Eyes flutter open and I am immediately flooded with anxiety. My body creaks at the initiation of every single movement. I don’t wake up this way every morning. But the last five days feels like forever. It was almost a week ago that I threw my back out. Since then it seems that every other muscle and bone in my body has jumped in to compensate for the disruption in my spine. My entire being is out of sorts. Even my mind feels knotted and edgy. I try to reel it in and breathe myself out of bed.
I’m overwhelmed. No exercise for a week. Driving to my chiropractor, a two-hour round trip, which certainly seems counterproductive but is also my only relief. Other than that, I have shut myself into my apartment, lying flat and breathing the stale air of these 100 year-old vents.
Honestly. What I would absolutely love right now is…
To be an old white beloved cotton t-shirt. You know the one we can’t live without? Soft. Worn. The one that looks perfect under a blazer with jeans or over workout gear. The one that feels just as delicious as a pajama top. A warm hug.
You might think the muscle relaxers have made me loopy. But really…
I wish I were that treasured piece of fabric that I could wash in the delicate cycle using warm sudsy water and then hang out to dry on a line in the direct rays of sunshine, each passing breeze moving me gently.
The delicate wash cycle would tumble out the old mess of me. Gently. The process of soapy warm water would pull from my fibers every particle of stale debris; old stories and regrets. The agitation would release from my weave stiff pieces of my detritus. As I spin I could let go of ALL of it. It would flow into the pipes of my building, then under the city, running for miles in the underground maze until ultimately ending in the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps even meeting up with Nemo.
I would then be hung outside in the warmth of the sun. All of my muscles relaxed. As I dried I would begin to knit back together into my perfectly aligned form. Each kiss of the wind breathing space into the fibers of my fabric. Clearing room for new ideas and possibilities.
I sooooo want to be a t-shirt clipped onto a white rope. Upside down. Inside out. Hanging in the heat of sunshine by two beautiful wooden clothes hangers, each with a tiny silver spring tethering me, just so.
Yeah. This is what I want to be today.
I wonder (in my semi sedated state) what would a human practice of a delicate wash and line dry look like? Is there some way we could achieve a wringing out of our mind and body so that we could enter life in a clean, breezy state?
Well. Now that you mention it, there is! It is called BRFWA. I agree. It’s not sexy at all but let’s explore it a bit further. Together. Because trust me, I am as tight as a tangled yo-yo right now.
The BRFWA process was introduced to me at Kripalu, the Center for Yoga and Health. During a class on Mindfulness I learned that the bird of mindfulness has two wings and both are necessary in order for us to fly into the blissed-out state achieved by our recently washed white t-shirt.
The way it was described to me was that the left wing is the wing of intelligence, awareness and wisdom. The skills accessed when we are understanding what is happening in this moment.
The right wing is the wing of kindness and compassion and are the skills that allow us to embrace, be okay with, what is actually happening.
Can we continue with our yummy white cotton t-shirt analogy? The first three steps of BRFWA refer to our left wing and would occur in our delicate wash cycle. BRF (Okay, I realize that BRF seems like an acronym for barf, but really, we will be all clean in a moment. Stay with me people!)
Breath Relax Feel
Breath – Did you know it takes just 3 minutes to deregulate our system? To go from fight/flight to okay. Breathing, when done intentionally is like giving your brain, body, and organs, a warm relaxing bath. It ignites the parasympathetic nervous system which is like an announcement to your very being that all is right with the world. Inhaling all the way into your belly, actually feeling the belly extend and then fully exhaling, contracting the belly against the spine, allows us to release the old stale thoughts, the old stories that spin around in our head and live in our very fibers. When we fully breathe in and breathe out we can rinse the tough stains of our life, and begin to let them go.
Guided Exercise: Hold one arm in front of you and raise just your pointer finger. Your hand should be on the same plane as your face. Imagine your pointer finger is a birthday candle and your goal is to blow it out. I know it feels a little far away but that is the point. Take a deep inhale. (Make sure you are inhaling all the way into your belly, not just from your chest.) On the exhale, purse your lips like you are blowing through a straw and direct your breath to extinguish your candle. Exhale fully, until your belly button pulls against your spine. Do you feel the breath on your finger? Try this again. Repeat two more times.
That was about 3 minutes. Notice anything?
Relax – I’m sure it will not come as a shock that we are tense humans. We scrunch our bodies over our devices. We sit for ridiculously long hours. We exercise to strengthen our bodies but rarely do we stretch to relax them. We grip.
