Book Review: Mindfulness & Grief

Mindfulness and Grief

By KATHLEEN MULROY

What is mindfulness? We hear the term a lot these days: in the news, on social media sites, and during casual conversations with friends and family. But many of us are unclear about how mindfulness works or how it can benefit us.

Heather Stang, author of Mindfulness & Grief, gives an excellent definition.

“The Chinese symbol for mindfulness is a combination of the symbols for ‘now’ and ‘heart.’ This sums it up perfectly: mindfulness is the practice of opening your heart to what is happening right now. Openness is compassionate and caring; holding the moment in a tender embrace…”

Stang is highly qualified to write a book about managing grief. She’s a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist and holds a master’s degree in thanatology (the study of death, dying, and bereavement). She facilitates meditation and grief programs both at the Frederick Meditation Center in Maryland and online. Stang works closely with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, and the Association of Death Educators and Counselors.

Each person, says Stang, experiences grief differently, depending on several factors. These include the nature of one’s relationship with the person who died, the way the person died, one’s physical health, life circumstances, learned coping strategies, age, and available social and economic support (or lack thereof).

But no matter what one’s circumstances are, “Mindfully relating to your grief means being fully aware of your experiences of loss while simultaneously embracing whatever arises in you with compassion and loving-kindness. This does not mean you have to be happy despite your loss. (Rather), you observe the situation in order to develop wisdom and reduce your suffering.”

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Stang weaves stories of people with whom she’s worked, who’ve experienced loss and grief and who have benefited from practicing mindfulness with guided meditations. The book takes us through eight weeks of clearly laid out meditations and exercises.

Stang is a gentle, encouraging, and kind guide who understands that the process of experiencing grief and loss is difficult and painful—a journey that is a “dance between your vulnerability and your inner strength.”

Three-Part Breath Meditation

This is an excerpt from the book’s first meditation exercise.

Time: 5-20 minutes

  • Lie down on your back somewhere quiet, and make yourself comfortable.  Put a rolled-up towel or pillow beneath your knees.
  • Close your eyes. Allow your arms to settle by your sides, palms up.
  • Ask yourself, “What do I hope to receive from this breath awareness practice?”
  • Find where your breath is most noticeable: belly, throat, chest?
  • Observe your breath, feeling its rise and fall without changing its natural flow.
  • Notice how each inhalation feels.
  • Expand your breath in your belly. Let your next inhalation fill up your belly like a balloon. Hold that breath for a moment or two longer than normal, then exhale. Repeat 10 times.
  • Expand your breath to your midsection. Fill your belly with breath as before, then continue to expand your breath into your midsection (just below your rib cage). Again, hold your breath a moment or two longer than normal, then exhale. Repeat 10 times.
  • Expand your breath to your chest. Fill your whole body with breath. Now you are inhaling in three parts—belly, midsection, chest. Again, pause a moment before you exhale. Release your breath first from your chest, then your midsection, then your belly. Repeat 10 times.
  • Let your exhalation fall out of your mouth. Inhale in the three parts, hold your breath for a moment, then allow your exhalation to spill out of your mouth. Repeat four times.
  • Let your breath come and go naturally and in its own time, for as long as you wish.
  • Mindfully return to your whole body. Stretch, roll onto your side, then use your arms to bring yourself slowly and mindfully up to a sitting position. MSN