This article first appeared in Acupuncture Today in the August 2022 issue.
With the coming of the new year, I am beginning a series of blog posts about approaches for integration of soma, psyche and heartmind awareness in the clinic. This is part one of a 3-part series on working with grief. This first article is about helping clients create space for grieving. Part two will be about anchoring inner resources, and part three about working with inner barriers. I hope you find helpful ideas you can implement immediately into your practice. Please forward this post to practitioners you feel may be interested. Submit comments and see references for further learning at the end.
Grief is a delicate state where the heart gets laid open. Feelings of loss, despair, shock and anger interplay with gratitude, tenderness, vulnerability, and love. Clients come into our office looking for consolation and company in their journey. They may say they “just want to get through it” or “I don’t have a reason for living.” Crying buckets may have tightened their face, neck, chest, and belly. Thus, there is a need to create space both in the body and in the psyche so that the journey with grief can be experienced consciously through the lens of the heartmind and become a portal to the deep inner embrace and presence of shen.
Since grief emerges at inopportune times like at the grocery store, or at work, people often do not give themselves the time and space to grieve and are quick to reenter life. Here is where we can intervene by suggesting that we help them “create space” in their body and in their emotions in this session so they can feel and listen to what is most important today. To create space fits well with the function of the Lung meridian and the breath. The Lung as we know is associated with the emotion of grief and the need to let go to make room for new nourishment to come in. It’s also about boundary functions and opening to life experience.
I give this suggestion when I notice the person starts thinking, remembering, and projecting into the future. They will “talk about” feelings and have thoughts about what they want to do, or about memories of the past. The well-placed suggestion to create space in the moment leads to table work. I often start by acknowledging the many emotions we feel with loss and grief, and how together we can create a clear space in body and mind to support them in this process.
If there is agreement, I ask my client to identify a place or places in the body that feel tight or restricted with their feelings. I have them check in as I palpate and help them feel jaw, neck, chest, belly. I palpate with the idea of helping them get in touch with themselves. The palpation gives me information about where to place needles and meridians that are calling out.
I often place some local body needles in tight places they have identified and a few meridian-related needles that call to me. If I’m doing Asian bodywork, I hold points in the local area along with related distal points. I keep it simple. With the local needles (or hand held points) I tell people that we are gently knocking at the door to their chest, neck (or where ever the needles/hands are) to see what’s stored there and I invite them to be with themselves in a gentle way. If the point(s) have a special name or image related to grief I tell them that also to add the magic of metaphor.
Next I establish qigong awareness. I like to encourage the person to connect with the earth and sky by feeling his/her back sink onto the earth in a comforting place and feel the sun and stars shining from above sending a blanket of light around him/her. This opens the field of connectedness and “creates space” for intuitive knowing to arise. Encourage clients to be open to any images or feelings that arise as they rest and allow themselves to be in the moment.
If you are doing acupuncture, you can leave them alone for a few minutes to attend to someone else but be sure to allow enough time with them when you return. If the person needs rest, direct awareness to the felt sense relaxation in the body, which may include feelings of peace, stillness, comfort. Help them savor the experience and listen to its message. If emotions are present, help them feel, cry, rage. When the wave of feeling subsides, have the person stay with any relief, clarity, stillness, or comfort that emerges. Often the consolation the person needs is right there in the moment and only needs to be acknowledged and savored. Deeper heartmind presence emerges in these moments and we can help stabilize it in the person’s awareness.
The secret is to keep referring the person back to his or her felt experience be it body, emotions, images etc. and allow feelings and intuitive messages to come through. Acknowledge that this wisdom comes from an internal, guiding presence. This is an important moment that helps the person realize that relaxation, peace, and wisdom are within them, and they are not alone.
At the end of the session refer the person back to the places in the body that were tight and notice the change. There is often less heaviness and more openness and spaciousness. You can affirm that they “created space” today for themselves. Acknowledge any information that was released by these areas and ask the client what he or she wants to remember from this session and incorporate this week.
Resources: For Practitioners: To consult with me about clients, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Go to https://www.moonandlotus.com/professional-trainings/classes-and-supervision/ to learn more about helping a person explore their present experience, including:
- A free video, “Bodymind Skills that Assist Clients to Discover Themselves in the Moment.”
- A link to purchase my clinical guidebook, “HeartMind Solutions; Direct Awareness to Transform the Roots of Pain and Stress in Soma and Psyche.” Pages 40 – 44 give a step by step process for directing awareness and staying with experience
- Watch my recent video presentation, “Body Stories: Releasing Shen Through Body Awareness,” available for 4 PDA points with the NCCAOM, through the AOBTA Academy, Clinical Development Section available in January 2022. https://aobta.org/page/Body_Stories
For Clients: Life coach, Kristine Carlson, offers a helpful course: “21 days of grieving with grace” which supports people through the grieving process with helpful guidance and journaling exercises drawn from her personal experience after the sudden death of her husband. https://kristinecarlson.com/21-days-of-grieving-with-grace/