Silent Sundays: See No, Hear No, Speak No… Spiritual Discipline, or Head in the Sand?

My mother has an ottoman whose cushion can be removed to reveal a box for storage. Under the cushion is a thin plank of wood, so that the cushion remains stable should anyone sit on the ottoman. A couple of weeks ago, unbeknownst to any of us, the plank had been left off; nonetheless, the cushion rested atop the piece. My sister lowered herself to sit on the cushion… and promptly fell completely into the box. Her legs from knees down dangled over one end; her armpits hooked over the sides; and at the far end, her stunned face emerged from the depths of the box.

My mother immediately erupted into uproarious laughter. Me? I clamped my eyes shut, and my hands flew to cover my face. I still do not know why I did that: I am not one to avoid sudden shock; in fact, I seem to be more calm in the face of emergencies than in the face of daily disturbances.

But the incident and my reaction stuck with me, and I found myself thinking back to a small, bronze figurine that my brother, sister, and I had given to our parents when we were young. The Three Monkeys in the statuette portrayed the proverbial, “See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil.” Part of the fun of the gift was trying to decide which of us kids were associated with which Monkey. As with most aspects of character, we each probably embodied all of the three options at various times in our lives.

It should be noted that any small amount of research with regard to the Monkeys reveals their approximate 17th-century origin. (Most sources point to Japan, while some point to earlier China.) I find it especially interesting that while Buddhist interpretation upholds the Monkeys as outstanding models of spiritual awareness and restraint, later Western versions deem the Monkeys as cowards who are not willing to face life challenges or their own shortcomings.

With regard to this differing perspective, I align with the Buddhist explanation: I view the Monkeys as allegorical humans, striving to do their best when confronted with difficult or upsetting experiences. These Monkeys want to take the high road: They aim to offset any impulse toward narrow vision; preconceived notions; or bitter refrain.

If, however, one feels more connected to the idea that these Monkeys are distancing themselves from what is happening, the “proverb” becomes a cautionary tale. What happens when one buys into the illusion, rather than facing a situation in the moment? What becomes of Monkeys or humans when we consciously shut off some part of our ability to discern? 

Today’s Silent Sunday practice offers a way to open and balance the organs of sight, hearing, and speech, and thus their metaphorical partners of discernment and response. Then, the session concludes with an unusual mudra, one that works in two ways: Either it acts as a shielding force from overwhelming energies; or, it connects one to the Universal Consciousness, wherein we can face our challenges with a sense of divine presence. How you choose to work with the mudra carries no judgement; rather, it may help you to understand your current needs, and provide a means to honor that reality.

To begin, I suggest that you wash your hands thoroughly, perhaps with a cleanser or herbal elixir that is particularly pleasant-smelling. To enhance your experience, you also might draw from the Islamic tradition of gently cleaning (thus clearing) the eyes, ears, and mouth. Think of this ritual as a reverent way to open the portals of divine communication.

Now, in your favorite seated and aligned position, place both hands on your knees, each hand resting on its pinky edge. The following two movements are used in qigong to stimulate and clear vision and hearing, respectively. In the first part, the eyes begin closed; each hand forms a sideways U, as if holding half a sandwich. Inhale as you sharply move the hands up in front of the eyes: As the hands come to eye level, the eyes open and quickly peak through the “sandwich” opening of the fingers and thumb of each hand. Exhale as you again close the eyes and quickly return the hands to the knees. Continue this rapid inhale up with eyes closed: quick opening and glance of the eyes; and then exhale as eyes close and hands lower quickly, for 2 minutes.

Next, repeat a similar movement toward the ears. The hands, however, begin face down on the knees. Then, they remain relaxed and open as they rise up to “land” a couple of inches away from, but next to the ears. The eyes remain closed, gazing at the Third Eye. So, inhale as you quickly bring the hands up to the ears, palms facing in, with some space between hands and ears; then, just as quickly bring the hands back to the knees as you exhale, palms down. Eyes remain closed, gazing at the Third Eye. Continue for another 2 minutes.

Then, in order to cleanse your tongue and throat, place your hands gently on your throat. One hand covers the other, allowing the hands to find their natural placement; consciously rest the hands with gentleness, so that your Throat Chakra feels comforted and supported. If possible, stick your tongue out and curl it into a “straw.” If you can not make a tube with your tongue, simply stick the tongue tip out between slightly parted lips. Inhale deeply through the “straw” or opening; exhale fully through the nose. Continue this version of Sitali Pranayama for 2 minutes.

Now, release the hands from the throat, and breathe normally, yet consciously for a few breaths. Then, with eyes closed, bring your hands to cover the entire face: Spread the fingers wide, open the palms fully, and aim to create a covering “net” from top to bottom, side to side of your face. The mantra that accompanies this protective or connective mudra is: Humee Hum Brahm Hum. Essentially, the syllables connote: We All are One with the Divine, as We All are One with Universal Consciousness.

