Homestead Series–Part Two: Creativity and Its Expression (With a Nod to Dementia)

My mother, aka Old Mom: whole-hearted listener, warm hugger, cookie lover, art appreciator, helper of all helpers, poet.

My mother with dementia, aka New Mom: curious listener, warm hugger, cookie monster, mystified observer, determined participant, wordless warrior.

Two days ago, my mother with dementia became reacquainted with the original—New Mom met Old Mom.

Lest you wonder if I was adopted or have a step-mother, allow me to clarify: The two mothers I describe are the same woman—one body, one heart, one mind, one soul, one poet, one intrepid doer of Life. As are many whose loved one has for whatever reason shifted in their cognitive abilities and psychological states, I am bewildered by the changes in my mother: At this point in her nearly 10 years of waning, altered mental capacity, I think of this woman as New Mom. 

Old Mom was younger; New Mom is old. 

Old Mom could spar or speak without a beat; New Mom shrilly rants or goes silent, watching an invisible ticker tape of vocabulary rise up before her inner eye, then tangle, fade, and disappear.

Old Mom wrote poetry; New Mom reads her old poetry.

Which is what she did the other day.

During our daily phone call, she asked, “Do you have a minute?” She then proceeded to explain that she had written a book: Did I know that? When I assured her that yes, I knew all about the letters and memories of her father that she had compiled nearly 30 years ago, she seemed relieved, albeit somewhat surprised that I knew such a thing about her. She does not always know that this person with whom she speaks on the phone each morning is one of her two daughters. 

I do not mind. I used to, but that was when I thought Old Mom could or would rally and return. That was before New Mom stole my heart, and I became a more-than-willing accomplice to the theft.

And yesterday, when she was eager to share her writings with me, I listened with joy, with soft sadness, and with my head and heart silently thanking God as Mom spoke. I could hear the pride and pleasure in her voice as she read the deeply considered and impeccably chosen words that she had written. That she realized that they had come from her; that they sparked a connection between her remembered past and misty present; that she could discuss without frustration her Old Brain and New Brain… these wonders fed both of us with an abundance of peace and gratitude.

Ironically, the New Mom who no longer can hold a thought or find a word is the Mom who produces the greatest insight into what it means to think, to feel, and to create. New Mom’s “deficits” give Old Mom’s advantages a run for their money: With the loss of vocabulary and short-term memory comes the intriguingly pointed question, “What happens to Creativity when dementia enters the arena?”

That the ability to dream, to connect, and to usher in new modes of Creativity does not die with dementia is ferociously disarming: If one can not decide to create—motivate to create—how, then, does one engage creative energy?

And that is where my own tune changes: Is To Create the same as Being Creative? Does Creation exist without Expression?

If a tree falls in the forest…

In the framework of Old Mom/New Mom, organized mind versus dementia, Creativity oddly leaps to the fore. New Mom’s creativity now manifests as imaginary friends and visitors; as vivid observances of color and shape; and of acute experience of emotion. In some ways, New Mom’s creative essence shines brighter—by megawatts—than Old Mom’s consciously arranged and edited creative productions. 

Creativity can be unconscious; To Create is not. One may be creative without words or forethought or analysis; to become Creation, though, requires a facilitator—Expression.

Creativity exists without thought, and therefore without our bidding. What one often regards as Creativity is, instead, Expression. Creativity thrives despite our conscious awareness of its activity; it becomes Creation when we attach our intention to its release.

For the purposes of this series of practices, then, Creativity must be linked to Expression, actively and consciously. In sum, the Second Chakra must align with the Fifth: Stoke the generative fires, and usher them through the expressive stacks.

The first phase of the practice energizes and coordinates the partnership of the Second and Fifth chakras. The sequence begins on your back, knees bent, feet flat and hip-width apart. Allow the arms to rest on the ground naturally. As you inhale, tip the pelvis forward, creating a slight arch in the lower spine. Simultaneously, let the chin move gently down toward the chest. Upon exhale, roll the pelvis toward you (thereby slightly rounding the low back), as you let the head tip back, opening the front of the neck. 

These movements require focus, as the tucked chin with inhale and pelvic tip forward initially may seem counter-intuitive (as may the curled tail and open throat upon exhale). Stick with it, repeating the inhale/exhale combinations 12 times.

Next, interlace the fingers behind the neck; bring the elbows as close to the floor as possible. Inhale deeply through the nose; exhale powerfully through the mouth, creating a sounded expulsion of air. As you exhale and cleanse the throat, pull the low belly in strongly. Repeat 12 times.

Now, extend both legs into the air, arms resting back down by the sides. Inhale through the nose; exhale to push the pointed feet straight up, lifting the hips slightly. This move thoroughly engages the low-belly muscles: Try not to let the legs swing toward you as the hips push up; rather, push the toes up, as if to pierce the air straight above. Repeat 12 times.

Repeat the entire 3-part sequence (each move with 12 repetitions) 2 more times, for a total of 3.

