When my father passed away in 2004, I didn’t think it would hit me so hard. My father was a complex man—expansive and uncontainable, volatile and aggressive. He was also the one who introduced me to yoga. He practiced daily, and I would sometimes practice alongside him. His example inspired me.
I didn’t embrace this gift right away, though: My father left our family for his “yoga buddy” in 1984, when I was 15. I always stayed in touch with him—I had a deep need to be connected to my father, even though it could be painful at times. I shunned the yoga community because of his actions but eventually realized that yoga could be the antidote to my pain. I’d stretch my hips in Pigeon Pose while stretching my boundaries and embracing what I had previously rejected.
Given my past with my father, I was surprised by the depth of my grief when he passed. The permanence of this loss hit me hardest when I called his phone number to hear his voice on the outgoing message. I would never hear that voice again. The emptiness I felt knowing we would never have another conversation felt like I was lost in an abyss.
But later, I was struck by an epiphany while in yoga class. As I posed in Downward Dog, my body and mind both facing inward, I realized that I still had something left of my father. He gave me a series of postures and practices that were thousands of years old, which linked me him and to others in faraway places. Thanks to him, I had the ability to guide myself through challenges and, as a yoga instructor, to help others do the same. I could pay his gift forward to others.
At the end of my daily yoga routine, lying on the floor in Corpse Pose, I feel as though I am floating in a sea of pure love. It is in this blissful moment that my grief and joy are yoked together. I become my best self because I am whole.
I have learned over these past 12 years to lean into the feeling of emptiness that my father’s absence leaves me with, rather than to ignore it. I have learned that grief is a vital part of my heart and accept it as a gift that exists alongside joy.
Mandy Ingber is the author of Yogalosophy For Inner Strength: 12 Weeks to Heal Your Heart and Embrace Joy, which is available at bookstores and online retailers.