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Breathwork for Grief

I’m overwhelmed. I’m sad. I’m exhausted. I’m grieving.

These last few months have been radically life changing in many ways. They have also brought me in touch with an ocean of grief, much of which I’ve been holding back for what feels like lifetimes. I know from years of personal work and the sessions I hold with clients that befriending and processing grief is essential for our wellbeing. I also know just how challenging it is to make space for grief and the ways that I personally have been avoiding it.

I’ve been operating in survival mode for much of the last few months. I’ve been reacting from my history, especially in my partnership with Nic, and it has been painful and humbling to say the least. I have such high expectations for myself in general and the compression and constriction of this time we are living in has brought many of those expectations to light. The expectation that I am struggling with the most right now is the belief that despite a laundry list of stressful situations that I am currently living in/with, I should be able to easily access my conscious, adult self at all times.

Exhale.

Sharing that belief with you brings ease to my body. My shoulders begin to lower. My exhale finds itself with a bit more room. My jaw drops slightly. My breath slows and deepens.

I sit. I wait. And then the grief rises and swells from within. A few tears form in the corners of my eyes. I exhale with intention, close my eyes, and let the tears run down my cheeks.

When we’re in survival mode, which many of us are these days in some way or another, it’s really important to take a few moments to connect with the grief that sits just below the surface. There is so much to grieve in the change process many of us are in right now, yet committing to a regular practice of being with ourselves in grief is quite easy to avoid. There is always something or someone outside of ourselves needing our attention.

One way that we can come out of survival mode and into feeling our grief in the present moment is to share what’s really going on inside. This is partly why I started my online journal so many years ago, to have a safe space to share what’s on my heart, what I’m feeling, what’s really going on. Of course all writing that I share publicly is just a piece of the experience that I am choosing to share, but the purpose is to connect through vulnerability in the hopes that something I’m going through or went through can be useful to someone else. Not because I am an expert on anything, but because I am a human trying to navigate the complexities, challenges, and beauty of being alive.

Sharing honestly helps me to get in touch with my grief and work with it relationally. It’s through opening myself up to you that I have the capacity to, in this moment, feel more of my grief and in a deep sense feel more of myself. The Holding It All Together Ashley is exhausted. The Smiling And Pretending I Am Okay Ashley is burnt out. The I Never Get Angry Ashley is angry. The It’s Not Safe To Feel Ashley is learning to feel more. The Peeking From Behind The Curtain To See If Anyone Is Still There Ashley is learning to trust. The Sharing What’s Really Up For Me In This Moment Ashley is grieving.

I’m less overwhelmed.
I’m less exhausted.
I’m still grieving.
I’m still breathing.

Another way that I am exploring grief these days is somatically, through breathing. Interestingly, in Chinese Medicine, grief is associated with our lungs. I find this so fascinating as my breathing practice has always brought me in touch with different grief states. In the beginning of my breathwork journey I didn’t have a steady container of support for the level of grief that I was experiencing. I felt completely overwhelmed with how much grief I held in my body and my breathing practice often had the opposite effect of what I was hoping for. Because I had years and years of unhealed trauma in my system, it would get completely flooded and overwhelmed with grief during my breathing sessions. I would go right into catharsis which on some level brought a little relief as a good cry can, but it also left me stuck in the very beliefs and feelings that I wanted to change.

These days when I am working with my breath and processing grief in my body I take it really slowly. I make sure that I set up a container for myself in the form of a space to practice in that feels safe and comfortable and I give myself gentle reminders and reassurance that it’s okay if I don’t feel better after my practice. Feeling better is not a requirement for processing grief and isn’t even my intention. My intention is to feel what is calling to be felt and to widen my capacity to be present with grief and to be present with myself.

When I practice, I place one hand on my heart and one hand on my belly. I tell my body that if it wants to grieve I am here for that process and if it doesn’t I am here for that too. I inhale and exhale out of my nose. I allow myself to land. I allow myself to feel. I allow the process to be messy, to be uncomfortable, to be awakening, to be whatever it needs to be in each moment. I allow myself to breathe. I allow myself to be.

There is no life hack for grief.
There is no shortcut through pain.
There is no sustainable way to avoid sorrow.

Inhale.
Exhale.

What we have is our breath.
What we have is our willingness to be present with ourselves.
What we have is each other.

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