Tutorial #5533

Grief Connection

20 min - Tutorial


Join Leah Stewart as she creates space for us to explore the connection between Pilates and grief. In this video, Leah discusses her personal journey with trauma, and how Pilates and movement have helped her navigate through this vulnerable time in her life. Her story illuminates the transformative power of Pilates in healing and personal growth.
What You'll Need: No props needed

About This Video

(Pace N/A)
Jan 17, 2024
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Hi, everybody. I'm Leah Stewart, and I am so happy to be here at Pilates anytime. I'm gonna be talking to you a little bit today about Pilates and Movement and grief and any sort of grief experience that you may have gone through or that you're currently going through. I have some things I wanna share with you today about a personal experience that I've had and how Pilates has been a part of that grieving process that I've gone through. But before I get started, I wanna make really clear that I'm going to be sharing with you my experience, and my thoughts and just sort of as a just to share with you.

I just want you to understand that I'm not trying to instruct you on how you should handle your grief or things that you should do. I just wanna share with you what has worked for me, and I wanna share with you some thoughts that I hope that encourage you and, and just sort of inspire you to use movement as a wonderful tool during any grieving experience that you might be going through. I'm gonna start with telling you my story. So I have been blessed to be teaching here on Pilates anytime for 13 years now. And if you've been with me on this journey of being here in pledis anytime, you've know that I've gotten blessed to teach through all four of my wonderful pregnancies to my 4 wonderful children.

And I was married to a wonderful man named Jason. And some of you may or may not know, but in September of 2022, My husband died a tragic death on our farm in West Virginia. I had never gone through an experience like this. I've never experienced grief to this extent in my entire life. So it catapulted me into something I've never known And I had to make a decision early on in how I wanted to handle it because Here I was, the morning that my husband died, we were happy on our farm, we had a wonderful, healthy, beautiful marriage, wonderful, healthy children.

And at the end of that day, I was a widowed single mother of 4 to take care of on my own and to run a farm on my own. So it started with what role does movement play in my life. Now this didn't come initially. This came later down the road As you can imagine, I wanted nothing to do with exercise in the early, early months of my grieving process of my husband's death. However, I knew right away that my connection and my dedication to movement throughout my life was certainly playing a role.

But the first thing I wanna say is that we all come from different belief systems. I'm a Christian, so my faith is the first thing that brought me through this grieving experience. However, other things that are part of my belief system, taking care of my body, through movement, through nutrition, taking care of my well-being through just reading books, listening to things that are edifying and educating. I saw very early on how those were helping me in my grieving process. Getting involved with a wonderful counselor, a grief counselor right off the bat was really helpful for me.

Grief comes in all sorts of different ways. Death is massive, but the grief you might be experiencing might be coming in the form of divorce, of miscarriage, of loss of a job, loss of an opportunity, loss of a friendship, moving when you don't wanna move. There's so many different things in our life sort of catapult us into a grief experience. And so we have to decide how we want to approach that grief experience with how we look at our life and our world view. And we wanna talk about what role movement has to do in that. And that's exactly what I wanna talk to you about today.

As I stated before, I saw early on that movement wasn't going to be the thing that was going to carry me through my grief process. Rather, I chose to view it as a gift and as a tool. But before I could do that, I really wanted to go really wanted to analyze what my purpose was. So it's very easy when we go through a grieving process to wanna shut down our lives. And there's a certain element of that that it's actually okay because we have to grieve. The, the grieving process is beyond the scope of what I'm talking about here, but the process that we naturally go through, with denial and anger and acceptance eventually.

Those are natural, beautiful, wonderful things to experience, but you also have to know what your purpose is. And what you're going to cling on to and what you're gonna look for because at the end of the day, you want to have hope and you want to be able to move forward with your life in some capacity. So for me, I identified very early that my purpose was to love and serve my children. My purpose was to keep our life afloat, and for them to and for me to model that grieving process for my children and to accompany them and help them and guide them through their own grieving process of losing their father. And so that gave me identifying that purpose, and, of course, your purpose is your own in whatever grieving process you're going through.

