Silent Sundays: There and Back

“The trouble is you’ve got to get through to him inside yourself; you’ve got to understand him…”

(From May Sarton: Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, 1965).

I decided to put myself There. There, in the mind of someone—anyone—who thinks differently than I do: less rationally, or more accurately, or more open-mindedly, or more narrowly. Perhaps this person was raised in a different culture or country or religion; perhaps this someone is a different gender, color, age, or of a different educational or economic status. Maybe, even, They are family or a close friend.

The thoughts and perspectives of this person are frustratingly opposed to mine. Or, they seem to be: What if, somewhere in all of the dissonance and vitriol and bafflement that our differences elicit, we have something in common? What if, for one brief moment, we determined to freeze our opinions in time and space; what if, from there, we each grabbed the other’s thoughts and considered them our own?

In recent days, especially, but also for almost a year, I have tried to occupy the mind space of people with whom I disagree about a significant social issue. Part of the difficulty is that while at first it may appear that we differ on one topic, that topic is tied in to many others: It does not begin and end with a global health emergency; it does not reside solely within the realm of politics or policy; and it is not only a matter of demographics. Thus, to wrap my head around and burrow into the mind of another has proven challenging.

I have come close. I have paid attention to the emotion or lack thereof associated with those of a different view: The greater the emotional vibration attached to the person’s ideas, the more likely I am to feel my way into their mindset. This is typical of me: I tend to resonate with another’s emotions; empathy is a strong connector for me. There have been times, of course, when I must quickly and definitively erect solid boundaries, in order to safeguard my energy, my heart, my mind. But for the most part, I am more able and willing to pursue a differing opinion when I can detect the emotion behind it.

“Do not be satisfied with drops of wisdom from scanty earthy sources; rather seek wisdom without measure from God’s all-possessing, all bountiful hands” (Paramahansa Yogananda, Para-Grams).

This is in keeping with my usual Way: I am eminently more comfortable with all things Spirit and Heart, than with earthbound qualities and behaviors. The spiritual realm simply is one in which I feel at home. That is not to say that prayer and meditation resolve all earthly conundrums and conflicts, but they offer solace to my Soul and Heart in times of distress.

“As you look upon creation, which appears so solid and real, remember always to think of it as ideas in the mind of God, frozen into physical forms” (Yogananda, SRF Lessons). 

Yet, intellectually and physically, I exist on this planet at this time in eternity. What happens in the world matters to me: What happens to each one of us in the context of earthly life can create vibrational fissures or melds for the whole. Thus, while I am wont to focus on inner peace as an offering to universal peace, I recognize that sometimes one needs to wrangle with the hard-hitting illusions that we call reality.

At some point, rationality kicks in; evidence and experience rise to the fore. Then, I need to softly find my way out of the mind into which I wandered. Those thoughts do not belong in my personal field of perspective and spiritual pursuit.

And that, I believe, is the crux of the current social antagonism about an issue which at first glance would seem to be clear-cut. But even the most rational discussion bears the mark of each participant’s past, present, and assumed future. We bring our emotions, mental processes, and psychological tendencies to the table every time, regardless of intellectual and rhetorical prowess. 

One is arguably most likely to rant at or belittle or dismiss the thoughts of another when those ideas seem to threaten a fundamental sense of security. One may think that the battle is with a virus, but such an enemy to physical health would be the province of science and medicine. Instead, the waged war has become a war of rage. Many seem to feel more threatened by differing opinions than by a deadly virus.

Yet “rage” is based in fear: fear of loss of freedom, of work, of agency, of choice. Most of all, each person with an opinion—regardless of its nature—seems to be shaken by the Other’s inability to understand, much less agree. To realize that the most vehement of beliefs are Truth to the believer may be an inroad. As inconceivable as another’s opinion may be, it may be valuable to enter the struggle to comprehend their perspective. And if such a venture results in thrown-up hands and rolling eyeballs, it may help to remember the base need of the opponent. It is the same for all: to feel heard.

“Might a definition of ‘rest’ be just this, the being understood?” (Sarton, Mermaids)

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Head Help

Yesterday, a friend commented that she had a bit of a headache; in her case, abundant work responsibilities and little sleep may have been the culprits. Having also had a headache upon waking the previous day (most likely from a faulty sleep position), I was reminded that nagging noggins have a variety of causes. Both my friend and I also remarked that weather changes and fluctuating barometric pressures often provoke a heavy or throbbing head. Regardless of cause, even a minor headache distracts and detracts from full participation in daily life.

On this Silent Sunday, I designed a practice to soothe most aches: The modality that alleviates discomfort also will help you determine the cause. For example, if the eye-movement technique is effective, your headache may have been caused by eye strain (screen time, poor lighting, reading fine print, etc.). Comfort from a restorative yoga pose, on the other hand, can indicate that fatigue or even sluggish digestion lies at the root of the headache. When practiced in its entirety, today’s routine will renew vitality while assuaging pain.

Special note: If a headache is a symptom of a known illness, I suggest that one restrict their choice of relief to resting quietly while holding the closing mudra. 

As a precursor to the following practice, have a glass of water. Dehydration is often overlooked as a source of headaches: If that is the case, an 8-ounce dose will help almost immediately. Additionally, you may enjoy anointing yourself with an essential oil blend: Lavender and peppermint are very soothing to a throbbing head. Or, if you suspect nasal congestion as the cause, eucalyptus oil may help.

Begin by lying on the belly. Place one hand on the other, palms down, and rest your forehead on the stack. Shift the left and then right wrist slightly up and down, back and forth, so that the head rolls slightly from side to side: This will begin to release tension and blocked energy in the head and neck. Roll the head gently, breathing deeply through the nose, for as long as you like.

Now, slowly shift yourself up and back into Baby Pose. Instead of resting the head on the floor (which would create a slight inversion, thus not conducive to relieving pressure in the head), bring your elbows in front of the knees. Raise the forearms, and bring the palms together: Tip the hands forward slightly, so that you can rest the Third Eye on the base knuckles of the connected thumbs. Gently massage this center brow point, as well as the forehead and brow line, with the knuckles. Be sure to fully release the weight of the skull onto the hands. Continue for as long as you like.

