My Yoga Story – How Yoga Carried Me Through My Grief

Aimee Yamamori
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When my mom’s cancer came back a year and a half ago, our whole family was heartbroken.  We all thought she’d be fine after beating gall bladder cancer the first time.  She was diagnosed early and treated by excellent doctors. But, as anyone who has been touched by cancer knows, it’s a beast that you sometimes just can’t fight anymore.
 
I had been going to yoga more regularly for about a year at the time we learned my mom was now terminally ill.  I’d found a class and a teacher I adored and was fortunate enough to have the time to make at least two classes per week.  While I still have days where I feel like I can’t hold any pose, breathe properly or even get in my groove, I always always feel better by the end of the 60-minute class.  So, when we heard the news about Mom, I knew yoga would be at least a small source of peace.
 
As I recently told a friend, when you have a loved one that is seriously ill, you feel like you are living life with the knob turned to 10.  You’re at a high level of stress all the time—knowing at any moment your phone could ring with bad news—maybe even the worst news you could hear.  But for that one hour of yoga class that I did not have my phone, and I was tucked away in my comfortable, quiet yoga studio, I could simply relax.  I was able to meditate, even if for just a few moments, and forget the outside world.  After yoga, the knob is at a five.
 
Last April, my dad called to tell me I needed to come out to see Mom soon. She likely only had days left. I scrambled to make plans, bought a plane ticket, and got ready to fly out to see her. I was worried about the trip, getting there on time and how Mom would be when I arrived—would she be awake, would she know that I was there?
 
The knob was back at a 10.
 
At yoga class that week, the teacher played a lovely song called “Be Still” by The Fray. The lyrics said: “Be still and know that I’m with you, be still and know I am here. Be still and know that I am with you, be still, be still and know.”  What a powerful song to hear as I was thinking about losing my mother, afraid of what I was going to face as I rushed out to visit her.
 
I arrived to find Mom in the hospital bed that had been set up in their living room.  I kissed her and said hello and her eyes fluttered open for a moment. I knew she felt I was there with her, but she was no longer able to speak.  I spent the day talking to her and holding her hand.  I put lip balm on her chapped lips.  I headed back home that night and as the plane took off, I saw the sun beginning to set. As I looked out over the horizon, amazingly, my eyes fell on my parent’s house. I closed my eyes and said goodbye again.  Mom passed away about an hour later, as I flew home.
 
The next week, I returned to yoga class, still raw but grateful for the escape to quiet my mind. As we went through our flow, there it was again:  “Be Still.”  Before I knew it, I was moving through my practice with tears in my eyes, my shoulders shaking as I cried.  I knew it was clear to my classmates that I was breaking down, but for some reason I just kept going.  My teacher approached me quietly while saying to the class that it was not unusual to have strong emotions come out during our practice. She touched my shoulders gently and let me continue.
 
After class, she came back to my mat and without saying a word, gave me a warm hug. It was such a small gesture, but at that moment it brought me comfort, and the gratefulness of knowing I was in a safe place.  There would be many other tiny and big moments like that through the first few months of my grief, and I’m grateful for all of them. But I’ll always hold close that experience in yoga class, and remember to be still, and know.

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Aimee Yamamori

Aimee Yamamori is a yogi and freelance marketing professional. In the future she hopes to do more to support mental health issues and learn how the benefits of yoga affect mental wellness and PTSD. She continues to seek out ways to channel her love of her family, her dog Boo, yoga, Disneyland and watching Law and Order reruns into a lucrative, yet still immensely satisfying career (with an office on the beach).

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