Mindfulness practice helps us notice what we feel. The sensations in our bodies offer clues to our emotions. Here’s how grief feels in the body.
Outside, the rain was a steady patter on the grass, on the street, into the pool in the backyard of my parents’ house. My childhood bedroom, which has long since been renovated, felt unfamiliar to me. Stark and cold.
I wanted to stay in bed, to go back to sleep, to pretend that what I remembered from the middle of the night was just a bad dream.
But I knew it wasn’t a dream.
The moment had arrived. My grandpa died.
I knew this was coming since he first got sick 5 weeks ago. I knew when I saw him last week that this news was imminent. It wasn’t a question of if, but when. And still, it landed on me with a heaviness I can’t really describe.
I wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep. To dream it away.
Instead, I rose. I stepped out of bed. I made the bed. I brushed my teeth. I got dressed for the gym. I performed each of my morning rituals with intention, just like I have every day for over four years. No matter where I am, no matter what’s going on, I focus on my rituals. They sustain me. Especially in times like this.
I wanted to move more quickly, than my body would allow. It kept stopping to breathe. Deep, heavy breaths.
I allowed myself the space for it. What more could I do?
This was a new situation for me.
I wanted to curl up in a blanket and watch the rain and echo its tears. I didn’t want to go to the gym.
And yet I knew from experience that I would feel better once I moved. My body needed it.
All I could do was allow myself to have my process. I gave myself permission to take my time in getting out the door. Just like grandpa takes his time. Took his time. He told me once to follow the laws of nature.
So I took my time. I allowed my process.
One. Step. At. A. Time.
As I sat down to put on my sneakers, I noticed the sensations in my body.
The Physiology of Grief.
I feel the energy stirring inside me, even as I sit on the chair in silent stillness. I do not yet have my earphones plugged in; no music playing to drown my thoughts. My soundtrack is the sound of the pouring rain beating on the ground; tears from heaven consoling my grief. The rain is my only companion.
I feel the emotion well in my upper back. Behind my heart. My abdomen feels hollow. Empty. My shoulders feel tight and my neck is stiff. My feet feel uneasy in my Brooks sneakers. The sneakers feel both tight and too large at the same time. I have a slight sore throat on the left side and some slight sharp sensation in my left ear.
My heart feels heavy and swollen. It feels full with love, yet closed and armored. It desires to open, to melt in the comfort of receiving love from someone else.
A lump forms in the back of my throat. My eyes brim with tears. My lower back feels tight. It wants to move. My hip flexors are contracted; they fired up, locking my pelvis into place. It wants to be set free, its power and it’s creativity unleashed.
My tears intensify; my cry escalates. My body clenches in pain, not only from the loss of Grandpa but also from the palpable loneliness. My body tightens up, as if it is trying to hug itself in the absence of an external set of arms to wrap around me. There is pain in facing this moment, like so many others, alone.
I rise. I stand in quiet contemplation.
Allowing. Breathing. Moving. Being. Living. I am still here. I am standing. I can walk. I can move.
For over 4 years, I have lived with the same resolve: if I can stand, and if I can walk, then I can move my body. My morning fitness ritual is how I express my gratitude for the gift of another day.
As much as I want to sit and be in my grief, I know that this ritual is what sustains me. Fitness infuses me with life.
And so, I move. Slowly. One step at a time.
I am alive. I am here. I can move. And so I do.