With eyes closed and hands stretching to cover the face, inhale completely: Suspend the breath as you silently and quickly chant the mantra. Your closed-eye movements will direct the chant: Turn your closed eyes down a bit, as if to look at the nose. Then quickly dart the eyes to look at the left ear, then the right; then the left; and again the right ear. As you flit the eyes left-right-left-right, chant: Humee (left), Hum (right), Brahm (left), Hum (right); repeat two more times, for a total of 12 eye movements, and 3 mantra recitations.

Now, exhale slowly and steadily, and keep the breath out. Softly direct the gaze upward to the Third Eye. Silently and fairly rapidly chant the mantra another three times. Then, inhale to begin the entire sequence again: Suspended inhale with 3 rounds of eye moves and mantra; followed by retained exhale with Third Eye gaze and 3 mantra chants. Repeat the sequence a third time to complete the meditation.

Before you enter Svasana, sit upright, allowing your eyes to rest gently under the closed lids. If you like, you may open your eyes, roll them in circles, or move the head in any direction, allowing your open eyes to readjust and relax. When you are ready, ease into Svasana, eyes softly closed, and rest for a few minutes.

Happy Sunday… 

Silent Sundays: 3-Part Stretch and Pranayama Practice to Breathe with Ease

It’s here—the season of cold and colds, furnace heat and flus. This time of year also heralds the holiday season, which carries its own special brand of expectation, tension, and overstimulation. Be they physical or mental, the stressors of wintertime have one thing in common: They can produce shortened or hindered breath. Just when you need the inherent energy and calming quality of full, steady breathing, it retreats.

Today’s Silent Sunday practice provides an antidote to this seasonal challenge. The 3-part series focuses on relaxing the belly, freeing the rib cage, and opening the chest: Each area is partnered with a specific breathing technique. With the resulting ease in body and breath comes a sense of release from from whatever physical or psychological constraints may have been limiting you.

Special note: If you are ill with a cold or flu, body aches and/or fatigue may dissuade you from the active quality of this routine. That is okay: Instead, coddle yourself with a eucalyptus steam bath. Fill a large bowl with boiling water and a few drops of essential oil; with your face near the bowl, cover your head and the basin with a towel, and breathe. After a few minutes, your breath may flow more easily. Then, if you feel up to it, gently practice one or all of the parts of the series. Or, simply have a large glass of water and resume rest.

The warmup for this series is easy, yet it needs full effort to be effective. Standing, begin to vibrate and shake your entire body. Be sure to shake each leg and foot; each arm and hand; the hips, the shoulders, the head, and the torso. Move consciously and powerfully; the idea is to stimulate circulation, release muscle tension, and reset the nervous system. Shake vigorously for 1 minute.

Then, still standing, find a wall with enough clear space to accommodate the length of your arm. Place the pinky edge of the right arm on the wall at shoulder height; the palm faces up, not against the wall. Then, with the arm in full contact of the wall, slowly turn your body away from the wall; this will create an intense stretch through the pectoral muscles, and along the inside of the arm. Gently turn your head away from the wall, looking over the left shoulder. Breathe here for 8 deep, full breaths. Slowly release the stretch, and repeat to the other side.

When you have finished the chest-opening stretch, stand in Mountain Pose, arms by your sides, and eyes closed. Take your mind’s eye to the soles of your feet: Inhale slowly through the nose, using one full breath in to draw the earth’s energy in through the feet, up the inner legs, up the center line of the body and face, and onto the crown. As you exhale through the nose in one long, deep breath, envision the breath traveling down the back of the head, the spine, the backs of the legs, and out and away from the heels. Continue this breath visualization for 3 minutes.

Next, sit on the floor. Bring the right foot in toward the groin, allowing the bent right knee to rest on the ground. Bend the left leg, so that the left foot lies next to the left hip on the ground. (Feel free to use whatever props you need to sit upright, and to let the bent knees rest comfortably on the floor.) Now, slowly lean to the left, keeping the knees and hips on the ground. Use your left hand for support; the right arm rests agains the body. Breathe deeply as you settle into this deep opening for the waist and intercostal regions of the ribcage. 

Remain here for a full minute, then gently come upright. Extend the legs straight out in front of you, again using any props to help you sit comfortably. With your left thumb, close the left nostril. Breathe in and out through the right nostril for 12 full breaths.

Now, repeat the stretch on the other side: The left foot snuggles into the groin, and the right foot lies next to the right hip. Lean to the right, beginning to open the left side body. After 1 minute, rise up. With the legs straight out in front, close the right nostril with the right thumb. Complete 12 full rounds of left-nostril breathing.

Finally, sit on your heels as if preparing to enter Baby Pose. Widen your knees as much as possible, so that you can bring your torso down to rest between the legs: This is Wide-Leg Baby Pose, which allows the abdomen to relax. Place your head on the floor or a block, and let the arms rest on the floor by your legs. Then, place the back of one hand on your lower back; the other hand rests palm up in the palm of the first hand. Allow your elbows to drip and drape down toward the floor.