From Baby Pose, come up to sit in a Wide-Leg Straddle. The legs do not have to be far apart; open them only as far as you can do with ease. Add any bolsters that you need or want, e.g., under the hips or knees. Tip forward as if angling into a Forward Bend; however, go only as far as you are able to rest the hands (or forearms, if flexible) on the ground between the legs without any sense of effort. 

Close the eyes, and breathe deeply. The head may tip forward, and/or the spine may curve slightly. This is a yin posture, so allow the body to find a way to relax in the position. The pose will help to unravel leg tension from sitting, and it also will aid digestion by relaxing the belly: Ironically, imbalance in the lower body can create or exacerbate a headache. Remain here for 3 minutes.

Next, help yourself into your favorite seated position; you may choose to sit in a chair. With eyes softly open, begin to turn the head from left to right; move slowly and with awareness, tracking the movement with the eye gaze. If you have restriction due to muscle tension in the neck, honor your personal range of motion: As this exercise progresses, you likely will find that you are able to move more freely.

After about a minute of looking side to side, pause in the center. Then, turn the head to the left as before, bringing the gaze with the movement. As you turn the head to the right, however, maintain the eye gaze to the left: This may feel difficult and cause temporary strain in the eye muscles; it will dissipate as you continue.

When the head is fully turned to the right, bring the gaze there. Then, keep the eye gaze to the right as you turn the head to the left. At the end of the left-looking turn, bring the eyes all the way to the left. Keep the focus there as you repeat the head turn to the right. When fully turned to the right, bring the eyes to the right. Maintain that gaze as you turn left, and so on. Continue for 2-3 minutes. 

Special note: Due to the high level of concentration demanded by this movement, the breath may shallow or pause. Be sure to maintain deep, steady breathing as you move.

Now, lie down on your back. Bend the knees, and move the feet a bit wider than hip width; let the knees fall inward to rest against each other. (This Restorative Rest position does wonders to relax the lower back.) Reach the hands to slide the fingers under the base of the skull. I tend to use the middle fingers for this technique, but feel free to use whichever fingers operate most naturally. Alternating between left and right, firmly press the fingers into the occipital ridge (base of skull bone): Begin next to the spine on each side, and move outward as you massage back and forth; the head will rock side to side, as in the opening prone version of this move. Continue this tension-tamer for as long as feels good to you.

Finally, with the legs remaining bent or extended long on the floor, create a mudra for headache relief. On both hands, curl the ring finger to touch the tip to the inner base of the thumb; hold the ring finger down with the thumb. Touch the tips of the index and middle fingers to the their respective thumb tips; the pinkies stretch straight. Breathe slowly and deeply with the mudra hands resting on the floor, palms up. Keep the mudra intact for 2-3 minutes as you rest and breathe, and then release the hands to settle into Full Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: A Walk in the Park

More than two decades ago, I attended kickboxing classes at a local gym. While I was—and am—always eager to try new physical activities, part of the draw to this particular class was the instructor. He had his share of wide-eyed lady groupies (and perhaps a few men): The combination of a soft voice, focused demeanor, and extraordinarily handsome features kept his classes full. 

In addition to “C’s” physical and vibrational allure, I equally recall his oft-uttered phrase: “Just a little walk in the park…” He would soothingly remind us that although we were kicking and punching, it was not necessary to grimace, tense, or “over-effort.” In order to stay fluid, maximize a move, and build stamina, we were advised to practice patterns with the energy conducive to “a walk in the park.”

I remembered this particular encouragement recently when a couple of weeks of high physicality rendered me stiff and sore. Although I am nearing the time when a cane is no longer necessary after two total hip replacements earlier this year, my body still is in recovery: At times, I may become over-zealous at the prospect of a long walk on a nice day; or, I may be so thrilled that I can lift multiple objects at once, that I forget that my muscles spent nearly three years in progressive atrophy.

When I realized that I needed to incorporate more gentleness into my current movement practices, I thought of C: “Just a little walk in the park…” 

Today’s Silent Sunday practice would be effective for anyone who feels stiff or achy as a result of a hard workout, illness, or too much desk time. The sequence is further inspired by the concept of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. This condition arises after the body endures rigorous and/or long bouts of movement: Instead of immediate fatigue or ache, the symptoms arise a couple of days later, i.e., they are “delayed.”

Further, this routine would be useful as a way to settle the body for meditation, or as a reverent honoring of your body’s abilities. And if you ever find yourself in need of some “tender, loving care,” present this practice to yourself as a gift of self-compassion. 

Begin on hands and knees, and then bring your forearms to rest on the floor. Bring the forearms together with the elbows directly under the center of the chest. Turn the palms to touch each other, as in Prayer Mudra: The pinky edges of the hands are on the ground. Extend the thumbs straight up, and cock the head back slightly, so that the gaze falls just in front of the hands.

In this position, inhale as you slide the body forward, bringing the chest over the hands. Exhale as you slide back, moving the hips toward the feet. Inhale forward, exhale back: This move can be done as slowly or quickly as feels right, as long as the breath remains deep and full in conjunction with the movement. Continue for 1 minute.

Immediately release into Baby Pose. Keep the Prayer Hands; release the thumbs down, so that you can rest your Third Eye on the thumb side of the joined hands. Give yourself any bolstering that you need, so that you can rest easily here for 3 minutes. Breathe in deeply through the nose; exhale fully through the nose. Allow yourself the option to breathe out powerfully through the mouth during your time here: Be aware of your sensations and breathing; give your body what it asks for.

Still in Baby Pose, interlace your fingers behind your back. Lengthen through the arms, and lift them up and away from the back as you roll onto the crown of the head. You may have to adjust your position, so that you are directly on the center-point of the skull, with the hips lifted away from the feet and the arms stretched up as high as possible. Breathe here for 1 minute.

Special note: The more you extend up through the arms, the less pressure you will have on the head and neck. This Yoga Mudra is an excellent tool for ousting negative energy and for increasing physical and mental vitality. 

Ease yourself out of Yoga Mudra, and back up onto all fours (arms long, hands under shoulders).  Extend the right leg straight back, keeping the foot on the floor. Curl the toes under, and begin to rock forward and back through the ball of the foot: You will move in and out of a flexed and nearly pointed foot. Inhale as you rock back through the foot; exhale to come forward. Repeat 12 times, then switch sides.