Guided Exercise: Take a nice deep inhale and tense all the muscles in your hands, arms and shoulders. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze and then exhale and release all of it. Take a nice deep inhale and tense all the muscles in your feet, legs, buttocks. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze and then exhale and release all of it. Take another breath in and squeeze all your organs, your stomach muscles. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze and then exhale and release all of it. And lastly squeeze all of your facial muscles. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze and then exhale and release all of it. Now, inhale your arms up to the sky, reach up, stretch. And as you exhale shake your hands out as you lower your arms back to your sides.
Notice anything? Try it again if it felt nice.
Feel – We are taught in this uptight world of ours that the only valid feelings are the positive ones and we only deserve joy, happiness and success. How about negative feelings? Actually, we deserve those too. They are the ones that help us learn and evolve. But, noooooo. We have a prescription to avoid these. If not a medical prescription, we have full access to all kinds of numbing potions. Alcohol, marijuana, food, exercise, blame, shame. Pick your poison of avoidance. However, to live we must feel fully the whole array; positive and negative. Stuffing our negative feelings do not make them go away. They have their own energy and actually turn up in our emotions. Emotions are feelings in motion. These pent-up emotions seep into our words and actions. (Maybe even just the action of more numbing.)
Guided Exercise: Take a moment and think about all the different emotions you have had over the last few days, weeks or month. Let these feelings swirl around. Name them silently or if you prefer name them aloud. Just let them flow. Now settle on the one that resonates with you. Name it. Say it out loud and repeat it to yourself. I feel ___________. Just be with it. It is ok if you smile, or cry. Notice if your heart is beating faster as you relive the moment that got you there. Say it again. I feel ____________. Then expand on it. I feel ______________ because __________________.
You see when we are able to name a feeling, it takes the charge away.
Here is my example.
I feel angry.
I feel angry because my body is not working the way I want it to.
Right then, I actually felt a wave of compassion for my back and a wave of guilt at how much I take advantage of the fact that it works perfectly 90% of the time as it carries me through life. I notice that my anger has shifted.
Can you detect the difference in naming and sitting with feeling?
When we intentionally breathe, and allow our body to relax and feel, we invite our intelligence, wisdom and awareness to help us understand what is happening in our body in this very moment. Flapping the left wing of our mindfulness bird.
We also just finished a load of laundry and it is time to hang our shirt out to dry.
The last two steps of BRFWA are the motion of our right wing extending kindness and compassion to just be with what is happening in and around us. WA, think cozy cotton t-shirt hanging out in nature, clean and free of all the stains of the past. The breeze able to flow through it, like a screen.
Watch/Witness – With a relaxed body, we now have space that enables us to observe what is happening on the inside and on the outside. The space allows us to respond with kindness and compassion.
Guided Exercise: Sit tall. Let your eyes settle on a spot about four feet away. Breathe. Start to notice the sound of your breath. Do your nostrils whistle? Can you hear the sigh of your exhale? Now begin to notice the sounds in the room you are sitting in. Is there a humming of an appliance? The pinging of your computer announcing the arrival of an email? Let’s expand our boundary and welcome the sounds from outside of the room. Is the tv on in the distance? Can you hear cars or sirens from the street outside? Just take in all the sounds around you. Notice.
Now. Take a generous inhale and as you exhale come back only to the sound of your breath. Close your eyes and just be with this singular sound for a moment.
When we focus our attention on just one sense at a time it calms our mind. Doing this same exercise as a mindful eating practice is rewarding. (Food actually tastes better.) Once this muscle is strengthened it is easier to watch and be a witness to what is going on in our lives. A reminder that we have all that we need in this moment. (Added bonus see Sitting Strong in Your Mountain meditation.)
Allow/Accept/Appreciate – Through all of the practices above we have introduced a little air and space between whatever is happening in and around us. Making it a bit easier to allow, accept and appreciate whatever is.
Guided Exercise: Choose one of the following writing prompts and set your timer for 10 minutes and just write.
- Who are the connections in my life that nourish and support who I am?
- What makes me smile?
- As I look back on my journey, how far have I come?
- What lessons have I learned from my darkest moments?
- What am I grateful for?
Every single action requires a reaction. Allow yourself the time to let go of the old, find ways to relax your bodies and be honest with your feelings. Take a moment to breathe clarity and space into the places you have opened.
Then watch how differently you relate to yourself and the world around you. We are always morphing, always changing. Through it all we are perfect whole and complete just as we are. To get to this place we just need to treat ourselves like we treat our beloved white cotton t-shirt.
Is it time to do some laundry?
p.s. Would a little music help? Check out the following songs for each cycle. For a more complete playlist you are welcome to follow my T-Shirt playlist on Spodify. Search for graceisgenius.
Bowl of Light by Trevor Hall https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uNQAig_RIc
Catch & Release by Matt Simons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mr1sqe_eZq4
All Done- Celebrate!
Good To Be Alive by Andy Grammer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDu93pdyBDE