Grieving, Yoga, and the Art of Healing



Mirabai Starr

In October last year I followed Mirabai Starr to New York City, where we boarded a train that meandered upstate along the Hudson River, through trees and rounded rock, into the softening age of Autumn in the Hudson Valley. I was joining Mirabai as a yoga teacher for a week-long retreat she was leading on Loss and Longing at Old Stone Farm in Rhinebeck, NY.

The studio there is the original 18th-century Dutch barn on a 350-acre farm which is now devoted to the owner’s love for horses. In the early morning I would attempt to cross the grounds in the dark through the intense howl of wind in the East Coast trees, to practice yoga myself before teaching the others and then spending the day in writing, discussion, contemplation, ritual for lost loved ones, and holding witness to everyone’s mourning. Some days I was too afraid to go for my own practice, my imagination of ill-tempered witches in the trees suddenly seeming real, and I would return to bed; other mornings I’d be brave. In either case, it was suggesting the way a waking dream will that as the week progressed and the depths were stirred, I was finding connection with my own elusive and indomitable grief, like something I hadn’t known was really there and so hadn’t believed in.

(photos: Old Stone Farm, Rhinebeck, NY)

Mirabai and I were both delighted, but not surprised, at how yoga practice dovetailed effortlessly with her work. Mirabai, who is an internationally acclaimed author and teacher, shared interspiritual teachings from the mystics like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, Rumi, Goethe, and Hafiz, and so many more, all of whom expressed how the healing balm for loss was in the very longing itself. By going compassionately into our irretrievable loss we find something bright, and beautiful, ecstatic and irresistibly our own.

If one were to draw an umbrella explanation of the teachings of yoga, it could possibly be that the object is to be present within our own body, mind, and heart. By bringing awareness to what we experience physically, mentally, and emotionally we begin to glimpse our body’s own mystical quality and our ability to transmute suffering.

In yoga asana, we allow the body to intelligently hold all that we are, including the gems that show themselves when we are present with loss. We take ourselves by the hand, as it were: this here is my body, this my breath, this, what I can’t believe, and this my heart being undone. We allow things to surface, deep emotional patterns that when given attention via breath within form become something else.

This is how we started the day at the Rhinebeck retreat, with gentle and considerate reverence for the body and the presence it held for us to guide the energy of sorrow. After breakfast we would reconvene with a meditation led by one of the participants, a long-time Buddhist practitioner. Then we would find that same contemplative presence, in witness to each other, as Mirabai guided us through readings from the writings of the mystics and piecing through our own web of understanding. It was an exquisite becoming, as created by everyone there, an art that unfolded gently and with tremendous grace as we went along.

And so of course, it was only obvious that we should do this in our own beautiful community in Taos. We’ve created a weekend retreat, Yoga and the Broken Heart: September 18-20, 2015, at Casa Gallina-An Artisan Inn. Delicious meals will be catered bringing in hand-picked greens from the Casa Gallina gardens, and we’ll have music and kirtan Saturday night to the sweet voice of Kirry Nelson.

For more information please check us out at: For Mirabai’s website: For Casa Gallina: To register, please email: [email protected].


The author, Jennifer Ammann; photo by Zoe Zimmerman for Sundara Studios 2015