After rocking back and forth through the left foot, return to all fours. Again extend the left leg back, foot on the floor. Inhale as you reach the right arm forward from the shoulder. As you exhale, bend the left knee to bring the foot toward the buttock, as if to kick it; simultaneously, lower the right arm toward the floor, sweep it back, and then up to tap the inside of the left ankle as it approaches your bottom. Inhale the right arm back to its forward reach as the left foot lowers down; exhale to repeat the arm reach back to tap the inside of the now-raised left foot. Repeat this reach-and-tap move 12 times, then switch sides (left arm to right foot).

Now, from all fours, press up into and easy Downward Dog. Pedal the feet up and down several times as the head hangs loosely. Then, allow yourself to squirm and undulate in whatever way feels good. Feed your body this organic, free-flowing movement, in order to release tension and  open obstructed energy pathways. Continue for 1 minute, taking a break as needed.

From the Moving Dog, walk your feet toward your hands, letting the knees bend for comfort. Hang softly in this modified Forward Bend, taking 5 full, deep breaths. Then, bring the hands to the inner ankles (or wherever you can reach): Inhale as you sweep the open palms up the inside of the legs to the groin; exhale to swiftly move the hands out and away from the hips, as if  throwing stagnancy into the air behind you. Repeat, beginning at the feet and ending with the “throw,” 8 times.

After clearing the lower body, continue to roll up through the spine into a standing position. Here, begin a gentle sway through the upper body. Move without thought, guided only by your breath and your body’s current inner vibration. Take up space, change direction or level, emit sound: Follow your body’s lead for 2 minutes.

Then, stand in stillness, enjoying whatever energetic reverberations occur. Should you sense areas of mental or physical dis-ease or resistance, bring your full awareness there: Using the “sweep and throw” technique that you used on the legs, clear any region of old or blocked energy. 

Special note: Remember to inhale unwanted energy into the palm, and exhale forcefully as you jettison the stagnancy away and behind you or into the earth. Do this a minimum of 3 times on any spot that needs clearing. 

Next, bend forward again, so that the body is perpendicular to the legs, like a tabletop. In this position, swing the arms back and forth alternately: As the right arms swings forward, the left arm swing back; remember to keep the effort fluid and light, like “a walk in the park.” Continue for 1 minute.

Special note: This move helps to balance the Head and Heart, so that we think and behave from a place of rational compassion, toward ourselves and others.

From here, lower down onto all fours, and then all the way onto the belly. Turn the head to the left, resting on the right cheek. Bend the  left arm, so that the elbow is in line with the shoulder, and the left forearm is perpendicular to the upper arm: It is as if you have half-Scarecrow arms on the left side. The right arm rests alongside the body. 

As you inhale, slowly, barely lift the bent left arm and side-looking head as you simultaneously raise the right leg. Exhale down. This is move of very little effort and displacement: Lift the arm, head, and leg only an inch or two. Focus on the ease (or lack thereof); the coordination of breath and movement; and where other body parts tense to help fulfill the movement. Repeat the cross-body lower-and-lift 8 times. Then repeat on the other side (head looking to the right; right arm bent near the head; and left leg lifting and lowering in tandem).

Briefly press back into Baby Pose after completing both sides fo the above movement. Breathe deeply a few times, and then return to the repeat the above move; however, this time begin with the head resting on the left cheek (looking to the right); the right arm bent; and the left leg joining in the lift-and-lower. Again, repeat 8 times before switching sides.

Special note: This move fosters body awareness, which is crucial for maintaining physical and emotional balance. Further, the cross-body technique harmonizes the left and right sides of the brain, which inherently centers us in Neutral Body energy. In that state of being, we become less reactive, yet compassionately available to self and others.

Now, slowly and gently roll onto your back. Settle yourself into position for Svasana. Before entering deep rest, however, place your fingers into Gyan Mudra: thumb and index fingertips together, palms up, backs of the hands on the floor. With eyes closed, take your inner gaze to the soles of the feet, specifically to the center point of the balls of the feet (between the second and third toes): Inhale, and begin to draw breath in through the bottoms of the feet, guiding it with your mind’s eye all the way up the front of the lower legs, thighs, belly, chest and face, ending on the Crown Chakra.

Exhale slowly and deeply through the nose as you lead the breath down the spine, and then the buttocks, backs of thighs, calves, and out the bottom arches of the feet. Return the inner eye to the bottom center of the balls of the feet to inhale again, drawing the breath up; exhale to carry the breath down and out. Repeat one more time for a total of three Breath Treks.

Now, release Gyan Mudra, and float your way into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Drop Zone

This Silent Sunday finds us in the first days of Fall. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this is the season of elimination, as represented by Autumn’s organ systems: Lungs and Large Intestine. As the leaves lose pigment, our bodies and minds rid themselves of spent energies and acquired contaminants. To prepare for Winter, one needs to free the inner and outer environments from “clutter”: This is the time to clear mental and physical debris.

Sometimes, though, the path to clean-and-clear is itself marred. Think of a shaker bottle of ground spice: When the slightest invasion of moisture enters, the powder coagulates around the openings; the ability to pour the contents is stymied. In order to clear the holes, one needs to tap and knock the bottle. Such is the nature of today’s practice: With impactful movements, we loosen stagnancy and blockages, so that they are more easily eliminated.

The following routine is a series of physical “drops.” This is an assertive practice, but safe and effective when practiced with intent and awareness. If you typically use only a yoga mat or blanket, I do recommend a bit more padding: for example, add a folded blanket on which to do the session. None of the Drops should cause discomfort, although they may seem jarring at first: This is the desired effect, as it signals enough force to break up detritus.

Special note: Although the specific purpose of today’s practice is to align with and bolster the eliminative energies of Fall, the routine will yield an array of benefits. You will awaken and stabilize the nervous system; improve digestion; release muscle tension; and stimulate circulation, including lymph flow. Overall, this practice provides a heightened sense of physical and mental awareness, along with a feeling of calm and steady strength.

Begin standing for Heel Drops. In a normal stance, rise onto the balls of the feet: pulse twice quickly, then suddenly release the heels to the floor. Inhale twice—short sniffs through the nose—as you rise up for two small bounces on the balls of the feet; exhale once through the nose to quickly drop onto the heels. Repeat for a total of 12 Heel Drops.

