Letting go of Grief with Acupuncture, Yoga, and Mindfulness
November 16, 2016 is the day that my oldest brother Jimmy died. It was sudden and completely unexpected. He left behind his wife and two daughters, our mother and father, and my brother and myself, our families, our extended family, and countless friends, and co-workers who were like family. He died peacefully in his sleep- we don’t really know exactly how or why. It could have been sleep apnea or maybe a heart attack. All we do know is that we weren’t ready for him to leave.
It’s been I guess a year and a half since that day. The pain is still present from losing my brother, but it now feels more numb now than it did then. My family and I have managed to move on and carry on. We talk about him and we talk about how we miss him, but where does a pain that deep actually go even when you think that you have cried and talked it out? Does grief go away? Does it lodge deep inside organs and tissues and cause disease? Here is an interesting link discussing how grief can make you sick.
I remember then, after it all happened and after I had flown to and from America after the funeral, I couldn’t work. I had to take time off to let myself grieve. My family and I all took breaks and took things easy. I guess there was a certain point where I compartmentalized my emotions and became functional at work. That is another thing that is difficult to remember.
Here is a book that found that discusses studies about grief how grief can aggravate already existing conditions. This is not the full book but if you want to download and read the e-book, there is a link here with this book summary. Something I found interesting from the information was psychiatric problems seem to play a part in rheumatism and the conclusion was drawn that grief can worsen rheumatism.
I did everything that any person grieving would do. I sought help to talk to someone. I went to Shanda Beste, an energy healer. I went to a medium, Leila de Vries. I spoke with my yoga teacher, Robert Boustany. They were all tremendously helpful and they all advised me to clean up my diet, take things slowly, and start meditating. So I did.
I began to focus my energy back into my practice of yoga and to start a daily practice of mindfulness and meditation which also included pranayama (breathing) exercises. I cleaned up my diet and got back into the gym to burn off extra calories and get physically fitter and stronger. I decreased my alcohol and sugar intake. I felt like I was on the right path. I consulted my yoga teacher, Robert Boustany, again to ask his advice on how to deepen my practice of meditation.
He sent me a link for the Hansavedas Organization which is an organization that teaches one of the ancient lineages of Himalayan yoga and meditation. He advised me to check into their website and try out some of their meditation practices, but most importantly, take it slowly, and be patient with myself.
Still, there was something causing me distraction during my meditation sessions. I started having strange dreams and nightmares. I have had neck pain for a long time and decreased mobility in my neck. I go regularly to a physiotherapist- Rolph Kavelaars and massage therapist here in Breda.
They both are great and have improved my neck mobility and helped ease my neck discomfort.. I have always wanted to try out acupuncture so I decided to go to Tess Brinkman de Rond at Tess Acupunctuur to see if I could create more openness in the neck area.
As a yoga teacher I am very interested in meridians and chakras and with acupuncture, you can trigger both of these with needle insertion and release stuck areas and re-balance the body.
The acupuncture was really nice! It was very pleasant lying in the chair. Tess also placed heat lamps above me so that the needles also warmed up. It was like having a massage it was so relaxing. Immediately after the treatment, I even felt a little high. After I saw Tess, my neck mobility improved and it became less sensitive when I turned my neck from side to side. However, a day after the treatment I started having palpitations and tingling down the inside of my left leg.
My yoga teacher Robert was in town the last two weeks teaching at Yogasite for the 200 and 500 hour yoga teacher trainings. During the class, I told Robert about that I had been to have acupuncture and that now I am having palpitations. He noticed however that I wasn’t sitting up straight and that my chest was not lifted. Immediately after the posture correction, the palpitations slowed down. I told him that I only didn’t have palpitations the last week when I was meditating or practicing yoga. When I was doing other daily things they would worsen. We then did a Himalayan Yoga Nidra from Swami Rama that can be found in this book.
A Yoga Nidra is a guided mediation which bring a person in a state of deep relaxation. Here is an article on the benefits of Yoga Nidra. The moment I laid down to start the Yoga Nidra, tears came to my eyes and I felt sadness come out. I couldn’t even concentrate on the Yoga Nidra at first because I was so distracted by my emotions. The moment I was able to tell myself to let go, I was able to finally relax and follow the guided mediation. Towards the end of the practice, I noticed extra heaviness and tingling down my left arm. I also noticed that the palpitations were gone. Robert also taught me a way to breathe to release grief: inhaling and then exhaling with almost closed lips.
More about Yoga Nidra here.
After talking to Robert, I decided that I needed to go back to Tess to have another acupuncture treatment. It seems as though the first treatment brought up emotions manifested as cardiac symptoms. Knowing the little that I know about meridians and after talking to Tess, I learned that in treating my neck pain, she had also triggered meridians that can help release grief: the ventral aspect of the inner arm (large and small intestines, lungs, and heart), the inside and back of the legs (kidney and bladder).
According to the book, Meridian Systems Yoga, a manifestation of lung disharmony is when a person gets stuck on the exhale and lives in a permanent sign which can happen after the loss of a loved one. The lungs and the large intestines are partner organs and intertwined in their emotional associations and when the large intestines are in disharmony, one can have a problem letting emotions go. Just as lung and large intestines are related, so are the heart and small intestines, When the heart is in disharmony, anxiety and other emotional disturbances are seen. The small intestines emotional duty is to set boundaries. The kidneys and bladder are also partner organs. When these organs are out of balance they manifest as fear and the kidneys take the brunt of emotional pain. When emotions get stuck, they manifest as pain. More about meridian systems yoga here:
Tess treated the meridians again and also triggered crown, third eye, throat, heart, and solar plexus chakras. I was also sent home with very small needles that she placed in my ear cartilage that I can wear for about 10 days to extend the treatment. She said this was a French acupuncture technique to treat the body through the ears. The points corresponded to what she treated with the Chinese acupuncture points. After the treatment my neck felt completely open. I am no longer having palpitations and any heaviness that I felt around the heart is gone. I slept the best I have slept in a long time after the yoga training with Robert and the acupuncture with Tess this week.
The grief is still not gone but I have learned to recognize in my body when the grief is manifesting itself in physical symptoms. I now have better coping strategies to deal with my grief when it comes to the surface. The most important thing that I must do for myself is to maintain my own yoga practice, practice Yoga Nidra regularly, and meditate and practice pranayama breathing daily. I also must take time for myself on a regular basis.
I would like to conclude with a youtube video from a TEDx talk from Max Strom. He discusses why breathing is so important, even more important than meditation and mindfulness. His talk is called “Breathe to Heal“.