Then, help yourself into any comfortable seated position. Place both hands on the low belly, one atop the other: Let the thumb of the bottom hand rest in (or on) the navel. With your mind’s eye, trace the following line of the breath. As you inhale fully through the nose, imagine energy moving from the belly button downward into the palms on the belly; exhale slowly through the nose, and guide the breath down between the legs, to the perineum, and back up into the lower spine, behind the navel. 

Continue the long, steady exhale as the breath splits: Send it around to the left and right waists, and allow it to circle all the way back to the initial point of the navel. Inhale to begin again, drawing the breath into the Dan Tien (where the hands rest); exhale calmly and steadily to push this breath through its long journey back to start. Breathe this way 8 times.

Special note: This visualization and breath meditation also soothes moderate lower-back ache. 

Next, place the thumb and index finger of the right hand on the right and left sides of the throat, respectively. With a firm, slow motion, stroke down from the jaw to the collar bone. As the right hand reaches the collar bone, bring the left hand up to continue the downward stroke (left index finger on right side of throat; left thumb on left side). Move the hands in a seamless round, in order to create a continual stimulation of the Throat Chakra.

Finally, rest both hands in the lap, palms up, one nested inside the other, thumb tips touching. As you inhale deeply through the nose, allow the jaw to fall open; simultaneously visualize the breath coming in and down to the Second Chakra. The exhale becomes the mantra, “Aum.”

Special note: Often, this is written as “Om”: However, the threes letter of Aum convey the desired 3-part sounding—Ah/Oh/Mm.

As you exhale, chant, “Aum,” slowly dissecting the mantra into 3 parts. By the end of the third sound (“mm”), the mouth will be gently closed. Inhale to gently drop the jaw and send the breath into the Creative energy center of the Second Chakra; exhale to chant slowly and steadily, feeling the vibration through the expressive Throat Chakra as the mouth closes softly. Continue for 3 minutes. If you like, settle into Svasana for a few minutes of rest and integration of energy.

Next Time: Homestead—Part 3: Solar-Powered and Heart-Centered

Silent Sundays: Homestead Series Part 1: Intuition and Practicality

Today’s Silent Sunday introduces a series of practices designed to hone in on your natural instincts and comfort zones: your “Homestead.” 

Intuition typically guides my decision-making, creative sparks, and interpersonal interactions. It is my home base from which to deal with all things earthbound, and through which I communicate most effectively with God and the Universe. I began to wonder about the “homesteads” of others: What energetic quality or mental attribute functions as their reliable, familiar, and most powerful ally? When uprooted by circumstance or emotion, what inner sensibility draws them “home?” What is their “stead,” their core of stability?

The series thus opens with a practice inspired by intuition. To fly solo with intuition, however, can leave one without an energetic anchor or point of reference: Intuition needs its Root companion.

And just as the Third Eye is balanced and empowered by the First Chakra, the inverse is true: Those who operate mostly in accordance with earthly energies and mores may be grounded and stable. Without the insight and energetic supply of the Sixth Chakra, however, they can become overly concerned with material wealth and ambition—the survival instinct run amok.

Consequently, today’s routine establishes a communication and support system between intuition and practicality. The Third Eye and Root Chakra are activated, connected, and harmonized.

We begin with simple, incremental spinal flexes and chest openers. This warm-up also is useful as a meditation and/or pranayama preparatory practice: The stimulation of the flow of cerebrospinal fluid promotes focus and clarity; and the lung-opening provides the optimal environment for breath work.

Seated in your favorite aligned posture, either on a chair or on the floor, close the eyes: Turn your inner gaze upward to focus strongly on the Third Eye. Place both hands on the lower belly, one over the other. As you inhale, tilt the pelvis forward and down; exhale to gently tip it back and up. The movement will create a discernible, yet small arching and rounding in the lower spine. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, as you continue to rock the pelvis forward and back, arching and rounding, include more of the spine. Move the hands to the knees; this grip will help you move the spinal flex into the thoracic spine, thus including the ribcage. Deepen and lengthen the breath as you do so; continue for another minute.

Next, bring the hands to the shoulders: fingers in front, thumbs behind. Inhale as you draw the bottom tips of the shoulder blades toward each other; exhale as you round the upper back and try to touch the elbows together in front of you. Keep the upper arms parallel to the ground as you inhale to stretch the chest wall; exhale to spread the upper back. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, prepare to fire up the energetic reservoirs of the First and Sixth chakras. Place the hands next to the hips (on the chair or the floor). Inhale to press down into the hands and lift your bottom up a few inches; squeeze Root Lock (Mula Bandha) as you do so. 

Special note: This pranic “lock” is achieved in much the same way as a Kegel exercise. Here, though, squeeze the anus, sex organs, and navel point simultaneously.

