grief

It’s always something

Do you every feel like it's just "one thing after another?" Or have you heard yourself say, with some amount of sourness, "it's always something!"

Of course you have. You're human and all kinds of things happen in life.

(I hope you haven't felt like that recently.)

I found out last week that I have a fractured rib. I've been having significant pain on and off for a couple of weeks, and after a trip to the chiropractor (Dr. Al is the best), now I know why stretching and foam rolling have only made things worse.

And all of this from coughing! 

In January I had a brutal cold/flu, which obviously came with a violent cough that, amazingly, cracked a rib.

I mean, really. I'm just feeling more myself after the wrist break, getting back into consistent movement and feeling stronger, and....now this. 

And it's sooooo easy to go into this story of whine whine, why me, poor me, pouty face. And, believe me, I went there for a minute.

Thank goodness for friends who listen to whining and also trust that "this too shall pass."

And thank goodness for you!  A story from one of you came to mind: a student who was just back to class after throwing her back out shared about her recovery with me.

In desperation, she got online to see if she could find advice on how to deal with the level of pain.

She found an article that talked specifically about back pain. In it, she read what turned out to be her healing mantra:

It will get better.

The article acknowledged that when we have back pain, it takes over and we imagine being in pain for the rest of our lives. It's hard to remember what it was like before the pain, or imagine a future time when we are pain free. 

We are afraid it will always be this way.

She said that one line -- it will get better -- was like a light in the tunnel. She used it as a mantra to help get through the days, and eventually it did get better.

Pain is like this. Grief is like this. Loneliness is like this. Illness is like this.

The beautiful thing is, we have stories - our own and others' - that help remind and soothe; we have each other to lean on; we can remember that there's a bigger picture.

I share my story in case the reminder is helpful for you; much like that student's story is my teacher now.

My mantra in this moment is:

It won't always be this way.
This is how things are...right now.
All things change and pass.


Tell me -- how's your year going? Do you have a mantra for tough times? 

With the coming spring as our inspiration, I hope things are well for you.

Love,
Michelle

PS - All workshops and events are still ON!

The Nuances of Twists

Let's talk twists. Should all parts of the spine rotate the same? How can I loosen the upper back? What about passive vs active movement?

We will play with all kinds of twists -- on the floor, in a chair, from our feet.

You'll leave with a greater understanding of the suppleness of these perspective-changing poses.

More about this workshop.

 

The Labyrinth of the Heart

A special creative workshop series exploring the labyrinth, literally and symbolically.

Make your own finger labyrinth and use the metaphor of this inward spiral for meditation and reflection.

Read all about it here.

Spring Ayurveda Refresh

A three-part series including a guided food refresh.

A gentle and nourishing reset for all your systems after the hardiness and hibernation of winter.

Refresh includes two in-person workshops and a virtual check in.

Find out about this special offering.

 

Work with me

If you are seeking to shift some patterns this season and would like support, I'd love to work with you.

Recently a client said, "I know I can't do this by myself." Let's do it together.

Read more.

 

300 hr Yoga School

New start date!
New hours!

Begins July 2019. Weekend hours with modified Friday schedule.

Check it out.

Grief + Loss Anniversaries Part II

Part II of the resource guide on how to navigate loss anniversaries.

 

First, did I say I'm sorry you need this? Even if you're reading for a friend, it means someone is hurting. But that's part of the gig, right? 

So I'm glad you're here and accessing support. You are not alone.

Part I of the guide is here.
 

Part II
 

Anniversary Reflection

Use significant dates to reflect on how your life has changed in the past year. I like to journal about how my perspective on the loss has changed over time. Often looking back I see how hard I was on myself the year prior and that gives me information on how I can be more compassionate with myself going forward.

 

Gratitude?

Gratitude can live beside grief. Give thanks for everything you've learned in the past year, everything that showed up in support of you, thanks that you had the resourcefulness and resilience to make it through any rough patches.

Consider making a list of things you'd like to give energy to in the next year -- maybe a donation to a cause that's meaningful to your loss, volunteering, offering your time/talent to a neighbor or friend who is struggling. Finding a way to give reminds us that we are not broken and we have lived-wisdom to share.

 

Valid Grief Emotions

Remember that "grief" encompasses many emotions, not just sadness. Anniversary time can bring up anger and irritability, loneliness and despair, jealousy and resentment, even relief and gratitude. Whatever you feel is valid.

