Note to reader: If you are just coming on to this blog post now, please go back to the introduction so you’ll be caught up….
Way 1: Experiencing Feelings as They Arise
For me, one of the most important aspects of grieving is to let feelings be there, no matter how tempestuous. I remember thinking when the baby died, “I’ll never stop crying.” But if I simply let myself have my moment(s) of grief, the moment would indeed pass. Grieving is exhausting; not letting myself grieve is more so.
Kripalu Center is a yoga and holistic health center: I lived and taught there for twelve years when it was a residential spiritual community, and have continued with the work I learned and created there. In the late eighties, one of the program directors, Sandra Scherer, was influential in creating a model that has been used by thousands of yoga teachers and practitioners ever since. It is known as B.R.F.W.A, which stands for Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow. Using BRFWA is particularly helpful when things get tough, overwhelming, or if we experience major challenges or loss. I have been using and teaching this method for two decades.
The following definition of BRFWA is excerpted from my Let Your Yoga Dance Teacher Training manual:
Using your breath, begin to consciously relax, soften, and feel your muscles, releasing tension in both body and mind.
Feel every sensation as it arises. Simply experience the sensations, instead of trying to understand what is happening. There is nothing you need to understand right now: just feel, just breathe.
Watch each moment, along with every sensation and feeling, without judgment. As you keep taking long breaths and relax into the sensations that arise, you can create a gap between you and the event. You become an investigator of your own Self. Swami Kripalu was known to say, “the highest spiritual path is self-observation with compassion.” Simply watch. And accept.
With breath and acceptance, you can allow the moment to be as it is, without trying to change anything. Imagine you’re riding a wave of insight. As you breathe, relax, feel, and watch what is happening, you can also allow these feelings to be as they are. Insights will be revealed without struggle, effort, or force. You can ride your wave without falling off the surfboard all the way to shore.
BRFWA has been a life safer whenever I’m in need. Sometimes I laughingly argue that there is one other important word that should be tacked on to the front of it: REMEMBER… to breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow! When waves of sensation hit, especially in the form of grief, anger, frustration, fear, hatred, BRFWA truly becomes my personal surfboard.
In August of 1995, when I was catapulted by waves of grief, I did my best, beginning with the breath, to leap on to my consciousness surfboard and ride those waves to shore.
I recall a visit to Mom and Dad three weeks after the baby died. Dad was in the hospital with congestive heart failure and was not doing well. I came home to try to be of help to them both. At one point, I opened the refrigerator door, and beheld a tall bottle of white wine. An occasional wine drinker, I reached for it, but suddenly paused. I went right to BRFWA, breathing, relaxing, and feeling the moment. The question then came up:
“Do you want to put a bandaid on your grief? You know that the wine is going to muffle everything. You will feel more numb. But is that what you want?”
I kept breathing and allowing the feelings to surface as I stared at the wine bottle. I watched the internal discussion going on in my mind and allowed it to be there. With breath long and deep, I made my choice: I closed the door to the fridge, empty handed, and got myself a glass of water instead. I wanted to respect the memory of my baby girl and feel everything. It was my little way of bringing her closer. I still enjoy a glass of wine, but for me in that moment it was far better to jump on my BRFWA surfboard and feel every feeling without dulling it.
I invite you to try BRFWA for yourself. You can learn the method simply by sitting with eyes closed, and repeating the words to yourself: Breathe - Relax – Feel – Watch – Allow. If you practice, then when the waves do hit, you will remember BRFWA.