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Overcoming grief with yoga

Antonio Sausys was 20 when his mother died from a sudden stroke.

The Uruguayan threw himself into work and study. Two years later he discovered a bony growth on his rib cage.

“My sternum had actually popped out,” he said. “In essence, what my mind could hide, my body showed with pristine clarity: I had a broken heart. Grief can have a profound impact on the body.”

He refused surgery and turned to a combination of talk therapy and yoga pioneered by an American yogi Lyn Prashant.

Years later he moved to San Francisco, California and started teaching yoga with a special focus on grief.

“I use a technique called Sankalpa, which means resolve,” said Mr Sausys, who recently shared his techniques with Age Concern and Friends of Hospice staff.

“This technique is the way of reprogramming the mind. It is about understanding that when we name our reality in a certain way we create a mould that the universe fills up. Our moulds are sometimes very different from what we want.

“Grief is a condition that can profoundly impact the body's physical wellbeing — the rhythm of the heart can be impacted; blood pressure can also be impacted and can, occasionally, cause a stroke.

“Yoga can be very helpful to induce sleep and deal with stress. Mentally, one of the worst symptoms is negative loop thinking, but by applying certain breathing exercises the mind can be stabilised.”

Local yoga instructor Joanne Wohlmuth invited Mr Sausys to the Island and introduced him to local caregivers.

“This is something that can really help with hospice workers,” he said.

“They deal with other people's grief all day long and sometimes that grief can rub off on them. They can experience grief burnout.”

Said Cathy Belvedere, executive director of Friends of Hospice: “Hospice work can be very stressful work especially when staff are dealing with multiple deaths in one day.

“He shared some of his techniques and we are hoping to get him back to Bermuda for a three-hour workshop.”

She said some of his suggestions worked well for stress generally.

“I was planning a big event for Friends of Hospice,” she said. “Things started to get stressful so I used one of his techniques. I blocked my right nostril and breathed through the left side of my nose for a few minutes. It's supposed to bring you a burst of energy. It did and I felt so much better afterward.”

People in Uruguay mourned differently to those in North America, Mr Sausys said.

“When someone dies we are forced to have 24 hours where we cannot do anything with the body,” he said. “Family and friends come to the place where the funeral is happening, usually to spend the night.

We don't eat or drink anything other than coffee. We say in Spanish, ‘I accompany you in your feelings' rather than ‘I am sorry for your loss' as they do in English.

“We support the family in different ways. We ask what the family wants. If they prefer isolation we can also help with that.

“We don't have a memorial or celebration of any kind, but on November 2, the day of the dead, we usually visit the graves of loved ones.”

He believes that grief can be a good time for soul searching.

“It is a good time to discover who one truly is,” he said. “We define ourselves through our attachments.”

Mr Sausys is the author of Grief Relief: Simple Practices for Transforming Your Grieving Mind and Body.

Joanne Wohlmuth, (left) assisted by Antonio Sausys, perform the 'Windmill' stretch. (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published November 18, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated November 18, 2015 at 12:14 am)

Overcoming grief with yoga

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