Letting Go of Grief: How a Thailand Retreat Healed Heartbreak

Yoga Journal Senior Editor Meghan Rabbitt's trip to Hau Hin, Thailand, turned into the ultimate healing journey as she found herself letting go of old heartbreak.
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Yoga Journal Senior Editor Meghan Rabbitt's trip to Hau Hin, Thailand, turned into the ultimate healing journey as she found herself letting go of old heartbreak.
Thailand, Chiva Som International Health Resort

Yoga Journal Senior Editor Meghan Rabbitt's trip to Hau Hin, Thailand, turned into the ultimate healing journey as she found herself letting go of old heartbreak.

I could feel the hot, wet tears starting to well behind my eyes, and willed them not to fall. After all, what the heck did I have to cry about? I was on a mat getting a Thai massage—in Thailand. Life was good. Three days earlier, I’d checked in to Chiva-Som International Health Resort, where I was introduced to a small army of practitioners, including massage therapists, skin-care specialists, a naturopath, and an acupuncturist, all working to help me feel my best by the end of my five-night stay. How was it that in this moment, fully relaxed with the smell of orchids and jasmine wafting in the air around me, I had to harness all of my energy to keep from weeping?

The small, strong Thai man working on my tight muscles was on to me. Even though I’d been on my stomach for the first part of my treatment, he knew something was up. When I turned over, and he placed my ankle on his shoulder to help me release the tension in my hamstring, it happened. I read his nametag—Mana—and thought how similar it was to the ultimate caretaker’s name, Mama. Then, he looked into my watery eyes and, just like my own mother would have done, whispered, “It’s OK. You can cry.” So I did. As I sobbed, Mana continued to excavate the untended wounds of my broken relationship, which I’d been storing deep within.

When he was finished, I held my hands in prayer at my heart and bowed my head, as is the custom when saying hello, goodbye, and thank you in Thailand. It’s a beautiful tradition—one that reminded me of the ritual in yoga, in which you offer the same gesture as you say Namaste: “The light within me honors the light within you.”

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I walked away embarrassed by my emotional release, yet grateful it had happened. I felt lighter and more grounded—as if I’d just shed one layer of the sadness that had, without my realizing it, been dulling my inner light. I knew exactly what Mana had unearthed as he stretched and kneaded my muscles. Just one year earlier, I’d been in a different foreign country, Ireland, living with my boyfriend. Aaron was my first love; we’d met when I was studying in Dublin during my junior year of college and broke up only because I had to leave to finish my degree in the United States. Thirteen years later, the wonders of the Internet had brought us back together, which felt like destiny. So I moved to Ireland to give relationship 2.o a go.

We were happy—for awhile. And then the unraveling started to happen. Anger, resentment, and sadness dulled the joy. I hung on, trying hard to make things work, but at a certain point it became clear we weren’t going to make the turn. So I left. In the months that followed, distraction was the name of my game. I traveled. I buried myself in work. I snuggled up with my anger and resentment like a favorite blanket, comforted by the protection those emotions provided against the real culprit—grief.

When I arrived in Thailand, Aaron was far from my mind. After all, I was there for ultimate self-care, with a blissfully packed schedule of yoga, massage, milk baths, acupuncture, and ancient Ayurvedic treatments like shirobhyanga (Indian head massage) and dry skin brushing. Chiva-Som makes it easy to shake off stress the instant you walk through their front doors. Upon check-in, you meet with a health care advisor to design a program that takes into account all of your health, spiritual, and emotional considerations and goals. From weight management to general wellness, detoxing to establishing a regular meditation practice, the resort allows you to customize a healing plan so you can truly assess your current wellness and create a long-term blueprint for getting healthier and happier.

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When I met with my counselor, who probed with questions aimed at my health and emotional status, my answer was unwavering: “I feel great—never been better.” And as far as I knew, I was great. He put me on the yoga plan—complete with private asana and meditation sessions—after I told him about my daily home practice. All this yogifying combined with local, organic Thai food and the water from as many young coconuts as I could drink nourished me from the inside out. Which is why my tears during that Thai massage felt particularly unexpected.

I mentioned my upwelling during my appointment with Jason Culp, ND, Chiva-Som’s in-house naturopathic doctor, but he wasn’t as surprised as I’d been. After I explained my emotionally draining year and how busy I’d been keeping myself, he gave me a knowing nod. “We are capable of storing memories in the body as easily as we store them in our minds,” he told me. The kicker, he explained, is that while we may think that the fallout from a negative experience has passed, it might be that we haven’t fully dealt with it. It’s genius, actually: When we’re in emotional overload, we deal with what we can—and the body stores the rest until we can face it. Not surprisingly, it’s in the quieter moments, when we give ourselves the time and space to slow down and really drop in to our innermost thoughts and physical sensations, that the “stuff” we’ve been avoiding bubbles to the surface.

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By distracting myself from my post-breakup grief, I’d been trying to outrun it and pretend that it hadn’t affected me in profound ways. I was also brushing off the fact that the end of my relationship had dimmed my inner light—and altered my vision for the future. Not only had I lost a man I loved and the feeling of being deeply cared for, I also had to face the fact that the future I’d imagined for us would never happen. It was no wonder that my grief had caught up with me when I slowed down in beautiful Chiva-Som, holding my hands in prayer and bowing my head in Namaste countless times a day. It wasn’t just the massage that had helped me lean into the tough stuff; it was also the fact that I was deep in self-care mode, in a place that felt safe and serene, and where the people caring for me let me know in their own gentle way that it was time to face my sadness.

On my last day at Chiva-Som, I woke up before dawn to walk the beach as the sun rose over the Gulf of Thailand. Each morning, Buddhist monks walk the sand with silver bowls for their alms-giving, hoping to receive offerings of food in exchange for a blessing. I brought a basket of fruit with me that morning and placed my offering in a monk’s bowl. As I kneeled and held my hands in Anjali Mudra at my third eye, the monk blessed me. Though I couldn’t understand what he was saying, his sing-song prayer told me everything I needed to know. No matter his wish for me, I had one for myself: to continue to rediscover the light within me so that I can see it—and honor it—in everyone else.

Traveling to Thailand? Things to do and see:

In Bangkok

Visit Wat Pho, Bangkok’s largest and oldest wat (Buddhist temple) and get a massage at the adjoining Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School.

In Krabi

Stay at Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, luxury accommodations, and go island-hopping on a traditional Thai fishing boat in the clear waters of the Andaman Sea.

In Chiang Rai

Spend time with Thailand’s elephants at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort, which facilitates street rescues.

See also11 Yoga Retreats You Can Actually Afford