Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2020 issue.
My youngest sister, Maritza, committed suicide at the age of 25. A few months after her death, almost unconsciously, my two other siblings and I started practicing yoga together — something we had never done before. I have practiced yoga for over 10 years, but the poses never felt the way they did when we all practiced together for the first time. I felt sensitive to the experience of yoga. I felt exposed, open and unfiltered. With every fold, I could feel the heaviness of sadness pouring out through the top of my head. With every twist, I felt the squeezing of fresh grief from my body.
I was convinced that everyone in that class sensed that we were incomplete. I was certain that everyone could feel that we were missing our baby sister. Instead of breathing deeply into my practice, I held my breath to hold back tears. I could not keep up with the rest of the class.
That day, yoga turned me inside out. The calm, quiet sensation I normally felt after class was a disorienting whirlwind of emotions. I was exhausted. I plopped down on the bench next to my brother and sister, wiped the sweat from my face and sat with them in silence. Nobody wanted to be the first to speak. This is the power of yoga: when the breath slows, the curtains open, the light comes in and we are left standing, unguarded, with nowhere to hide.
Yoga gives us that gift, even if it does not feel like a gift in the moment. In that openness, we can examine ourselves deeply, shedding light on our mental patterns and physical habits. We become the quiet observers of energy, or prana. In that moment of quiet observation, our true selves are laid bare.
I was revealed. The doors I had closed to protect myself from feeling the truth of my sister’s death were exposed. The emotional dams I built inside my body were cutting off my ability to feel sadness and love. I was disconnected – unable to find stability in my body.
One of the great principles of yoga is that prana moves within the physical and subtle bodies uniting us with all living creatures on the planet. The subtle body, like a thin sheath within the physical form, houses the chakras (energy centers) and absorbs the experiences of life. Yogic philosophy tells us that prana can get obstructed due to our physical and mental patterns. Prana can become restricted when we get stuck in our past experiences — when we do not allow for assimilation. When we cannot accept the passing of a loved one, we block the natural flow of energy through the body and we become disconnected from the flow of energy around us.
I always enjoyed yoga, but after Maritza died, my practice changed along with my whole world. In my grief, I was choking off my emotions, my prana and my divine connection to the planet. In blocking the experience of her death, I also blocked love. I was so focused on processing – processing and analyzing events instead of feeling through them. I was thinking and doing instead of feeling and being. I was stuck in the cycle of thinking about Maritza and her suicide and trying to get rid of grief by doing, doing, doing. I was blocking the possibility of experiencing her love in another form. I was blocking the pure consciousness that she is, the pure existence of her energy that is free to flow in and out of time, experience and form. What I needed was to be more open, be more aware and be more loving; be open to the possibility of experiencing my sister in another form; be open to the love and energy that we can still share.
Yoga taught me that grief is an unveiling of ourselves as we learn to love someone who has transcended the physical form. Grief is digging deeper and realizing our oneness with the divine source of all beings.
I walked away from that first class with my brother and sister with a resounding awareness that I had work to do. I committed myself to studying the connection between prana and healing, and that I would be open to the possibility of experiencing my sister’s energy in other forms on this planet.
Her suicide is a profound lesson in love; the way that love transcends form, time and human comprehension. Maritza continues to teach me and show me how to live. Her loving energy is with me on this path, on this planet.
Photo by Allie Smith.