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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Grief and Mindfulness-Part Two

As I discussed in Part One of Grief and Mindfulness, there are lessons that can be taken from the Buddhist’s mindfulness meditation practices that can help a grieving person.  Sameet Kuhmar,Ph.D., author of Grieving Mindfully reminds the reader that mindfulness is a practice.  It is not learned all at once and each session is different because you are different at each session.  For the purposes of this post I am going to explain three very simple techniques that can be used at any time during the grief journey and even after during distressing times.

First, is the use of diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes called belly breathing.  There are lots of different ways you can sit for this technique but it is important that you feel grounded.  Another words your feet should touch the floor or ground and your hands should be in your lap, on your legs, or on your belly.  This breathing technique requires you to breathe in while expanding your stomach instead of your chest.  This may take a bit of practice to begin with since it’s not the usual way of breathing.  On the inhale expand your belly while counting  to 5 or 7.  You will find what is a comfortable count for you.  Then on the exhale bring the belly in towards your spine while counting to 5 or 7.  Then repeat.  Try to concentrate on your breath, your counting, and the feelings in the various parts of your body.  If you lose concentration and your mind wanders, just notice and acknowledge that and start again.  In grief and anxiety we tend to not take deep breaths.  Early in grief many people sigh often, probably because they are not breathing deeply or properly.  This exercise will help to calm the breathing and focus the mind.
The second technique is a muscle tension and relaxation technique.  The tension in the body when you are grieving or anxious can cause you to feel sore and experience muscle pain.  This exercise should help to relieve some of that.  This exercise can be done any time of the day but it is especially useful to relax prior to going to sleep.  For this technique you need to lie down on your back with your hands by your side and legs extended.  Starting at your toes and feet you will tense up the muscles and then relax moving up the body until you  reach the top of your head.  So, to begin you tense and curl your toes, hold for a count of 3-5 and then release, pause and then tense your entire foot for a count of 3-5 and then release, etc.  Remember to keep your breathing natural and constant throughout.  Don’t hold your breath when you tense up.  The end result should make you feel less tension throughout your body.  As you are doing this you may also recognize certain parts of your body where the tension is more centered.  This is an important part of the mindfulness process in order to become aware of your body and how you are feeling.
The third technique may seem very simple, but if practiced correctly it can be very meditative.  This is called walking meditation.  The best way to practice walking meditation is to find a path in nature where you can walk and concentrate on your pace and on the beauty and serenity around you.  You begin walking and try to concentrate on your steps, on the sound your feet make on the ground.  Try to keep your mind centered on the task of walking and listening.  If your mind wanders to other thoughts it’s ok, just acknowledge it and let it go and begin again to concentrate on your steps.  While you are walking you can listen for the sounds of nature, the wind through the trees or the birds singing.  The purpose of this exercise is to calm your mind and body and to practice staying in the moment and allowing yourself time to soothe.  This is a time to let go of the sorrow of the past and the worry of the future and to be in the now.
I hope these techniques can help you as much as they have helped me.  I used these in the early, tumultuous days of my grief and I still use them often.  If you want to read more about mindfulness I recommend that you look at the books written by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., one of the pioneers of mindfulness in the U.S.  If you would like to read more about mindfulness and grieving the book by Kumar is a good resource.

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