But that identification for me, that gave me the will and the desire to wake up every single day and to get up and to serve and love my children. And a part of that was being physically capable and ready to do that. Now, some parts of me wish that I could sit here, I could tell you that I started doing Pilates right away. I got right back on my reformer, right back on my catalog, and I just got right to it, but that isn't the truth. I didn't do that. And that I reflect on it, I'm kinda glad that I'm not telling you that that's what I did because I don't feel like for many of us that that's realistic at all. Movement might be the last thing that we wanna do.

So there's two points that I'm gonna be moving in here from that idea. The first is we want to prepare ourselves for the hardships that life brings. The hardships that you might see coming down the road, you start to see things happening in your life and you know that hardships are coming or hardships that shock you to your very core, like the one that I went through. But what I started to see was that my body because I had practiced Pilates, because I was dedicated to moving my body, my body was physically prepared to handle the onslaught of the grief and the stress that came pouring and dumping down on me. And I was so grateful for that.

And that, in me, without really knowing it, but now, since I'm a year and a few months after my husband's death, I see how I recognize that early on. I didn't feel an immense amount of pain in my lower back. Or an immense amount of tension in my shoulders or my neck. Those might seem arbitrary, and I didn't really think of them so obviously in the moment but a few months after his death, I started to see that, and I started to recognize, wow. All of the things that I've done, all of the years that I've practice quality, all of the strength that I've given my body through Pilates, the, the tools of breath, the tools of strength, and mobility, and flexibility, and balance, muscular balance in my body. That is now all of that work is accumulating, and I'm not even aware of it.

It's just all coming together. And again, I wasn't able to identify that till weeks or months later. So my encouragement to you, if you are interested in just watching this to hear my story or if you are experiencing something in grief yourself know that movement is a fantastic gift and a fantastic tool that helps you to prepare for all of the other things in life. Help us prepare for the things that go way beyond our vanity concerns and how we look or how we do this or how we do that. But for the real life concerns, when they come crashing down on us, when they come in our path, Movement is a tool to prepare us for that in a certain way. So I want to encourage that with you or concur encourage you with that, rather.

The second thing is with thinking that movement is a gift and a tool, I want to encourage you as I've done a little bit of research, sort of trying to identify what studies, what science has been done on the, role of exercise in the grieving process, I found something come up in a lot of my research, and that was that you could use exercise as a distraction, a distraction from what you're feeling, a distraction from your grief. Now that's, of course, your choice if that's what you wanna do, but I felt really sad about that because as you know, Joseph Pilates was all about awareness and body awareness. So I would encourage you rather than using exercise as a distraction, to pull you away from what you're experiencing emotionally or physically or the stress and the grief and the sorrow that is in you. I would encourage you to totally view it as a different way. I would encourage you to use movement, to use Pilates, as an opportunity to draw in and to focus.

If you can get yourself in a quiet space, on your mat, on your Pilates equipment, and you can just move your body, and you can focus, and you can draw in. And I think that you'll find in those moments that you might experience some meditation. It might be an opportunity for you to pray. But it is certainly an opportunity for you to become very aware. For you to recognize, wow, this part of my body feels really tense and really tight, or for you to recognize a certain emotion that keeps coming up.

When you're in the midst of grief, some people choose to busy themselves, to distract themselves, and they keep going and they keep pushing, and they keep pushing, and they keep pushing, and they keep denying what they're feeling. Other people decide to go down the path of stopping life, sitting laying in bed, letting themselves go into a spiral of anxiety and depression. I would encourage you to do neither one. And if you're here and you love Pilates and you love movement, it is the opportunity to move and to do Gensly, whether it's Pilates or a walk or stretching, a hike running, just walking around your yard if that's the first thing you can do, but then also is an opportunity, like I said, to draw in and to focus. The next thing that I would say going to sort of that decision of, you know, the process of some people just busying themselves too much or shutting down their life.