In this deep, expanded version of Baby Pose, breathe in steadily and completely through the nose; exhale through the mouth, allowing yourself to make any sighing, groaning, or guttural sound that comes naturally. Continue to breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth with sound for 3 minutes. Your sounding may change with each breath; you may find that sometimes you naturally extend the tongue, or purse the lips upon exhale. Toward the end of the 3 minutes, you may emit only a soft sigh, or perhaps a barely discernible whisper of breath.

When you are ready, slowly bring your knees together as you roll up out of Baby Pose. Help yourself to lie down onto your back for several minutes of svasana, allowing the breath to find its own relaxed rhythm.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Whew, Shh, and Ahh…

After last month’s roller coaster of challenging circumstances and emotional upheavals, this Silent Sunday seems an opportune time to contemplate what I could have been done or regarded differently. Such a task requires a rededication to faith in self and others. In the past few weeks, I repeatedly heard myself pronounce my determination to stay steady and positive; then, upon the next breath, the same voice—mine—would bemoan the situation, or wonder how things had come to the point they had.

This Job-like response to trial and tribulation forced me to consciously re-route my thought process: With the first sighting of a negativity pothole, I began to pump the brakes on my train of thought. I also had to lighten up on self-chastisement. While simmering in guilt at first may have seemed like a sort of deserved punishment, it served only to entrench me more deeply into a vat of negative energy.

Every single time that one experiences a derailment of spiritual faith or earthly trust, the possible outcomes are two: further disconnection, despondency, or anger; or,  restorative contemplation, revitalized awareness, and renewed commitment to accept and perhaps even rejoice in the gifts revealed through challenge.

With the decision to abide the latter comes an immediate release of burden: Self-berating disguised as guilt (as opposed to remorse of wrongdoing) has no place in mature spirituality. Relief begins to usher in Peace. The mind quiets and the physical body relaxes: Whew, Shh, Ahh….

The following mudra practice may be used if you feel yourself slipping into a habit of negativity; or, if you feel that you have re-established your spiritual center, the meditation will help to keep you on the right path. After you have done whatever warmup movements allow you to sit comfortably for several minutes, come into a crossed-leg position; mentally note which leg is in front of the crossing. 

Then, place the left hand on the Heart center, fingers pointing up toward the head. Extend the right arm straight out in front of you, and then up 60 degrees; keep the fingers together, and bend the wrist back slightly. Gaze up at the back center of the hand; sense the point on the center of the palm, wherein lies a portal for Universal vibration to enter the Heart center. As you breathe and focus on the hand, perfectly divide your attention: Fifty percent of your awareness aligns with the feeling of your left hand’s palm center resting on your chest.

As you focus precisely and simultaneously on two separate points, you begin to challenge and recharge your spiritual devotion. Breathe fully and steadily; continue for 3- 5 minutes.

Before you form the next mudra, switch the cross of your legs. Then, bring your hands into a classic gesture to ensure pureness of Heart: Lotus Mudra. The bases of the hands come together, and the edges of the pinkies connect, as do the sides of the thumbs. Open and spread the other fingers, thus creating the Lotus blossom. Bring the mudra just in front of the Heart center, yet not touching the body. Close your eyes; relax the tongue, jaw, and forehead; and turn your inner gaze up to the Third Eye. Having called upon needed assistance from the Universe with the first mudra, you now consolidate and integrate the energy of Love and Protection with Lotus Mudra. Continue for 3-11 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Take a Load Off

Consider the following routine to be your quick-fix for a variety of situations: when you need to shed physical or mental tensions; when you want to nurture your body, but do not feel motivated for an energetic workout; when seasonal blues begin to infiltrate; or when you need to decompress from any type of overstimulation. This practice offers the benefit of inversions, yet the positions are more subtle and accessible. Within 20-30 minutes, you will challenge and then steady the nervous system; further, you will release pressure and tension from the areas of the body that bear the brunt of daily burdens.

Although most of the practices that I offer do not necessitate props or bolsters (they are always optional), today’s routine requires their use for the purpose of gentle inversion. So, gather a yoga block, thick book, firm pillow, or rolled blanket for support; then, come onto your back. Lift your hips slightly, so that you can place your chosen prop under the sacrum (flat bone at the base of the spine). Then, lift your legs to 90 degrees, or perpendicular to the floor. In order to find the proper position, move your legs a bit, forward and back: You want the spot where your lower abdominals engage, but your low back is steady, with the torso relaxed.

Let your arms rest naturally by your sides, and close your eyes. Flex your feet: Press firmly upward through the heels. Feel the slight abdominal engagement, while noting that the bolster has freed and eased your low back. This mini-inversion also places the heart ever-so-slightly about the head: This is a challenge for the body and mind; however, the result is a release of physical and mental pressure. Remain in the posture, breathing deeply, for 2-3 minutes.

