How combining meditation and Yin helped transform my grief

How combining Yin yoga and meditation helped me deal with the loss of my mother and moved me from grief back to joy.

Esther Ekhart, forward fold

At 26, shortly after completing my studies, my life took a drastic turn when a hurricane took the lives of my mother Irene and her partner, Jan.

I’m sharing this story, not for sympathy, but because I want you to know that no matter how difficult life gets, no matter how awful you feel at any given time in your life, there’s a way out of that suffering. You have the power to emerge from the depths of hardship and liberate yourself. Challenges serve as an invitation for personal growth, a pathway to becoming a more compassionate and enlightened person. All you need to do is accept that invitation.

One of the last things my mother told me was, “Embracing your deepest pain allows you to reach your fullest potential.”

My wish is that my story can help you do just that.

The hurricane hit

Somewhere in mid November in 1999, I was out enjoying a birthday dinner at a busy little restaurant in the heart of Amsterdam with my close friend, Cecilia. We were sitting at a long table with Cecilia’s parents and some friends, enjoying nice conversation and drinks. In the middle of the celebrations, Cecilia mentioned a hurricane named “Wrong way Lenny” wreaking havoc in the Caribbean. The nickname of this hurricane stemmed from the unusual path it was taking.

The moment those words left Cecilia’s lips, I felt like someone had just punched me in the stomach. My mother, Irene, was out on the ocean, sailing across the Caribbean, from Curacao to Honduras with her partner, Jan. 

I hadn’t been following the news, so the realisation that my mother might be in the path of that hurricane came as a huge shock. It felt like my world was spinning out of control; heaviness, dread and the sense that life would never be the same again settled deeply in my body. Little did I know, these emotions would stick with me for a long time to come.

I immediately raised the alarm with my sisters and Jan’s children, but initially, no one seemed too concerned. This was because at that time of the year, hurricanes usually followed a different path. Moreover, with Jan’s extensive sailing experience, there was a belief they would navigate safely. 

For about a week, I had to deal with those feelings on my own. I was worried sick and didn’t know what to do with myself or how to deal with the situation. Thankfully Jan’s sons, who were sailors themselves, then got involved. To cut a long story short, we arranged for a professional search using a helicopter from an island in the Caribbean, to scour the area where calculations suggested they might have been during the storm’s peak.

Unfortunately, nothing was found and my worst fears materialised. My mother and Jan never arrived in Honduras and their boat vanished without a trace.

Unfortunately, nothing was found and my worst fears materialised. My mother and Jan never arrived in Honduras and their boat vanished without a trace.

The aftermath

They left behind my two sisters, Jan’s three children, and me. After several months of waiting, we had to face reality and make the heartbreaking decision that they hadn’t survived. Despite the absence of their bodies, we organised a service to honour and remember both of them.

Legally, we were unable to wrap up their affairs until two years later. This meant that their house remained as if they were still living there, and we were obligated to continue paying their health insurance policies, among other responsibilities. Some closure only came after the legal process was finalised, allowing us to officially declare my mother and Jan as deceased.

To say this period was difficult was an understatement. I felt numb, weighed down and persistently fatigued. It was at this point that my personal pursuit of rediscovering happiness began. I found a lot of solace in yoga. However, its effects were temporary and failed to bring about a lasting change in my overall emotional well-being. It wasn’t until I learned the act of pausing, sitting in stillness, and lovingly acknowledging and being consciously present with my inner feelings/emotions that I experienced a more significant shift.

A distinct shift

At the time she disappeared, I was still very emotionally reliant on my mother. I had lost my best friend to suicide less then a year before, and my mother had been my anchor during that period. I had spent months in the Caribbean with her on the boat, seeking answers and support. She was more than just my mother; she was a very wise woman and a great friend, someone I turned to for guidance.

As I started combining Yin yoga with meditation, I began to notice a deeper transformation. Yin yoga felt like a balm for my exhausted and achy body, and helped to release buried emotional burdens. When I combined Yin yoga with mindfulness meditation techniques, my practice became a space where I could sit with my entangled emotions without attempting to alter or fix them – something I hadn’t been able to do before.

When I combined Yin yoga with mindfulness meditation techniques, my practice became a space where I could sit with my entangled emotions without attempting to alter or fix them – something I hadn’t been able to do before.

What specifically helped me, I believe, was the time-bound nature of Yin poses. The usual time to stay in a pose is between 3-5 minutes. This provided a structured environment within which I was able to navigate my pain and turmoil without feeling overwhelmed or retraumatized.

Moving from grief to joy

Gradually, I started to unwind, noticing the heaviness, numbness, and dread beginning to ebb away. As I sat with and embraced emotions like grief, anger, and sadness, something incredible unfolded – I rediscovered feelings of happiness, joy, and peace. These newfound feelings of tranquillity stemmed not from external circumstances but from my ability to acknowledge and be present with my body and internal emotions rather than suppressing them.

This experience ignited a desire to share these techniques with others going through similar journeys. It’s my way of contributing to a more compassionate world. These methods are powerful and, once understood and practised, not as challenging as they may seem. 

Meditation within Yin – my course

I recently created a course, ‘Meditation Within Yin’ on the Ekhartyoga Academy. This course embodies a lot of what I’ve learned throughout these years, and I’m genuinely excited to share it with you. My wish is that my experience and the lessons I’ve learned will help you if you ever find yourself going through something similar.

I firmly believe that to create a more loving world, we must first free ourselves from past pain and grief. This way, we can respond to the world and its challenges with mindfulness and love. Once we’ve begun this journey of self-reflection, and healing, we can then support others in changing their inner worlds. Whether it’s through setting an example with our own actions or guiding others through leadership. Our individual inner work, I believe, is the cornerstone for creating a more compassionate and understanding world.

Is this for you?

If you feel stuck and are finding it difficult to handle life’s challenges; if you’re a teacher who wants to learn how to better support others; if you’d like to contribute to a more compassionate world (releasing pain and finding your own freedom in the process), then I think you will enjoy this course.

If you sign up before January 8th, alongside the 12 hours of recorded course material, you’ll also get the opportunity to join a small group for 3 bonus live sessions with me. For a limited time – offer expires December 31st – you can also get 10% off the course price with the offer code MEDITATION10.

During the live sessions, you can ask me questions and we’ll dive even deeper into the topics of the course. The sessions are scheduled for January 8th, 22nd and February 5th from 18.00 – 19.30 CET – don’t worry if you can’t make one of them as we’ll send you the recordings. 

Check out the full details here.

I would love to see you there.



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Esther EkhartEsther Ekhart, face and founder of EkhartYoga, brings years of personal yoga and meditation practice, therapy training and study of yoga philosophy into her teaching.