GRIEF TRIGGERS EMOTIONAL DYSREGULATION IN THE BODY
By the time we get to our 50’s, we have probably experienced one or both of the toughest transitions of midlife: Divorce or Death or a Loved One. Many people have said that death is easier than divorce because it is complete or usually more resolved than divorce. But it’s the challenges of each of these grieving experiences as they show up in our bodies that trigger huge waves of dysregulated emotional responses that keep us in fight/flight or the sympathetic nervous system response—fearful, prone to catastrophic thinking as a reaction to the fear, and unbalanced for a long period of time. What we need when we’re dysregulated is to connect with another person or deeply connect with ourselves in our hearts. This activates the social nervous system which brings us back into a regulated state. We cannot do this when our hearts are blocked by our grief.
GRIEF HAS MANY STAGES AND EACH PERSON IS UNIQUE IN THEIR EXPRESSION
The many stages of grief taught by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross involve a cyclical process of flowing between denial, anger, depression, despair until a sense of acceptance can be reached. New research shows that it’s not so simple. Because everyone has their very own past, grief impacts us in very unique ways. The resolution of that guilt takes on a special process for each person. I find Sameet Kumar’s book Grieving Mindfully especially helpful as he defines the grief process as a “spiral staircase” that takes you up and out to the creation of your new identity. A true transformation. And, the importance of being in touch with the body and how it manifests the grief is the key approach for finding a way out. The challenge is learning how to regulate your body, to find ways to calm the emotional dysregulation, so that the grief can be met and processed through in your body. Often grief is only partially processed and gets pushed away left to be stuck emotional material that blocks our hearts and our resilience to the next painful experience. This means learning how to be present to each stage of the grief as it moves through you over a period of time as it changes into anger, sadness, disbelief, depression, denial, etc until you reach acceptance. The hardest part is staying present and allowing whatever emotion is arising to arise and not push it away. Mindfulness tools like yoga and mindfulness breathing practice, prayer and other spiritual practices can help you. It’s often hard to know where you are and how much more grieving you need to do.
YIN AND YANG POSES TOGETHER IN A CLASS CREATE AN OPPORTUNITY TO RELEASE GRIEF IN THE BODY
Yogic breathing and yoga movement is about helping clients meet this bodily response head on—to witness and ultimately to go into the nervous system dysregulation caused by stress responses with tools to bring it into regulation where things feel safe and calm. In yoga we work with Yin poses, slow restorative poses that bring you into the relaxation response or parasympathetic, as well as Yang poses like Warrior Poses and Sun Salutations that bring in prana and allow you to expand into the light of your greater sense of you with muscular energy, deep rooting down and expansion up and out. Through this regulating process of moving through these poses, one can explore more deeply through the body how to grieve.
WOMEN IN DIVORCE TRANSITIONS NEED SUPPORT TO FACE THEIR GRIEF
Meet Sally. She walked out of her marriage at 61 because her husband was having a midlife crisis of his own and an affair with his co-worker. He thought this affair was hidden from her, but she knew he was different. And he started lying to cover it all up. This behavior in him triggered all her insecurities and she was noticing younger parts of herself that had never appeared before. As we began to identify these 2 new parts, she got more and more anxious. Her mind started racing to figure it all out because the intense emotions of rage, fear, shame and helplessness, were scaring her. I decided to teach Sallie some yogic breathing tools in the office to settle her down and get her back in her body. We did alternate nostril breathing first which allowed her immediately slow into a structured breath pattern that balanced her body and her brain simultaneously. Then we moved into 3-part breathing so she had 2 tools to use when she noticed her mind starting to speed up her body.
All of us, like Sally, have moments of intense feelings and it’s so easy to push the sad & mad ones away and then these feelings are stuck in our bodies. Did you see the Summer flick a few years back, “Inside Out?” This is a great example of what happens inside of us if we just hold onto “Joy” and push away “Sad” when we are going through a major loss that we need to grieve. Unfortunately in this movie, The main character didn’t get to decide what was happening to her— her parts seemed to run her. But the message was clear, we have to let the Sad feelings be there in order to re-integrate and grow into the next phase of ourselves. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel the feelings and grieve, everything shuts down and we become a very narrow aspect of our true self. This re-integration is crucial in transitions. This is what allows for transformation and rebirth.
WOMEN’S YOGA AND WOMEN’S GROUPS FOR HEALING FROM GRIEF
The truth is, we are so much more than the part of us that is grieving. But, we often focus on that part and forget what is good and going well in our lives. In order to release your grief, you have to feel and grow again your larger healthier self where you can hold and process your grief. Warrior Poses help you feel your larger self but so does feeling passionate, connected, alive and grateful! You can also find a grief healing container in a woman’s group where your connection to other women helps you feel your larger wholeness, if even temporarily. From this more empowered place, you can really successfully grieve your losses.
The next tool is then learning to meet and become intimately connected with our grieving “little ones” inside of us. To grieve our losses head on, we seek out our lost passions and longings that have gotten buried in all the pain and loss they have experienced. When we can retrieve them from these dark places and release the pain, we can feel alive and rebirthed into a new sense of wholeness. We can find our authentic self. Grieving a loss is a perfect opportunity for developing a deeper relationship with yourself that transforms your painful parts and sets them free to be alive in your life anew.
WOMEN’S YOGA IS A WAY TO PROCESS THE GRIEF IN YOUR BODY
This class allows for you to be private and mindful in your connection with yourself in a deeper way, to explore with support what is there. I invite you to try a slow mindful yoga class like the one I offer.
WOMEN’S GROUPS CAN GIVE YOU THE SUPPORT AND TOOLS FOR REGULATING YOUR FEAR AND PAIN SO YOU CAN HEAL.
I have a group coming up in January 2018 that will give you the tools to explore moving through your grief, to explore all the “little ones” waiting for you to release them at midlife, and a roadmap to rebirthing yourself. “Rebirthing The Authentic New You” will be offered in January. Learn more about this group.