The Enlightening Mat: Burning Through Grief

burning grief

Fire or intense heat is ancient medicine. When you're sick and have a burning fever, it's a sign your body is trying heal. Using heat to heal my emotional wounds is something I do by going to Bikram yoga.

A room that's a stifling 105 degrees provides just the right amount of stress on my body to release and burn through emotions that have been buried at the cellular level for years. One particular feeling that I see come up through my Bikram yoga practice is grief.

As an American, I've felt that our culture generally discourages expressions of grief or spending time with people who are dealing with tremendous sadness. While living in the Midwest, I often heard people say, "Don't look so sad" or "You should smile more." Not that these aren't great ideas, but it seems like these statements say more about the speaker's own discomfort with their hidden sadness or grief. Can a person really snap out of grieving the loss of a loved one by smiling upon request?

Talking with close friends, family, therapists, spiritual counselors, and support groups are all considered safe places in our society to express grief. Nevertheless, even though I've used all these different venues, surprisingly I've found that the most intensive healing place has been within the heat of the Bikram yoga studio. I surmise that for me even though I gain a lot of comfort by having others listen compassionately to my grief, feelings are still trapped in my body. Releasing grief at the cellular level is the last frontier for dealing with my personal suffering.

Sometimes people experience this same emotional release during a massage or other kinds of therapeutic activities. However, the heat in the yoga room seems to take it to an even more profound place, like a fire burning through and cleansing your emotional turmoil.

I've become attuned to the sensation that when I feel nauseous in the Bikram yoga studio it's because I have grief trapped in my body. As soon as I give myself permission to cry, the sickness passes and more importantly my body fully processes sadness that may have been trapped inside my cells for years. If you're lucky enough to have a Bikram teacher that feels comfortable with strong emotions, then the experience is even better for they will just create a silent presence of understanding while watching your crying pass.

So maybe it's not such a socially bad idea that crying in the frozen food section of the grocery store is something we collectively discourage. I can see that as a culture keeping grief in check in public places is a way to protect the balance in our lives. However, if you are grieving or have sadness that has gone unexpressed, I hope you look for the safe places and trusted listeners who can help you feel the emotions and set your body free.

The Enlightening Mat is a blog series exploring moments of awareness that come to Beth Hemmila while practicing Bikram Yoga.

To shop for yoga charms that celebrate the different poses click here to view this blog post Sterling Silver Charms for Bikram Yoga Postures.  


  1. When I lost my husband, most thought I was cold because I did not cry every second.. One person said to a friend that "Asians are told to be stoic"... what a misconception!... for me, I do not break down in front of those I do not know well.. I did not think that crying had any bearing on how one felt about the person who has passed.. I was told that those who dramatize the crying are the ones who have the regrets and cry out of guilt... that may be true, but in my case, I cry in the comfort of my home or when I am alone... After all, why should I share a private moment w/people who are acquaintances.. The ones who know me don't need validation..

    1. It's always enlightening to hear how each person deals with grief in their own unique manner. It sounds like you know how best to care for yourself and loss. I imagine there are quite a few people find crying alone to be incredibly healing and it's one of the techniques I use in my own life, so thank you for adding this valuable insight to the post.

  2. I quite agree that American culture discourages the expression of grief. Having grown up in the midwest as well I'm familiar with the 'chin up' attitude. Like Kalei, I don't share grief except in my own intimate private circle and often alone. I'm fine with that because I think grief is a sort of scacred emotion and that it should be embraced as a special part of the experience of life. Grief arises from a sense of loss. Not necessarily death in a literal sense. I know in my own life I have had a sense of loss and grief many times, especially, from my childhood. We all experience loss in one way or another, large and small, and learning to acknowledge that loss, recognize it as a part of your experience is one way to let the loss go and make room for all of the wonderful moments of life that are yet to come.


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