In the same position, begin to activate your feet and joints. With your foot flexed, curl the toes tightly as you inhale and bend the knees a bit; as you exhale, lengthen through the knees and point the feet by first pressing through the balls, and then spreading the toes wide. Continue to flex, curl, bend, and inhale; and lengthen, point, spread, and exhale for 1 minute.

Still on your back, slightly inverted by the block or blanket, lower your legs about 30 degrees (i.e., they will be 60 degrees above the floor). The feet are relaxed—no hard flex or point—and the legs are parallel to each other. In this position, begin to vibrate the legs; try to let all the flesh and muscles jiggle and bounce as you rapidly shake the legs. The movement is small, but brisk and purposeful: This activity engages the Second and Third chakras, which help to free your mind and embolden your will power, respectively. Continue to vibrate strongly for at least 2 minutes, working your way up to 3 minutes.

Now, draw your knees in toward your body. As you do so, the pelvis will naturally roll up; use this action to slide the prop out from under your body. With the low back now in contact with the floor, and the knees bent, move your arms out to the sides, slightly below shoulder level. The arms will steady you as you begin a slow twist side to side, knees tucked in toward your chest: Inhale in the neutral center position; exhale the knees to the right; inhale center; exhale as you twist and drop the legs to the left. Repeat this slow, focused twist 24 times (12 times to each side).

When you are ready, help yourself to come into a seated position. Take a few deep breaths to help your body reorient to the upright position. Then, begin to shrug your shoulders, quickly and alternately. Inhale the right shoulder up, and exhale down; inhale the left up, exhale down. Bounce back and forth, shoulder to shoulder, at a rapid pace. Continue for 1 minute.

Remaining seated, place your hands on your shoulders, fingers in front, thumbs behind: Be sure to keep the elbows up, so that the upper arms are parallel to the ground. Start to twist your rib cage and shoulder girdle side to side: Inhale as you twist left, exhale to the right. As you twist, the chin follows the shoulder, which will help to release tension in the neck. Keep your eyes closed, and focus on the sound of your breath: Inhale left, exhale right. Continue for 2-3 minutes.

For the next position, you will need your prop again. Stretch out onto your belly: Elevate the hips, so that you can slide the bolster under the front of the pelvic bones; find the spot where your lower spine feels open, and your breath is unhampered. Turn your head to one side as you lie in this reversed, inverted version of svasana. After 1-3 minutes, turn your head to the other side, and continue breathing deeply, eyes closed, for another 1-3 minutes.

Now, lift the hips a bit, so that you can remove the bolster. Shift your head, so that you are on your chin or forehead. Bend the knees, and reach back to hold the ankles with each hand. This is Gentle Bow: You do not need to lift the upper body, nor do you need to lift the legs into active Bow. Rather, you are encouraging a steady circulation of energy, while subtly releasing the shoulders and hip flexors. Stay here and breathe for 2 minutes. 

Now, release the Bow, and slowly press yourself back into Baby Pose; if you like, you may place your forehead on the prop. Or, simply allow your head to relax on the ground. Let the arms lie quietly by your legs on the floor. Again, breathe fully and steadily for 1-3 minutes.

Finally, help yourself into your favorite seated posture. Place your hands in your lap: The back of the left hand rests in the palm of the right; thumb tips touch each other. With your eyes closed and gazing upward to the Third Eye, begin alternate nose/mouth breathing: Inhale through the nose; exhale through open, softly rounded lips; inhale through the open mouth; exhale through the nose. Then, repeat the pattern, starting with a nose breath in, and continue for 3 minutes.

When you have finished, you may move into a traditional svasana for a few minutes. Or, thoroughly “unloaded,” you may be ready for the rest of your day… or for a good night’s sleep.

Silent Sundays: Restore Rootedness When Upended by “Compassion Fatigue”

In yesterday’s piece, I discussed how a visit to YouTube helped me to uncover some sorely needed perspective.

As the discussions of how best to care for our aging mother droned on and on, I realized that I was becoming less gentle, less open, and less empathetic. Instead, I began to swing back and forth between resentment and fear, between oversensitivity and dissociation. As the video from yesterday’s post articulated, these feelings are commonplace for most who are consumed by elder care.

While the term “compassion fatigue” forms the basis of the speaker’s exposition, what resonated with me was the sense of being pulled away from one’s equanimous set-point of thought and behavior. And the off-centeredness is not horizontal; rather, there seems to be a vertical plummet, a feeling of being buried beneath the burdens. Today’s practice unearths one from this emotional interment, and instead establishes a strong root system that allows for growth amidst harsh conditions.

To prepare, begin with a “rolling” Cat/Cow: This variation not only awakens and frees the spine and surrounding muscles, it opens the hips and side body while honing in on one’s inner rhythms. On all fours, begin the traditional spinal flex movement: Inhale to deeply arch the spine, lifting the chest and tail; exhale to round fully, dropping the head and tucking the pelvis. Complete 6-10 rounds of this.

