breathing exercise for grief and loss

Breathing Exercise for Grief & Stress

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: April 4, 2013

This breathing exercise for grief is best done in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Create a sacred space to practice your breathwork. If, like most of us, you do not have a dedicated meditation room, find a special chair, or even a spot on the grass that you visit regularly.

Breathing exercises are one of the most helpful things you can do when you are grieving or stressed. This exercise focused on creating an expansive breathe exercise called the Three Part Breath.

It will deepen your connection to your body and help you bring conscious awareness to the present moment. Tension in your body will release, and your mind can take a break from worrying about the past or future, which is often a side effect of grief.

Breathing Exercise For Grief: The Three Part Breath

Precautions: If you feel lightheaded or dizzy during this practice, return to your natural breath.

Preparation: Find a comfortable seated position or lay down on your back.

Step 1: Notice your Natural Breath.

Bring your awareness to your breath without changing its natural flow. If it is shallow, notice shallow. If you feel tightness in your body when you inhale, notice that. Notice if your inhales are equal in length to your exhales, or not. Notice if it is easy to focus on your breath, or not.

Approach your breath with curiosity throughout this exercise. Pay attention to the sensation of your breath, as well as the places where it feels stuck or tight, open and easy. Take the attitude of the witness, neither judging your breath nor expecting it to be a certain way.

Right now you don’t need to do anything special with your breath. Just feel and notice your breath as though it were the first time you ever paid attention to it.

Step 2: Exaggerate Your Breath in Your Belly.

Grief often tightens the belly. We tense up to protect ourselves from future pain. For now, imagine that you can soften your stomach muscles. If it helps, bring a hand to your belly and invite it to release into your warm palm.

Swell your belly up like a balloon as you exaggerate and lengthen your inhales. For now, let your breath stay in the lower 1/3 of your torso.

This does not have to be forced. Expand your breath as much or as little as feels right in this moment.

Step 3: Expand Your Breath to Your Midsection

Fill your belly with breath and then continue to fill up your midsection with breath. Think of breathing to your diaphragm and lower ribs. Imagine filling the lower 2/3 of your body with breath.

When you exhale, let your breath leave your midsection first, and then your belly.

Step 4: Expand Your Breath to Your Chest

Now you are inhaling in three parts. First belly, then midsection, then chest. Your breath will leave your body first from your chest, then your midsection, and finally your belly.

Your breath is like a wave, moving in and out of your body in a steady rhythm.

Step 5: Let your Exhale Fall Out of Your Mouth

Inhale in three parts, then allow your exhale to just spill out of your body. A sigh or sound might happen, and this will invite more release.

Step 6: Return to a Natural Breath

Let your breath be easy and effortless. Stay aware of your breath without modifying it for several minutes. When you are ready to end this practice, gently open your eyes and notice a few more breaths before returning to your daily activities.

Extra Credit

  • After your breath exercise, do the Body Scan Exercise from last week.
  • Journal exercise: What is your relationship to your breath? What can your breath teach you about how your body is coping with grief?

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

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