Yogic Preparation for Death

By Swami Sarvaananda Ph.D., B.C.C.

Recently, we received a request from an Integral Yoga teacher to address yogic practices, traditions, and advice on preparing for death. Here are some tips, from our own expert in the field, that may be helpful in preparing for your or anyone’s journey—starting with some basic information and then moving on to how Yoga teachers can add their special gifts.

Approach Gently, Peacefully, Listen Deeply

Practicing peace first, last, and always—with self and others—is foremost. Most people enjoy sharing stories of their past, talking about their beliefs, and saying what is important to them at this time. By listening deeply we can ask real, relevant questions to assist in the transition. Most good listeners will enable the person to finally expose what is bothering him or her and the listener may be able to help facilitate closure. Listen, don’t talk much, share feelings of love, of a worthy life, and of leaving a legacy. These seem to be key areas of concern for everyone.

Yogic Practices: Skills Integral Yoga Teachers Can Share:

  1. Service of silence—sitting, being, presence: We call on our inner resources to maintain our peace while serving others.
  1. Releasing tension: As Integral Yoga teachers, we’ve been trained to help others with deep relaxation, visualization, scanning the body for tension, using imagery (re-focus, relax, re-frame, return to sense of order) and simple stretching to relax the body. Used carefully, with approval if necessary from health professionals, we have many ways to help others relax themselves, releasing tension.
  1. Breathing through: Integral Yoga Teacher Training has given us three-part breathing, ways to balance breath, deep breath techniques (“in-spire,” sigh, release tension, etc.), ways of matching breath, concentrated and controlled breath, and even a cooling breath. All of these pranayama techniques, when you are trained and have health professional approval, are very helpful for people in transition.
  1. Looking within: All people can use assistance in assessment of their present situation, in talking through a life review, and in reflection of where to go from here. Sri Swami Sivananda, Sri Swami Satchidananda, and other great teachers have all indicated that God will not waste a single breath on a person. When that person’s work/service in this lifetime is done, death happens. The trained yogi can bring peace, acceptance, centeredness, and love to assist the person.
  1. Adding Spirit: As Swami Satchidananda and Father Keating have said, we have three practices: prayer, when we talk to God (Divine Presence in any form); meditation when we listen for the divine answer; and contemplation, when we think about the answer and prepare to make changes. This three-part practice directly addresses any concern we may have. You will find it useful for yourself daily and certainly for use when dealing with those on the path of dying.
  1. Adapt, Adjust, Accommodate: As yogis, we know this is the key to everything! Keep your peace, enjoy the journey, and apply this quote to everything in your life, and especially in preparing for death.

Some Fine Points

  1. As the person comes closer to dying, the body often becomes very still. Movement is still useful, but our job is to aid, not insist on any activity. A few days before death, there is often a burst of energy and close loved ones often interpret this to mean the person is getting better, which is usually not the case. Near death, the breath becomes irregular and even stops for some time. All the organs begin to shut down, energy focuses on the heart area, and the person loses his or her senses. Again, any big hospital or hospice can give you booklets with specifics. Your job is to assist family and friends in not becoming afraid, obsessed, or demanding of interventions as the person goes through these expected experiences. . .

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

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