To breathe. The complex process of taking oxygen in to our bodies and then expelling it back out again. It’s a subconscious yet integral part of our existence. If we don’t have breath then we don’t have life. It’s such a simple concept, so why does it feel so impossible sometimes?
In yoga your breath is the secret ingredient, the key that unlocks your practice and takes it from a purely physical practice towards a more enlightened sense of being. It not only becomes a moving meditation for the duration of class but can aid you in tackling a whole host of tensions in your daily life. Can’t sleep? Notice the free flow of breath. Feeling anxious or stressed? Slow your breathing down. Getting angry? Breath and count to ten. Feel excruciating pain? Take long, slow breaths.
But what happens if the pain you feel isn’t of the physical variety, but of the very real and completely debilitating pain of heartache? The pain of losing someone you love.
My Dad passed away exactly six months ago and although the shock has subsided, the pain becomes ever stronger. They say it gets easier with time – I’m wondering when that time might be. However, although the pain is still as real as ever I’m slowly learning how to manage it.
I had just returned home from teacher training last March. I felt on top of the world and was looking forward to seeing family and friends. The ten days following my return were a complete haze – as well as settling back in to home life I had a hen do, a ski trip and starting to teach at my local yoga studio. I had managed to catch up with some people during this time but it was super busy. The one person I hadn’t yet visited was my Dad. He knew I was busy and I knew he was always there so thought I would wait until after the ski trip to spend some quality time with him. This decision has now grown to become one of my biggest regrets in life. He passed away suddenly at home, on his own, during the second day of my trip.
In hindsight we should have known this was a possibility – he’d had a long battle with cancer since 2008, his body was frail and we knew that it would eventually overcome him – but never in our minds did we think his passing would happen without any warning. On top of this his doctors were sure he had plenty of time ahead of him and he seemed to be doing well. He loved spending time with my niece, Ava, and watching her grow gave him the strength to continue his fight. However, although his mind was strong we now know his body was not. The feelings of guilt and regret I now feel at not visiting him one final time will stay with me forever.
My dad was supportive of my decision to train in yoga. At first he was bemused, thinking I was about to become an incense-burning, chanting, dreadlocked, new-age hippie (something we’d often have a little giggle about) but when he realised it was something I was truly passionate about he supported me fully and was excited by my trip to Thailand.
When he first passed away I didn’t think I would be able to enter a yoga studio ever again, let alone teach at one. A few days after he died I tried attending a class to get some headspace but it was too much and I spent the whole session in tears. The only thing that kept me in class was that I didn’t want to talk to anyone. If practicing yoga felt hard, teaching it felt like an impossibility.
Breathing was particularly difficult during this time, in both my yoga practice and my daily life. I lost count of times I felt an ache in my heart that literally took my breath away. Those few moments of freedom I felt at momentarily forgetting he had passed where quickly followed by a sharp loss of breath when reality hit. When I cried my my breath felt out of control, and at the thought of never seeing Dad again I lost my breath completely. I’d never thought about the link between pain and breath before, but here I was, a living example of how much pain could affect my most basic human function.
After several weeks and some strong advice from people who have been through similar experiences I quickly realised that yoga might be exactly the thing to help me heal. So I threw myself in to it – teaching, practicing and studying. At home I hid myself away, avoiding friends and social experiences, but at the yoga studio I could switch off and immerse myself for a few hours.
At first I was just going through the motions (some days I still am), but as the weeks go by I am slowly learning how to breathe again. I not only feel clearer after my yoga practice, but I can cope better too. Whenever I feel completely overcome with sadness I take some long, slow, deep breaths and slowly the feelings pass.
That’s not to say it’s been an easy ride. Six months down the line and the pain is as real as ever – there is at least one moment in each day where I feel completely overwhelmed with sadness and struggle to breathe. I still can’t believe he’s gone and that desperation I feel at needing one last moment with him will stay with me forever.
The hardest lesson you learn when you lose someone is that life goes on. At first you fight against this concept but quickly realise you have two choices – allow yourself to fall in to a deep depression or take the love you feel for that person and channel it in to something you feel passionate about. For me that is yoga.
Yoga has taught me to slow down, to take each day as it comes, and to not put pressure on myself. It’s helped me to process my feelings of guilt and loss, and to be grateful for the time I did have with him. It’s also taught me to live for the moment and treasure the things that are important in my life – my friends and my family. Yoga has helped me to breath again.