Ayurveda & Grief

Image by Yuris Alhumaydy

Image by Yuris Alhumaydy

A little over a week ago my family experienced a great loss as we sat bedside with my Grandmother as she transitioned from this world to the next. It has been many years since experiencing such a personal loss, and as she was my last grandparent, something about this passing felt even more meaningful, heavy, and deep.

During the final days and then into the days that followed I became acutely aware of how important my daily rituals and practices were to my mental health and ability to process the heavy and dense emotion that is grief. I made the intention to continue my practices no matter what the day held and in turn I have felt nurtured, healthy, and capable of processing the experiences that unfolded each day.

It is times like these, these greater challenges in the human experience, that truly exemplify the simple power of Ayurveda to support us no matter what storms blow through our lives.

So today I would like to share the practices that I have modified or added to my day that support and nurture my mind and body during this grieving period. Each day feels different but consistently practicing these few simple self care actions has made impactful difference in how I am able to show up and move through.

Abhyanga

Abhyanga is the practice of self oil massage. In sanskrit the word sneha means both ‘oil’ and ‘love’ and during a period of mourning and grief what more does the body need than more love? more nurturing? of feeling cocooned and soothed? Self oil massage helps to calm the sympathetic nervous system, fortify the immune system, and calms the mind while promoting loving mind/body connection. During grief the best oil is an Ashwagandha & Bala blend that strengthens and grounds the body. You can find the blend I have been using here.

How To: Gently massage the body from toe to head before showering. Allow the oil to rest on the skin for 5-10 minutes. If the oil does not completely absorb, wipe off excess before bathing. You may also wish to apply to the wrists, feet, back of neck, and heart space before sleeping.

Move & Breathe

The state of inertia in Ayurveda is called Tamas and loss can trigger an excess of this heavy and dull energy. Many who are grieving become sedentary, feel cloudy in their mind, and feel physically heavy in the body. This energetic density can trap emotions in our tissues and slow our ability to process and remain present with what we are experiencing. And as much as we may wish to escape it (or sometimes stay deep in its depth) it serves us well to prevent falling too deep into this state of tamas.

How To: A simple 20 minute walk (preferably in nature), a gentle yoga sequence that links breath with movement (if it doesn’t feel too vulnerable, make it one with heart openers), or sitting to practice breathing (simply inhaling and exhaling in equal counts) for 5-10 minutes will help keep energy flowing through you and prevent that ‘stuck’ feeling. It is incredibly important to be compassionate with yourself while grieving and to only go so far as it feels supportive. If taking 5 minutes to identify where there is heaviness in the body and breathe into that place is all you can muster you are still doing a huge service to your experience.

Rise by 6am

Having not grieved in a long time I was mindful to remain observant of how my body responded to the deep waves of emotion that I experienced throughout each day. I was surprised at how disrupted my sleep was, that my pattern of rest had changed, and the need for small rounds of rest during the day benefited me greatly. I already have a regular bedtime and waking time but I realized quickly that I was having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Waking early wasn’t a challenge because I would often wake before my 6am alarm and feel unable to fall back asleep. Ayurveda teaches us that from 6am-10am the energy of tamas I mentioned above is peaking in the daily cycle. When we awake within this tamasic time of morning we are more likely to hold that energetic imprint for the rest of the day. When grieving we don’t need more tamas- we are typically generating enough of our own.

How To: Rising before 6am means we awaken in the Sattvic time of day. This was the time when the yogis and rishis of days past would arise and meditate and do their morning spiritual rituals because the energy is lighter, more peaceful, and calming to the body and mind. If it does not feel too challenging to the body try to awaken before 6am to tune into this more peaceful energy and begin your day slowly (I found it helpful to do my breathing practices first thing). Then, if you feel drained through the day, taking short periods of rest (instead of long naps that also induce tamas) you will support the processing and assimilation of emotions that our consciousness goes through during resting periods.

Eat between 11am and 1pm

Eating can feel challenging while grieving and it is never recommended to eat while feeling a strong wave of emotion. I had meals where I needed to stop eating or delay diving in because my heart would begin to ache or a lump would be forming in my throat. The appetite can feel irregular as our body is working to digest our feelings continuously. So honor these natural changes and be aware of how you feel as you sit to have a meal. If you find nourishing yourself challenging during your grieving process this is a good guideline to heed to fortify the body and still support your needs.

How To: Our digestive fire is at its strongest as the sun peaks in the sky. This digestive fire works to not only digest our food but also our emotions and experiences and while we are experiencing such heavy and dense emotions such as grief our digestive system is working double time. Making the intention to eat our largest, most nutrient dense and healthy meal of the day between 11am and 1pm ensures that our body does not feel deprived of nutrition and receives the energy it needs. Pause if emotions arise and focus on feelings of gratitude as you eat.

Each person will experience and move through grief differently and have different needs but the practices I have shared here are pretty universally beneficial for all. I had other personal practices that I continued (and continue) with through my bereavement that support my unique needs and where I am on my own personal journey. So take this as an invitation to explore what feels good, nourishing, and nurturing to you in your time of loss. Some other ideas to consider are: herbals, journaling, energy healing, bodywork (massage, reflexology), support group/ talk therapy, creative projects that express emotion, gemstones, aromatherapy.

Above all, come back to compassion- compassion for where you are in your process, and compassionate care for the self. There is no easy way out of grief but we can make it more ease-full and grace-filled for ourselves.