Moving Through Grief

I am no stranger to mortality.

I worked for several years as a home health aide, primarily for end-of-life patients who wanted to spend their final days at home.

My path towards sobriety began with the death of my then-partner’s father from alcohol-related causes, and my early recovery was marked by the deaths of several of my friends, family members, and loved ones.

I have been present for the moment of death for multiple people, and actively a part of the post-death care of several more.

And yet, through all of that, and different from the experiences of many folks my age, the only immediate family members of mine who had passed away were my paternal grandfather and one of my cousins.

That is, until December.

On December 13, my paternal grandmother passed away after spending the previous week and a half receiving hospice care.

Then, just a few days ago, on February 12, my maternal grandma died as well, again after having received hospice care for the prior week.

Without going into all of the many precious memories that I have of them both in too great of detail on this very public forum while I am still very much in the throes of grief, suffice it to say that each of these women were so deeply important to me. Each in their own way taught me about love, safety, respect, resilience, compassion, and strength. As my sister said in one of our conversations yesterday, they offered us refuge.

And so it is that I am now actively moving through grief.

Yes, metaphorically, but also—particularly as someone in my line of work—very literally.

I am doing so as someone who lives with depression, PTSD, and C-PTSD (#endthestigma).

As a result, I thought this might be a good opportunity to list of of the ways that I—as a grieving person with coexisting mental health diagnoses—have continued to move and take care of my body.

Then, I decided to reach out to my friends and members of a few Facebook groups that I’m a part of to see what they do to maintain a movement practice while navigating intense emotional states such as grief.

My goal in writing this post and creating this list is not to gaslight or minimize the difficulties involved in moving through grief, the way similar lists made by neurotypical coaches might inadvertently do. Rather, my goal is to create a real-life list from a coach who lives and breathes the complexities of maintaining a movement practice in the midst of hard times.

So, with no further ado, here are some options that may help some of you.

(Note: options that were submitted by friends and online connections are in quotation marks. Options not in quotation marks are my own.)

  • Getting up from the couch to let the dog out. Yep, just that. If it occurs to me, take a few moments to really check in and experience what the standing and walking feel like.

 

  • “I do keep a pair of ten pound weights by the back door. When my dogs are out there, I have to watch them so they don’t wander away from our yard and so I can’t really be on my phone or reading or anything then. So I guess that’s something that works for me. Can’t say I *always* lift them: some days I just stare at them in apathy. But it does mean that 2-3 times a week, I spend a handful of minutes doing curls and lifts and usually it leads to a little stretching, maybe a single yoga pose… so I guess that’s my suggestion. Find a way to make fitness available to you by embedding it in an activity you already have established.” (JR Brown)

 

  • Doing nods, rolls, rocks, and/or crawls, as inspired by the Original Strength system. It’s amazing what a different it can make for me to just spend a few minutes doing these simple movements.

 

  • “I lost my mom and my abusive marriage ended at almost the same time. I was devastated and there were times I didn’t think I was going to make it. For me, walking in the early morning was very important to my healing. I walked my dog, and she gives me joy and love. I also listened to the entire Harry Potter series as I walked, and there was something about Harry’s battles and processing of his own grief that helped me. That was the summer my loss happened. I continued to walk throughout the fall and winter. In the spring I joined a gym and started strength training. That was another moment in my healing journey as I went from living through the grief to rebuilding. That summer I started solo backpacking and I feel like that’s when all the pieces came together and the new me was born. Grief changes a person, and I don’t think we come out of it the same people we were when we went in. It took a solid year for me to start feeling OK. I’m a little over a year and a half out from that summer of loss and I’m still fragile.” (Cathy W.)

 

  • Doing the dynamic mobility warm-up that I do with many of my students. Sometimes, choosing to do it with the seated options while watching Netflix. Just the simple act of allowing each of my joints to move a bit can help me re-center myself and reconnect with my body in the midst of all the emotions.

 

  • “*Moving my body in nature… Even just to walk outside, breathe 10 breaths + walk back in. *Stretching is a go-to for me. *Gentle static favorite yoga poses. *I’ll randomly curl whatever’s in my hand (book, etc…) *Squeezing all my muscles real tight, then fully releasing in groups going from head to foot or foot to head. *pointing + flexing my feet always feels good to me. *Rollin around with B2 [Jule’s dogs] playing + wrestling often brings comfort. *I’m also famous for making plans for activity with someone I love… Something we love engaging in together. Go for a swim/hike/racquetball game, etc. Being with the other person can sometimes add energy/spoons that I need to support activity.” (Jule S.)

 

  • Taking a shower. Noticing all the sensations of my body as I do so.

 

  • “Sometimes, for me, a little walk outside brings support and balance.” (Larry M.)

 

  • Make a meal, however simple or complicated as suits my energy level and inclination at the time.

 

  • ” For me, my trauma reactions are very tied to strong feelings of emotional paralysis and helplessness. Often the thought of moving at all brings up fear that movement is a form of pain and will lead to a panic attack. Those are the days that it may take hours to calm down enough to do anything – especially if there are other triggers going on.“Sometimes it is easier to do things – when the apartment pool was open, for instance, and I could just go downstairs to swim. It’s much easier to feel motivation when there is something to do that I feel like I can handle: a therapy appointment, or being with friends. I need to be in a mindset where I feel safe, cared about.

    “I think it is a good point you make about not-gaslighting – or at least, not presenting movement in a specific way. Being told that doing X will help sometimes sounds like blame to me for feeling too paralyzed to do X – even if it is easy!