Next, begin rolling down through the spine, as if curling your way into a Standing Forward Bend. When you arrive at the first place of stiffness or ache in the back, pause: Bend the knees slightly, and breathe deeply as you gently pulsate the body up and down to release tension. When you feel ready, continue to make your way to the floor. 

Now on all fours, do a few traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes. Then, pause in the neutral, centered position. Typically, one firms the arms to support the upper body, in order to prevent “caving” in the upper spine. For today’s purposes, however, you will intentionally collapse the chest toward the floor: Inhale in the supported, traditional stance of all fours; then, as you exhale, let the elbows buckle and the shoulders release, so that the upper spine falls through the frame of the shoulders. Inhale to resurrect the neutral position; exhale to quickly “drop” the upper back and chest toward the ground. Repeat 12 times.

Next, help yourself onto the belly. With the forehead on the floor (or a thin pillow), rest the arms by the sides, palms down. Inhale to lift the belly, pelvis, and thighs away from the floor; the upper body and lower legs remain on the floor. Inhale to lift the torso and thighs off the ground; exhale to quickly drop it back down. Do 12 of these Front Body Drops.

Slowly turn onto your back. Bend the knees to bring the feet flat and hip-width apart, as if preparing for Bridge Pose. With considerable focus and awareness, inhale to begin the act of drawing the right knee toward the chest. The challenge of this move is to discern the slightest effort: As soon as the foot lifts, and the knee moves closer toward you, you have gone far enough. There will be an infinitesimal crease at the top of the thigh, and the foot will scarcely be off of the ground. Exhale to release the leg back down.

This move is as if you are marching in baby steps. However, the return of the foot to the floor is by dint of gravity: There should be no control in the Leg Drop; the iliopsoas muscles should fully relax, and the foot should “plunk” back onto the floor.

Alternate back and forth between left and right Leg Drops. Inhale to raise the leg; exhale to let it drop back down. Do a total of 20 “marches,” i.e., a total of 10 Leg Drops per side, alternating.

Next, extend both legs straight into the air. Inhale, then let the right knee bend as the right foot releases toward the right buttock. In this move, there should be a slight reverberation—a tiny bounce in the low leg—as the foot drops toward the bottom. Inhale the leg up; exhale to release it freely. Complete 8 Foot Drops on the right, then 8 on the left; finish with 10 alternating Drops (i.e., 5 on each side, alternating).

Now, stretch the legs long onto the floor, allowing them to find a natural resting point. Bring your attention to the upper body again: Extend both arms straight up above the shoulders, palms facing each other. Inhale to reach the right fingertips upward toward the ceiling, peeling the shoulder away from the floor; exhale to drop the shoulder back down. Again, there is a sense of free-falling; let gravity do the work for these Shoulder Drops. Repeat 8 Drops on the right shoulder, then 8 on the left; finally, alternate right and left Shoulder Drops 12 times (a total of 6 on each side, alternating).

Then, with the arms resting again on the floor by your sides, palms down, prepare for Back Body Drops. These are similar to Front Body Drops; however, the only points of support are the heels, upper back, shoulders, and head. (You also may use the hands to help with the lift of the body.) Inhale to raise as much of your body away from the floor as possible; exhale to quickly release it down. This will be a large “thump”: That is the desired result, which ensures full release of tension and stagnancy. Complete 12 Back Body Drops.

Rest briefly, and then help yourself up to sit. You may choose to sit in Full or Half Lotus; Easy Crossed-Leg Pose; or with the legs extended straight forward. Regardless, place the hands by the sides of the hips. Here, too, you may modify: Palms may be flat on the ground, or you may make fists. Press down through the arms and hands to lift the buttocks off of the ground with an inhale. (If in Lotus, try to elevate the entire package of the posture.) Exhale to drop abruptly back down. Move rapidly—inhaling up, exhaling down—for 16 repetitions.

Special note: In Kundalini Yoga, this move is said to “prepare the body for shock.” If you have been feeling a sense of foreboding, or know that challenging circumstances or interactions are imminent, practice these Body Drops several times. You will ground your anxiety and empower the nervous system to keep you feeling stable and calm.

You are now ready to close your practice with a short meditation. Sit in your preferred posture. Create a detoxifying mudra on both hands: Touch the thumb tips to the inner base of their respective ring fingers. Rest the hands, palms down, on the knees; if possible, rest the wrists on the knees, so that the hands hang over the edges of the knees. With closed eyes gazing up to the Third Eye, breathe in slow and steady through the nose; exhale in the same manner through the nose. Continue for 3 minutes, and then make your way into restful Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Release and Harmonize–Practice to Alleviate Worry and Frustration

After a couple of days of irksome situations, I created today’s routine as a way to alleviate the anxiety and/or frustration that may accompany an inability to control process. The first step in the following practice is to identify the physical location and sensation of dis-ease in the body. For example, I typically experience frustration (or anger) as a red-hot tightness in or near the Heart Center: As the feeling deepens, it tends to move higher, into the Upper Triangle of chakras (e.g., throat or forehead).

With regard to this recent experience, however, the feeling had shifted: It was playing out “lower,” around the level of the Third Chakra. Interestingly, this region corresponds with this time of year’s associated organ systems: the Spleen and Stomach. Further, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, a key sign that the systems are out of balance is a tendency to worry.

Thus, this Silent Sunday actively addresses emotional and physical imbalances that one may be most prone to now, in Late Summer. The movement patterns will relieve tightness or resistance in the mind and muscles, while harmonizing the Spleen and Stomach systems. And, should you find yourself blissfully unencumbered by challenging thoughts or circumstances, you may use this practice to ensure that your energies resonate optimally with the end of this season and into the imminent Fall.

Although today’s sequence is progressive and cumulative in its effect, you may find that one or some of the moves affect you deeply (or are not appropriate for limitations you may have). In that case, you may focus on the move(s) that resonate most strongly for you. Simply increase the number of repetitions; or, alternatively, repeat the sequence of fewer moves 2 or 3 times.

Ease your way into the practice with some breathing and free-form movement. I chose the following ambient sound frequency to support this portion of the routine:

To begin, stand naturally: With eyes open or closed, inhale through the nose as you raise your arms up and overhead through the side space; exhale through the nose, slow and steady, as you bring the arms back down. Repeat this clearing movement, deepening and lengthening the breath, 6-12 times.

