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Andersonville Mindfulness & Psychology


Grief Speaks Through the Body

By: Chih-Hsien Lin, LCPC, BC-DMT, EMDR-trained

person moving/dancing in-front of the ocean during sunset

September 1, 2020

Grief speaks through the body. Move the body through grief to be fully alive. 2020 has been a year full of curve balls and ups and downs and unexpected turns of things, but isn’t that just like all the other years? Yes, only there is also a global pandemic taking place in 2020 that very few are exempt from it, and all the curve balls and ups and downs and unexpected turns of things all occur in a blink of eyes. The continuity of life seems to halt suddenly.

~ Pause for a second, bring enough attention to your breathing as you are reading this sentence. Notice what might be there. Were you holding your breath? How is the rhythm? Is it easy to breathe? Does your breath fulfill the need of living organism by traveling fully into your lungs and through the body? ~

This pandemic alone evokes turbulent and multifaceted feelings of losses and challenges, for many of us. Myself included. The pain from learning of my younger brother’s divorce during the pandemic without being able to support him close by and without him being able to find ways to talk about it, I found myself being engulfed by immense emptiness often while at other times I experienced tremendous force drawing me into a black hole. I feel disoriented and cringed in my chest frequently, as if I am under water and struggling to breathe. Because of the pandemic, traveling would not be the safest and easiest thing to do. Moreover, he lives in a completely different continent. While I still have the great chance seeing my brother again, the deep connection I once felt and hold dear to about “home” was suddenly severed and distorted; the ruptured and changed family relationships and the sorrow from worrying about my aging parents accompanying my brother’s divorce. I grieved; I will have to continue to grieve. Until I have acknowledged the visceral experiences and reclaimed my body’s authority in grief.

It is important to remind ourselves that grief and loss are not limited to experiencing death but include any intense and unexpected changes of circumstances. Sudden unemployment, sustained isolation, drastic change of relationship dynamics, warped identities and halting hopes, and/or disruption of a previously cherished way of life. Again, this pandemic does all the above to all of us, to various degrees. How have you noticed the grief and loss impacting you lately? Have you been feeling a hollow feeling in the stomach? Tightness in your chest or throat? Hypersensitivity to noise? Or difficulty breathing? Feeling fatigued and weak? Aches and pains all through your body? Loss of appetite? Dizziness? Oscillation between the swell of emotions that are overwhelming and numbing of emotions that feel surreal? Grief is indeed, felt by the body and speaks through the body. Grief is not merely a cognitive notion. If none of us talked ourselves into bereavement, how are we to believe thinking or talking ourselves out of it would be logical? Grieving during a pandemic where social distancing is demanded further limits our capacity from accessing support system and resources. This can increase chances of unhealthy or maladaptive coping, and compounds the isolation and hopelessness.

~ Just now, take a pause and check in with your body by softening your gaze and gently guiding your attention to your body: the physiological, visceral, and kinesthetic self. What does your body tell you? Tension held somewhere? Are you able to sense pain or pleasure? How about locating those feelings and sensations? Temperature change on your skin? Tingling sensation on your face or at your fingertips? Pulsating? ~

Coping with grief and loss through bodily actions, movement, dance, and physical rituals are as old as humankind: dance since ancient times has been a powerful and profound way of expressing and honoring the sacredness of life, especially when words elude us. Ancient Greeks had funeral dances where symbolic movements and gestures were performed and were a show of strength for the deceased. In New Orleans, they have jazz funeral procession traditions where the experiences and sentiments of grieving and celebration are merged, and music and dance are communally shared and public. The “turning of the bones” custom for Malagasy people in Madagascar is based on the belief that the spirit of the dead only moves on to the afterlife once their body is completely decomposed, which indicates that the body is not less than, but equal to or as a holder of the spirit of a person. Creative expressions like dance can build resilience, facilitate healing, and promote acceptance and connection in transitional life moments. In short, dance can allow people to access deeper layers of self and move from their heads to their hearts. Engaging our bodies and moving about grief may evoke intense feelings and vivid images, but avoiding the bodies altogether is as if to say: I don’t care enough to listen and I will pretend it doesn’t hurt in this tangible way, along with grief, my living has to be compromised.

~ Take another pause here, gently bring the breathing and the sensing together, notice now how the sensations may be calling you into movement. Simply allow what is already there to be physicalized, not choreographing or performing nor forcing or releasing, simply give space and tenderness to move what is. If there is tension around the spine, follow the tension and tensing the spinal area more and move along. If heart palpitation, let the rest of the body move in a way that holds the heart in its motion. ~

Movement provides a continuation and development of an unfinished story, one that leaves people with what we would call “unresolved businesses.” Movement unique and authentic to an individual turns into a dance; a dance that is not for show, but for something to be told and valued. As mentioned earlier, not only does grief bring about change, but it also means change occurred. Our perception of self, relationship, and our worldview may all have changed, abruptly. We are left at a point and a part changed but that leads to changed life overall; change of one part changes the whole. So, can we allow ourselves to be a little kinder and more patient in our grief journey?

Whenever I find myself sluggish or frozen thinking about my brother and how I haven’t heard from him for almost a year, thinking about the affected lives by the pandemic and the nation-wide unrest, I make sure to consciously slow down and settle into my body. Either sit or stand, sometimes I even lie down on the floor, to spend a moment with my whole being. I sense my breath rises and falls and rises again – then swaying comes – and swaying transforms into a figure eight, or rather, a horizontal infinite sign – the infinite sign travels from my head to my shoulders, from my shoulders to my hips, and down to my knees – occasionally there will be a collapse, then the body picks herself up again – arms opening and reaching and expanding – the whole expansion and swaying continues to a circular motion. I feel my chest softening; the burning tears roll down my cheeks, sobbing ensues. And I continue to move, to dance, so to feel, reconnect, and be fully alive.

~Without judgment or analysis, keep breathing, sensing, and moving. You may gradually notice that all three bring you to establish a relationship with your environment as well. Again, allow your body to follow and explore its relationship with the surroundings. How do you position yourself in the room? What corner feels most comfortable for your body to rest in? Where in the room does your body tend to experience energy or more aliveness? You can also gently imagine significant people in your life in the room with you as you move, and notice how it may have shifted your postures, gestures, movement dynamics, and moving pathways. Or not. No need to change anything, but to allow and to follow. ~

A movement or bodily ritual can be very grounding and powerful in the grief journey. As we move and dance, we are also more consciously contemplating and reflecting to honor the loss and the change. By sharing my story and ritual, I hope you will also be able to see grief as a shared experience and it can be held collectively. Let us “move through” grief with resilience and wisdom, rather than moving over it.



Bodyfulness: Somatic Practices for Presence, Empowerment, and Waking up in This Life by Christine Caldwell

The power of family dance parties when the world is falling apart


Moving Through Grief: A Dance/MovementTherapy Moment

Dancing Has Become A Coping Method During The Coronavirus Crisis


Good Grief

The TED podcast: Elizabeth Gilbert (Chris Anderson interviews Elizabeth Gilbert)

Grief Works

Grief Out Loud

Grief Dreams

Coming Back: Conversations on Life after Loss