Yoga, Loss and the Holiday Spirit

Written by Lisa Horvath

My father passed away on a breezy, clear June day. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about holiday lights or mashed potatoes or stockings. But as summer faded into fall, the holidays were upon me and the weight of loss left me feeling joy-less.

As the stores filled with pumpkins, I filled with dread. I avoided thoughts of the pending revelry and instead threw myself deeper and deeper into normal life. I assumed if I could make it through the holidays tightly wrapped in my little bubble of strength, I could remerge unscathed come January 1st.

On the day before, Thanksgiving I was living in San Francisco. Like most big cities, it is largely one of transplants, so there tends to be a mass exodus in the days leading up to holidays. As I walked home on the quiet streets, I decided to go to a yoga class. I was craving a fast, sweaty class that I could lose myself in and fewer people in the city meant fewer people to contest with in the studio.

The class, usually filled with almost 100, held a modest 40 that night. Which fit well with my solitary mood. I found a spot near the windows and quickly got lost in my own world. Breathing, twisting and vinyasa-ing, I pushed through the ache in my heart, building up strength for the weeks ahead.

We finished class as we always did, with a boisterous chant. That night, in the darkness I began to sing, but the words caught in my throat and I felt the rippling of release, the cracking of my strength. Tears streamed down my face, but I decided against holding them in. I made no attempt to fight through my pain to rejoin the singing. I simply allowed 40 other voices to carry me.

It was in that moment that I gave up the bubble and let the loss swallow me whole. But instead of sinking, as I assumed I would, I floated. I felt supported and cared for without having talked to a single person in that class and it wasn’t my own energy that wound up giving me strength but that of others.

That class didn’t suddenly make the holidays a breeze and it didn’t fill the empty seat at the table, but through the admission of my loss, I gained a fresh perspective. I could rely on other people whether I knew them or not. I could allow them to buoy me and channel their strength when my own was waning. I could tap into their joy when I couldn’t muster my own.

It was these thoughts that got me through my first holidays without my father, helping me realize that we are all connected and that the holiday spirit we hear so much about this time of year is actually just the strength of the human spirit.

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