How the breath helps when you grieve.

When we are in bereavement or suffering a loss, we tend to be either stressed or anxious most of the time. This emotional state that takes place in the in the manomaya kosha – the sheath just within the pranamaya kosha (click here to learn more).

The cause-and-effect of this will be a more distressed form of breathing – perhaps shallower, perhaps less full – and this will cause stress on the annamaya kosha, our physical sheath. Thereafter, it’s a vicious cycle.

Distress on one of the sheaths has repercussions on all of them. While it is totally okay to sit and experience our grief (in fact, we should), after awhile, we experience fatigue and exhausted, wondering when it will all end.

The energy / breath sheath is instrumental in distributing prana (the life force of the universe) through our body. We receive the most amount of prana from our breath. And the good news is – we can control our breath!

Our breath is one of the few bodily functions that we can either allow to function without our interference (and then it would probably reflect our emotional state), or we can consciously control. And through our conscious breathing, we can then invite more prana into our own being.


Pranayama is yogic breathing that can calm the body, soothe the mind, invite better health and lift our spirits. When we invite more prana into our body, in effect our pranamaya kosha where are chakras reside.

As mentioned above, the breath can help to calm the body. Shorter shallower breaths trigger the sympathetic nervous system (to describe this process in a simple way), which is our flight-fight-freeze response. This system is triggered when we are stressed, anxious, sad, angry or fearful. Meanwhile, deeper fuller longer breaths help to trigger our parasympathetic nervous system – the system that kicks in when we are calm, peaceful and relaxed.

We can control – to some extent – how we feel through breathing!

So the breath can help centre us and bring us back to the moment when we are going through rough periods.

Read how the breath drove away my pain by hitting the button!

Breath awareness.

Most of us don’t breath to the capacity we should normally. And most of us don’t really notice the breath, whether we are in good spirits, or whether we are experiencing loss and grief.

So to begin with, we can notice the breath. This doesn’t have to happen during a sitting practice. You can do this anytime: cooking, driving, washing out the toilet, most kinds of daily activities will allow us the opportunity to notice the breath.

From just noticing the breath, we can begin to pay attention to the breath more deeply. This still can be done during rote daily activities, but perhaps not while driving or when your concentration should be on the task at hand.

So what is noticing more deeply? These are a few examples:

  • the depth of the breath
  • how your body interacts with the breath (rise and fall of ribcage or expansion and contraction of the belly etc)
  • the temperature of your breath
  • how easy or laboured is the breath

And as you notice these things, just observe or witness with no judgment or ‘why’ questions.

Ground / centre into the breath.

If you are in a sitting practice, you can ground or centre into the breath. The easiest way to do this is begin with the guidance above. To recap, the setup will be:

  1. Set your timer to a comfortable time limit, perhaps 10 minutes
  2. Begin by noticing the breath without judgment
  3. Then notice the breath more deeply without judgment
  4. Then begin counting the breath (one inhale + one exhale = one breath)
  5. When you are totally immersed in the breath, let go of the counting
  6. If your thoughts drift off away from the breath, just notice this, and draw your attention back to the breath
  7. Practise like this until your timer goes off

Alternatively, check out the guided breath-focus meditation on the Insight Timer app below!

Breathing Meditation Practice for Renewal.

Although not nadi shodhana pranayama, this breath practice on the Insight Timer app will help calm you, and perhaps give you a sense of renewal.

Using the breath, we can ground in the moment, simply by counting the breath. We can use the breath to help let go of negative capacities. Finally, we can use the breath to help us expand and receive what serves us. This guided breath meditation takes you through the steps, and helps you to utilise the breath anytime as a way for you to renew yourself.

Breath manipulation and retention.

Once you feel comfortable with the breathing practice above, you can try manipulating the inhales and exhales to certain lengths. Pranayama sometimes inserts a breath retention, in Sanskrit called ‘kumbhaka’.

The breath retention is the art of of retaining the breath in a state of suspension. It also has the practitioner kept silent at the physical, mental and spiritual level (see p. 121, B.K.S. Iyengar, ‘Light on Pranayama: The Yogic Art of Breathing’).

When we retain our breath, we are keeping still in our senses because our ‘breath is the bridge between the body, the senses and the mind (see Iyengar above).

When we consciously retain the breath after the inhalation and before the exhalation, it is called ‘antara’ or ‘puraka kumbhaka’. When we consciously retain breath after the exhalation and before the inhalation, it is called ‘bahya’ or ‘rechaka kumbhaka’.

This type of very conscious breath manipulation helps us really focus on the breath, invite more prana into our selves and helps us navigate through grief with perhaps greater clarity.

For a guided breath practice in this pattern, follow the link below:

Breathing Meditation Practice.

Pranayama can help to decrease stress, improve sleep, improve lung function, and enhance cognitive function. Listen to this breath practice on the Insight Timer app. We will get the inhales and exhales to an equal length. Then later in the practice, we create patterns by inserting a breath retention of the same length.

Other forms of breath work you may want to try are the single-nostril breathing (nadi shodhana pranayama) or the three-part breath / complete breath practice (mahat yoga pranayama).

If you would like to learn more about yoga, meditation and pranayama movement, join the Facebook group ‘Yoga for Midlifers’ here. If you’d like a deeper look at yoga movement and postures, check out the digital workshops below.

Have peace in your practice, and contact me if you have any questions. I am happy to help.

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