The Wholeness of Grief: Yoga for Grief and Loss

By Karla Dharmini Helbert

When he was three months old, my firstborn child was diagnosed with a rare, highly aggressive brain tumor. Two weeks and three surgeries later, he endured his first chemotherapy treatment. Three days later, a CT scan revealed that his brain was completely destroyed. Doctors called this, “total neurological devastation.” The likelihood of survival was minimal. My husband and I didn’t want our child to endure any more suffering. We chose to discontinue treatment of the tumor and bring him home to love him, take care of him, and make him as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. Six months after the day of diagnosis, our beautiful boy, Theo, died at home with his father and me, our arms enfolding him.

During those months and after, we endured grief upon grief. There were also beautiful moments spent with him, peaceful and sacred times. The pain and sadness are still with me. Along with all the rest of who I am, I will always be a bereaved mother. In the chaos of deep grief, all that we may have believed could sustain us can fall away like so much dust. I trained as an Integral Yoga teacher before I ever became a mother and I know that my training helped me move through my child’s diagnosis and illness with more equanimity than I would have had otherwise.

One of the only practices that remained with me, in my earliest, darkest days of grief was japa, the Yoga of mantra repetition. Gurudev taught that japa is the most powerful and direct of all yogic tools. One of my most beloved chants is the opening sloka of the Ishvara Upanishad. Some teachers say that if all verses from all sacred texts were lost, except that one, all others could be re-born and re-written from this one verse, known as the Purnamadah.

OM, purnamadah purnamidam purnaat purnamudachyate  purnasya purnaamadaya purnameva vashishyate. OM, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

This is whole and complete, that is whole and complete. This and that are whole and complete. From wholeness comes wholeness. When a portion of wholeness is removed, that which remains is whole. OM, Peace, Peace, Peace.

I chanted the Purnamadah to my pregnant belly. I sung it to my son after his birth, during his illness, and after he died. I knew the translation of the chant, but had never given it much thought. One night, about a month after his funeral, deep in grief, I was soaking in the tub, which I often did; hot tears mixing with hot water. I began to sing the Purnamadah. As I cried and sang, I could feel the sound vibrations, ancient and comforting, begin to take on a new significance. In an instant, a pause, a space between sound and breath, I understood it on several levels at once.

When my child was inside my body, he was part of the whole that was me, and when, through his birth, he was removed from me, he was, on his own, a whole and complete being. I also remained whole and complete. I was whole and he was whole, yet we were still connected through our shared DNA on a cellular level. The food I ate, the air I breathed, had become part of him. We were also connected on a soul level to each other, mother to child, person to person, soul to soul. Those connections could never be broken, he would and will, always be part of me.

After his death, this remains true. I no longer experience his physical form co-existing here with my own; true, but the connection remains. Even in death, he cannot be removed from me. When I understood, truly, that he was not separate from me, even in death, I also understood the concept on a universal level. I understood that as this was true of my child and me, and it was true of us all. We are all connected. We are all made of the same matter, from the same Source. We are connected to each other and to that Source from which we can never be removed. No matter where we go or what we do, we are always connected to that wholeness, and cannot be removed from it. Through that we are also connected to each other, to all of creation. The threads of connection are ever-present, in our daily lives, with those we know and love, and with those we will never even meet. All of us together on our shared planet, in our place in the universe, connecting eternally on physical, spiritual, and energetic levels. We are part of the same wholeness. . .

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2016 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.