The holidays should be a time of joy, celebration, and connecting with loved ones, but navigating them can sometimes feel like an emotional roller-coaster ride. One minute, you’re laughing with family during a festive feast, the next you’re in tears, overwhelmed by sudden memories of a deceased sister or a recent breakup.
Whether you’re dealing with a recent loss this season—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 the holidays with greater ease and grace. Using yoga as a form of self-care can help you process grief and recharge your emotional batteries, says Seane Corn, a yoga teacher who leads Yoga for a Broken Heart workshops around the world.
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. So, taking time out for self-care during the hustle and bustle of the holidays can pay off. By devoting even 15 minutes a day to yoga, you can free up some of your physical and emotional energy and be more open to the joy of the season.
Corn, for example, knows firsthand how yoga can help you recover. For a year, her father, a man she describes as her best friend and mentor, died a slow and painful death from kidney cancer. “I can’t tell you how many times in the hospital room, watching my father die, I realized I was holding my breath. And I’d have to consciously stop, breathe, and feel,” she says. “After my father died, the grief was so overwhelming that I would become hyper-reactive or numb,” Corn recalls. “I realized you can’t just process heartbreak in your mind. You have to process it physically, too.” Corn designed a targeted grief-processing practice that she began doing 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. She adapted that practice for us on the following pages (SeeYoga Sequence for a Healing Heart.) “If we trust the grieving process and give it time, eventually grief opens itself up to a level of love we’ve never known before,” she says.
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.
See also Seane Corn's pose sequence, The Yoga Sequence for a Healing Heart
Shannon Sexton is a freelance writer, editor, and digital-content strategist in Cincinnati.