The Kripalu acronym BRFWA is known by many yoga teachers trained in the Kripalu tradition.The words that make up BRFWA – breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow – are often recited by Kripalu yoga teachers as students hold a pose for extended periods. Recalling the words represented by these letters, the yoga teacher asks us to to breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow. As we hold poses BRFWA instructs us to greater body awareness.
When holding a pose such as Tadasana (Mountain) or Warrior I (Virabhadrasana One) for an extended period, we are able to explore sensation. The repetition of the words cued by BRFWA become shorthand. They ask us to explore prana. The encourage us to move to a meditative state.
- Breathe deeply
- Relax and soften the body slightly, moving away from rigidness
- Feel your body, from the inside out
- Watch your mind, your thoughts, your sensations
- Allow and accept what you find
Particular poses bring on different kinds of sensations. The prana to explore in Tadasna (Mountain) is the grounding of energy from the feet up to the crown of the head. The energy aligns as we stand tall, ground in through the feet, lengthen the spine, and pull the shoulders slightly back and slightly down. There is a lot to watch in Tadasana!
For active poses like Virabhadrasana I, we experience prana building up in the body. The front knee bends, the hips sink down, we breath deeply as the arms raise up, the shoulders relax down, the gaze lifts and prana soars. We feel the heat and energy rise as we hold the pose longer. And longer. And longer. We watch as mind begins to wonder at how long the pose will be held!
Breathing deeply we bring heart, lungs and mind into coherence. We relax into the present moment. “It didn’t just happen, and it won’t just happen . . . it IS happening!” We feel and inhabit the whole body as a single source of sensation. Watching with keen observation, we direct focus away from the mind and back into the body. We allow all sensations of pain, pleasure, heat, vibration, energy and prana to realize the whole, complete kosha body.
BRFWA and the Koshas
BRFWA creates a wave form of energy. It mirrors a path similar to self-discovery. The koshas are similar in that they are levels of being human. Something in our life starts the ball rolling, and we shift to a different way of being. The illustration above shows the path of BRFWA. It moves through the Koshas from the physical body (Annamayakosha) to the bliss body (Anandamayakosha).
- Annamaya – physical body
- Pranamaya – energy body
- Manomaya – psycho-emotional body
- Vijnyanamaya – wisdom body
- Anandamaya – bliss body
Breathing is the physiological catalyst. The breath is like a ball of rolling through the physical body (Annamayakosha). Some pranayama practices are to be visualized as a ball of energy, rolling in a circular motion from crown to sacrum. Breathing notifies the autonomic nervous system. The message is clear. It is time to calm down and come into balance.
The breath relaxes our body and our mind. The parasympathetic side of the nervous system begins to balance out the energy body (Pranamayakosha), relaxing our subtle energy. This relaxation removes constriction and tightness and allows prana (our energy currents) to flow in natural waves.
We move through our yoga postures, synchronizing the physical and energy bodies with our breath and relaxation. The emotions begin to mimic this change in the body. This is the psycho-emotional body (Manomayakosha) at work. After all, the body response to a situation is our own complete knowledge that informs all our emotions. Yoga trains us to recognize how fight/flight and rest/digest feel within the body. At the heart of this knowledge is control over our emotions. We are able to discern when emotions are activated as the body intuits a situation.
The wisdom body (Vijnyanamayakosha) is using the body with discriminating skill. The wisdom body is sometimes referred to as the watcher, the witness, the observer. The seer is able to watch, recognize and effect change and outcome. The observer detects what is harmful and guides the body (slash emotion) to a more calm state of mind. The wisdom body is what we use in yoga to change habits and patterns. The wisdom body is in charge of transformation. Yoga postures and pranayama are agents of this change.
And so finally, there is the bliss body (Ananadamayakosha) known as the true self. Allowing the true self to come to the fore takes practice. The calm and still nature of the bliss body is fleeting. It is a moment of recognizing our true nature, that part of us that is always present. The part of ourselves that knows that it is complete. The bliss body uses yoga as a pathway to the true self. Through yoga postures, breathing, and yogic philosophy we come to understand ourselves in a new way. The bliss body teaches that we are a greater part of the greater whole. Like a hologram that is ourselves, every part contains the same information as its entirety.
BRFWA: Breathe – Relax – Feel – Watch – Allow