Grief, Mindfulness Practice, and the Importance of Taking Care of Yourself

This article was written for the Yoga on the Lake March Newsletter in which I am the featured teacher. I’m proud of it and so wanted to share it with you all. 

When I was five my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died when I was fourteen. His birthday was October 20th and he died on November 5th. Every year since his death I’ve experienced what I call my “season of grief.”

Starting in early September I begin to feel…off. I sleep less, it’s a little harder to focus, my temper is a little shorter, and I feel generally “on edge” more often. These symptoms start slowly, then ramp up until we reach my “dark days” – the two week period between his birthday and his death day. After this peak, my symptoms slowly recede.

Last year was the ninth time I’ve experienced this cycle. I knew it was coming and I knew how to take care of myself. I knew that I would experience intermittent hours of grief and sadness, but I also knew that if I included a mindfulness practice (like yoga or meditation) in my daily routine that these periods would be shorter and the spaces in between more joyful.

I knew that I have a tendency to over book my time. I find it difficult to say “no” when people ask me to do things. It’s not just that I don’t want to let them down – it’s that I fear I’m lazy, or will become lazy. For most of my life I bought into the idea (so prevalent in our culture) that rest days are wasted days. However, during my “season of grief,” and my “dark days” in particular, I am very conscientious about only taking on the amount of work I can handle and giving myself plenty of time to rest and feel. I also eat more carefully and do my best to ensure I get enough sleep.

I other words: for these few weeks, I truly take care of myself.

Until very recently, the rest of the year…well I wasn’t bad at taking care of myself. I consistently worked to the point of collapsed, but almost never really exceeded my limits. I ate decently (if not well), made a best faith effort to get enough sleep, and practiced yoga maybe 2-3 times per week. Again, not bad, but slowly, over the last couple years, I’ve begun to ask the question: why don’t I take care of myself all the time the way I do in the fall?

The simple answer is: it’s hard.

It’s hard to resist staying up late watching TV, to say “no” to things you want to do when you know you shouldn’t, to make it to your mat instead of taking a nap. It’s a challenge that’s made all the harder because sometimes you really need that nap, or you feel like really living life should include some sleepless nights (which might even be true). However, for me at least, that’s where yoga comes in.

Not too long ago the inestimable Jessica Warren told me that she practiced everyday because it “wasn’t worth it to not practice.” It’s taken me a little while to fully understand those words – or least it’s taken a little while to understand that they apply to me with at least equal force.

For the last month I’ve been paying close attention to my mental and physical health. When I practice consistently (as in every day or almost every day), it’s easier to do the things I should. I keep myself and my home cleaner, I crave healthier foods, I have more energy, and I work on my novels (oh yeah, another piece of background: I write books) more readily. When I don’t practice things tend to get a little shakier.

That’s not to say yoga is the only way to do this. Meditation, or another mindfulness practice, would work just as well for the mental benefits – though they wouldn’t make you physically fit at the same time.

The benefits of mindfulness practices are well documented, so, if you’re curious about them, I would strongly encourage you to try to incorporate one into your routine. As a yoga teacher, I am, perhaps, biased towards yoga, but really any mindfulness practice or combination of practices will work. Commit to these practices for a week – or a month, or a year – and see the changes they make in your life. Is it easier to take care of yourself? Or to do the things you know you should?

I hope so.

I hope you find the peace and joy a mindfulness practice can bring. I hope you reach to point where it’s simply not worth it to skip a day in your practice.

Just remember: It’s a process. We take two steps forward, one step back. Be disciplined, but also be kind to yourself.

The light in me greets the light in you.

Namaste,

Zac

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Comments

  1. I am soooooooo proud of you. Sending you light my beloved…

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