BOOK REVIEW: Mindfulness & Grief, by Heather Stang
Review by Karla Helbert
The second edition of Heather Stang’s Mindfulness & Grief is a beautiful companion for those who may wish to test the capacity for the practices of mindfulness to cultivate solace. The introduction tells us what mindfulness is and what it can do, including easing physical symptoms of grief, calming the mind, regulating difficult emotions, improving awareness of the present moment, increasing compassion toward oneself and others, helping to make meaning of loss and “develop a new self-narrative for moving forward.”
This book itself is mindful, laid out as an 8-week plan that can be easily followed by mindfulness beginners and experts alike. Stang provides easy-to-understand instructions for each practice and compassionate support throughout. Each week gives exercises to become more aware, compassionate, and tolerant, providing ways to experience the nourishing benefits of mindfulness. Besides the expected meditation instruction, practices include breathwork, body scans, progressive muscle relaxation, sensory connection, journaling and art-making prompts, and gentle yoga postures. Readers can also explore ways of making meaning and cultivating personal practices beyond the book. This new edition of Mindfulness & Grief includes stories about real people, beautifully illustrating how we each grieve in our own way, in our own time, and with our own challenges. These journeys demonstrate how the practices of mindfulness can meet the needs of people where they are.
Stang offers support and suggestions for common pitfalls of mindfulness practice like falling asleep or feeling like a “bad” meditator. She addresses common fears such as not being able to “get rid of thoughts” and provides concrete, specific ways of working with difficult emotions. Mindfulness & Grief also addresses sensitive topics in grief, including both post-traumatic stress and growth. Finding a mythical “silver lining” thankfully has no part in this book.
My personal favorite part of Mindfulness & Grief is the Daylong Retreat, which includes an outline for a personal retreat. Stang explains why solitude and silence can support the bereaved in feeling “more connected to themselves, the world, and those who live in it.” Her tips for preparing for retreat cover practicalities many grieving people may not think of, including letting someone know where you’ll be for the period you’ve set aside, supporting yourself in feeling that loved ones will be safe while you’re away, having a silent retreat with others, and planning for re-entry.
I highly recommend Mindfulness & Grief for grieving people as well as the professionals who support them. Stang’s conversational, friendly voice rings with the authoritative knowledge of a master teacher whose skill is based in not only research and training but also direct experience. She brings the concepts of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path to her work, exemplifying right knowledge, speech, understanding, mindfulness, effort, thought, concentration, and livelihood—sharing these helpful concepts with compassion and love.
Karla Helbert, LPC, C-IAYT, E-RYT, is a psychotherapist and certified yoga therapist. She is also the author of books including Yoga for Grief and Loss and The Chakras in Grief & Trauma, available in April 2019.