Approaching Grief Through Trauma-Sensitive Yoga

an interview with Monique Minahan

Monique is a yoga teacher whose niche is teaching yoga tailored for grief. She’s the mama of a sweet and energetic toddler and last year compiled her many writings on grief and loss into a short book titled “The Unedited Heart.” This year she launched her more expansive project, The Grief Practice, with hopes of shifting the culture around grief globally.

Yoga One: When did you first start teaching yoga in a way that welcomed all the emotions of grief?

Monique: A year ago I approached a local hospice center with a desire to offer a weekly bereavement yoga class. I wanted to offer an approach that grief wasn’t something to fix, but as something to welcome. Grief is often held in the body and yoga guides us back into our physical form, where we can invite the grief to take up space. To surge. To recede. To flow. To be.

Editor’s Note: Go here if you are interested in taking a bereavement yoga class with Monique in Carlsbad, CA.

Yoga One: What does trauma-sensitive mean in your classes?

Monique: Trauma-sensitive means I teach the class in a trauma-informed way, taking into account how the body lodges traumatic experiences and how I, as a yoga teacher, can unknowingly trigger the body’s memory of traumatic experiences. For example, by the words I use or by initiating touch without permission. I teach the students anchoring techniques that they can “hold onto” when their emotions, feelings or memories become overwhelming.

I have tremendous respect for the power of grief whether it is of a traumatic nature or not. The first thing I say in every class is that it’s okay to cry. It’s amazing the relief people feel when they’re given permission to cry.

Yoga One: What are consent rocks and how do you use them in class?

Monique: They are simply rocks on which I’ve painted “yes” on one side and “no” on the other. I use the consent rocks to let the students tell me whether they want any physical adjustment or touch throughout the class. Touch can be intrusive or healing.  Touch can be unwelcome one day and welcome another.

Inviting the students to choose what parts of the practice support them on any given day is a really important part of this class. In final relaxation, for example, I give options to lie on their side or on their belly. Sometimes students who attend the class are only weeks out from tremendous loss and lying on their back feels too exposed.

Yoga One: Yoga means union. I imagine that union, or healing, after the initial separation and wound of grief is very powerful, especially to experience in community – what have you seen come out of these classes that surprised you?

Monique: I have witnessed some incredibly beautiful and unexpected moments in this class. One time, that I’ll never forget, happened in the first few months of teaching the class.

At the beginning of the class, after we’ve grounded and centered our bodies, I invite the students to bring their hands to their hearts and say the name or names of their loved ones, out loud, or to themselves. Often I see tears as they say the names, which one would expect. But one time there was a woman sitting in the front row. I saw her mouth the name and then she smiled the biggest, most beautiful smile. It broke my heart in a good way, seeing that face of grief that we don’t often see or show. That love that still lives on.

Yoga One: You’re working on a project called The Grief Practice, what is it? 

Monique: In its final form, The Grief Practice will be a large book that is part stories of loss and part mindfulness practices. There will be techniques offered that support the full experience of losing and learning to live with loss.

Right now, I’m collecting stories to include in the book. Not everyone tells their story through writing. Some people tell a story through drawing or photography. I want to share various approaches to story-telling to honor the authenticity of each person’s experience.

The thing about grief is that it’s not linear. That means our stories don’t always have a happy ending or proceed in a linear way. I hope this book will give the world a new perspective on grief, support, and our fellow humans who are grieving. I hope this helps encourage us all to step into this uncomfortable conversation with grief armed with courage and love.

To submit your story to The Grief Practice, go here. 

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