Breathing Through Grief

Breathing Through Grief

The holidays can be a challenging time for so many people. They are for me. We held my mom’s funeral three days after Christmas, so this time of year personally brings up a lot of grief and loss. It’s been six years since she died and my life has continued on. That’s what we do. Continue on. We have to. But sometimes when I hear a familiar song, or smell her favorite perfume, I remember. These days, I find myself remembering her whenever I hold my son in my arms. I made it through most of my pregnancy without remembering. But about a week before I gave birth, it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks that I was about to become a mother without my own mother by my side. My breath got caught in my throat, just like my son Skye’s does now, right before he’s about to let out a massive wail. That’s what grief is for me. A painful wail that was supposed to be an exhale.

There are days when my breath still gets caught in my throat. It doesn’t matter whether it’s been six years or sixty years. As my mom used to always say, “that business about getting over it? Nobody ever gets over it. You learn to live with it. You learn to cope with the sadness. You learn to let joy back into your life. People say, ‘You should feel this or that.’ There’s no ‘should’ with feelings. They just exist.”

My mom was a funeral director and bereavement educator for over 25 years. She held space for people to feel their grief and taught me how to express my own. With the holidays approaching, I give myself permission to grieve. I also give myself permission to celebrate. It’s my sixth Christmas without my mom. It’s my first Christmas with my son. I mourn a death. I celebrate a birth. Life is sorrow. Life is joy. Allow both to find peace.

Breathing through Grief

If you are currently grieving, here’s a simple and powerful breathing technique you can use to help you begin feeling, releasing, and healing:

Find a comfortable position seated or lying down. Place one hand on your lower abdomen and one hand on your heart. Take three deep diaphragmatic breaths, allowing your abdomen to gently inflate as you inhale and gently fall as you exhale. Then inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth making a long, drawn-out “ssssssssss” sound, similar to letting the air out of a tire. Repeat for five cycles of breath.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, grief is housed in our lungs. We can strengthen our lung qi through conscious and intentional breathing practices. The sound “ssssssssss” used in the breathing technique above is one of the Six Healing Sounds found in Taoist practices and taught in many styles of qigong. It is a sound vibration that is paired with the organ system of the Lungs and Large Intestine to help clear sorrow and grief.

For more tools to help you move through grief, including a full Primal Yoga movement sequence and meditation practice for grief, check out my new book The Courage to Rise, available here.