Breathwork & Grief
By: Danielle Cantrell
In non-healthcare layman’s terms, deep breathing gets more oxygen to the brain and short sharp breathing limits oxygen to the brain. In a nutshell our breathing pattern can function by preparing our bodies for fighting for our life or allow us to relax. During a 30-90 minute session of controlled breathing our body activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of the nervous system drives our “flight, fight, or freeze” response. The purpose of the system is to conserve energy and regulate necessary bodily functions like breathing, urination, and digestion.
1. Deep breathing get more oxygen to the brain
More oxygen = improved cognitive ability
2. Deep breathing can help reduce stress
Acute stress = ok Accumulated stress = potential longer term mental and physical
3. 30-90 minutes of deep breathing can trigger positive responses in our “parasympathetic nervous system” that can affect our basic body functions
How does GRIEF fit into this?
Grief feels like it is only second to breathing. We learn grief from our family. It is different for everyone. Grief is a unique experience and many people grieve differently depending on many things. Some of the things that affect grief include: our age, gender, emotional maturity, emotional regulation abilities, culture, religion, relationship, state of mind when grief occurs, location, time, job, exercise routine, family response to previous grief, friends, our physical health, how safe we feel in our environment and even the amount of entertainment we consume.
We are designed with the ability to grieve just as we are designed with the innate ability to breathe. For many people, grief brings up this gut-wrenching, heart hurting, heightened emotional state that only allows for shallow breathing. When we work through grief with the motion of deep breathing we begin to scratch the surface of healing. As social creatures, we need to reveal what we need to heal, and sometimes that comes in breathing.
This concept of “breathwork” to trigger positive responses in our “parasympathetic nervous system” is just a fancy way of saying that we are allowing ourselves to have and create a safe space to feel our grief and to put a stop to this pattern of shutting down. Therapist’s often use breathwork to help clients “come back to the body” because we can physically see responses when we work with grief/anxiety. Navy seals use breathwork to prepare their brain and body to take a dive in the icy water when they are training to save a life. Birthing mothers use breathwork when they are in labor. Athletes often use breathing techniques to prepare their bodies for sport and when they are finished. So why could we not use breathwork to ground ourselves and create a space that allows us to relax from our gut-wrenching, heart hurting, heightened emotional state that renders us incapable of speaking, healing, or moving forward?
Hope Hospice is here for you during times of distress, grief and loss. Our staff understand the process of grief in its many stages or forms, and offer chaplain services for 13 months after your loved one has passed. This is just another example of ways that we can care for ourselves and others during our time of loss.
Below are links to examples of breathwork, additional info and our citations: