Physical movement-based practices for grief?
October 7, 2014 10:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm nearing the two-year anniversary of my dad's death, and a close friend just lost a family member in a tragic accident. As I remember my dad and support my friend, I am craving some sort of movement-based grief ritual - an active dance, set of motions, physical practice, to do with others, potentially at my (UU) church.

Is there such thing in any religion or culture? I already do aerobics/dance workout and am not interested in freestyle dance or just "letting out my feelings to music" - I'm looking for a structured ritualized practice (or idea for my own ritual). I am familiar with the practice of labyrinth walking and this could be helpful. However I am most interested in an "active" practice, that involves interaction with others.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto to Human Relations (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
That sounds rough, I'm sorry you're going through this hard time.
Have you tried yoga? It's not specifically a "grief ritual", but it is (or can be) a structured, ritualised physical practice. Google yoga and grief and you'll find many people talking about how it has helped them (in fact there seem to be a lot of "yoga for grief" videos on YouTube). Even just doing sun salutations at home could be very calming and helpful, as a meditation on the connection between your breath and movement. If that's too solitary, a good yoga class will have a lovely energy in the room.

Otherwise, in Zen there is the practice of kinhin (walking meditation). Or you could try something like Tai Chi or Qi Gong? I think you could adapt any of these into your own ritual.
posted by flora at 3:26 AM on October 8, 2014

Dance Movement Therapy?
posted by mymbleth at 3:26 AM on October 8, 2014

Are you a dancer? I ask because that determines the types of movement you will be capable of. What about the sufi practice of twirling (although maybe that is aporpriative?)

I think to construct/find a ritual you need to meditate on why dance appeals to you in this situation. If it is ritialuzed movement thst you need, maybe come up witjh some key actions that are symbolic--pouring wster, lighting a flame, blowing it out or burning paper, pouring sand, etc. Then use dancelike steps to get from one to the other. Create a beginning and an ending position. And then rehearse. If you want to involve others, let them hold the water/flame/flower etc., as you move from one spot to another.
posted by emjaybee at 4:28 AM on October 8, 2014

Not a dance per se, but our UU church has a labrynth. Perhaps you can find one and walk it in meditation as a gesture.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:28 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might find satisfying the Zen practice of 108 bows. We're talking full bows here: you move from standing with your hands in gassho position, to kneeling with your forehead on the floor (or carpet or flat pillow) with your hands raised palm up above your head, somewhere around ear level. And then back again to standing. The bows are supposed to be a dance, i.e. performed with grace. It works up quite a sweat, and can leave you stiff for days.

The 108 bows are usually done by a group of people (although often a very small group). Bows are done in unison, and can optionally be regulated by a seated person striking a small brass bowl on a brightly colored cushion to signal each bow. That person can also bow, but from the waist, with a straight back, moving from upright to a 45 degree angle and back, at least for the very last bow. It's also fine to participate if you're unable to do a full bow, or find you're unable to do 108 full bows: just switch to bowing from the waist. (And don't worry if you're not sure you've counted exactly right. 108 is a traditional number for all sorts of Buddhist and Hindu religious practices, including the number of beads on a rosary; but from what I can tell it just comes from 100 being a really big number, plus 8 as a safety margin in case you miss a few.)

The 108 bows form a ritual that can be performed in various contexts (with various meanings -- I'll try to sketch out what I've heard, but really the ritual itself is what's primary). It symbolizes several relevant Buddhist beliefs: that ritual practice generates merit; that merit can be dedicated to other people, including the dead; and that this merit will make things easier for them, recharge their batteries, allow them to level up, or whatever. Zen doesn't exactly subscribe to these beliefs -- one formula used is "If there is any merit in this, then (give it to person X)", which allows for skepticism not only about whether your particular performance is meritorious, but also whether merit even exists. Zen, like much Buddhist teaching, can also be skeptical about whether souls exist at all, much less in an afterlife. But Zen daily rituals do incorporate such dedication of merit, including the dead explicitly. In Zen, the bows are especially about the practice of 'no-self'. (No self is hard to put into words, but it roughly means letting go of the illusion that we each have an unchanging essence somehow existing independently of everything else around us). This comes from doing the bows in a group of people (although this is not always necessary), from lowering the brain while moving from the han (your body's center of gravity), and from the element of offering up or giving away (the raised open hands, and the practice of not holding merit for yourself, but instead giving it away).

You could do this at your UU church, or you might look to see if there is a Zen temple near you that also performs it. It seems to be especially a Soto Zen practice, especially Korean Zen.

Any time is appropriate, but traditional times for mourning rituals include 3, 7, or 49 days after the death, or on anniversaries. You might also look into combining the 108 bows with a Segaki, or Offering for the Liberation of All Hungry Ghosts, which will be coming up later this month, and usually involves lots of food, not just for the hungry ghosts, but for all dead relatives. (At least one Soto Zen teacher, Jiyu Kennet, cautioned that the Hungry Ghost feast is a ritual that specifically should not be performed on your own.) The food is first offered to the dead, and then the leftovers are eaten by the congregation. After 108 bows, you may have worked up an appetite.

Deep sympathy to you and your friend.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:45 AM on October 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

I also wanted to suggest sun salutations. My local yoga studio has a session for 100 sun salutations at the equinoxes and solstices just to celebrate the changing seasons. The first 25 are simple, then add more warrior poses in each subsequent 25 and maybe an eagle pose, too, in the last 25. The repetition is meditative and the physical effort definitely gets your breath and pulse up. At the end, I feel exhausted and purged and ready for the next season.
posted by jillithd at 8:55 AM on October 8, 2014

Agreeing with yoga.

Have you considered Tai Chi?

Breathe, move, breathe.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:02 AM on October 8, 2014

You may be interested in Yoga for Grief Relief: Simple Practices for Transforming Your Grieving Mind and Body. Also see this introductory article with links to trained practitioners as well as recommended books, music, and films.
posted by velvet winter at 10:42 AM on October 8, 2014

This video might have some ideas that you can use to create a ritual:

Seshen - Understanding Grief Through Dance

Also, some Native American cultures have movement based grief rituals.
posted by yohko at 6:54 PM on October 8, 2014

Is there such thing in any religion or culture?

Not that I'm advocating you emulate this, but since you asked: the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea have or had a ritual called Gisaro, detailed in Edward Schieffelin's The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers. Here's what I remember.

One group visits another for a nighttime ceremonial gathering, at which the guests appear out of the darkness dressed in ornate birdlike costumes to dance and sing sadly. The lyrics slowly build up more and more details identifying someone from the host group who is now dead. The elegant birds can sometimes represent the person's ghost. The lyrics often point to particular settings where the deceased and the mourners used to interact, and the dance can sometimes be understood as movement from place to place across a landscape. The performance's beauty is intended to trigger immense sadness, nostalgia, and weeping in specific members of the host group: biographical details are chosen towards this end. When the songs are maximally successful, the targeted mourners will become so angry as to grab one of the burning torches and strike the dancer with it, often burning away the costume and sometimes inflicting serious or even deadly burns.

This is understood as among other things a tremendous compliment to the dancer. The guests also recompense their weeping hosts with food. Later, the hosts will visit the guests, and reciprocate. Please note I'm not suggesting you and your friend give each other third-degree burns. But yes, this is indeed a thing. The ethnography unfolds the various performative details which make the ritual super-poignant.
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:13 PM on October 10, 2014

« Older What is really going on in Mexico?   |   Ideas for desensitizing during sex? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.