Yoga Bereavement Program Offers Comfort and Release

After losing her father, Nancy Perlson of Deerfield found solace and relief in yoga—and now she’s creating a supportive, nurturing environment for others with her yoga bereavement programs.

Perlson has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the 6-week “Bereavement Support Group: Connecting through Yoga” programs, which she started in January 2010 at Healing Power Yoga in Highland Park. The classes combine Perlson’s training as a registered yoga teacher (RYT) and a licensed social worker (LSW) specializing in issues of grief and loss.

“Loss is not something that’s always talked about, but it’s felt at a cellular level,” Perlson says. “I’ve always used yoga to deal with my own stress, and I’ve recognized the impact it can have on people who are grieving.”

Before class begins, Perlson meets with each participant in-person or over the phone, to listen to his or her story and prepare for what might come up physically and emotionally during the yoga practice. The class uses gentle asana (physical poses), pranyama (breath) and guided meditation to begin to heal the often fragmented mind-body connection that can make people feel isolated when they are grieving.

The group environment is intended to be supportive and nurturing. At the end of each two-hour session once a week, there’s time for journaling and brief sharing as a group. It’s sharing, not comparing, Perlson emphasizes. The course is about each person’s individual experience of grief, so there’s no specific time frame during which people should participate. The programs are open to “anyone who is stirred” by grief or loss, says Nancy, who makes herself available to her students well beyond class time.

People have traveled from up to two hours away to attend the classes. Program evaluations at the end of the course reveal what people found:

“You got me out of the house—reminding me it’s okay to live.”

“I felt more unstuck. I am beginning to feel like I can let go and heal.”

“The deeper sense of peace—a place I didn’t really know was possible for me.”

And each person’s experience is different. “I have had people who have gone from one place to another in 6 weeks, and others who have just found a calm place,” Perlson says.

And Perlson knows about grief from her own life. When her two children were young, she experienced her first traumatic loss: her father’s suicide. “A bomb exploded in our family,” she remembers.

She joined a support group through Catholic Charities’ Loving Outreach for Survivors of Suicide Program (LOSS), and the experience inspired her to pursue a master’s in social work and develop expertise in the area of suicide support. She later became a facilitator of the LOSS groups.

“If I could move through it, maybe I could inspire others to move through it,” she recalls thinking.

Perlson also works as an Outreach and Education Facilitator for Willow House, a nonprofit agency that provides support services to families that have experienced the death of a parent or child. She developed the organization’s Survivors of Suicide Support Program. She also works as a speaker and outreach volunteer with the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention and is a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

She plans to continue to combine yoga with her work around loss and grief with more yoga bereavement groups and possibly yoga groups targeting loss, such as divorce. “The reality is that loss is a lifelong process,” she says.

The next session of the Bereavement Support Group: Connecting Through Yoga starts January 12 at Healing Power Yoga in Highland Park. Individuals must be at least 18 years old to participate. For more information, contact Nancy Perlson at 847-445-3388 or email [email protected].