And using Pilates as a tool to draw inward into focus, meditate, to pray, whatever that you choose to do in your life, The second point is movement and grief. I feel can be very gentle and very kind and very forgiving. And it's a time for us to rest and restore our body. My husband passed away in September of 2022. And then of July in 2023, I lost my father. And another untimely shocking tragic death.

So I was catapulted into the grieving process all over again when I wasn't quite done, and I'm still not done with the grieving process over my husband. And what I found was movement provided me the opportunity to rest and to restore because often when we're going through a change that elicits grief, there's a lot of reshuffling in our life. So not only was I drawing in and was I focusing on the things needed to focus, and it was a desiccated moment when I would do movement, no matter how small, sometimes it was just a simple walk around the farm yard on our farm in West Virginia, just out in the sunshine in the open air. Sometimes it was a gentle getting down on the floor and doing 10 pelvic curls and a couple roll ups and a couple hamstring stretches and then getting up and moving on because I was needed in my house by my children. It didn't matter to me.

It was a pause, and it was a moment to rest and to restore as I was going through these processes. And what I realized was when I would get up in the morning, especially after my father passed away, I would sleep, but I could barely open my eyes in the morning. They were so heavy the tears, the sorrow was so heavy on me that I decided that I needed something that was so simple. That would provide a little bit of extra restoration and rest to my body. And so I made it a point for getting all of the things I ever thought about movement in my life of you know, I have to do, I'm a Bassy Chain Teachers.

I have to do my block system, and I have to do this. I have to make sure I get my abs in and my this. And then that all went out the window. This was just, I want to stretch and move my muscles. I want to get oxygen into my muscles.

I wanna breathe. I wanna mobilize my joint because I know that that benefit will help me rest and restore and then energize me so that I can move forward with my family. Movement can help us to identify. It can help us to recollect because we have those other points of drawing in and focusing and of rest of restoration. It can be an opportunity for you to quiet, and so memories start to come in. Memories of For me, memories of lost ones, happy memories, wonderful memories, tears would flow, smiles would come across my face, I really started to incorporate movement as a part of that acceptance process of the grieving process.

And using movement as a tool just to, help me to refind those memories and to focus on them and to enjoy them. Also to identify the emotions that I might be feeling as well. So I was able to say I'm feeling anxious or I'm feeling, lonely, I'm feeling unsettled, I'm feeling frustrated, I'm feeling overwhelmed. Now all of this is in conjunction with the other tools that I had available me during that time. Of course, good counseling, good grief counseling, you know, love of my community, of my friends, and my family, So movement was never at the top of that list of tools that I used, but it was maybe 2nd, 3rd, 4th down but it helped to bring together all those other tools that I have, all those other gifts that I have, my faith, my community, my family, the professionals in my life that are helping me, and movement was a way for me to process all of that. Now, of course, I want to again identify it as Pilates, but a lot of times for me, it was a simple walk, or it was a simple stretch.

And so now that I'm going into a year and a few months past my husband's death, almost 6 months of my father's death. I'm starting to feel more of the old desire I had for movement. To wanna do it more vigorously on a day to day basis, on a weekly basis, several times a week. My schedule is starting to solidify a little bit. We have gone through all the 1st of the 1st year of grieving And so we're starting to see my 4 children and I how we can move forward in our life.

And I felt for the first time just being honest with y'all, that this is the first time that I wanna do Pilates as I really remember doing it in other parts of my life. And for some of you that might be earlier, for some of you, it might be later, but this has been my experience in my process. Now, I wanna close with a couple of last thoughts here, and one is is that when we look at exercise and we study it from a scientific prove perspective, there's a lot on the benefits of exercise for depression and anxiety. The release of endorphins, the release of serotonin in our body, just all of the wonderful ways that our body is designed to release all of these feel good things when we move. And we enjoy those, and we're so grateful for those.