Then, tune into your inner rhythm. With or without the background sound, let your body move in accordance with its natural vibratory state: Emotional and physical circumstances manifest in distinct movement qualities and patterns. As you move, there is no need to question, analyze, or label the motion: Let this be a time to unlock and release inhibitive thoughts and feelings. Continue moving in this way for 3 minutes.

If you feel unmotivated to move organically, i.e., from within, you nonetheless have received information from yourself about your current state. Resistance, trepidation, or a sense of “stuckness” signals imbalance: If that is your finding, honor it. Focus on breathing with the arm raises; however, as you exhale, breathe out powerfully through the mouth. Inhale through the nose as the arms rise; exhale forcefully through the mouth as the arms float back down

Special note: You eventually may feel inspired to move more as you breathe and clear the auric field. If that happens, heed your inner wisdom, and begin moving to the pulse of your personal vibration.

When you feel ready to end your intuitive movement, stand still, eyes closed, with hands on hips or on the lower belly. This touch helps ground the body and mind in the Lower Triangle of chakras, wherein lies a sense of security, purpose, and empowerment. The feeling of being out of control that accompanies frustration or worry can threaten these aspects of the First, Second, and Third chakras. Breathe deeply in your stance for about 1 minute.

Next, begin the first, admittedly challenging, move. From standing, inhale; then exhale as you bend the knees as much as you need to, in order to bend over and bring the hands to the ground. Breathe in fully as you walk your hands forward, bringing the body into a strong Plank. From the neutral Plank, exhale to rotate and tip the hips down toward the floor on the right; inhale to come back to center; exhale to make your Hip Drop to the left. Complete 8 sets of rotating Drops to the right and left. (One set is a Hip Drop to the right, then left.)

Special note: If the Plank with Hip Drops is not accessible to you, come into your best version of Downward Dog. There, “wag the tail”: Bend the knees, come onto the toes, and shift your hips back and forth, inhaling to the left, exhaling to the right.

From Plank, lower yourself onto the belly. Prop yourself on the forearms (elbows under shoulders, forearms extended forward on the ground, palms flat): As you inhale and turn the head to the left, chant (silently, whispered, or aloud), “Wahe Guru [wah-hay goo-roo]/“ Gently look left and right, eyes open to a soft, unfocused gaze, for 1 minute as you chant the mantra of trust in divine guidance.

Now, place one hand atop the other, and lower down to rest the forehead on the back of the top hand. Bend the knees, so that the lower legs are perpendicular to the thighs. Here, sway the lower legs from left to right, like windshield wipers: Inhale to the left, exhale right. Breathe deeply, and let your inner rhythm be pleasantly surprised and lulled by this unusual movement. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, help yourself up onto all fours. Do a few traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes to orient your body to its new place in space. Then, from a centered all-fours position, begin to circle the hips: Focus on the rocking and rolling movement through the tips and shifts in the pelvis. Circle to the right for about 30-60 seconds, and then to the left for another 30-60 seconds.

Now, bring the circling move into the torso by rolling the rib cage like a barrel. Shift the ribs to the right, then round them up and center; then circle them over to the left, and then down through center, creating an arch in the spine. Circle to the right, up and over to the left, and down and through to the right. Keep moving, allowing the breath to find its natural correspondence with the movement, for 1 minute. Then reverse, and circle the rib cage to the left for another minute.

Finally, shift your hips back into Baby Pose, arms extended forward. If you can not quite rest the buttocks on the heels, that is okay: The stretch will still be available to you. From Baby Pose—your deepest version of the posture—walk the hands to the right, with the arms reaching away from you. This will open the intercostal muscles in the rib cage, thus freeing the Spleen from limitation or resistance. Breathe here for 5-8 deep cycles of breath. Then, walk the hands to the left, opening the right side of the rib cage. Again, take 5-8 full breaths here.

Bring your body and arms back to center, and sweep the arms down to rest by the legs, palms up. Settle as deeply into Baby Pose as possible: Use whatever props are necessary to accommodate the position. For 1 minute, eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, breathe in slowly and fully through the nose; exhale long and steady through rounded lips, creating a windy sound. As you breathe in this way, know that you are consolidating the effects of the movements: Worry and frustration will dissipate as the organ systems integrate the harmonious vibration of the practice.

To conclude, gently bring yourself into traditional Svasana on the back. Remain here for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday… 

Silent Sundays: Still to Come…

Special note: I write this after having published the following piece. When the writing appeared in finished form, all former typographical issues had disappeared! I nonetheless chose to print the suggestions below, as they seem to have been bidden from beyond…

As readers will immediately notice, something has gone awry with the typeface and point size of text. While I await instructions from Word Press on how to rectify this issue, today’s planned post will be delayed.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions for when the “best laid plans” take a tumble:

  1. Practice patience with Shunya Mudra: Touch the middle finger and thumb tips together on both hands. Extend the arms up and out to 60-degree angles, as if forming a large V overhead; mudras are intact, with the palms facing toward each other. Add a frustration-fighting breath to this position: Through a curled tongue (like a straw extended out through the lips), inhale; then, retract the tongue, close the mouth, and exhale through the nose. Continue, eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, for 3 minutes.
  2. Chose a circular movement pattern, and move it counter-clockwise. (For example, you may stand with arms to the sides at shoulder level: Turn in circles, like a helicopter. Or, standing or sitting, circle the torso to the left. You could also make figure eights with your arms or hands, moving from the shoulders or wrists, respectively.) It is as if you are purposely going against the grain: As you move in the “wrong” direction, contemplate the situational roadblock. Breathe deeply, fueling the obstacle, which may feel counter-intuitive to the desire to correct the issue. Keep moving and breathing, drawing attention and energy to the circumstance, for 1-2 minutes. Then, stop suddenly: Inhale long and deep through the nose; exhale powerfully from the back of the throat through open mouth. Repeat twice. Then, reverse the circular motion (now moving clockwise, to the right), which will clear the path for progress toward your goal. Continue for 3 minutes.
  3. Finally, take yourself away from the physical space where the obstacle has arisen. In the case of this morning’s technological glitch, my recourse upon signing off today will be to go outside for a walk. Whenever you have exhausted efforts to correct a problem, take a break: In the time away, energy will shift, in you and with regard to the particular circumstance. In your respite, breathe consciously, chant a favorite mantra or hum a tune, and focus on the surroundings you have chosen for a short retreat.
  4. Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Shed

Open-heartedness. Empathy. Compassion.

