Yoga Therapy-Healing Grief, Restoring Sleep and Regaining Health

By Jill Holter

Yoga Therapy with Panchamaya and my therapist Celia, has completely transformed every aspect of my life. Telling this story, as a middle-aged woman who has been sedentary, uncomfortable in her body and movements, and dealing with increasing challenges in mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health, comes from a place of hope. And complete transparency! Feeling better, and believing I can continue to do so into the future, is the best gift I’ve been given.

The past two and a half years, I’ve taken on and in a lot of emotions and experiences that have taken a toll on my mind and body. Both of my elderly parents passed away, and I was their primary care-giver and health advocate during their declines and deaths. It was a struggle to work at my career on a steady basis through all of it, so there were financial stresses as well. Their joint funeral was held in early January, 2022.

At the onset of the pandemic, my family and I all had Covid. At the time, it felt like a fairly bad cold or flu, but I began a two year up and down with some long covid-symptoms. Concentrated to what I would call my upper lungs or esophagus/bronchial tubes, I carried with me the dull ache similar to breathing in very cold Minnesota winter air. Yet, it was present much of the time, regardless of temperature or activity. It definitely intensified during times of fatigue, or great stress. 

As a 54 year old woman, mother of six, working full time – I haven’t always taken the best care of myself. In addition to grief and general stress, and long-covid symptoms, I’ve suffered for years from gastro-intestinal distress. A terrible bout of e-coli in 2010 left my system ravaged, and with aging and stress, it was difficult to rebuild what had been lost.

A recent diagnosis of GERD (reflux on a pretty intense level) and Barrett’s Esophagus gave some answers and direction. Diet changes have been implemented, one medication added, and some very helpful supplements have become part of my nutrition routine.  I worked with a nutrition coach to narrow down triggers and learn some new tricks to make planning, cooking, and eating all create better health.

I recently started seeing a talk-therapist as part of my overall reclaiming of my personal wellness, mostly to address grief but also some past trauma that was really weighing me down. It’s been helpful to have a place to put all my words and experiences, and a person to hold them for me. 

Each of these tactics were carefully chosen to work in concert with one another. I talk to each of my therapists/practitioners/coaches about all the things I’m doing, eating, taking, so we are all on the same page.

My first visit with Celia, my Yoga Therapist from Panchamaya Yoga Therapy, started with a thorough intake process, much like with any new health practitioner and patient. I told her what my chief complaints were – specifically the long-covid breathing symptoms, but also my GI issues, and the mental health struggles. Each piece was important for Celia’s understanding of how interconnected my issues were, and how Yoga Therapy could benefit my whole being.

That day, we got down on the floor together (never easy for me!), and worked through a few very simple and gentle movements, completely different from what I had tried (and failed) in prior yoga sessions. By far, the greatest focus was on breathing – and specifically my exhale. With each raise of the arm, we focused more and more on the slow, thorough, open-mouthed exhale. If I was comfortable, Celia told me I could add some vocal hum or vibration to that exhale. I was comfortable, and it felt like the most natural thing. Of course Celia knows vibration is part of the healing process, but she never tells me the whole story while I’m still learning and exploring, and I am so grateful.

The exhale! I learned that day to hold my exhale, and that’s when the real healing began for me. In that space where my breath has been completely released and my body is in a static, resting position, my mind and spirit become incredibly clear. Not blank, but unclogged and uncluttered. To be honest, there have been some metaphysical things happening in those spaces, which include but are not limited to, light, color, shape, and the feeling of presence.

As I’ve continued my practice over these many weeks, those exhale and pause moments have lengthened, and I am benefiting from more clarity and more peace in those very moments. Sometimes, I will think of a person, or a feeling, or maybe a memory comes to me. In those pauses, the peace and absolute quiet space in my mind allows those thoughts and feelings to come, stay, heal, and release. I have chosen (through encouragement by my other coaches) to decide if what I am seeing or feeling is negative, and if I can then replace it with a healing or letting go thought. You know what? I can. I do. It is working. I don’t know how to explain it in any other way, except the big work is happening there in those spaces.

My emotions play a big role in my life and my being. I’m the most expressive person most people know, which is a blessing/curse situation to be sure, for both me and the people around me. As years have passed and the really hard years have taken a toll, I’ve discovered how many of those emotions I’m holding inside me. And of all the luck, my body seems to hold them in my middle – where my digestion, immune system, and wellness-center reside. So in addition to the things I’ve been eating and drinking, all the grief, stress, anger, trauma, hurt, and sadness have lived in a knotted ball where it has done the most damage, physically and mentally.

Yoga Therapy is unraveling and releasing those emotions, one by one. Holding my exhale is part of the work, but there are specific practices Celia has given me that produce a very real, and very strong, emotional release, almost every time I practice. These are very small movements, with my body mostly at rest. But in these movements, and breathing, and holding and listening and looking, there is often a flood of realizing, and of release. I cry – I REALLY cry, nearly every time. It’s never a negative or angry cry, but rather like a washing rain type of cry. Sometimes I laugh a little, overwhelmed by the response in my whole being. And when the tears stop and my breathing steadies again, the overriding and lasting emotion is gratitude. So I begin and end each session with gratitude – toward myself for prioritizing this, and toward the practice that is healing me.