Our grief literally takes our breath away. We weep so hard that we cannot breath. We meet the shock of our loss with a gasp, a gap in our breathing. A lump in our throat blocks our natural rhythm.
Our breath is our voluntary and involuntary link to life itself. It is what keeps us alive, and the loss of breath is what takes our loved one away. Our ever-present breath can help us to navigate this difficult journey of grief and mourning.
Grief is our immediate response to our deep loss. Mourning is our ongoing and endless process of living with our losses.
Breathing for Calm
How can we breathe in a manner that brings us a sense of calm when our swirling grief is overwhelming and pervasive? Unconscious breathing is usually very shallow. We ‘lose’ our breath when we we feel anxious, fearful, or any kind of stress. The breath of vitality is when we breath with thoughtfulness.
Deep breathing can oxygenate the blood that nourishes our entire body. When we are under stress, our breath can be quick and shallow. Intentional breathing will help calm us. Greater oxygen flow to the brain will help us become more focused and alert.
A breathing technique can relieve stress and it is available throughout the day whenever we feel tension.
Breathing with any kind of consciousness gives us the opportunity to fill our lungs and our bodies with ease at the moment. The instant we focus on our breath, not managing or analyzing it, we immediately calm ourselves. When we breath deeply, we give all of our organs the nourishing breath of life. By practicing a variety of breathing techniques, we can learn to control our stress, our grief, and our ongoing journey of loss.
Breathing is what we do ever minute of our lives. Through our breath we can relieve stress, strengthen our lungs and abdominals, increase our circulation, clear that incessant, and mostly negative self-talk, and so many more benefits to our physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies.
Breathing Takes Practice
Breathing through our grief takes practice, awareness, presence, and commitment. Once we learn a certain breathing practice, we become aware of how we feel as we breath and how it impacts us for this moment and the moments that follow. The awareness of the breath brings immediate calm, even in our deepest struggles.
Since we can only focus on one thought at a time, just focusing on the breath relieves our stress for that instant. Being present brings us into the now. As Deepak Chopra states, “There is now, and everything else is in your imagination.”
The commitment to a breathing practice gives us a tool to meet or grief and any of our challenges. I think of it as having a special assistance in our back pocket. By practicing a variety of breathing techniques when we are not immersed in our stress, we will have the breath we need and want when we need it most.
We cannot learn it as easily when we feel like we are falling off the cliff. But if we already have it, it is easier to access and readily available. We just have to remember that we know it. Being committed to a breathing practice, daily, weekly or whatever, will provide huge benefits in the moment of need.
Breathing Techniques To Relieve the Stress of Grief
As you enter a breathing practice, remember to be comfortable. Practice sitting on a pillow, in a chair, or lying down. Be present to what nourishes without any strain.
Practice for a few minutes or as long as you can.
- Releasing Breath: Inhale through the nose with lips together for a count of 4. Exhale fully with an open mouth for the same count of 4. The inhale brings in new fresh, oxygenated breath, the open mouth exhale releases stale, carbon dioxide. Emotionally we bring in the fresh and release the old.
- Three-part Breath: Inhale to fill belly, fill the ribs, fill the chest. Exhale to empty to chest, then empty the ribs by knitting the ribs together, and empty the belly bringing the belly to the spine. Try to keep the count in the same cadence as you inhale and exhale. Practice a variety of counts to experience what works best for you. However, never, ever strain.
- Calming Belly Breath: Incorporate a comfortable count for an even rhythm. Inhale with lips gently together and envision filling your belly front to back and side to side. Exhale for the same count pressing your belly to spine as it empties.
- Invite/Let Go Breath: With lips gently together, inhale through the nose and invite in all the words that you want to feel: love, happy, ease, peace, I’m OK, or whatever yo choose. Exhale what you don’t want to feel: depleted, anxious, stressed, miserable, lonely, isolated. The words have power.
- Body Scan Breath: Inhale and focus on specific parts of your body, those that feel fine and those that don’t. Start with each toe, move to the legs and knees, on to the hips and belly. Continue up the spine, each side of the ribs, the chest, the shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands on each side. Relax the neck, jaw, cheeks, eyes, forehead, and the skull. As your focus on each body part, breath in and out to be aware and release any tension in that specific area.
- Grief and Gratitude Breath: Inhale to say what you are grateful for all that the relationship brought to you. Exhale to send that message of gratitude to that person’s spirit. We only grieve deeply when we have loved deeply.
When grief and mourning take us out of the present with regret, worry, and sorrow, remember the breath. As you practice, you will usually drift off the focus and into other thoughts. That is perfectly human of you. I appreciate the teaching of 1) being aware of your breath. 2) Notice that you have drifted with self-compassion. 3) Return to the practice without judgement.
The best thing about a breathing practice is that it is always available for you, anytime, anywhere. Just inhale and exhale to meet yourself where ever you are.
Sheena Nancy Sarles is the creator of Yoga for Living with Loss, a weekly zoom class and a seven-part video series based on grief and its impact on each of our main chakras physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Contact SheenaSpirit@gmail.com to receive the weekly link. Visit Yoga for Living with Loss at https://www.growingyoungergracefully.com/yoga-for-living-with-loss.