 

Share the date

Even if your anniversary day activity doesn't involve anyone else, it can be helpful (for you and others) if you share the coming date. No one else will have exactly the same relationship to the loss that you have, and we all have unreasonably full lives with a lot on our calendars. It's not fair to expect others to remember.

Imagine how helpful it would be for someone who loves you to hear: "Hey, I want to let you know that this anniversary is coming up and I might be a little more {emotional/solitary/angry/quiet}. I'd like to honor the day in {this} way. It would help me if you could give me a little more {space/love/massage} in the next week."

Clear, honest, vulnerable, straight-forward. Your person would be so grateful and you would get what you need! Granted, sometimes it's hard to know what you need; when you do, just state it plain and simple.

And especially if you're struggling with an anniversary, find at least one person who can lovingly support you -- a therapist, friend, support group. Don't try to go this alone, because you aren't.

 

Ritual + Ceremony

In recent Western culture, we have moved away from ritual and ceremony, yet these have been a part of cultures for thousands of years, in particular around death. You can create something formal or simple, solitary or involve others, something tangible or invisible.

On the first anniversary of the due date, I had a formal ceremony that included Greg and my support sisters. It was full of symbol and poetry and lots of tears. We buried one of the last ultrasound pictures and planted a tree. Afterward, we all ate together and shared stories and laughter. Since then, I like to be outdoors and near water on my anniversaries. Nature and the elements are reassuring and grounding for me. I don't plan much, though I know I'll do some writing and have lots of quiet time. This is a day I want to be alone, at least at this point. 

Like with everything else around grief and loss, you are making this up as you go along. Responding to the signs and your needs. Listening to your heart. Maybe it's five minutes in the morning to say a prayer and send it in the wind with your breath. Maybe you mail invitations and cook and recite a prepared tribute in front of friends and loved ones. It's yours to choose and create.

 

Forgetting and Remembering

There's no need to feel guilt if you miss or forget a grief anniversary. Life is crazy and we juggle more things than a wagon full of clowns. It doesn't have to mean anything, either (like you've "moved on", which isn't a thing anyway).

Yes, your relationship to these dates will change over time. If there are important dates you want to remember, enter them as a reoccurring event in your calendar. If you miss a date, let remembering you missed it serve as a reminder to pause and have your moment of honoring right then and there.

 

Feel free to share your ideas, resources and thoughts below. Sharing helps both the giver and the receiver to feel less alone <3

 

Grief + Loss Anniversaries Part I

As the three year anniversary of Oliver's due date approaches, I've been reflecting on the unpredictability of grief and the significance of anniversaries.

It doesn't matter what kind of loss -- the death of a loved one (person, pet, business, dream, etc.), a trauma or accident or a medical diagnosis -- there will be anniversaries, markers, triggers and memories (sometimes even physical "body" memories) that will come, and some will ask to be honored or acknowledged.

 

Grief and loss are a part of every life. These are a natural part of being human.

However, our culture does not acknowledge the profound impact of these events, and definitely does not provide the space for these types of losses to be openly discussed or shared.

In fact, we are often urged, subtly or overtly, to deal with the loss privately and swiftly, and get back to life as though nothing has changed.

Tenfold when we're experiencing emotions around an anniversary of something that happened maybe years ago; others may not understand, probably won't know what do or say or how to help support you.

 

This is a two-part support guide for navigating hard anniversaries and important loss dates in your life.
 

Part I
 

Self Kindness

Foremost, be EXtra gentle and kind with yourself around Anniversary time.

Maybe you feel nothing. That's ok.
Maybe you forget (see Forgetting and Remembering in Part II). That's ok.
Maybe you cry and rage (see Grief Emotions in Part II). That's ok.

If you know a particular marker is a hard time for you, go slow, be gentle, take care. Some years are harder than others, some losses are harder than others, so many things are out of your control.

What you do have agency over is how you treat yourself through it all.

Let go of any unkind story about being wimpy or it shouldn't bother you after all this time or you have to be strong. Wash that off your hands and watch it flow down the drain.

Life carries on, for sure, and when you're able, treat yourself with the tenderness you would grant a friend.

 

The Ambush

Grief can jump out from behind the bushes at any time. You know this. I call it The Ambush. Your wedding song comes on in the grocery store, you smell fresh vanilla bean, someone serves rhubarb pie at a pool party, and suddenly you are teleported to another world, another lifetime. You might want to flee, you might freeze, you might be overcome with emotion. 