Guarded. Closed. Impermeable.

Wherein lies the harmonious midpoint of healthily detached caring?

With and in the Shed.

The title of this piece is an intentional double-entendre: to shed and to create a shed. The former denotes active elimination; the later implies a space to hold what is most necessary for the maintenance of one’s inner environment. When one inadvertently resonates with the vibrations of others’ unsettled energies, it becomes imperative to expel the dis-ease that can begin to puncture personal Peace. Then, one does well to focus on the restoration and preservation of the Shed within.

After a few recent days of observing and subsequently taking in the distressing energies of others’ misfortunes, I come to this Silent Sunday motivated both to operate from the Heart and to protect said Heart Center. The practice that follows is especially beneficial if you have become enmeshed with others’ prickly energy or challenging circumstances.

Special note: Today’s practice also would be useful prior to meetings, discussions, or potentially divisive interactions.

Begin seated on the ground: Feel free to use any bolsters you may need to support a Wide-Leg Forward Bend. Bring the legs into a V shape in front of you; open only as much as allows your spine to remain upright and aligned. Then, maintaining the length of the spine, turn the torso slightly toward the left leg. Reach both hands to hold the leg while keeping the long spine. Inhale through the nose: Then, moving from the hips, stretch forward over the leg as you exhale through the nose. Inhale up, exhale down, without rounding the spine: It helps to look toward the big toe. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, without pausing, rotate toward the right leg, and repeat the same dynamic forward bend for 1 minute. Finally, repeat in the center (moving down and up between the legs) for 1 minute. This movement thoroughly awakens and stimulates the Life Nerve, which is responsible for stability, vitality, and longevity. The repetitive motion also will help to soothe accumulated anxiety.

Next, bring the legs together, straight in front of you; alternatively, you may sit in a crossed-leg position. Here, begin Sufi Grinds: Holding the knees (or with hands on the floor next to the hips), roll the entire torso clockwise. As you circle, allow the pelvis to be part of the movement: Tilt it forward, side, roll it back, and to the other side as you circularly undulate the body. Continue for 1 minute, and then another minute in the opposite direction (counter-clockwise).

After the profound eliminative action of Sufi Grinds, come onto the back with legs extended straight up in the air. Begin to kick the buttocks, alternating left and right heels to bottom by rapidly bending at the knees: The breath corresponds with each alternate kick, and thus becomes close to a Breath of Fire as the kicking speeds up. Exhale each time a foot kicks its half of the buttocks. Continue for 2 minutes.

Now, bring the knees in toward the body: If you are unable to hug the knees in tight, hold behind the thighs with the knees bent. Inhale to rock back, exhale to rock forward: Rock back and forth a few times on the back, in order to find a fluid, strong rhythm. Then, each time the rock comes forward, extend the legs forward, allowing the body to fall  into an easy forward bend. As the body tips toward a forward stretch, exhale powerfully through the mouth: “HA!” Inhale to lift the torso as the knees come in, rocking back; exhale to rock up, elongating the legs and moving seamlessly into a natural forward bend with “HA.” Repeat 26 times.

When you have finished the rolling forward bends with cleansing sound, lie quietly for a moment. Breathe deeply in and out through the nose; if an exhale through the mouth feels right, do so. Then, help yourself turn onto the belly. Come onto the forearms for Sphinx Pose.

Here, begin to turn the head left and right: Inhale through the nose to look left; exhale through the nose to look right. Continue for 30-60 seconds, being sure to stay lifted through the shoulders and open through the chest. Let the movement be free of tension, even if that means barely turning the head.

Now, add an “unlocking” piece: As the head turns left, keep the eyes trained to the right. When the head turns right, turn the eyes to the left. It may take a few tries to find a smooth rhythm: Additionally, take note of the breath; often, the oppositional movement causes unwanted breath retention. Double-check that you are inhaling as the head turns left (eyes right), and exhaling as the head turns right (eyes left.)

Once you have learned to accommodate the movement, continue for 1 minute. This opposing eye and head movement provides a surprise for the nervous system, ensuring that habitual patterns of thought and behavior do not guide your responses.

Special note: The above move also serves as a potent tonic after extended computer time, or other eye-straining activity.

Next, shift back into Baby Pose, legs together with the body resting atop, or legs wide with the torso resting between. Regardless, interlace the fingers behind the back, and straighten the arms out and up: Bring them as high above the back and toward the shoulders as possible for Yoga Mudra. Breathe deeply here, in and out through the nose, for 1 minute.

Slowly release the arm lock, and help yourself to sit. You may remain seated on the heels, in crossed-leg pose, legs straight out front, or in a chair. When you have established a centered, comfortable seat, close the eyes and gaze up to the Third Eye. On each hand, touch the thumb tip to pinky fingertip. Inhale through the nose slowly and deeply; exhale with a long, steady whistle. This mudra and pranayama empowers and develops intuitive ability. 

Often when swept away by others’ energies or troubles, one loses the connection to the Divine Wisdom within—Intuition. Be with this mudra and breath anytime you need to regain a sense of the security that comes with aligning the mind and Heart with the guidance of the Universe. With that comes the ability to offer kindness while safeguarding personal energies. 

Immerse yourself into the energy of the mudra for at least 5 minutes, longer if you like. Finally, ease into Svasana to integrate the effects of the practice.

Happy Sunday…

Rock of Ages: The Practice

In the introduction to “Rock of Ages,” I mentioned that the following routine subtly affects the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). In so doing, the practice not only serves as a check-in for your overall state of being, it offers an opportunity to quiet down after a hectic day, to soothe frayed nerves, and to assuage insomnia.

Most of the practice involves subtle rocking movements. As indicated in the introduction, I first experienced this type of work through the Feldenkrais method, or Awareness Through Movement. The supine heel rocks that I will suggest below have stuck with me for decades; they would enhance any self-care repertoire.

Because the movements themselves ask one to relinquish tension, the practice moves along a trajectory of large to small movement: This allows the body to release, leaving the PNS available to receive the more subtle techniques. To begin, lie on your back with arms and legs extended straight up at 90 degree angles to the torso: Shake the limbs vigorously for 30-60 seconds. 