Then, begin to circle the entire package, moving forward and then to the right, and then back toward the heels, and to the left; circle and shift forward and back as the spinal flexes continue. Continue moving clockwise for 1 minute, then reverse directions for another minute. Inhale as you circle forward on the hands and knees; exhale as you shift and circle around into the back space.

Now, come onto your belly, as if setting up for Sphinx Pose: upper body lifted, propped on the forearms; belly and legs on the ground. The following movement immerses you in the sensation of “dead weight”: As you tune in to the physical sense of burden and helplessness, your mind begins to elevate and expand, ever-searching for a solution to the feeling. In the Sphinx position, begin to drag yourself along the floor. (Ideally, the floor is bare, as carpet will require unusual effort.) Discover how your muscles adapt to the need to move in this new way; as they do so, the mind follows suit, freeing you from previous constraints of thought and action.

Slither along the ground for 3 minutes. Then, pull back into Baby Pose for a brief rest. When you are ready, come onto hands and knees, then straighten the legs as if to hang in Standing Forward Bend. Hold the ankles, and begin to Elephant Walk around your practice space. If you can not hold the ankles and move, place the hands on the floor; as the right foot moves, the left hand “walks forward,” and vice versa. Continue this walking for another 3 minutes. 

Special note: I find a meditative quality in this movement when I walk in a Figure 8. If some pattern appeals to your kinesthetic intuition, feel free to do it in your own way.

Now, come into a seated pose on the floor. Ideally, you will sit on or between your heels (Rock or Celibate pose, respectively). If this is not comfortable for you, find the most supported position that allows your spine to soar in an aligned manner. 

In this posture, bring the right hand about 6 inches above the crown of your head: The space between head and hand is “right” when you feel an energetic vibration—open and connected at the same time. The left palm lies on the Heart center, fingers together and pointing to the right. With your closed eyes gazing at the Third Eye, begin long, deep breaths, in and out through the nose. This mudra draws the blessing of the Universe into your Heart energy, helping to free you from negativity toward self and others. As you sit, tall and strong, the heightened sense from the mudra aligns with your rootedness: You are steady and ready for whatever comes your way.

Happy Sunday…

Down a Rabbit Hole, Only to Discover Hidden Treasure…

Well, it happened: In my desperation to oust negativity and to rediscover centeredness, I waded into YouTube for answers. 

Some background: I have previously articulated my feelings and challenges with regard to aging, and to caring for an elderly parent. I have openly discussed options and opinions with family and friends; I have even found temporary solace in recognizing that my angst under the circumstances is shared by more people than I could have imagined.

And yet, I felt unable to console myself, and instead opted for self-flagellation with every less-than-generous thought. I have rallied in the name of wellness, creating self-care practices designed to address the trials. I have not, however, been able to make anything “stick”: The dull throb of resentment continues to percolate steadily, never allowing for complete respite.

A “tough phase,” I would say: I’ll come out of it; nothing lasts forever; “rise above,” etc. And supportive loved ones have shared their feelings, often mirroring my own. Yet, I have continued to expect more from myself than I ever would of others. The empathy and encouragement I offer them without a second thought is hard won for myself; the lofty standards I have set for my intellect, for my compassion, and for my spiritual evolution are, ironically, bringing me down. 

And, oh, what a difference between “down” and “grounded”: It is the difference between being buried, and being rooted. When buried, one suffocates; when rooted, there is the promise of growth. To remain grounded amidst the external fray and inner battles requires self-monitoring and the vow to release oneself from self-judgment. So, if self-investigation uncovers discomfiting or distasteful thoughts or attitudes, the challenge then becomes to allow them: “That which we resist, persists” (with thanks to Carl Jung).

As I write these words, I recognize that I have felt all of these feelings before; possibly, I have come to the same rational and feisty conclusion of self-awareness and self-love. And, in all probability, I realized that I would have to fight the same fight, again and again. For now, that seems right: The task, then, is to accept the ongoingness of it all, rather than expect it all to go away with prayer, with practice, with patience.

Instead, I call upon spiritual engagement to keep me grounded: When down, I aim to find the root, rather than succumb to burial-by-burden. And through it all, I will continue to search for help in whatever form it may arrive. Below, I share a link to the talk that inspired this writing.

And tomorrow, Silent Sundays brings a new practice, one that plants the root…

Being Single Requires Strength and Commitment… to Authenticity and Perspective

Preface: As my siblings and I continue to mull “what to do with Mom,” a discouraging refrain has begun to sound. Apparently, because I live alone and have an unorthodox work schedule, others tend to “volunteer” me as the most likely candidate to live with my mother. That is not feasible, primarily from an emotional standpoint: My mom and I are deeply, spiritually connected, but our earthly ways clash more often than not. What follows is what I hope can serve as an inroad to understanding: I know that my family is not alone in the decisions surrounding this stage of life.

