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How mindfulness can help with grief

Posted by AK Lander | On January 13, 2021 00:00

There is no quick solution to overcoming grief, however, mindfulness has helped many regain balance in their lives. Discover how it can help you.

Grief is a challenging emotion for everyone. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for grief. There is no perfect recipe of action that can cause the pain to go away and we must instead find ways that we can learn to cope with the grief in our lives.

One thing that many people find helpful is mindfulness. In this article, we explore the concept of mindfulness and how it can affect our grief.

What is mindfulness?

The concept of mindfulness, although not strictly new, can feel new to some people. As a quick description, mindfulness is taking the time to understand how you feel in the current moment. For many, it’s a way to better understand their emotions and how they are feeling.

Cynthia, who is an author, certified meditation and mindfulness teacher and the founder of the blog Intuitive and Spiritual, described to us what she believes mindfulness to be: “It’s bringing your awareness to the present moment and experiencing life in the ‘here and now’.

“It’s moving the focus of your thoughts to this moment right now. When your thoughts wander to the future or past, you come back to this moment and all that is in it: whether you’re doing dishes, walking the dog, typing away at work, and combine this with a gentle focus on your breathing.”

Mindfulness is often linked to other practices including meditation, yoga and more. However, mindfulness is more than a singular exercise and, for some, is more of a way of life. Calm and serene moments, like those in which we are practising meditation or yoga, can be perfect for being mindful, but so can other more hectic moments in life where we step back, take a deep breath, and consider how it is we truly feel.

READ MORE: Online grief counselling in the UK

Young person practicing mindfulness

How can mindfulness help with grief?

So, now we know what mindfulness is, how exactly can it help those going through grief? The focus and understanding of our emotions that mindfulness can offer can mean that, in the moments where our grief feels overwhelming, we are able to see our emotions for what they are and ground ourselves once more.

We asked Angie Harris, a mindfulness teacher, author and founder of The Integrated Mind for her story: “At the age of 19, I lost my mother suddenly, and tragically. I was thrown into an immediate fog, with no confidence that I could navigate daily life without her. Simple decisions became overwhelming.”

It was after experiencing this devasting loss that Angie first encountered mindfulness: “A well-intentioned friend introduced me to mindfulness meditation as a means of settling the unfamiliar heaviness that everyone called grief. My friend taught me to feel my feet on the ground, pay special attention to my breathing as I inhaled and exhaled.

“I followed my friend’s advice and returned to my feet and my breathing every time I felt strong emotions. Moments of mindfulness grew into a daily intentional habit of sitting still and listening to my breath as I felt contact with the floor. I didn’t know why; I just knew something about listening to my breath made me feel better. Not healed, still grieving, but I felt better.

“Mindfulness is about paying attention to your inside world as it experiences the outside world, with curiosity and wonder. When we are grieving, we especially need to pay attention to our experiences from moment to moment. The grieving mind will convince us that we need to live in the past story. We can lose so much of the beauty that is happening in the present.

“The past story of our loved ones is to be honoured and told while permitting ourselves to feel what is happening right now. I can feel joy when watching the sunrise now whilst I miss my mom. Every moment has room for joy and suffering. Allow space for both.”

Karla Helbert, a professional counsellor, certified yoga therapist and an author of specialist books, including the popular Yoga for Grief and Loss, gave us an insight into how mindfulness can help with grief: “Mindfulness in grief is, to me, an indispensable tool. It is a necessary part of learning how to carry what grief and life have asked of us. Mindfulness can truly help us manage all the feelings, thoughts, sensations and experiences that arise in grief and loss of all kinds.

“Mindfulness helps us to learn that, like the poet, Rilke said, ‘no feeling is final.’ When we are practising mindfulness in grief, being present, with as much compassion and as little judgment as possible to what is happening in our bodies, hearts and minds, we can see that no matter how painful grief may be, the moment will shift and change and move.”

Cynthia from Intuitive and Spiritual spoke about how she found mindfulness helped with her grief when her oldest brother passed away: “When you feel the waves of emotion, you can come back to your own mindfulness practice. When my oldest brother passed away unexpectedly, I was focused on a mantra. Over and over, I kept coming back to this mantra in those moments of overwhelming sadness.

“In times of grief, it’s hard to feel centred, but there can be a sense of returning to balance - even if it feels temporary - as you experience the emotions related to grief.”

Cynthia continues, explaining how mindfulness can help someone recognise their grief and heal: “Grief is difficult. In those tough times, one of the best things you can do is to be kind to yourself and allow yourself to feel what you are feeling. When you acknowledge those feelings, that’s when real healing begins. Let go of what you think you should feel and allow yourself to observe the emotions as they come, and gently watch until they go.”

READ MORE: Grief books to help you cope with loss

Middle Aged Man Practising Mindfulness

What is the best way to practice mindfulness?

There is no real right and wrong way to practice mindfulness as it means something different to each person. However, when you are starting out on your mindfulness journey, taking the time to try some popular techniques can help you find out what might work for you.

Mindful Breathing

Karla offered up some of the exercises you can try to help with your grief, beginning with mindful breathing: “Breathe in and allow the physical sensations of your breath to have your full attention. Cultivate an attitude of curiosity and interest about what is happening with your breath, what it feels like as the air moves into your nostrils, down the trachea, into the lungs - the small movements of your body - and what happens as you exhale, the change in temperature of the breath, shifts in the body. Stay with these physical sensations for a minute or two minutes.

“If you keep doing this, you’ll notice that a thought, a feeling, some other sensation or awareness arises distracting your attention from your breath, this is ok. With as much compassion as possible, notice the distraction, and simply come back to the sensations of your breath. That’s it. Do this for as long as you want. You might set a timer for three to five minutes and just practice noticing your breathing.”

Sensory Mindfulness

The second exercise Karla recommends is called sensory mindfulness: “Try closing your eyes and be fully present to all the sounds you can hear around you, without analysing or thinking about what the sound is or how you feel about it, just hearing and noticing.

“Another technique is the place an object in front of you. Be curious about the object. Look at everything about that object. Imagine seeing the object as someone from another planet might see it. Notice the colours, how the light reflects off the object or doesn’t, notice details, curves, angles. When you’ve noticed everything you can visually, pick it up and explore it tactilely. Notice the texture, the edges, weight etc.

“Explore it with your other senses. How does it smell? Does it have a scent at all? Does it make any sound if you squeeze it or shake it? You can do this with any object or with a tree or a flower outside in nature.”

We hope that mindfulness is able to offer some solace from your personal grief. At AK Lander, we understand how hard dealing with grief can be. To make things easier, we offer professional service with our memorial headstones and can answer any questions you may have.

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