Then, place the feet on the floor with the knees bent and hip-width apart: The arms rest naturally by the sides. Now, inhale to curl the tailbone toward you, and continue to peel the spine off the floor, sensing each vertebra as you rise into a Bridge. When you reach the top of the shoulders, exhale and replace each vertebra back down, now “pasting” the spine back to the floor. Repeat 5-9 more times, for a total of 6-10 spinal rolls.

Next, with the knees still bent, inhale, and drop both legs to one side as you exhale. Inhale back up through center, and exhale to the other side. Continue with this “windshield wiper” movement for 1 minute.

From the neutral bent knee position, open the right knee to the right; let it find its natural opening (external rotation through the hip joint), and note that you will also roll to the outer edge of the right foot. As soon as your leg finds it natural stopping point, slide the foot (on its outer edge) down along the floor: The leg will naturally straighten, bringing the knee cap to face up in a typical long-leg position. Repeat the same fall-open move with the left leg, sliding the left foot down until the left leg is long and resting next to the right leg.

If you find that this move feels particularly beneficial or “organizational” for the pelvis and low spine, repeat as many times as you like. To do so, reverse the move: Roll the foot of the straight leg open, so that the foot comes to its outer edge; begin to bend the knee as you retract the foot back to the original bent-knee position. Then, retract the other leg by first rolling to the outer edge of the foot. If you like, move the legs from bent to straight and back to bent as many times as you like.

Eventually, end with both legs straight, as if in Svasana. Here, rock the feet from side to side: Bring your attention to the feeling of the heels against the ground. After about 30 seconds of the side-to-side rocking, let yourself be still. Consciously breathe deeply and fully through the nose: It at any time, you find that you need to yawn or want to release sound, feel free. This is the body’s way of sussing out emotional or physical tension. Breathe here for about 1 minute.

Now, begin the Heel Rocks. To an observer, it would appear that you are pointing and flexing the foot: However, in order to create vibrate and rock the body, focus more on pushing forward through the heels—tiny, rapid little pushes. The foot will naturally rebound toward a pointed (extended) foot, but keep your intention on bouncing forward and back through the heels. As your brain begins to understand this movement, the entire body will rock from head to toe: At this point, continue for 1-3 minutes.

Then, lie quietly, allowing the PNS to receive the shaken-free, soothed energies. Breathe deeply: Again, if it is helpful for you, try breathing in through the nose for 4 or 6, then out through the nose or mouth for 8-12 counts. Savor this integration of calm for another 1-3 minutes.

Next, slowly roll to one side, and help yourself onto all fours: Immediately place the forearms on the floor, parallel to each other, elbows under shoulders. Allow the head to hang if it feels right. Begin a forward and back rocking motion, moving slowly in conjunction with long, deep breathing through the nose: Inhale to rock forward; exhale to rock back, as if moving toward Baby Pose. This movement is extraordinarily soothing for a variety of physical complaints, so spend as much time here as you like.

From here, come onto the belly with the chin or forehead on the ground. Let the knees be bent, forming a 90 degree angle between lower legs and thighs. Begin the “windshield wiper” movement with the lower legs; let the legs be as loose as they can as you move them from side to side. Continue for 30-60 seconds.

Now, continue the side-to-side trajectory, and amplify the move. Bring the hands near the shoulders, palms flat. As the legs fall to the left, roll the right hip bone (front pelvic point) up and away from the floor. Roll back through center, and then drop the legs to the right, while rolling the left hip bone off the ground. Press down into the right hand when rocking to the left and peeling the right hip away; use the left hand to help roll the left hip up as the legs rock to the left.

Move back and forth in this way for about 1 minute.

Again, settle into stillness, allowing the legs to rest straight on the ground, and resurrect deep nasal breathing: Quiet down for 1-3 minutes. Then, with the arms by the sides, palms up or down (according to your body’s structure and comfort), place the forehead on the ground. (To rest on the chin for the next bit may compromise the cervical spine.) Now, initiate Toe Rocks: Curl the toes under, and begin small, quick pushes through the balls of the feet and tips of the toes: This is the same rhythm and intention as the supine Heel Rocks; now, in prone position, the front body receives care and release. Continue for 1-3 minutes, allowing the calming signals to reach the PNS.

Then, lie quietly, breathing deeply, for another 1-3 minutes.

Now,roll slowly onto your back again, knees bent and hip-width apart. Use this body-awareness meditation to collect and embed the soothing energies. Bring the hands into Prayer Mudra (palms together, fingers straight), and rest the base knuckles of the thumbs ont the Third Eye, just above the bridge of the nose. Inhale and exhale deeply, 3-5 times. Then, release the hands, and cross one arm over the other, resting both on the torso: Let the arms find their natural cross and resting spot, and allow their weight to be fully supported by the body. Again, take 3-5 deep breaths through the nose.

Softly, with minimal effort, shift the arms again: Place one hand on the Heart Center, and the other on the low belly, resting the thumb tip on the navel. Breathe deeply 3-5 times. From here, slide the legs straight (you may repeat the knee-falling-open technique from earlier), and rest the palms of the hands on their respective hip bones or upper thighs. Again, give yourself 3-5 slow, complete breaths.

Finally, let the arms fall to the floor by your sides, palms up or down: Allow your need of the moment to dictate the hand position. Slip into Svasana, and remain for as long as you like.

’Til next time…

Silent Sundays: Rock of Ages–Introduction

On this Silent Sunday, I reflect upon a multifaceted sense that most of us have had at some time in our lives: a feeling of relief that a difficult time has passed; a determination that such a circumstance or person will never derail us again; and then, the humbling realization that while the details may be different, challenge always will make a return. 

Specifically, I allude to the state of my being following two total hip replacements in the past 6 months. Back in February of this year, I wrote the following: “Where once my hip[s] held unresolved emotion and pain, now [they] will be consciously refilled with only that which will aid and better myself and others” (https://everythingelsa.blog/2021/02/21/silent-sundays-fill-with-what-you-will/).

As Everything Elsa readers know, I have created many practices designed to oust psychological and spiritual detritus from the warehouse of the hip joints; and to clear the space for Heart-centered and spiritually minded energies. Now, the time has come to offer a subtle and surprisingly profound routine that inspects and corrects the quality of that which enters the new space.

