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September 7, 2022

Can Breathwork Help You Manage Grief?

Post By:
Shahla Nikpour, LCSW-QS, LCAT
In-House Contributor
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Phoenix Thriving Therapy LLC
Guest Contributor:

The pandemic brought losses on multiple levels. We had to deal with losing things we never gave much thought to, such as going to our loved one’s wedding or simply buying groceries without wearing a face mask. Personally, I lost a friend during COVID-19 and was not able to attend her funeral. It was the first time I had to participate in a funeral virtually, and it was a painful experience. 

Children and teens lost developmental milestone rituals, such as attending their prom in person, graduations, and even embarking on college in a traditional campus setting.

For some couples, the strain of the pandemic weighed too heavily on their fragile relationships, with many experiencing the loss of partnership and the end of a marriage. 

As a mental health professional, I am always looking for ways to connect to other healers, particularly during this Covid-era of “loss”. This is not only an opportunity for me to learn and grow professionally, but also allows me to become a better resource for my clients, with a wide network of support to which I can connect them. 

I was able to connect with Kelly Daugherty, LCSW-R, GC-C, BC-TMH and Brigitte Toussaint, Certified in Breathwork, after learning about their work, particularly serving those experiencing divorce and loss. I was fascinated to learn about a unique component of their group work: Breathwork.

Kelly Rae Roberts once said, “Deep breaths are love notes to the body.” 

Talk therapy is oftentimes not enough, as so much of our losses, emotions and traumas are stored in the body and can manifest physically. Breathwork has been shown to positively impact the biological effects of emotional imbalance, helping us move through the pain, rather than getting stuck in it- making Breathwork the powerful complement to talk therapy.

I knew I had to learn more about this concept and decided to interview Kelly Daugherty and Brigitte Toussaint on their unique approach. Today I am sharing these insights with you.

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Shahla: What exactly is breathwork? And how does it work?

Brigitte: Breath is the most accessible tool we have in reconnecting to the here and now. Breathwork is a simple and powerful breathing technique that helps us move through stuck emotions (grief, anger, anxiety, etc.). 

Our breath is a reflection of our physical and mental state. Biologically speaking, breath work can help to reset, recharge, and regulate our (often overstimulated) parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn helps us to regulate our emotions and moods. It has also shown to be effective in boosting immunity, relieving stress, regulating sleep, supporting digesting, and boosting energy levels.

Shahla: There is a western mindset around resistance to loss and the emotions that often accompany loss.  Can you speak more on that? 

Brigitte: We aren’t really taught how to embrace loss and these difficult feelings. And so, when we experience loss, we are often left feeling disconnected from ourselves. When we’re disconnected, we search outside of ourselves for answers, which in turn creates a never-ending feeling of “I’m not enough” …we think that when we get that dream job, have that perfect partner, make X amount of money, have the right clothes, house, car… then we will feel good and everything will be alright. But oftentimes, we still don’t feel good. And that can be frustrating and confusing.

Shahla: Kelly, as a Grief Counselor, can you talk to us about the ways grief can impact us?

Kelly: "Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.” Grief is the feelings associated with the loss of someone or something from death, divorce or any other kind of perceived loss. Grief is a normal, natural process and each person grieves uniquely. Therefore, working through grief is different for everyone and doesn't follow a neat or orderly set of stages. 

Grief is experienced physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

Many people are stuck in their heads when grieving with the coulda, woulda, and shouldas and living in the memories. While grieving, many people experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, increased vulnerability to illnesses, joint pain, tension in their jaw, neck, and shoulders, and more. Breathwork allows individuals to get out of their heads and back into their bodies to make shifts in their grief and help release some of the tension they are experiencing.

Shahla: Brigitte, you have had an interesting journey– tell us how you fell into this relationship with breath work. 

Brigitte: Breathwork has helped me sort through my own anxiety, unhealthy relationships, lack of self-love, and grief over the loss of my mom and 2 siblings. Breathwork supports me in letting go of false beliefs that no longer serve me, leaving me with space to add in more kindness, love, gratitude, and patience for myself, my body, and my life. 

I enjoy learning in general and have always been interested in trying out different modalities for health and healing. I discovered Breathwork online. The sensations (feeling of energy) in my body were like nothing I had ever experienced. I was intrigued to continue and learn more. My search led me to finding and participating in a few more (online) sessions, this time with David Elliott, who I eventually chose as my teacher. I pursued and earned a Breathwork certification so that I can bring this healing technique to others.  

The most important relationship we will ever have is the one we have with ourselves. Our breath is intimately connected with all aspects of our being. It connects us into the truth of who we are, our essence and our most authentic selves. 

Shahla: Let’s talk about your support group for people coping with divorce or loss. I can imagine that some may hear the word “breathwork” and be curious, or perhaps even resistant. How do you incorporate breathwork into your program and what transformations have you witnessed as clinicians in this field?

Brigitte and Kelly: This group is unique because it offers participants more than just the theory on its own. People don’t need more information, they need action.

Participants actually engage in breathwork as part of the program, which provides accountability and support for this technique. That ensures our participants can actually experience the benefits and results of breathwork. 

As a result, participants have reported more love for themselves and others, a reduction in anxiety and/or anger outbursts, shifts in their careers/business, greater patience in parenting, increased creativity and intuition, and ease with navigating uncomfortable emotions during times of uncertainty and the unknown. 

Through this unique approach to group work,  participants can learn to adapt to their loss and- all of the secondary losses associated- in a healthy way, leveraging breathwork as a tool. This program allows participants to work through the pain of grief while being validated, supported, and encouraged by us as well as fellow grieving individuals. It provides a platform to talk about grief in a safe and supportive environment.

Shahla: What are some books that you would recommend to our readers to help support their healing journey?

Brigette: The Noticer, by Andy Andrews

Kelley: The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, by Michael A. Singer

Brigitte was kind enough to allow me to do a Breathwork session with her after this interview and I can honestly say that, once experiencing it, I truly understand the power of the breath. 

This is not the day-to-day breathing you are accustomed to. At first my body was resistant- it felt awkward. But Brigitte slowly coached me through the various breathing techniques and encouraged me to allow whatever sounds to come out of me to emerge. She guided me every step of the way, reinforcing that my body is adaptable. As she says, “our bodies will not side swipe us.” 

Throughout the 75-minute session, she does a verbal check in to help address what areas of loss and grief you want to explore. One of the most beautiful parts of the experience is that you can hear her breathing with you. There was tremendous comfort in that.

Brigitte’s session was truly a transformative experience that I am still feeling the effects of!

If you’re interested in learning about the power of Breathwork or struggling with the difficulties of grief, I encourage you to connect with Brigette and Kelly!

Brigitte Toussaint

Certified in Massage, Reiki, and Breathwork


Facebook: Brigitte Toussaint – Healing

Kelly Daugherty, LCSW-R, GC-C, BC-TMH

Greater Life Grief Counseling, LCSW

Instagram @greaterlifegriefcounseling

Facebook: Greater Life Grief Counseling, LCSW