A part of your yoga offerings is Conscious Grieving®, can you tell our readers how you got involved in this kind of work?
In 2007 my life partner, Jack, died suddenly in a car accident. Completely devastated I turned to my community and yoga practice for comfort. Over time it became clear that I would benefit from finding a community with other people grieving so I looked for someone that was working with grief and yoga. There wasn’t anyone. Eventually, I found two grief workshops, The Gifts of Grief and Passionate Sadness, and attended them. While both were wonderful, neither had an embodiment element and I felt this was essential for my process, and others as well. As a result, I founded Conscious Grieving®, a grief support service which provides tools for acceptance and incorporates yoga bringing about an embodied healing process.
Why is the grieving process so hard for people not going through it to understand?
Most of us don’t learn about grieving in school like we do about other health related topics. Culturally we have an aversion to death and avoid situations that touch on it. People just don’t have the tools to deal with people grieving and are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. I didn’t know how to talk to and support a person grieving until I had experienced a significant loss myself.
For those who haven’t experienced a significant loss, but would like to support people who have, what do you suggest?
~Time is needed for healing to occur, 2-3 years or so.
~Listen if people want to talk and try to avoid judging them or giving advice.
~Creative outlets help a lot of people and can be private or unorthodox
~Security is essential; help them feel safe personally and financially.
~Care for them and encourage them to remain hopeful about the future.
~Support workshops and groups are good to find for them.
How does your Conscious Grieving® workshop help people who are grieving or those supporting people who are?
My workshops provide a supportive community of people who share their loss or losses. The process of sharing is healing and helps us let go a little bit. We read grief related poetry and we mediate together. Then we do an embodiment exercise and from that I design a yoga class, which aims to release grief stored in the body.
Tell us more about your work with Conscious Grieving®
Besides offering a few CG workshops a year I also work with a lot of people privately and semi privately. I also offer workshops for yoga teachers and other movement teachers to develop sensitivity to working with people experiencing loss and grief.
What role does yoga play in the grieving process?
Philosophically, physically and emotionally yoga is a practice of vairagya and abhyasa, effort and letting go. Grieving requires effort in building a new life without the person or situation you’ve lost. In order for a new life to be built we have to let go of the person or life we had before. Yoga helps heal the body of the sadness and hurt that is part of the grieving process. And yoga’s true aim is to quiet the mind, something essential for surviving grief and loss. Yoga gives you necessary tools to grieve in a way that helps you move forward in your life in a positive way.
You teach Iyengar yoga. Are certain yoga styles more conducive to this kind of emotional work than others?
Any yoga can help people process emotions. It’s often about finding the right teacher for you and one who has the emotional sensitivity to adjust a practice according to an individual students needs.
You were able to study with BKS Iyengar at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in India – what were some of the core teachings that you took away from the time you spent there?
I did therapeutic work with BKS Iyengar himself. I had open heart surgery when I was three and have five wiresholding my sternum plate together. He developed a sequence of poses that helped my physically, emotionally and spiritually unlock my chest cavity, specifically my heart center. What I took away from that was the ability to adapt poses and create a sequence for a person that is healing body, mind and spirit.
In your experience, what role can music play in the grieving process? Does it hold an active or passive role?
Music was an extremely important part of my grieving process. It helped me process and let go of some of my sadness and helped me find glimpses of happiness. A good friend
of Jack’s made me a mix, and she said she channelled it from him. As unlikely as that may seem, I truly believe she did. All the songs contained messages to me from him. I never thought anything like that would be possible before but experiencing such a significant loss opened my mind to that kind of magic.
Do you ever incorporate music into the Conscious Grieving workshops or consultations? What kind of music do you incorporate?
I have before. Someone wrote a song about losing her husband and I played that for a while. The song that was the most meaningful when I was grieving was Israel “Iz” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” because it gave me so much hope. It still brings tears to my eyes in a good way.
Grief and loss have many faces, as I’m sure you’ve seen in your personal life and work. What advice can you give people who are working with folks who are grieving?
Everyone grieves differently, but in order to heal they must find a way to grieve – to truly mend and process their loss. Allowing people to be sad and experience the loss in their own way is essential. There is no hierarchy of loss; all losses should be viewed as important and treated with compassion. Authentic grieving takes time and is challenging. Being a good listener and taking time to be extra caring is critical for someone who is grieving.
If people are looking for relief or support in their local area and can’t find a Conscious Grieving yoga teacher like you, do you have any resources that you recommend?
I have an entire page of grief resources on my Conscious Grieving® page of my website.
What do you have coming up this year that you’d like to share with our community? What are you excited about?
I’m very excited to be featured in Yoga Journal’s June Yogapedia column. I wrote the sequence and am pictured demonstrating the poses. I’ll be teaching the featured sequence and more on June 24th at a workshop in Los Angeles. On November 5, I have a Conscious Grieving® workshop in Los Angeles, and over Veteran’s Day weekend I have a lovely retreat in Ojai.
Koren Paalman, MS is Iyengar certified at the Intermediate Junior III level. She has been teaching yoga since 1995 to both adults and youth in a variety of settings nationally and internationally. Koren was honoured to work therapeutically with BKS Iyengar and his daughter Geeta in Pune, India biannually for 10 years.
In 2007 Koren founded Conscious Grieving®, a grieving support service that combines yoga with other modalities in individual consultations and workshops nationally. She was featured in Yoga Journal’s June, 2017 issue. korenyoga.com