While you may not have had hip surgery (or any recent physical upheaval), it is likely that you have or will encounter the need to expel unwanted energies; cleanse your inner sanctum; and protect the physical, mental, or spiritual space in question. And if you are unsure, investigate yourself: Have you noticed a return to old behaviors or detrimental thought patterns? Are circumstances or tendencies that you thought you left behind staging a return? Run an inner “system check”: If necessary, roust, clear, and decide to regularly re-inspect; the upcoming practice offers that opportunity.

A clue to myself that I needed to create such a routine came to my attention this morning, a day after I wrote about a resurgence of my family’s need to address our mom’s dementia. The piece pointed to my aim to not repeat previous missteps in the process. That honing in on old ways, and consciously choosing to take an alternate route is the impetus for what I write today, and the crux of the practice to come.

Ironically, the substance of the routine that I will offer in a few days stems from past studies: In clearing and detaching from past situations and emotions, I turn to the past to ensure ongoing clarity. To wit: In my 20s, I was a modern dancer with a local company, who also taught children and adult improvisational movement. Throughout this period, I was fortunate to have teachers who were curious and disciplined explorers: They brought in other teachers of bodywork and mind/movement techniques to enhance our learning. We sampled Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, reflexology, and Somatic Awareness Through Movement (SATM).

Two decades later, I attended massage school. One of the modalities taught was Kinesthetic Awareness Through Movement (KAM); I again flashed back to my dance days.

And now, almost another two decades later, I return to those techniques to safeguard the sanctity of my new hip joints. The practice that I will offer in a few days highlights the soothing and somewhat bewildering nature of the work: As opposed to the assertive, detoxifying purge of the old joints, and the pointed karma- and aura-clearing of the brand new hips, the current situation is one that needs a more refined approach.

The purpose of the practice is to access, assess, and ensure clarity and harmony within.

For anyone, on any day, for any reason, the routine provides a pampering treatment for the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS): This “rest and digest” aspect of our wiring can become burdened by daily stressors, not to mention a lifetime of unresolved issues. The practice will suss out and gently escort out any intrusions of unwanted thought or behavior: Such “intruders” manifest readily in mind and body; the work to come offers a self-compassionate response to their presence.

Happy Sunday… 

Next time: Rock of Ages—The Practice 

Yet Again–The Path Already Taken (Or: How Not to Trip on the Same Stones)

Now, at 3:47 a.m., I have been up for 2 hours and 14 minutes. And so it begins (again)…

The last month has been another challenging period in our family’s interminable travels with Mom’s dementia. Around this time two years ago, we faced similar concerns: Mom was unhappy and frustrated with her living situation, especially as she had stopped driving. Back then, we, her adult children, scrambled and fumbled and whirled ourselves into a state of anxiety over how to address Mom’s issues: We had become certain that the only recourse was to move her out of Home, and move her into a “home.” 

When nothing seemed to be a good fit, or obstacles and uncertainties caused us to spin faster and more wildly, we finally realized that there must be an alternative to how we were thinking and what we were doing. Thank goodness for my sister, who managed to rally a neighbor of my mom’s to provide help: Long story short, “L” stepped in and up, and provided our family with care for our mom, and time for us to regroup.

So it has been two years of a deep breath for all of us. As of this moment, however, we have returned to the thought that Mom needs a different environment and a deeper level of care. (To be clear, this current state of thinking originated with our mother’s demand and declaration that she must, she will move “back Home.” She can not express exactly what that looks like, or where it is, but she has spent a month packing furiously and often waiting for a “ride home.” Over and over again, we have had to thwart her aim: She already lives in the one and only home/house she has.)

Finally, last week, all of us—including “L,” her intrepid caregiver—simultaneously agreed that the time has come: Mom must be moved. Ironically, that is the granting of her wish; however, it is a wish that she can not visualize or describe. Said “wish,” in its fulfillment, may be the very thing that brings her to her knees. 

Anywhere we move her likely will not sate the feeling that she craves: peace and purpose.

So how do we accommodate her and our hopes? Where lies that accommodation? Here, I could launch into a diatribe about “peace within,” or the universal presence of a divine kingdom and its inner dwelling. In the distant, milky past, these are ideas that my mother and I would discuss for hours. But then the harshest of earthly realities strikes: My mother’s dementia does not allow her to grasp abstracts, or at least to retain them; and her cognitive challenges include decreased judgment and reasoning. Her mood swings are certain to occur, but we never know when or for how long.

To encourage that mind to look within, or to breathe deeply, or to be grateful for her lovely home and its nature-filled surroundings is a fool’s errand. She may understand the intention of such suggestions, but she will not remember them, nor would she be able to engage them.

Thus, here we are again. And here I am, watching my own mind try to retrace what we did in the previous version of this challenge two years ago, and how to do it differently. Thankfully, while Mom’s mind has shifted away from reasoned understanding, my own (by dint of sheer need) has acquired a greater ability to focus and direct intention. And as with distance healing for others’ physical concerns, one can stimulate and amplify a vibration of peace for others: So it shall be for my mother.

What I return to (which took me a while to access last time) is the mantra “Sat Kartar,” or, “God is the Doer and the Truth.” One could also say, “Let go, let God;” or, “What is meant to be, shall be.”

All such mantras reroute a wayward mind, one that attempts to juggle, analyze, or fix too much. When yoked to God’s will, one’s own will can ease up on the reins. When anchored in God’s wisdom, one’s own mind can discern and dismiss irrelevant or misguided choices. When one consciously breathes into the vast void that is paradoxically the eternal entirety and wholeness, one can temper the demands of this earthbound existence.

With the mantra—or whatever mantra “appears” on any given day—I also have returned to the most fundamental of breathing techniques: “in for 4; out for 8.” Typically, after a few rounds, the counts become closer to 6 and 12. And I find that I breathe in through the nose, and exhale through the nose, eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye. Sometimes a groan or sad sigh emerges: Whatever is imprisoned within is given the opportunity to escape. Usually, after 5 minutes, I begin to play with the calmed, deeper breath: whistle in, whistle out; or, in through pursed lips, and out through the mouth with tongue extended.

This is a case when the body knows more than the mind: Let the physical need guide the remedy. And such is the case of the spiritual need and remedy: God knows, the Universe knows—let them lead the way. 

Onward…