Grief counselors use yoga to heal body and mind

Photo submitted to Times Observer Pictured left to right are grief counselors Fran Leto and Maureen Emerling, and yoga instructor Marilyn Eberhart.

Emotional issues like grief tend to live in the body as well as the mind.

“The body is a vehicle for expressing what the heart and mind are experiencing,” said Fran Leto of The Schorman Center, which has grown into a distinct outreach of Hospice of Warren County (HOWC). The Schorman Center is a nonprofit provider of bereavement services to anyone in the community who has experienced the loss of a loved one through death.

The body, said Leto, “provides a way to allow, honor, and transform those experiences. We may understandably seek to avoid intense feelings through numbing, distraction, keeping busy, staying in bed, isolating, or any number of other methods,” she went on to say. And, said Leto, while temporary relief can take many forms long-term healing requires one to find “a safe space for our feelings” that can “set us on the path.”

That’s why the Schorman Center has begun a program called “Yoga for Grief Relief,” which is “specifically designed to support us body, mind, and spirit through the grief process,” said Leto. “Yoga postures can assist in working through symptoms associated with grief such as poor sleep, intense emotions, holding stress in the body, and (yoga) encourages compassion toward ourselves and others.”

Marilyn Eberhart is a local yoga instructor with 20 years experience, and she’s been working with HOWC to design a six week “experience that offers tools for navigating the grief process through mindfulness, compassion, breath work, and being gentle with the body,” said Leto. “Marilyn offers a variety of accommodations for physical limitations or concerns, such as chair yoga.” And, said Leto, the class “does not demand a high level of strength or agility – simply a willingness to be present with others in a confidential setting, breath, be mindful, and be gentle with oneself and others.”

Participants in the series have had positive experiences.

“It was very beneficial,” said one participant of a past series. “the class gave me a good reason to get out with others, to stretch, and really breathe deep, helping with emotions and with sleep. It helped me to feel normal again. The physical activity made me feel stronger both physically and emotionally.”

Hospice bereavement counselors are on hand at each session to provide additional support as needed, Leto said. The six week series requires pre-registration, and classes are held on Thursdays from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Faith Fellowship Church of God The next series begins Thursday, Sept. 13 and is free of charge, though contributions to support ongoing free services provided by the Schorman Center are welcome. The series is limited to ten participants , and a waiting list will be created should more than ten want to participate. For more information, or to register, call (814) 723-8060.