Today’s post is by Megha Nancy Buttenheim, M.A. E-RYT 500, Founding Director of Let Your Yoga Dance®. She is a 28-year senior teacher at Kripalu Center, and Faculty for the Certification in Positive Psychology with Tal Ben-Shahar.
In an abbreviated version of a seven-part blog series, Megha teaches two of her seven tools for finding Grace within the depths of Grief.
To view the entire series and to learn more about Let Your Yoga Dance and Positive Psychology visit letyouryogadance.com.
I recently participated in a telesummit in which I was asked to share ways that I have dealt with dark times. I decided to revisit my toughest loss, because it reshaped the rest of my life. I’m grateful to have had this chance to look back and examine with new insights my deepest life sorrow and joy, all rolled up into one: the birth and death of my only child, Sarah Grace, 19 years ago.
My intention is to offer solace and inspiration during the grieving process by weaving in teachings from Let Your Yoga Dance, yoga, and Positive Psychology. As a 12 year resident of an ashram (a spiritual community), the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health I had acquired many tools to help me cope. In recent years, I have discovered even more tools through the practice of Positive Psychology. I have created a new paradigm: Let Your Yoga Dance into Positive Psychology, which brings the body into the practice, along with expanding joy. I think of these modalities as pathways to healing and deeper understanding.
In the last two decades, I have found seven that work best for me: Seven Healing Ways of finding Grace within Grief. In this abbreviated post I will share two with you.
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.
The wisdom of the BRFWA Method
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 we experience major challenges or loss.
The following definition of BRFWA is excerpted from my Let Your Yoga Dance Teacher Training manual:
- Breathe: Take long deep breaths. Pay attention to inhalation and exhalation.
- Relax: Using your breath, begin to consciously relax, soften, and feel your muscles, releasing tension in both body and mind.
- Feel: 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: 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 without judgement.” Simply watch. And accept.
- Allow: 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 of 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 Sarah Grace 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 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.
Finding my unique way to honor the life, death, and meaning of my daughter, has been instrumental in my healing process.
I have learned throughout my life that grief is an ocean; the waves come when they will. I can either ride them, or get washed under. II don’t honor the wave, it’ll smack me harder the next time it appears. When I ride that wave, remembering to breathe, relax, feel, watch, and allow the sensations to be there, eventually the wave will crest; I can ride it to shore, integrating and completing the moment of grief.
I no longer experience that many waves of grief around Sarah Grace. But when I do, I still ride them. Long ago, I made a commitment to respect and never judge wave riding. I experience tremendous joy in my life and have thrilling work in this world. The chakras, the body’s energy centers, are my roadmap; they keep me aligned and as congruent as possible.
Entering my life, Sarah Grace changed me forever. I became, because of her, a mother. Throughout the years I’ve devised a myriad of ways to mother her. When I graduate a new group of Let Your Yoga Dance instructors, I picture all the graduations/ commencements Sarah Grace would have had:
- Learning to roll over in a crib
- Discovering the blissful baby pose for the first time, legs waving in the air and holding onto her feet
- Taking that remarkable first step
- Going to school for the first time
- Her First kiss
- Graduation from high school and college
- Her Wedding Bells
- The Birth of her own child
Rarely, but sometimes, a wave will hit me from out of the blue. My most recent unexpected wave of grief happened a few months ago when I was teaching in the Positive Psychology certification at Kripalu. I was contentedly witnessing a woman presenting her final project. She announced that her presentation was in honor of her three-month-old daughter, Grace. She showed pictures of her beautiful baby, whom she conceived at the same age I had been when my daughter was conceived. For the duration of her talk, I cried inwardly, yet I was also present. As soon as I could, I went off to the bathroom and sobbed quietly for a few minutes, as if my daughter had died the day before. I practiced BRFWA, and then sought out a friend, my beloved accountability buddy, Phoebe Atkinson. I asked her to hold my heart for a moment. She did, graciously and quietly. And then I went on with my day, eventually helping her lead a graduation ritual that included my special Dance Prayer, the Grace Sculpture Garden of Hearts and Souls.
I’ve learned that there is no time limit to the waves of grief that occasionally come in. When they do, I need to remember BRFWA, feel my feelings, and then dance into the next moment.
Lastly, one of the biggest joy boosts I know is Let Your Yoga Dance! I could happily teach classes – or take classes – with Let Your Yoga Dance instructors around the world. Dancing yoga and Positive Psychology are major celebrations of life and healing.
I hope these Ways of Finding Grace within Grief words have been helpful and useful.
Our Let Your Yoga Dance practice is all about living in, healing through, and expanding joy. Our teachers span the globe. A number of instructors have been trained in the Certification in Positive Psychology through the WholeBeing Institute. A perfect wedding!
In heartfelt gratitude to Amy for inviting me to share the practice of Let Your Yoga Dance.
Many blessings on your path.