Between the ages of 18 and 40, I was consistently coupled: Three longterm relationships occupied those decades—one of 5 years, one of nearly 6, and one of almost 10. The last and longest was, ironically, with a man 10 years younger than me. The first (and, truthfully, still mourned) was with my college-and-slightly-beyond boyfriend; and the middle situation was deflating… and inarguably harmful to my physical and mental health.

So, as I entered my 40s, I found that I had very little steam left for opening and sharing my heart. I tried: speed dating; fix-ups; friends who perhaps could be more; co-workers; fellow students, etc. Of those, I allowed two men a glimpse of my vulnerabilities and desires: One turned out to be simultaneously involved with someone else; the other eventually revealed his less-than-serious intentions.

Yet, during this time, I had gone to massage school, opened a burgeoning practice, and soon thereafter began graduate school. Unfortunately, one week after I returned to school, my father became seriously ill; nine months later he was dead. School became a welcome focus, and I fared well; upon graduation, I earned the rarely given highest honor for academic achievement and promise.

Three months later, I began a Ph.D. program—something that I had, throughout my Master’s work, clearly stated was not part of my plan. And although I worked hard and well for my Master’s, it meant that I never fully grieved my dad’s passing. Six weeks into the doctorate program, I broke down, left school, and never returned. I was lost, scared, and disconnected.

After a couple of years of part-time work in various fields, I regained enough confidence and perspective to once again establish a massage business. That went well for a few years, until a hand injury forced me to step back. Once again, I was unmoored, but not entirely daunted. Within that same year, I began to acquire a number of petsitting clients, and a new business was born.

I recount this CV narrative, in order to demonstrate that a single woman’s life is not empty: On the contrary, we have more time to explore and undertake a wide range of pursuits. Our schedules may not match those of traditional families, but they are nonetheless occupied and active.

My experience with those who live within a more traditional framework—married, kids, 40-hour work weeks—is a disappointing one. At times, the disappointment gives way to resentment, if not outright anger. Through their eyes, I live a free-wheeling life, unencumbered by others’ needs: In their minds, should I not then be available to help them?

My response to that is that most of my adult life has been in the teaching and helping professions. My students and clients receive my expertise, my loyalty, and my compassion. We grow to respect each other mutually: Our lifestyles are not a factor in that equation.

When I am able to achieve objectivity with regard to others’ judgment surrounding my single status, I recognize that they are swamped: They may well wish that they had more time for their own dreams and goals, with less time spent carpooling or compromising. I thoroughly understand how that may be enervating.

While my singleness was not a choice initially, it has become one. After more than 10 years of purposely passing on looking for a mate, I no longer want one. I now can say that I choose singlehood.

And most who are married with kids and 9-5 jobs chose that route. As in other areas of life, each person has the right to choose. Whatever that framework may be, another aphorism persists: Live and let live. Because I have elected to live alone, cry alone, and rejoice alone does not mean I am friendless, and certainly not anti-social or unproductive. Because the betrothed share households, plans, and cars does not mean they are robots, or dreamless. If we can respect the choices of others, we each will come away with peace and perspective.

Silent Sundays: Create, Store, and Direct Your Energy

Today’s Silent Sunday moves purposely past the moment that you read this. Instead, the following practice focuses on building energy from which to draw in the near future. Think of this energetic stockpile as a neutral vibrational base—unencumbered with thoughts of what happened, what to do, where to turn, how to be. etc. Rather, the energy you cultivate today will be vital and malleable: When you need it—however you need it—its neutrality will allow you to direct it freely and smoothly.

For example, perhaps an occasion will arise in the next few days that causes you to stumble: Your tech device misbehaves, your schedule goes awry, or a festering emotion erupts. Rather than allow your attitude or thoughts to turn negative, you can turn to the preserved energy to address the unexpected circumstance. This Silent Sunday “pre-routine” will clear an inner space to stash the energy you stimulate; then, you will forge your own tool to tap into the vibration when needed.

To begin, stand up to clear your magnetic field.  Move your arms and body through the space around you: As you do so, chant your favorite mantra, or simply sound the syllable, “Hummm,” repeatedly. Flow organically, chant steadily, and visualize that you are clearing the surrounding space of debris and obstacles. When you clear and open the magnetic field, your aura is able to expand: Vital auric energy attracts what you need, even when you are uncertain what that may be. Continue for 2 minutes

Next, come onto the floor, and lie on your back. Straighten both legs into the air, perpendicular to the ground and your torso. With eyes closed, gazing at the Third Eye, and palms down on the floor a few inches away from your sides, begin Breath of Fire. Remember that you may start by panting in and out through the mouth, in rapid, equal breaths. Eventually, close the mouth, and continue the equal, short inhales and exhales through the nose: You should feel your upper belly pulsing as you breathe. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, bend your knees into the chest, and hold your ankles or shins: Begin to rock forward and back on your spine, which will invigorate the entire nervous system and break down any energy blockages in the body. As you gain momentum, deepen your breath, inhaling as you rock back, exhaling to roll up. Use the movement to circulate new, vibrant energy throughout your system.

