Overcome Grief through Yoga

Finding dignity and peace in letting go
By Anjali Ghanekar, PhD

“How torturing it must be! Can she feel the pain?” I asked my son, as my mother was kept on a ventilator. “Probably not, since she’s in coma and the brain hemorrhage is severe,” he said.

I got an instant flashback of how traumatizing it was to witness the end-of-life struggles that my brother and husband each endured in intensive care. … How I kept on hoping that some miracle would save them and requesting that the doctors “do their best” to cure them. Thus began my emotional rollercoaster and the ultimate downward spiral with modern money-making interventions like feeding tubes, tracheotomy, a respirator, and so on.

My mental restlessness drove me to look for solutions. I wanted to know what others were doing when they came to understand that their beloved person no longer exists—when they cannot fully mourn because the body is still lying there in a coma, kept alive by a ventilator.

A quick search on the Internet revealed the massive nature of the problem! An increasing wave of awareness and concern over the tendency of modern medicine to over-treat, particularly at the end of a person’s life, poured out through heartfelt blogs and tweets. People eloquently pointed out how technologies meant to prolong life most often result in affliction.

Their touching experiences illustrated how, even when a coma patient is immune to any interventions, the medical experts and specialists keenly take turns wasting their time and your money.

It was late one evening, as my mother was about to be put on the ventilator, that I stumbled upon Katy Butler’s excellent essay “A Full Life to the End,” where she lucidly shares the emotional process of her mother dying. I appreciated her genuine concern for those in their final days. Ever since “dying” moved from the home to the hospital, the process has transformed from a spiritual ordeal into a technological flail.

People, at heart, would truly choose to allow their loved ones to pass away at home with dignity and peace, because quality of life is more important than quantity of life. Yet, it’s not an easy decision to stop life-support systems; it takes great mental preparation and moral courage!

People persistently quest for maximum longevity, fear death, and tenaciously cling to life! Doctors, patients, and families all yearn for more time. Personally, I searched for that miracle pill which could put my mind at ease and help me reach acceptance.

How very fortunate it was, then, that I met my spiritual guide, Dr. H.R. Nagendra (Guruji), the chancellor of S-VYASA yoga university, and sought out his advice on how yoga could help me calm down my mind.

Guruji referred me to Mahamrityunjaya Mantra chanting. He asked me to make Sankalpa (resolve; affirmation) in my mind: “Let the transition be smooth whether it is reversing back to life or passing away—liberating from death for immortality.”

With full concentration, I started continuous mental chanting as he had advised. I repeated my resolve constantly, along with Mahamrityunjaya Mantra coming from the bottom of my heart with full faith and allowed it to diffuse into the wave of silence.

Throughout my focused chanting, I experienced waves of resonating vibrations pulsating through every cell of my body, travelling from my toes to my head, tuning me to healing dynamism. Some sort of expansion at a mental level was energizing and strengthening my mind, uplifting me in my time of trouble, and systematically taking me to deeper and deeper layers of silence.

At some point in the process, the resolve made at the end of a long phase of silence had started actualizing. My restlessness had vanished. I found myself in a state of infinite silence, bliss, and tranquility; so much at peace and ready for acceptance for whatever lay ahead.

Later that day when I learned of my mother’s passing away, I felt happy for her, knowing that she had left her body peacefully, with dignity, and with a smooth transformation taking place. It was an amazingly powerful healing experience for me to observe how the mind becomes aware of the silence and stillness within, calms down, and comes to accept a level of peace through such focused mantra chanting process.

Research scientists have found yoga (the science of holistic living) is an extremely beneficial practice to improve quality of life, including life for caregivers while people are knocking on heaven’s door.

Ancient Indian yoga seers have offered great knowledge and practices to gain mastery over mind; to cultivate equanimity and come to the level of acceptance; to calm down and prepare the mind for facing situations of death and dying, in the case of both self and other intimate persons.

Yoga therapy is highly recommended for overcoming the fear of death and releasing us from attachment and bondages. The chanting of Mahamrityunjaya Mantra (“Victory over death”) under proper guidance can be a key aspect to that healing process.

This mantra is said to have the power to eliminate all sufferings, protect against all evils, get rid of diseases, and bestow the aspirant with health and energy. Whenever there is listlessness, stress, grief, or illness, or when fear of death encroaches in awareness, this great mantra can be used for healing, for maintaining vitality, and for refuge.

Sanskrit Mantra:

oṁ tryambakaṁ yajāmahe sugandhiṁ

puṣṭi-vardhanam ǀ

urvārukam-iva bandhanān

mṛtyormukṣīya māmṛtāt ǁ

MEANING: We offer our salutations to the three-eyed lord Shiva to increase the fragrance and vitality in us, to release us from the bondage (fear) of death, as effortlessly as a ripe cucumber falls from its creeper automatically ... and not to let go us from the immortal “Amrit” tattva (emancipation).

The pure, peaceful, and unfailing Mahamrityunjaya Mantra is believed to have a great curative effect on physical and mental healing if it is chanted with sincerity, faith, and devotion.

The “great death-conquering” mantra is hailed by the sages as the heart of the Vedas. Dedicated to Shiva as Mrityunjaya (Death conqueror), this mantra is found in the Rig Veda (RV 7.59.12), where it is attributed to the sage Vasishtha. The verse also recurs in the Yajurveda (TS 1.8.6.i; VS 3.60). It is addressed to Tryambaka, “the three-eyed one”, i.e. Shiva, who personifies pure consciousness.

Mahamrityunjay Mantra chanting emits divine positive vibrations containing the highest form of guiding energy—the source of all protection—physical, mental, and spiritual.

Whether you use this mantra to enrich your life with radiant vitality or to assist in the transition to death, it is ultimately a means for self-realization. Inspiring very deep, continuous consciousness of the indwelling Self, it helps you get established as a silent witness of all that is.

Using this focused mantra chanting, I could easily overcome my emotional roller coaster. May all people in need, around the world, get the same serene and enriching experience of achieving tranquility through learning various advanced yoga techniques, which can play a vital role in improving quality of life.

Human well-being can be genuinely promoted across the globe if we restructure to make yoga-like life-enriching care practices our primary health mission! Let’s opt for true care over futile hopes for cures!


Anjali Ghanekar, PhD, is a postgraduate teacher, corporate trainer, author, human resource management, and behavioral science consultant since 1982. She has a passion for practicing the holistic “yoga-way-of-life” by living through the cultivation of a healthy body, mind, and spirit.