KUALA LUMPUR: When his father was hospitalised for liver cirrhosis, yoga practitioner Daniel Chandranayagam found himself grappling with deep and complex emotions. Feelings of melancholy and being overwhelmed were frequent, as well as sleepless nights.
As he visited the hospital, Daniel would often wonder if he could draw upon what he had learnt through yoga, and contextualise it to deal with the experience of grief.
“I asked myself, how could I use what I had learnt to help myself and others, who might be dealing with a situation no one is exempt from?” Daniel said recently in an interview held in conjunction with International Yoga Day today.
When his father eventually passed away last year, he used his knowledge to attain self-clarity and compassion, as well as a measure of peace and calm.
He was thus inspired to start conducting “yoga for grief” sessions, aimed at helping people navigate trauma and find peace through difficult situations, and discover deeper insights about themselves.
“Many people experience deep feelings of grief, but externalise it in ways that are unhealthy,” he told FMT.
In light of this, “yogic or mindful practice can really be transformative”, he said, “not just for the one grieving, but also for everyone else. Because we affect others with what we do. We make ripples wherever we go”.
Daniel is an E-RYT200 yoga teacher, the designation given to someone who has successfully completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training course from an institute listed with the Yoga Alliance, in addition to having years of prior experience.
Indeed, he has been practising yoga for close to 20 years and has been teaching it since 2011. His previous work has seen him conducting classes for trafficked children, the visually impaired, and at a shelter for girls from troubled homes.
The affable 50-year-old is also a reiki healer, personal trainer, and mind-body specialist.
Today, Daniel conducts various types of yoga classes, online and in person, including one-on-one sessions with older clients. His virtual yoga-for-grief classes often draw participants from all over the world, including Australia, Europe, and the United States.
Yoga for grief: a basic overview
According to Daniel, a typical yoga-for-grief session begins with one’s attention being drawn to one’s own breath and body.
“When you grieve, you’re usually out of tune with both of these. But your breath and body carry you throughout the day. A lot of people don’t realise that shorter breath or difficulty breathing is a sign of stress,” he said, adding that this is why breath and body awareness is so important.
This is followed by movement work: basic yoga poses, often using a chair for extra support and increased accessibility, that he guides his clients through.
After this, Daniel focuses on the body’s seven main energy centres, or chakras. These refer to energy points in the body that are believed to be “spinning discs” that should stay open and aligned as they correspond with nerves, major organs, and other parts of the body that affect physical and emotional wellbeing.
There are said to be seven main chakras that run along your spine: the root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye, and crown. “Occasionally, we work with themes. For example, you might be feeling loneliness, so we would work on the heart chakra,” Daniel shared.
The session usually ends with meditation. The feedback from participants, he added, has been very encouraging, with many acknowledging the yoga had helped them through difficult times.
‘Not just about making nice shapes’
For those who have been contemplating signing up for yoga classes but are hesitant or uncertain, Daniel invites them to give it a try.
“Today, most yoga is practised in group settings, and people who attend these have the tendency to compare themselves with others who may look better, or are stronger and more flexible. And they think, ‘Oh, I can’t be like them.’
“But yoga is not just about making nice shapes to put on your Instagram,” he pointed out. “It’s about your own journey. I would advise participants to pay more attention to the instructor, and not so much the people around them.”
He also recommended that newbies go into it with a beginner’s mindset and follow their instructor’s guidance closely.
In addition, some people are reluctant to practise yoga because they believe it has religious elements. This, Daniel stressed, is a misconception.
“Yoga is not a religious thing – it’s more of a philosophy, a way of life. It emphasises values such as truth, compassion, equanimity, and compassion, all of which are compatible with the teachings of all religions.”
The benefits of yoga, he asserted, are many. These include boosting mindfulness, and physical advantages such as enhanced balance, improved energy, and better protection from injury.
One of Daniel’s clients, Sinnathamby Appoo, can testify to this. The retired flight engineer took up yoga in his early 70s, and is still going strong some eight years later.
“I started yoga because I wanted to maintain my health, and keep active,” the now 81-year-old told FMT. “When you’re at my age, you need to keep activating your joints, your brain, to avoid problems.
“I look forward to the classes every week. They’re very helpful; because of them I have no new health complications, and can go about my life normally.”