After about a minute of rolling, settle into an easy seated pose of your choice: However, ensure that the spine is fully upright, and that the head and neck feel aligned and relaxed. With the eyes closed (no particular internal focal point), begin to sense the energy you have created in the first few moves. Notice if an area of the body feels most connected or full of the vibrations. Leave no area, limb, or appendage unscanned: Include the palms, toes, scalp, lips, armpits, backs of knees, etc. You may find that your energy pool sets up in an unexpected spot. Wherever you feel the well of energy, note the location, so that you can use your mind’s eye and intention to extract it later.

To add another layer of power to this energy reserve, place your hands just below the navel. With one palm on the Dan TIen, place the other hand on top of the first. Begin to pump the spot as you chant, “Har.” With each Har, the Dan Tien pulls in; then, it automatically releases out. As you chant Har, the tip of the tongue bats the upper palate, just behind the two front teeth. This combination of mantra, tongue position, and Dan Tien stimulation fires up overall energy: Mentally guide the strength of the activity into the location on your body that you identified earlier.

Now your bounty of neutral, powerful energy is available for your week ahead, come what may. When you find yourself in need, awaken your inner eye and your physical sensation to hone in on the spot that is safe-guarding energy for just such an occasion. When you are in touch with the reserve, form a mudra or invoke a mantra that steadies you. You can never go wrong with Gyan Mudra while chanting Aum: With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, hold the mudra (index finger and thumb tips touching) wherever on or near your body feels right. For grounding, palms face down; to feel uplifted, palms are up. 

You may also instinctively want to assume a posture, or manifest a movement as you tap into your personal energy stash. The more you can tune it to how your energy feels and works in conjunction with your intuition, the more centered and empowered you will be able to feel.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Keeping Up with Mother Nature–Pranayama Practice for Seasonal Transitions

Although Fall is officially upon us, the physical and mental changes that occur with a seasonal shift may need additional time to adjust. Just as the outside environment can not seem to make up its mind what to do, one’s inner environment may struggle to find stability when the weather is uncertain. This Silent Sunday provides a 3-step breath practice that will help to guide your body and mind into a state of equilibrium. The routine is meditative in its own right; however, because precise concentration is needed for the breath work, I suggest that the pranayama act as a lead-in to full meditation.

As always, if you are entering this practice after a night’s sleep or, alternatively, a long day, it is wise to do a few warm-ups before you sit: spinal flexes and twists, plus forward bends (standing or floor) help to stimulate and stabilize the brain and nervous system. When you feel adequately prepared, come into the seated position of your choice.

The first piece of today’s pranayama will oust any sense of restlessness or complacency that may accompany the move from Late Summer into Fall. To heighten the effect of the powerful breath, the arms move rapidly up and down at a 60 degree angle. With the elbows tucked into your sides, palms face in toward the body: As you inhale through the nose, shoot one arm up at 60 degrees, as if slicing through the air; exhale through the nose as you forcefully retract the arm back to its original position. Immediately raise the other arm up upon a strong inhale, then down as you exhale. The pace is strong, rapid, and rhythmic. As the right arm shoots up and down, turn the head to look at the arm; then, turn the head to the left as the left arm moves up and down. Continue for 3 minutes.

Next, shift into Rock Pose, if possible: Sit on your heels, with or without a pillow between your bottom and heels. Rock Pose is hailed for its role as a digestive aid; as this part of the pranayama is designed to release energetic and metabolic waste, Rock Pose enhances the effect. With your hands on your thighs, palms down, inhale deeply and steadily through the nose for a count of 6-8; suspend the inhalation calmly for 10-12 counts; then, stick the tongue out, extending it toward the chin, and exhale quickly and powerfully as you tilt the head back slightly. Continue this inhale; suspension; and Lion’s Breath for 2 minutes.

For the final segment of today’s pranayama practice, you will work with bahya kumbhaka (retained exhale, versus antara kumbhaka, or suspended inhale, as in the previous exercise). If you like, you may shift from Rock Pose to another seated position. Then, interlace your fingers in Venus Lock. Traditional practice says that for women, the left thumb will cross over the right; for men, the opposite crossing occurs. Regardless, place the alternately intertwined fingers of Venus Lock in your lap, palms facing up.

The breath is as follows: Inhale through the nose for 6-8 counts at your personal pace; exhale through the nose for the same amount of time, and then keep the breath out, or “empty,” for 12 counts. This retained exhale creates a vacuum inside the body. The feeling may be off-putting at first; however, keep your closed eyes gazing toward the nose or chin. Along with the sensation of the mudra in your lap, the inner, downward gaze will help to calm whatever nerves rise up to rebel against the cessation of breath. Eventually, your system will accept and ease into the deeply pacifying effect of the pranayama. Continue for 3 minutes.

