Breathing Lesson for Coping with Grief

Most of us are not breathing properly throughout our days for optimum health and well-being. Most of us have poor posture, we sit at our desks for long periods of time, slump in our seats, stare at screens, move very little… This is a problem for much of the population.

If grief is added on top of those bad habits, our situation becomes even more difficult. Grieving on its own makes us feel like we want to be slumped down, curled into a ball. It makes us want to protect our hearts. The chaotic yet static state sometimes even stops our breath entirely. If you are grieving, you may notice that your breathing is very shallow, or that you are holding your breath without even realizing it.  This is not abnormal in grieving.

Finding a quiet time at any point in your day to simply breathe can be a wonderfully healing tool.

Read on to learn some simple but truly effective breathing exercises to decrease anxiety, clear your mind, and counteract some of the natural symptoms of grief.

Breathing Exercise: The Three-Part Breath

This is a specific breathing technique used in yoga practice and is very useful in times of stress. It triggers your parasympathetic nervous system or the “relaxation response” and allows body and mind to more easily release stress and tension. It is physiologically impossible for your body to be in stressed when practicing the deep three-part breath.

    Again, find your comfortable sitting position, allowing your hands to be relaxed. The three-part breath may also be done lying down.

    To begin, inhale normally. Then, with your mouth closed, exhale slowly through your nose, using your abdominal muscles to pull your diaphragm inward. Squeeze all the stale, excess air completely out of your lungs.

    As you prepare for your next inhalation, imagine your upper body as a large jug. As you inhale, you are filling the jug from bottom to top.

    First, pretend that you are inhaling your favourite smell, and fill the diaphragm and lower belly, allowing them to expand and completely fill with air.

    Next, continue to allow your “jug” to fill as you notice the lower, and then the upper, parts of the ribcage expanding outward and up.

    Next, fill the upper lungs, noticing the chest expanding, the collar bones and shoulders rising, as your jug fills right to the top.

    Pause for 2 beats.

    Exhale the opposite way, allowing the “jug” to empty from top to bottom.

    Slowly exhale, allowing the shoulders and collar bones to slowly drop, the chest to deflate, the ribs to move inward. Again, pull your diaphragm in, using it to completely empty the air from the bottom of the lungs.

    Repeat the process, refilling the jug slowly from bottom to top. Continue with the complete and full exhalations and inhalations, emptying and filling your jug.

    The three parts are bottom, middle, top—expanding and contracting as you slowly and completely fill your body with fresh, cell-nourishing, life-giving oxygen and then slowly and completely empty it of carbon dioxide, toxins, and tension held in the body and mind.

    As you increase your practice and the muscle movements become familiar, you should imagine breathing in a calming pleasant emotion such as peace or love as you inhale and breathing out stress or anxiety as you exhale. Ideally, the exhalations should be about twice as long as the inhalations. Initially, if you count to five as you inhale and exhale, gradually try to make your exhalations to the count of six, then seven, then eight, and so on until you feel more comfortable lengthening your exhalations.

If you feel dizzy or lightheaded while practicing the three-part breath, or any other breathing exercise, stop the practice immediately and allow your breathing to go back to normal. Sometimes if we are not used to a great deal of oxygen, the change can cause lightheadedness or dizziness. Know your own body and be mindful of the changes you notice.