Yoga Therapy Case Study: Bereavement
A woman who attended class regularly was having problems with her neck. She was experiencing pain so profound that she was alarmed as to its cause. She also suffered from ulcerative colitis and acid reflux, unable to keep down the pain killers that she was taking daily. Following a diagnosis from her GP that the spondylosis in her neck was degenerative and would not improve, she came to Yoga Therapy out of sheer desperation.
During our first session, the client was very emotional. She talked and talked about many things, as if no one had taken the time to listen to her before, but sat hunched and apologetic, inarticulate and unsure.
We set to work immediately on her neck issue, as it was the source of so much discomfort. My intention was to soften the rock hard muscle around the upper back and shoulders in order to invite movement and spaciousness up into the neck area. She had been told by the doctor that she had 'bone grinding on bone, irreversibly', so every time she lengthened or articulated the neck, I asked her to visualize rays of light bursting through the delicate cervical vertebrate, creating a healing cushion to help ease her pain. We did shoulder rotations, eagle pose, cow's head and back bends. She explored side stretches and twists, and rested for many minutes in restorative corpse pose, with ample support for the head.
Sessions continued with an essentially physio-therapeutic slant and the client made remarkably quick physical progress. As her neck and shoulders loosened and became pain free, she also became more eloquent and started referring quite often to the death of her father some five years before. As our conversations developed, usually sparked by placing the client in restful, heart-opening positions, it seemed clear that much of her physical discomfort (including the colitis in her abdomen) stemmed from her inability to 'digest' the grief she felt around her father's passing. She was carrying a great burden of unhappiness about it and yet didn't want to let it go for fear of being disrespectful.
With this in mind, I switched emphasis away from movement for a while and focused instead on breath. In supported bridge, legs extended (to create ease in her inflamed belly), I encouraged her to first of all sigh away exhalation, feeling deep release, and then pause momentarily just before exhalation in order to give that feeling of release more power when it finally came. I also invited her to explore the notion of acceptance, particularly when she was in challenging postures. Surrender and acceptance are key spiritual precepts and vital to embrace if we are to flow with the natural cycles of life and death. As the process of breathing shows us, there cannot be renewal (inhalation/birth) without release (exhalation/death) and to resist this is to create stagnation, suffocation – or in this case, intense internal inflammation.
Over the weeks, dialogue turned to the client's father many times. At first she was very reluctant to take on board what I was saying about letting go and letting be, but as her body softened through regular, target-specific yoga practice, so too did her heart. Aware that the acid reflux could be indicative of undigested emotion repeatedly coming to the surface, I set homework, persuading her to think of times when she 'swallowed' an emotional reaction to something, suggesting she write about it before burning the words in order to fully release them. We also lit candles in her father's memory and spoke fondly, rather than sadly, of him, shifting the energy from grief and resistance to celebration and quiet acceptance.
A year of regular sessions later, this client has virtually no neck pain and her digestive problems are much easier. She still mourns her father deeply, but some of the heaviness has gone, leaving room for laughter and a lightness that was previously missing. She admits to being 'easier to live with', and acknowledges that without the multi-faceted approach of yoga therapy (which contains a life lesson in every exercise!), she may still be stuck with a closed heart and aching body. It has been a privilege to see her unfurl.
If you are interesting in finding out how Yoga Therapy can help you, please send a message briefly outlining your circumstances to firstname.lastname@example.org
Penny Jane Fuller 2014