Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy for Grief: A Mind-Body Approach

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: July 21, 2015

by Heather Stang, MA 

phoenix rising yoga therapy for grief

Keith arrived for his first session just 18 days after his partner of 36 years died suddenly. As soon as he walked through the door for his first private Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session, he began to sob. I guided him to find a comfortable position lying down on my soft, comfortable mat, and covered him with a blanket.

Usually when I first meet a client we spend some time discussing their health history and purpose for the session, but in this moment, none of that mattered. Keith curled up in a fetal position and continued to cry.

After receiving permission, I placed my hand on his back. We remained in this position for the better part of an hour. From time to time I would coach him to breathe mindfully as I “witnessed” his pain.

Afterward, Keith told me that he found this mindful presence comforting, and that even though there was only one second where he noticed his breath, it gave him hope that someday in the future he would be able to be present to his breath rather than his pain.

After many sessions and participation in the 8-week Yoga for Grief Group (now called Mindfulness & Grief), Keith reported that when waves of grief arose, “…instead of being a victim of the waves I can just focus on my breath. Then I can reflect on the tide pools and learn from them.” (Stang, 2014, p. 118-125).

A Flexible Therapeutic Technique

This is just one example of what Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy for grief might look like. There are many sessions where I physically move and stretch my clients while we mindfully discuss whatever rises to the surface: thoughts, feelings, sensations, hopes, fears.

What I love about the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy approach to grief is that it allows me to meet my client wherever they are when they show up for a session: angry, hopeful, devastated, bitter. Just as no two of us experience grief the same way, no two sessions are exactly alike either.

Benefits of a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Session for Grief

Grief impacts us on the physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, social, and spiritual levels. Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy can help reduce physical and emotional suffering with guided breath awareness and supportive yoga postures. Behavioral, social and spiritual concerns may be addressed during the client-centered dialogue based on the work of Carl Rogers.

As Keith demonstrated, this “therapy on the mat” gives bereaved clients the opportunity to use their breath and body as anchors to the present moment. This practice can be especially helpful when our emotions feel out of control, or when we ruminate about the past or worry about the future.

I find that many people experience relief in just one session, including:

  • Repetitive thoughts and worries slow down or cease altogether.
  • Pain and tension in the body commonly associated with the stress of grief will be reduced or completely released.
  • A deeper connection to the body’s wisdom and more frequent awareness of “gut feelings.”
  • A sense of being more connected to one’s higher self, source, or essential true nature.
  • Sensations in the body as a metaphor – or barometer – for how life manifests “off the mat.”
  • Deeper compassion for self and others.

A Natural Way To Process Grief & Loss

Grief is natural, but it is also one of life’s greatest stress reactions. Left unchecked, this stress can add suffering to suffering. In addition to getting the right amount of sleep and eating a healthy, balanced diet, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy can help with all aspects of loss.

To experience Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy for Grief, find a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy practitioner in your area.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

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