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How mindfulness can help with grief

Posted by AK Lander | On July 29, 2019 09:14

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

Although nothing can completely take away the pain you feel after losing a loved one, some methods will help you process your emotions. For many people, mindfulness becomes a part of their daily routine and offers an escape from their thoughts. After experiencing loss, there are plenty of things to arrange; planning the funeral, choosing a headstone price and sorting through your loved one’s possessions. However, after a while, it’s important to dedicate some time to yourself, in this guide we explore how mindfulness can help you cope with grief.

“We can lose so much of the beauty that is happening in the present.”

Calm ocean

Mindfulness, often confused with yoga, can be practised anywhere at any time. It is less of a physical exercise, but rather an awareness of what’s happening in the present moment. 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. I developed stomach issues, fought with my dad, dropped out of college, and viewed this scary new world as a very confusing and unsafe place.”

It was after experiencing a 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 wise friend taught me to feel my feet on the ground, pay special attention to my breathing as I inhaled and exhaled. To ‘pay special attention’ meant to notice things like the temperature of the oxygen and the sound my body made as I breathed, as well as paying attention to my feet on the ground.

“I followed my friend’s advice and returned to my feet and my breath every time I felt strong emotion. 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.”

Angie’s experience with mindfulness and grief led her life on a path to help others: “As a grown-up, I volunteer as a mindfulness teacher at a grief centre in my local community. I am honoured to pay forward what I was taught, making moments of grief more manageable by allowing them the space they need to rise and fall.

“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.”

“There can be a sense of returning to balance”

Sunset on the sea

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

“You can do this by first focusing on your breath, and the sounds you make as you inhale and exhale - in whatever activity you are doing. Then you can expand this awareness to all that is around you: the sights and sounds where you are, all the way to the feelings and sensations you experience within.

“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.”

As an expert in this subject, we asked Cynthia whether she believes mindfulness can help with grief: “Firstly, 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.”

Mindfulness can sometimes help you acknowledge your emotions, Cynthia continues: “Too often we think, ‘I am so sad,’ But that’s exactly what your body wants to feel in that moment. However, in the present, you can observe this emotion and acknowledge it.

“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. Everyone deals with grief differently. A practice of mindfulness can help you establish a new normal.”

“Mindfulness can truly help us manage our feelings”

The sea up close

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. However, it’s almost impossible to avoid the pain of grief - if we live long enough and we love people, we will grieve. Mindfulness can truly help us manage all the feelings, thoughts, sensations and experiences that arise in grief and loss of all kinds.

Karla continues to tell us how mindfulness can help grow your compassion, for others and yourself: “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 how, no matter how painful grief may be, the moment will shift and change and move.

“You can practice in small chunks in our day where you intentionally train ourselves to become more aware of our bodies, our minds, our environments. The more you practice being fully present, the better we become at being able to notice when we are mired in thoughts and feelings about a past that has already happened, or in worry and fear about a future that is yet to come.”

“Many people associate mindfulness with meditation, but nearly anything can be done mindfully. Meditation is a great way to practice mindfulness and is a wonderful training tool, but we can also take a shower mindfully, eat a strawberry, walk mindfully or even wash the dishes mindfully”

Mindfulness exercises

Sunset on a beach

So, how do you practice it? As an expert in this field, Karla reveals some of the exercises you can try to help with your grief, beginning with Mindful Breathing:

“Right now, 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. Doing this you are fully inhabiting this present moment.

“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 3 to 5 minutes and just practice noticing your breathing.”

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 understand that no matter which method you choose to help with your grief, it will always be a difficult time. Our team are always happy to help make the process easier, please contact us today if you have any questions about buying a memorial.