I was ambushed this winter while walking the dog through the neighborhood after dark and seeing a man through the window reading to his young son. I cried the whole way home and then some.

You'll probably be more sensitive to Ambushes around anniversary times. You might tell yourself your reaction is unwarranted given the event that triggered it. Phooey on that. In addition to your memories and emotions about your loss, your body and your senses remember the light, the season, the scents of that time of year. As you spiral past these dates again and again, parts of your brain are lighting up, emotions are stirred and set in motion. Allow this to flow as best you can and give yourself what you need in the moment.

 

Significant Anniversaries 

Not all anniversaries will feel significant. I remember most of the dates related to the pregnancy down to appointment dates, yet the only two dates I plan around are the day he died and the day he was supposed to be born. You get to decide what dates feel important to you and you don't have to justify why.

It's also possible that what is important to you or touches you as the years go by will change. You might also be Ambushed by a date that you didn't think was a big deal, but triggers a memory that is tender. Give yourself so much love when this happens.

 

Early Anniversaries

Especially if you are in your first year or two of anniversaries (or if you have a lot of Ambushes), it might be interesting to know that often the anticipation of the anniversary is a lot harder than the day itself. I found this to be true and upon doing some reading and research, found out that it's common. The lead up, the dread, the reliving of those "last" whatevers can be consuming, stressful and exhausting. When The Day comes, maybe all our emotion is spent, who knows -- often it is just not as brutally hard as we thought it would be, or at least not as hard as the days leading up to it. That's not a promise, just a possibility.

Speaking of years one and two... many people find year two harder than year one. I think mostly this speaks to the unpredictability of grief and reminds us to let go of expecting it to go any particular way. Maybe anniversary #14 is the hardest of all. We just take it as it comes.

 

What else is going on?

How we approach and process an anniversary has a lot to do with what else is going on in our lives. Have you had time to care for yourself lately? Do you have other heavy things happening right now? Even how you slept the night before the date can affect how stable or fluid you feel. Everything affects everything. Again, unpredictable = yes; expectations = no.

 

Part II of the anniversary guide includes ideas on ritual and ceremony, how to use anniversaries for reflection, a reminder about what emotions are valid in grief and why to share your anniversaries with others. 

Read Part II here.

 

 

on being human

The TV show The Voice is partly responsible for my passion around developing the Living Wholeheartedly with Grief and Loss series.

Let me explain.

I am a sucker for singing competition shows, particularly The Voice. I love the blind auditions, I love the banter between Adam and Blake, I loved Alicia Keys last season.

But what really gets me are the background stories they do on some of the contestants. As one review of the show put it, “Every contestant, it seems, just came off a near death experience, or a loved one is dealing with a serious illness or a job loss, or all three.”

Like the kid who has battled a bone disorder and was in and out of hospitals his whole life, or the 16 year who is singing for her parent who just died, or the woman who was disowned by her family because she is gay.

These are sad stories.

And here’s the heart of it for me.  

The contestant, who is probably under 25, already feeling intense pressure just minutes before what they often describe as “the biggest moment” of their life, is being interviewed about their emotional story... and starts to cry.

The first thing he or she will say at that point is, “I’m sorry.”

Sometimes followed by, “I don’t know why I’m crying.”

Every. Single. Time. a contestant cries, they apologize.

As though feeling sad that your father just died isn’t ok. As though being emotional about your childhood trauma is not allowed. As though being booted from your family of origin isn’t worthy of tears.

Yes, it’s probably embarrassing to cry on national television. But I think it’s deeper than that.

Our culture does not acknowledge the profound impact of major life events, and definitely does not provide the space for these types of losses to be openly discussed or shared.

In fact, we are often urged, subtly or overtly, to deal with the loss privately and swiftly.

Yet it is critical to our heart’s health and the wholeness of who we are to integrate the loss into this new way of living, eventually learning to live wholeheartedly with – not in spite of – that loss.

This series is a big part of the reason I do this work...
To acknowledge that there isn’t anything that isn’t Yoga.
To honor the human experience and paradoxes of life.
And to remind ourselves that this is an Every Day Practice.

creative grief

Living Wholeheartedly with Grief and Loss allow you to explore the loss experience using creative tools, meditation, movement and discussion.

