Yoga for grief support

Sandy Ayre had practised yoga for years, but it wasn’t until she experienced a significant loss that she discovered the ancient practice could help her cope with grief.

When Sandy, an Occupational Therapist at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, was 27, she and her partner, Cam McTaggart, were in a mountain bike race in the mountains. Cam collapsed 45 minutes into the race and was rushed to hospital by STARS Air Ambulance. Three days later, he died in hospital. Sandy didn’t know how to cope with the loss, and her friends didn’t know what to do to support her.

“I knew I needed more support, so I found a psychologist shortly after Cam’s death who helped me in the immediate months to get through each day,” says Sandy. “Following that, I joined a grief support group.”

During this time, Sandy’s yoga practice changed. It became more gentle and more emotional. She tried different classes because when she sat on her mat, emotion would start to bubble up, and she felt out of place.

“I found a teacher who was very aware of her students. She could see when I was trying to stuff down an emotion and she’d help me to stay with it,” she says. “That was so valuable.”

Her experience made Sandy wonder why there wasn’t a yoga class for grieving people, where they would be surrounded by a supportive and welcoming community.

“People look for supports that are right for them,” says Sandy. “What they look for depends on the circumstances around the death, the survivor’s personality and temperament and more. One thing about grief is that there’s a real need for ongoing support.”

Sandy took a bereavement support certificate through the Edmonton Bereavement Centre along with her yoga teacher training. Using this new knowledge and her experience as an occupational therapist, she created Yoga for Grief Support and started offering classes in 2009. In 2010-12, she took a grief and death studies certificate from the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Colorado.

“The yoga class creates a safe space that allows participants to begin to process and explore sensations, thoughts and emotions in their minds and bodies. It is for people at all levels of yoga experience,” says Sandy.

Grief’s journey doesn’t have a timeline, she says. People continue to live and continue to feel the loss of their loved one. “One thing I try to teach people in my yoga class is that ongoing support doesn’t mean you’ve failed at healing," Sandy says. "It means you’re trying to live well again while missing the person who died.”

Yoga for Grief Support classes are for those over age 18 and are capped at 15 participants. The 10-week sessions are a safe environment for participants to share their emotions and thoughts, she says. 

“Sharing is important because it helps people express their grief … but there’s zero pressure to do so.”

Sandy also started online classes due to people’s request for support outside Edmonton.

“I receive emails from people all over the world asking about similar classes where they are,” says Sandy. “There aren’t a lot of structured yoga classes for grief out there.

“Yoga for Grief Support is, in my own heart, a legacy to Cam.” 

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