How We Can Use Yoga to Heal
“The wound is the place where the light enters you” - RumiI remember my first heartbreak vividly. It was the winter of my sophomore year of high school and my long-distance boyfriend chose a classy breakup text as his way out of our relationship. At the time, my mother and I were living with my grandmother because we couldn’t afford a home of our own. The compounded self-pity I felt destroyed me and I didn’t get out of bed for two weeks. Looking back on that memory, I wonder, what would I have done if I had yoga in my life?
The first thing that pulled me to yoga was the physicality of it all. I loved the way my body felt after a challenging Vinyasa class. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the light airy feeling was more than just a physical side effect of my practice. Yoga gave me a mental and spiritual high, too. With just sixty minutes of practice, I shed layers of worry, stress, and doubt. With just sixty minutes, I felt an abundant source of love, light, and liberation. What was this “magic pill?!”
Yoga, as a physical asana or off-the-mat practice, is a way of coming outside of your pain.
It teaches you non-attachment and the power of not “owning” anything at all, including your emotional distress. There is no judgment, only the task of being fully present and witnessing the state of your body and mind so you can heal. We see more clearly with unfogged glasses, so the irrational thoughts that arise in times of loss become less frequent when you integrate a yoga practice into your life. When thoughts and behaviors do come up, because they always will, yoga gives you the tools to face your heartbreak and loss through a different lens than you had before.
Opening the door to the world of yoga will most likely mean that you’ll be approaching your pain in a way you never have before. Rather than pushing the emotions you’re experiencing aside, you allow everything to come to the foreground. We learn from our practice that going deeper means to come out stronger. It is an active healing experience of the psyche to have these thoughts come up, and as soon as they are noticed they will begin to dissolve.
Outside of the physical practice of yoga, we are given a number of tools including our breath, mindfulness, and meditation that allow us to tap into a source of liberation from the mind’s thoughts. These tools paired with movement place you outside of your pain and create space and depth in your mind and body.
Through yoga and meditation, your body is given a chance to slow down.
This experience, dubbed by Herbert Benson as the “relaxation response,” shows that when we slow down we’re reorganizing our nervous system and allowing our body to heal itself naturally. Within stillness, our body then has the resources to restore whatever needs healing. On the other hand, when we’re in a place of stress, we are blocking our body’s natural capacity to heal.
If you are suffering from heartbreak, loss, or any emotional pain, incorporate the following grounding meditation and yoga practice to experience stillness and clarity.
If you’re new to meditation, start with 1-2 minutes of seated meditation, closing your eyes and listening to your body. Acknowledge the way the breath moves throughout your body. Can you feel the way your inhales and exhales contract and expand in the lungs? Notice the feeling of the earth against you and the sounds that surround you. The goal is not to have a still mind, rather it is a practice of coming back from the racing thoughts to a place of non-attachment and observation. As you progress through this practice, extend the length of time you sit in meditation to 5, 10, 15, and 20 minutes.
Mantras are a way to invoke more of something into your life with the power of influencing energies and vibrations. Our words carry weight which manifests itself into reality, so finding or creating your own mantra that speaks to you will initiate internal healing. You can chant your mantra out loud or say it in your head. Using a mala necklace or bracelet, drop into your meditation and repeat the following mantra 108 times:
Why 108 times? While the meaning is up for interpretation, the mala represents the ecliptic, the path of the sun and moon across the sky. Traditionally, yogis divide the ecliptic into 27 equal section and each of these into four equal sectors marking the 108 steps that the sun and the moon take through heaven. Each is associated with a particular blessing force, with which you align yourself as you turn the beads and repeat the mantra.
Asana (Physical Poses):
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been practicing for ten years or have never stepped on a mat in your life. The postures found in yin yoga will help you to break through emotional pain and loss. Listen to your body by using your breath and creating space.
Yin is a gentle yoga practice that allows you to drop into your own body, listen, and be present with anything and everything that comes up, both physically and mentally. It is a seated, grounding practice, within which poses are held for 3-5 minutes in order to bring mobility to the joints and ligaments. From sensation in the hips to thoughts about past experiences, yin allows these physical and mental emotions to rise and be released through the power of passive movement. The practice of yin teaches us to breathe into difficult days like we breathe in difficult poses, proving that dichotomy of inhales and exhales represents much of our lives.
The truth is, there’s no way to prevent heartbreak or loss. It’s a part of life that we all endure and learn to cope with. It’s rough, painful, and debilitating at times, but you will always come out stronger. Yoga can teach you how to use tools that have always been available inside of you to leverage this pain and turn it into light.