Workshops and retreats are sprinkled throughout the year. Make sure you're on the list to find out when the next one is.

If you have any questions about this work, email me anytime

Looking forward to connecting with you soon,

Michelle

out of hiding

This is not a message I planned on writing. From the very beginning of this story, through the twists and turns, I intended to not draw attention to it. And yet, as time passes, I find myself compelled to share as a practice of receiving, as a hand reaching to others who feel alone or shamed in their suffering, and as a way to honor the life and loss that is so profound right now.

I have spent the last six months hiding.

Last fall I found out that I was pregnant. I was sick much of the time, which kept me away from teaching. I felt cautious knowing the risks at my age, and I wanted some privacy as I adjusted to my new and very unexpected circumstances.

The weeks turned to months, and I made it past the magic three-month mark. At one of the few classes I taught in the latter part of the year, I shared my news. No more hiding my changing body, my absence, my new role. I was excitedly rearranging my plans (inner and outer) for my life.

In the following month, I received the results of a blood test that showed that the baby had an extra chromosome. Like Noah’s Ark, we come with two of each – he had three of one. It was a terminal diagnosis.

Despite the accuracy of the blood test, my doctor emphatically urged that I wait three more weeks until I could have an amniocentesis, which would give a definitive result. This was an unbearable time of fear and dread… and more hiding.

In the middle of January I got the call. Joan Didian starts her book, The Year of Magical Thinking with the line, “Life changes in an instant.” Mine changed dramatically three times in a very short amount of time. The baby did in fact have the extra chromosome. Only one in 6000 babies with this condition make it to term, only to live a few days.

For my physical and emotional health, I decided to end the pregnancy.

It’s difficult to put words to all of this. I have been in a washing machine of depression, despair, grief and rage. This is a physical healing as well as emotional, psychic and spiritual.  It has dismantled my life in many ways. I suppose that is when we get to decide how we put things back together.

By making the brain organize words around this incomprehensible story, I can start to integrate it into the fabric of my life. It slowly begins to find its resting place.

While I do not have the big insight or list of lessons learned, this does bring up conversations I want to be a part of:

I am struck by how much silence there is around events in the human life cycle, particularly related to death. Maybe even more so around women’s health. Infertility, miscarriage and pregnancy challenges are private matters, certainly, but in keeping these experiences hidden, it’s easy to slip into shame, isolation and guilt. For me, it also dishonors the life that was and the loss I feel.

No one is exempt from loss and pain, so why pretend it doesn’t happen? (Many reasons worth investigating.)

Let’s open a dialogue about how to be with someone who is in grief. I believe we are asked to increase our capacity for discomfort and vulnerability so we can be with someone who is in deep pain. Without wanting to fix it, without making it about us.

As my therapist confirmed, most people want to talk about their loss. It’s probably the most real and constant thing in their lives. It may be awkward or uncomfortable to call attention to someone’s suffering, but to not acknowledge it is like pretending you don’t see the sign they are holding that says, “I’m hurting.”

This doesn’t always require elaborate words – a touch of the hand, a simple “I’ve been thinking of you” can be enough.

At the same time, a well-meaning “I’m glad you’re better now” or “it will get better with time” can come across as, “Please get back to ‘normal’ so we don’t have to talk about it.” Even when a person is past the acute stages of grief and having moments of enjoying life again, the loss is always right underneath the surface. You can't "remind me" of my loss -- there isn't a moment when I have forgotten.

Some things can’t be fixed. This is a foreign idea in our culture. When recovering from loss or trauma, there’s no way to shortcut or lessen the blow (at least not healthy ways). We can’t figure it out or make a plan, which the mind is so anxious to do.

There's also no "right way" to grieve. My experience may be very different than another woman's.

We eventually heal, but grief is slow to scab and always leaves a scar. It’s also cyclical and can be triggered by the smallest of things. It’s essential to not rush inner healing – our own or another’s. How difficult it can be to remember this. The practices of kindness, compassion and forgiveness become as necessary as breath.

 

There’s an intimacy that comes with sharing our humanness, and in that intimacy, many things can come up. I share my story with sensitivity and respect for what it can trigger in others. As part of this practice, make room for whatever emotions, memories or judgments that may have come up for you.

 

This practice asks us to come out of the places we hide. If you want to share stories you’ve held inside, I welcome them. My intention as a teacher has always been to have a space where things that have been hidden can be shared openly, from the physical to the esoteric.