But grief is different, and grief doesn't fall exactly into that category. However, grief can bring on heavy depression. Greaf can bring on anxiety. So just remember all these little tips that I've given you that your body is designed to release these wonderful endorphins, serotonin, these great feelings that we have, The oxygen that poll saves us through our muscles and goes into our brain when we do deep breathing, and we're so grateful that breath is a massive part of Joseph Pilates exercise design. But just remember that those things will happen when you move, just like when you go outside and get fresh air and get sunshine, just like when you have a a meaningful relationship with somebody and you laugh and you feel that love and you feel that tenderness, these are all a part of this beautiful, design of these gifts that we have, and Movement fits right in there.

Movement fits right in there for us. It's a part of that. And so I implore you, and I ask you, to choose movement somewhere in your process and whatever capacity that it is. There's no pressure. There's no right way to do it.

There's no timing that is right. And your situation is most certainly different from my situation. Your worldview and your belief system is probably different too. But why we're here together and what we can agree on is that movement is a gift, and it's a beautiful gift. And if you are dedicated and you practice your Pilates and you're doing your movement, I hope that you will find that no matter what grieving you're going through or no matter what grieving you may go through at some point, that you have the gift of movement to be a part of that process so that you can come through your grieving process with hope and with joy.

I'm going to be doing 2 classes kind of in conjunction with this tutorial. And essentially, those classes are just to demonstrate to you just some movements that have inspired me and helped me throughout this process. And so I hope that you'll enjoy them, and I hope that you'll practice them as well. When I teach those classes, I won't be sharing a lot of these thoughts in them because you have this tutorial there. But just know that these are the movements that I choose or have chosen in this 1st year, and they're starting to transform as I'm sort of coming out of the 1st year of this grieving process.

Grief will always be a part of this. My love and my memory of my husband and my father, but joy will also come and hope is also there And I pray, and I hope that my movement reflects that healing process and the growth in that healing process as I continue to go through this. Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope that something that I said encouraged you Thank you again for listening to me, and I can't wait to see you on the mat for some movement.


Jennifer E
1 person likes this.
Oh Leah, thank you so much for sharing openly like this! In 2021, I lost five extremely close family members including my dad and my father-in-law.  And even now in 2024, the grief is there, just in different ways. And movement has been one of the absolute most helpful things to me! I send you a big hug and tons of gratitude as I know what you shared will support many in their own individual journeys.
2 people like this.
What a powerful message and gentle explanation of the healing quality’s of movement. Mine was not a loss of a loved one but an experience of acceptance through a loved ones struggle with mental health. Open honest experiences delivered a pathway to healing and with your example sending the message it does not need to be done alone. Thank you for you class, encouragement, and wonderful presence.
2 people like this.
 I'm truly in awe of  how you have coped at this time,  thank you for having the strength to share. xxx
Abby C
1 person likes this.
Thank you for sharing your story. You are an inspiration. Your children are so lucky to have you as a mom. The very best wishes to you and your family. 
1 person likes this.
I"m so sorry for your loss Leah, and thank you for sharing your heart.. sending love to you and your family  

1 person likes this.
Sweet Leah, you are such an inspiration! Thank you for being so honest and brave in sharing your story.  I lost my husband of 32 years about 8 years ago and your words really meant alot.  Movement is a blessing and practicing/teaching Pilates has really helped me over the years. God bless you and your family! 
Dear Leah, I am so very sorry for your loss! Thank you for sharing with us what happened, and wishing you and your children all the best!🧡
Well, what can I say other than thank you so much, dear Leah, your words are floating my heart and my eyes with tears but hope is  still there and movement is meditation, joy and prayer at the same time.God bless you and your family! 
Leah, watching this video has been an unexpected gift this morning.. Thank you for being vulnerable with this community and sharing your journey. Movement truly does heal... God bless you and your children ...
I just love you Leah Stewart Using your story and truly blessing others.  You're truly eloquently spoken and I have always loved you and respected you for this.  Thank you @pilatesanytime for giving Leah this platform.  I really wish I could share this video with certain loved ones that could use encouragement.  Thank you for your vulnerability, Leah.  Love you to the moon.
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