    “It all comes down to my brain feeling safe enough and ready to move. Before that, it feels like movement will just make things worse. I don’t know if that is empirically true – but in this state, I don’t think it would be helpful to test it by forcing myself.” (Sarah)

 

  • Practicing Hoshinjutsu drills: the simple act of doing a progression of kicks, punches, knees strikes, and elbow strikes allows me to reconnect with my body in a way that allows for a sensation of empowerment to coexist with my emotions.

 

  • “Being aware of sensations and allowing myself to exist in my body is sometimes enough (on low spoons days, but also on days that feel high spoon because adrenaline and unwillingness to feel emotions are artificially creating spoon-mirages so I’m going YEAH I CAN GO HARDER AND FASTER YEAH when I… should perhaps not).”Mindfully making and drinking tea and noticing how my shoulders, hands, hips, etc. move during the process, the smell of the tea, the taste, the feeling of warmth.

    “A mindful bath followed by really slow and gentle… I’m not even sure I’d call it stretching, but moving limbs through range of motion on a flat and open area (floor, bed if it’s large enough, etc.)

    “A relatively high spoons thing that assumes comfort with physical contact, but contact improv WITH the group on campus that I knew and trusted (mostly friends, very few strangers, moderated by a trusted teacher – for me, a safe place) was really helpful. Other (safe) people give me movement and movement awareness spoons, but I’m also an extrovert.” (Mel C.)

 

  • Doing several rounds of sun salutations… and often, not even the whole sun salutation. I’ve found this video with Jessamyn Stanley and Dana Falsetti really helpful in recent weeks; I do as much of it as I feel up to, and then either stop or continue on to full sun salutations.

 

  • “When I was going through my worst mental health crisis (starting to recover memories of childhood sexual abuse), my therapist recommended holding the ‘child pose’ for a few minutes a day. I did a version with my knees apart that felt more comfortable. It was interesting because in my grief I naturally would cry with my forehead in the floor. Also the term child pose helped me honor my inner child who was hurting. ” (Anonymous)

 

  • Breathing. Seriously, just that. I have several different breath practices that I often go to, and perhaps I will dedicate and entire post to breath practices soon… but really, this one doesn’t need to be overly complicated. In all of the breath practices, the common denominator is that I know and feel that I am breathing when I breathe.

 

  • “I started running in a period of grief. I wanted something other than anxiety that would raise my heart rate 🙂 I felt free and new. Now 8 years later running is still my best form of stress relief and alone time.” (Stacy E-P)

 

 

  • “For me, it’s a feeling I need to move but don’t want to leave my safe space (bed or couch). So I move my feet and legs in anyway either stretching them in small constant movements or jiggling my legs. It’s self soothing to jiggle, but also meditative for me and redirects some of the pain. I don’t always do this consciously, it’s often unconscious movements.” (Kerry B.)

 

  • Doing something around the house: this could be a chore, like doing a load of laundry, or a part of a project I’ve been meaning to get done (like reorganizing my bedroom or hanging up some wall art), or simply walking around the house to open windows and let some light in.

 

  • “My go-to since childhood has been dance, but the thought of engaging with certain dance styles (like my current go-to,  Zumba, or past faves like Bhangra or Middle Eastern dance) while actively dealing with grief or mental illness flare-ups is absurd, and pretty obviously unworkable as they’re too upbeat and/or performative. To dance like that when really going through it would feel like an unhealthy suppression of my true feelings. What has provided an open-ended and expectation-free venue for a more honest and exploratory movement practice in times like those is Ecstatic Dance, which (at least where I used to do it) is based on the Five Rhythms method. I could go into that studio and know there was no plan. If what was most authentic for me was to lie on the floor with closed eyes for the whole hour-and-a-half the music was on, nobody would bat an eye. That level of acceptance, plus the gentle trust it fostered among the little community of fellow weirdos, was incredibly helpful for me. It also helped to see others’ vulnerability as they arrived with their own shifting stuff week by week. And for my body issues, to have it in a mirrorless space was greatly helpful, too.” (Angela H.)

 

  • Chase my pets around a bit, however playfully I can manage. Allow their sweet silliness to bring a quality of warmth to the moment.

 

  • “in deep grief and sadness, i try not to be too disciplined in any movement practice, and find i need to go for anything that may bring some joy, laughter, [and] catharsis. i usually find it in something i think is… silly like, i am terrible at zumba, but i laughed my ass off. i’ll try to climb a tree, or do claywork. also, moving in a group setting or with close friend has been helpful when i am down emotionally bc it’s extra support to do a thing. When i am mentally unwell, it’s usually slow and steady movement [with] grounding, warm, wet, qualities. yoga groundwork, baths, oilation. [things that offer] comfort, safety, and strengthening work… when i feel manic or fighting, i have a sort of mental violence going on, and so i try to be gentle and curious {like you say;)} to find something that may facilitate a shift. but now, come to think of it, i feel both these ways at once usually, so i guess i try not to hurt myself with the thought that i need to do something [when] i am not sure what it is.” (Anonymous)

None of these should be interpreted in a prescriptive way, as something you “should” do. Rather, I simply wanted to outline some of the ways that people have managed to maintain a connection to their physical self and needs while navigating grief and other intense emotions. There is no right or wrong way to move through grief… there are simply options.

 

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One thought on “Moving Through Grief

  1. Michelle Lewis says:

    I realized I was too late to make your list so I’ll add one here. Sometimes when I’m feeling stuck on the couch it feels a lot better to just move myself to the floor. I put a comfy blanket down and start on my back, maybe hugging my knees to my chest, maybe stretching my legs up to the ceiling. But also sometimes just lying flat and feeling the difference of that shape compared to the shape my body was making on the couch (usually slouched or curled up in a ball). It’s sometimes enough to re-energize me so I add on some other movements, and other times it just enough to relieve some tension in my neck and back so I can breathe a little easier.

    Like

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