And this is when I am reminded what Yoga is. It’s not poses, it’s not having an OM tattoo, not being able to speak the lingo. Or at least it’s not only those things. Sometimes it’s the honesty of anger or elation, sometimes it’s hiding and today, it’s being undisguised, letting myself be seen.

There isn’t anything that isn’t Yoga. It’s all Yoga, right?

image, grief and the big d

One thing has become very clear in the past month – my schemas around being “a yoga teacher.”

Yoga teachers don’t have rage or shame.
Yoga teachers don’t do things that are vain and selfish.
Yoga teachers don’t… get divorced.

Well… of course they do.

And even though I thought I’d explored it, this schema was hiding very very deep in my belief system.

If you’ve ever come to my class you know that I tend to share personal stories in a way that I hope supports the understanding and larger context of Yoga.

When I signed up to teach yoga, and later when I decided to create a physical space for the practice, I made a commitment to be real. To be appropriately transparent and honest about my flaws and struggles on this path (and there are oh-so many!).

Even though I talk about my life, one of my main tenets as a yoga teacher is never make the class about you. This can be a delicate line to navigate. How much to share? How personal to get? How to stay off the strange Yoga Teacher Pedestal?

Naturally, I offer only parts of myself. Only the parts I want to be seen. Of course — we all do this, all day! But in the past month I’ve become aware of how strong a motivator “image” is, and how I want to be perceived in a warm glow of “yogic” light.

So friends, in the spirit of honesty, I share here that I am getting divorced. More than sharing that flat detail, I humbly offer pieces of my experience from the past months. The beautiful mercies that have been offered… which are less about me and more about all of us.

  • Grief is a physical experience. Poet Linda Pastan describes, “How heavy it is/displacing with its volume/your very breath.” For those of you who have experienced death or great loss in your life, you are nodding. You know. I did not.
  • We are not alone in our grief and pain. A friend of mine just had intense surgery and is in a wheelchair, another’s husband lost his job a week after they had their second baby, another had a mastectomy and is going through chemo. And you — you have your story of battle, your secrets, your fears that speak only in the night. Even in the most painful moments of self-absorption and aloneness, I knew I was touching something that is universal. This knowing led to how…
  • The heart can break open to vast skies of compassion and feelings of connectedness. One Sunday morning I saw a young man in the park who appeared to be homeless, and I thought ‘the line between us is so very thin…’
  • Beauty exists even amid deep pain. Simple moments, the breath, light through the leaves.
  • It is easier to give than to receive. The amount of love and support, spoken and unspoken, that I have received has been overwhelming and at times unbearable. It takes courage and strength to be vulnerable, to accept care, to open the heart. And for many of us, most challenging is to receive self-love and self-forgiveness.
  • There is no beginning and there is no end. The erosion and unravelling of a relationship doesn’t just happen, just as healing is a process. After what seemed to be the darkest time in my heart, I had several consecutive “good days” and thought, Oh, I’m better! I’m done grieving!  I was quickly reminded this is not a linear process.
  • We each have to follow our own way. For me, that was isolating. For others it might be processing through work or activity, or by being in groups. I recognize how blessed I have been to be able to step back from my life during this enormous transition (though we should all be able to do that as a practice of self care, even without a major life event).
  • There’s something to this yoga thing. While much of my Yoga in the past month has not included asana, as I venture back into my body, I am in utter awe of the innate healing power within. I feel increased sensitivity to grounding, gratitude, and intuition.

Being away from It’s All Yoga has ironically shown me what a true and rare gift the space and community are. How precious and essential it is to have a place you can go to just be with yourself. To just be yourself. As one of our gifted teachers, Bob, put it:

Every day there are people who come to the studio for refuge.  None of us is exempt from the pain that life events sometimes bring us.  This space is special because it offers a place of safety for restoring the body, mind, and soul.  This doesn’t just happen.  It happens because we each contribute to creating this supportive, safe, and respectful environment.  Today, the person on the mat next to you may be seeking a bit of refuge and a chance to heal.  Tomorrow, you may be here for the same purpose.  The pain that each of us feel is not individual pain, but shared pain.  The healing that each of us find is also shared.  Thank you all for helping to make this space, and this community, sacred and special.

After not being at the studio for a month, I look forward to shedding my cocoon and coming home.