Let’s Talk Grief and Breathing

A Breath Ritual for Grieving

Grief has to be learned. Grief is not a feeling or a process that needs management and closure. Grief is not an affliction—it is a skill. This exercise is not a way to handle or resolve grief. It is not a way to move past your grief or settle it, but it is a way to honor and make a space for your grief and for your deeply buried wounds. Grief, like love, is something that we all learn—we are not born knowing how to do either, but both are an integral part of who are as we learn and grow into our humanness.

Breath makes space for grief

Breathing Makes Space for Grief

In traditional Chinese Medicine, the lungs are the organ associated with grief and sadness. By connecting with the lungs we can honor and integrate our grief. As we strengthen our lungs though breathing techniques, we can begin to uncover feelings of grief and sorrow. Through breath work, we release stagnant energy and emotions. Also, mindful breathing will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, creating feelings of calm and relaxation.

The goal of this breath ritual is to expose any stored pain or sorrow, and to make space for feeling it. The intention is to:

  • Create a sacred space to honor your grief
  • Detoxify the lungs
  • Improve immunity
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Breathe from a place deep in the body in order to integrate your grief
  • Feel more at peace

You might find that you need to do this ritual more than once over a period of time, as you peel and expose the layers of your stored grief. Listen to your body, and you will know when and how often you should do this technique. I realize that once you feel your grief, you may be overwhelmed by emotions and sob uncontrollably—this is OK…even encouraged. Allow your body to do and feel exactly what it needs. That being said, set aside time and space for this ritual, and if there are times you are resistant to doing it, that might be an indication that you need it then more than ever.

Grief feels like we are under water and can't breathe sometimes

Grief as an Emotion

All of our emotions are energy. Our emotional experiences stay with us and reside in our body. This emotional energy cannot be removed, but it can be transformed. By focusing on breathwork, we can begin to feel our emotions, thus allowing the transformative processes to be activated. Breathwork can be restorative with regard to our experiences of heartache and pain.

Grieving makes us feel like slumping down and curling up into a ball. It makes us want to protect our hearts because we are heartbroken. Sometimes it even feels like we aren’t breathing at all. Or it feels as if our breath is very shallow. Sometimes we hold our breath without realizing it. Grief can make us feel like we are gasping for a breath, as if we’ve been under water, reaching for the surface. This is not abnormal. Grief affects every part of us, including our physical bodies and our breathing.

The Breathing Ritual

Creating an activity-based, releasing ritual using breath work is a powerful way to work as an alchemist and ritual artist in order to:

  • Identify where your grief resides in your body
  • Make space to see and feel it
  • Use your breath to transform it
  • Infuse your object with your grief, so you can bury it to complete the transformational process


  1. A handful of navy or pinto beans (you may use more or less, so the exact number doesn’t matter)
  2. Fine tipped sharpie (black is best)
  3. A designated sacred space that includes earth (dirt/hummus). This can be in the yard, or in a special container kept inside if you wish. If you choose to use a special container, you might want to decorate the top of the soil with colorful rocks, beads, crystals, or anything that you are drawn to. Make it into your own sacred container.

Steps to complete the Breathwork for Grief Exercise

  1. The first step is to set an intention for the grief event of your focus—be as specific as possible, and envision the event.
  • What was said?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • Where did you feel it in your body?
  • What was the weather like when you experienced this event?
  • Were there any smells, or sounds, or other sights that were present?
  • What were you wearing?
  • What was the other person wearing?

Man experiencing grief

Call to mind the event with as much clarity as you can.

2. Next, take out one of the beans and write on it with the sharpie. Use a word, or date that will represent this specific event. You could number each event if that’s easier, so each bean might have a unique number. Please know that however you decide to label the events, they will be perfectly represented. There is no right or wrong way to indicate each of the events associated with your grief.

3. The third step is to close your eyes and envision the initial event once again. Call it to mind, and as you do, feel where it resides in your body. Give it a particular color, and as you feel it in your body and see it as a colored mist, begin to blow all of the misty colored grief from the space in your body into the bean. Keep blowing until all of the colored mist is removed from your body.

You may see or feel it move to a different area, that is normal and OK, simply gather it in your breath and blow it into the bean. Keep blowing until you no longer “see” the mist. If you cry, continue to blow until the tears subside.

4. Once all of the mist is in the bean, envision a gold light filling the spaces where the colored mist once resided. You must replace your grief with the healing light of the Divine. Make sure you do not leave the now empty space unfilled.

golden light forest

5. After filling all the spaces with golden, healing light, gently open your eyes. You may want to concentrate on more than one grief event in a sitting, but I would recommend not trying to process more than three. This is a very powerful exercise, and you will need to give yourself and your body time to recover. That said, you are the only one who knows what is best for you. If you feel like you want to process more than three incidents of grief, please feel free to do so.

6. Next you will gather all of the grief-filled beans in your hand, and take them to your special place or to your special container. They need to be buried in earth. The earth will take that which no longer serves us, and she will turn it over and make it food for another. As you bury each bean, you may want to state the following:

“The transformative process has begun, a powerful release for everyone.”

If you are uncomfortable saying the above statement, feel free to use your own words as you give your grief back to the earth.

Precautions & Suggestions

If you feel lightheaded or dizzy during this practice, return to your natural breath. Grief often tightens the belly. We tense up to protect ourselves from future pain. It might help to bring a hand to your belly or wherever you can “see” the grief in your body, and invite it to release by using your warm palm as stimulation.

After each grief release, and as you return to your natural breath, allow your breathing to be easy and effortless. Bring attention to your breath without modifying it or trying to change it. When you are ready to end this ritual, gently open your eyes, and notice your breath once again, before returning to your daily activities.

Journal exercise: What is your relationship to your breath? What can your breath teach you about how your body is coping with grief?

For more information and support for processing grief and death, please consider attending one of our Spiritual Grief Support Groups or reaching out to Jude Higgins at jude@lotusslc.org.

Written by Jude Higgins, PhD, Psychedelic Clinical Chaplain, Death Doula

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