain that is thought to process fearful and threatening stimuli, in this study from 2007.

Whether you are coping with a recent loss or longstanding grief, stress or anxiety, yoga and mindfulness can be helpful tools that you can practice at home, at work or even outdoors – whenever you need them.

Labelling your emotions as they arise is a great way to practice mindfulness. (Photo from Ester Marie Doysabas on Unsplash)

3. Yoga can be made accessible to all

If you’ve ever assumed yoga is only suitable for a specific type of person, think again, says Carmel. “The great thing about yoga is that it can be made to be accessible to anybody,” she explains.

“It’s about you, your mat and your breath, coming from where you’re at right now." Yoga can be adapted to cater for all ages and abilities.

Mindfulness is just as accessible. It requires no special equipment and can be practiced anywhere.

Mindfulness requires no special equipment and can be practiced anywhere. (Photo from Charanjeet Dhiman on Unsplash)

4. They provide a space free from judgement

Experiencing grief, loss or other upheaval can leave anybody very vulnerable to feelings of judgement. Whether aimed towards your own self or others, judgemental thoughts are often unhelpful, and if they are negative, can be destructive. A space free from these feelings can be a tremendous relief.

The practice of mindfulness encourages us to notice what is happening moment by moment without judgement, separating ourselves from our thoughts, as Smiling Mind explains.

Similarly, these feelings have no place in yoga. “The yoga philosophy is one of no judgement,” says Carmel.

This may be helpful to remember if you have ever worried about what the other people in a group practice might be thinking of you. More importantly, it also means there’s no room for judgement of yourself.

5. You can start right now

“Mindfulness is about focussing your awareness on the present moment,” explains Carmel. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, there are many techniques you can try. Carmel suggests the below:

  • Focus on your breath. If you find yourself thinking about something else, gently bring your focus back to the breath.
  • Focus on relaxing one part of your body at a time – for example, your toes – and move around the whole body.
  • Go for a walk in nature, staying aware of everything you are noticing.
  • Visualise a place that is special to you. Think about details of that place – sights, smells, sounds.

It’s as simple as that.

Carmel Arnold is a yoga and mindfulness facilitator at the Centre for Care & Wellbeing (CCW), a community hub established to support people through their journeys of grief. The CCW provides a range of wellbeing programs designed to promote self-care, resilience and hope. For more information, visit our CCW pages here.

If you’re in need of grief counselling or additional support, please contact Grief Australia for resources and guidance on 1800 642 066.

For 24-hour phone support contact Lifeline on 13 11 14

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