Finding Grief Healing Through Yoga

This week, Stephanie Kensy, founder and organizer of Ride and Renew, looks back to see how her yoga practice brought about a shift in her life following her mother’s passing, and looks forward to helping others experience such a shift through her community wellness event each fall. 

I had practiced yoga on and off for a few years, but it wasn’t until after the death of my mother that I entered into a regular and deeper yoga practice.

I recall that “first” yoga class well. It was a Saturday morning, and like many mornings around that time, I had woken up feeling on edge. I wasn’t sleeping or eating well, and as someone who is generally positive and energetic, I wondered what was wrong with me that I felt stuck in a rut, even in the year or two after her passing. I judged myself for still struggling with the loss, and the constant inner analysis of my thoughts and feelings, and desire to rid myself of the grief, only made me feel more weighed down by it.

At the start of the yoga class, the instructor encouraged us to try something simple that I hadn’t considered before: Notice. Just notice our thoughts, and sit with any emotions that come up for a moment, without judging or reacting. We were invited to allow ourselves to become neutral, kind observers to the collective experiences and sensations that make up the moment, starting with the most basic … the breath. Then, pair that observation of breath and thought with physical movement, each motion building off the previous, with attention to the areas that felt tight, stressed or fatigued.

By the end of the class, I realized, to my surprise, that a shift had occurred in me. My body felt a bit more open than it had an hour ago. My mind, more light and at ease.

I had read many articles and books about grief, but in the self-study and mindful physical activity of a yoga class, something clicked. The lessons in yoga from that point on would become a crucial tool to help me process and accept the loss of my mother. What if I could activate the ever-present witness self in my moments of grief? If I could first notice, I could then adjust — and create new pathways towards peace.

Since that class, I have been eager to explore a variety of styles and schools of yoga, and to attend as many classes and workshops with different teachers as possible. I’ve never really considered myself the “fitness” type, but I’ve challenged myself to playfully and fearlessly try new yoga poses. Off that mat, I am constantly fascinated by the seemingly small yet profound effects of yoga and mindfulness on my daily life. In today’s fast-paced world that emphasizes constant doing and distractions, yoga reminds us the value and beauty of simply being aware and alive. And although yoga’s ancient roots may lie in Eastern religions, I have personally experienced a strengthening of my Catholic and Christian faith as a result of adopting meditation practices and the yoga philosophy into my life.

I often encourage skeptics to give yoga a try, and to not feel pressured to be a particular body type or fit within any specific mold to experience the benefits of yoga. Now more than three years after my mother’s passing from pancreatic cancer, I am excited to organize a community wellness event to raise critical awareness of and research funds for pancreatic cancer this November, while practicing yoga together.

My mother was not a “yogi” by trade — but she certainly embodied its principles. She was faith-filled and spiritual, the reliable source of good advice and wisdom to her family and friends, and she joyfully accepted life’s struggles, including, ultimately, her premature death from cancer.

img_6826-2With her father, Stephanie Kensy is organizing Ride and Renew, an inaugural event in Montgomeryville, PA, on Sunday, November 20, 2016, featuring indoor cycling and yoga classes to raise funds for the Mary M. Halinski Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund at Jefferson, where Stephanie’s mother was treated for her cancer. The community event features three distinctive styles of yoga classes and is not directly affiliated with any studio. Each class registration is a direct donation to the research fund. Learn more and register today at Seats are limited, so early registration is encouraged! Yoga instructors and businesses who are interested in sponsoring the event, please email for more information.

My Area Yoga is an online directory, calendar, blog, and information hub for the wellness and yoga community. Currently offering service in the northeast, as well as Chicago. Our mission is to be the most comprehensive online resource for the local communities.

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