When you are ready, take a few normal, yet full and steady breaths in and out with no count attached. As you help your body return to its natural breathing rhythm, you may continue on with another meditation; or, if your practice feels complete, lie on your back for another few minutes of svasana.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: See Your Way Clear–Warm-ups and Mudra for Third Eye Acuity

Several years ago, my best friend and I began what is now a cherished tradition: Every New Year’s Eve day, we meet for an early, relaxed lunch at our “regular” spot. Eschewing the pressure of resolutions, we instead toast to a certain quality or perspective that we hope for each other in the coming year. At the outset of 2019, I toasted to “getting out of my own way.” 

So often, we become attached to goals and plans, forgetting to allow for what may be more prudent—or predestined—in the larger picture of Life. To get out of your own way means to align with that which the Universe intends for you; it means that your earthly vision must cede to the clarity provided through the Spiritual, or Third Eye.

Because this Sixth Chakra point that lies between the brows at the top of the nose is responsible for insight and intuition, activating the Third Eye helps you to move past your ego, past your plans and desires. The Third Eye must be open and charged, in order to sense that which is misguided, and that which is meant to be.

The Third Eye connects directly to the pituitary gland in the brain. Thus, to stimulate intuitive energy, we work with the head and neck; first, however, one needs to awaken, harness, and move energy from the lower chakras to the upper chakras. The following warm-ups charge the entire system, and channel the wealth of each chakra into the Third Eye.

Begin simply, coming onto all fours for several rounds of a Cat/Cow variation. In this version of the classic spinal flex exercise, move incrementally, starting with pelvic isolation rocks. Inhale to tip the front of the pelvis forward and down; exhale to roll it back and down. Continue with this gentle rocking of the pelvis for 1 minute.

Then, begin to include the mid-spine in the flexion: Again, inhale to arch and tip the tailbone up; exhale to round the spine and tuck the tail. For this and the previous solo pelvic movement, the head remains still and in line with the neck. Continue to open more of the spine, moving the flexion and rounding into the thoracic spine (between the shoulder blades), as well, for another minute.

Now, move into traditional Cat/Cow. As you inhale, the pelvis tips forward, the spine arches deeply, and the neck and head tip back. This full movement stimulates the entire chakra system; as you exhale, allow the head and neck to release and hang toward the ground, as you round the spine and tuck the pelvis under. Keep your eyes closed as you move, focusing intently on the Third Eye. This mental focus acts as a magnet to attract the awakened energy into the pituitary gland. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, shift forward onto your belly. Place your forehead on the floor, and then meticulously connect the Third Eye point to the ground. Depending on the shape of your nose, you may have to wriggle a bit to find a way to breathe deeply and keep the Third Eye in contact with the floor. Again, with closed eyes, focus inward and upward between the brow points. Then, interlace your fingers behind your back, and lift and extend the arms straight back and up, as high as your joints will allow.

With your arms lifted up and behind, and your Third Eye stimulated through tactile contact with the ground, begin Breath of Fire. Inhale and exhale rapidly in equal, short breaths through the nose; because you are prone, you will feel the pulsing of the belly more acutely. Keep your closed eyes focused on the Third Eye, and continue Breath of Fire for 1 minute.

When you are ready to release the posture, turn your head to one side on the floor for a few seconds; then, switch sides. Next, rise up onto your forearms, arching the upper spine into Sphinx pose. Keep the head in line with the neck, shoulders down, away from the neck. With eyes closed, turn the head to the left as you inhale; imagine that you can actually see through the Third Eye. Exhale to turn the head to the right; again, bring your attention the Third Eye, as if it is leading the movement through its “sight.” Continue to inhale left, exhale right for 1 minute.

Now, press back into Baby Pose for a brief rest. When you are ready, rise up to come into your preferred sitting position for meditation. On your right hand, create Buddhi Mudra: The thumb tip and pinky tip touch, which will connect to and enliven your intuitive power. Place the back of the hand on the right knee; the other fingers are together, yet relaxed.

Place the center point of the left palm directly on the Third Eye. Again, the placement will depend on your face and hand shape; find a way to connect the palm’s center (a Heart-energy point) to the space between the brow points. Eyes are closed, again focusing intently on the Third Eye. Bring your attention to the flow of your breath; be sure that you complete each inhale and exhale. Continue breathing with the mudras in place for 3-11 minutes.

Special note: If you would like to meditate for 11 minutes or longer with this mudra configuration, your left arm may grow tired at some point. If that happens, lower the left hand, placing the back of the hand on the left knee with Buddhi Mudra, exactly as you have on the right hand. When you feel able to resume the original meditative position, bring the left palm up again to connect to the Third Eye, and continue.

Happy Sunday…