The Deflating Effects of Grief on Posture: Edana's Story of Working with an Elderly Client

Feldenkrais Practitioner and Occupational Therapist Edana Kistampally shares how to honor the wisdom of your own body during the grieving process.

If you are struggling, to no avail, trying to “fix” your forward-head-slumped-shoulder posture on a day-to-day basis, you might have a “story” behind it that makes good sense! You may want to “get rid of '' this habit, which seems to compromise your quality of life. Rather than willfully attempting to overcome your inner urge to slouch, you may instead honor the wisdom of how your body is processing and interpreting the events and experiences in your life. The support of a knowledgeable guide on the path towards healthier posture, may be your best asset to help you “unpack” the depths of the stories your body may be holding.

Here is an account of a recent client, Margaret (client’s name and identifying details changed to protect their privacy), whose experience of grief and its physical and physiological effects seemed to impact her immensely. At first glance the “problem” and the “solution” seemed to be obvious from a “physical exercise” perspective, but under the surface was Margaret’s experience of loss, regret, and vulnerability.

A petite elderly woman with a pale yellowish complexion due to a chronic heart condition. The blood was pumping from her heart at a mere fraction of the normal rate. She needed extra oxygen which came to her nose in a tube from a tank nearby. Simply walking from one side of the room to the other was intensely exhausting for her.

Her shoulders remained slumped forward, and she appeared to be fatigued. Her chest and abdomen didn’t seem to be available for breath to enter and expand the areas, as if she had just let out a huge sigh and remained deflated.

My goal was to assist her in finding alternatives to her “caved in” chest while avoiding prescriptive advice, platitudes, and even the slightest loss of dignity. I did not want to convey that adopting a more upright or “straight” position of spine and neck would be “better” than what she was currently exhibiting, although I knew that ultimately it would help her to breathe more easily if she could do it and maintain it consistently. I implemented a sequence of guided exercises involving verbal prompts and light touch, which offered support, awareness and specific imagery to guide her toward preferable alignment.

At one moment, her body froze as if she was responding to an increase in emotion and there was a simple silence, then spontaneously she shared that her husband had passed away 8 months ago. On top of that, she had lost her brother a couple weeks ago while she was in the hospital herself. Her brother passed away another town hours away, and she couldn’t travel to say “goodbye”. Her entire demeanor seemed to express that she was grieving the loss of her dear ones intensely.

For “homework” in-between sessions, I encouraged her to write a message to her brother and/or spouse. I conveyed that working with her emotions around mourning her loss would propel her physical recovery forward.

Everyone’s life has been touched by grief at one point or another. Whether the cause be the loss of a loved one, or the loss of something valuable, perhaps a job or a home, or even a major disappointment can and wreak havoc upon one’s sense of equilibrium causing mental ruminations, intense emotions, and even postural habits and physical symptoms that can develop into chronic pain and even health conditions in some cases. Margret’s story paints a vivid picture of how the experience of grief seems to be deeply connected to physical posture and health.

Below you will find a checklist of tasks to try at home to address the physical symptoms and postural habits that you have associated with recent or past grief.

Try this at home:

– Supporting the pattern - Find a way to “rest” in a fetal position if you are tending to slump your shoulders. For example: leaning elbows on thighs (Margaret reported immediately feeling very comfortable in this configuration).

- Awareness- using non judgemental attention to the moment as it is, find a comfortable position and just observe with interest. How do you feel today in your physical body? Where does your attention go when you start to tune into it?

- Take inspiration from nature - Keep a sticky note with “tree” sketched on it somewhere where you can see it to remind yourself of a dynamic and upright trunk/spine. Experiment with imagery that appeals to you.

Working with a NeuromovementⓇ practitioner like Ana Maria can help you by offering a gentle, non-judgmental presence. A teacher can guide you to give much needed attention to stuck body parts that are seeking a more comfortable way to be.

Edana Kistampally is a Certified Feldenkrais practitioner and an Occupational Therapist. Edana has 8 years of clinical experience working with older adults with complex medical conditions in inpatient rehabilitation centers. Known for her compassion, precision, and a vivacious sense of humor, she helps her clients to maximize their abilities and retain as much autonomy as possible.

Edana is passionate about helping pregnant women prepare for labor and birth through empowering heart-centered mind/body movement programs. Learn more about her offerings at

Categories: Grief, Guest Post, Posture