Use the squeezing action as a pump to push Root energy up through the entire chakra system. With your mind’s eye, guide the collected energy up the spine and into the Third Eye throughout the long inhalation through the nose. Upon a powerful burst of an exhale through the open mouth, drop your tush back down with an assertive, but safe jolt. Repeat a total of 12 times.

Now that you have both isolated and connected the Root and Third Eye, you will ensure their harmonious partnership. Come to standing, feet comfortably apart. Bend the knees slightly to come into a moderate squatting position. Place the arms into Genie gesture: both arms bent at the elbows at chest level, one forearm resting atop the other.

Then, inhale to stand up straight, opening the arms to the sides at 60 degrees, as if opening the Heart Center to the Universe. Exhale back down into the squat with Genie Arms. If you like, add a silent, whispered, or fully vocalized mantra: Sat Nam, Wahe Guru [sut nahm, wah-hay goo-roo]. Begin grounded and centered with “Sat Nam;” rise up, tall and open-hearted with “Wahe Guru.” Complete 26 squat-to-stand moves with corresponding arms and optional mantra.

Finally, return to seated. With the thumb tips and pinky tips touching on each hand, close the eyes.The mudra enhances intuitive communication: Use its energy to imbue and balance the Root upon inhale; visualize the breath flowing into the First Chakra.

Then, shift the fingers to Rudra Mudra: thumb tips touch their respective first and third fingertips. As you configure this gesture, exhale with the gaze turning intently up to the Third Eye. This mudra will help you use intuition for practical, as well as spiritual purpose and benefit.

Move back and forth between the mudras and closed-eye focal points. Inhale with pinky and thumb tips, mind on the Root Chakra; exhale with Rudra Mudra, gazing into the the Third Eye. Continue for 3-5 minutes. Then, settle into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Still to Come in the Homestead Series: Part 2—“Create and Express;” and Part 3—“Solar-Powered and Heart-Centered”

Silent Sundays: Integrity, Creativity, and Communication

I once had a therapist who told me: “Your integrity shines in the dark.”

At the time, her words landed with a wallop, for I felt anything but honest and of stalwart character. But somewhere inside, I recognized the truth of her observation: I was trying to be more emotionally balanced; I was trying to break bad habits; and I was trying to be more selfless while establishing boundaries.

By that point in my life, I had been an athlete, a scholar, a dancer, and a movement teacher. I knew the value of and practiced discipline; and I indeed was full of integrity when it came to acceptance of differences in others, and open-book emotional revelations in relationships. Where I faltered was in my demanding stance with Self: I had so much integrity that my Heart energy could barely keep up, much less fulfill my quest for perfection.

Over time—decades—yoga and its attendant philosophies (specifically, for me, through the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, as well as the practice and study of kundalini yoga) guided me through the need to be “perfect” (whatever that means). A deepened faith in the Eternal Divine and Universal Energies carried me to a land abundant with alternative perspectives, insight, and infinite possibilities of “how to Be…”

These thoughts occur today, as a result of my unsatisfying first draft of a practice for this Silent Sunday. Full of surface observations about the current state of COVID-related masking in our communities; and a forced correlation with the dis-harmonizing energies of Mercury retrograde (as it is now), the piece lacked what I think of as creative integrity. Just as in those therapy sessions with my 20s self, I was “trying”: Sometimes, though, trying becomes trying—overly effortful, exhausting, and ultimately self-defeating.

So, I stepped away from my planned piece, lay on the couch, closed my eyes, and breathed intuitively. Almost instantly, I realized that what felt like an absence of creativity was, in essence, stymied intuition and stifled insight. In the “trying,” I had squelched my ability to communicate with integrity.

The result of all of the above is today’s suggested practice: warm-up, pranayama, and mudra.

The routine will help you break through creative blocks; interpersonal stalemates; and blinders on your spiritual progress. Although I do suggest times for each part, feel free to extend the movement and breath sequences, as well as the meditation, for as long as you like.

Begin standing. Gently shake your body. It may be helpful to start with one hand, then whole arm, then the other hand and arm, and naturally expanding the bouncy, wiggly shaking throughout the body. Do this for about 1 minute, then come to stillness in standing.

Widen your base: Let the legs be about 3 feet apart. Inhale, then exhale as you slide the right hand down the outer right thigh as the left arm lifts high. Inhale back up through center, and exhale to reach down to the left as the right arm rises. Continue this alternating lateral bend for 1 minute.

Return to stand, closing the feet to about 12 inches apart, i.e., a natural stance. Inhale to lift the arms to the sides at shoulder level, and exhale as the right foot steps forward into an easy lunge. Inhale to turn to the right, offering a gentle twist through the upper body and torso. Exhale back into forward-facing lunge; inhale back to stand, and exhale the arms down. 

Repeat to the other side: Inhale arms up to the sides at shoulder level; exhale to step the left foot forward into soft lunge. Inhale to twist left; exhale back to basic lunge; inhale to return to standing, exhale, arms down.

Repeat this alternating sequence 7 more times to each side.

Special note: Lateral and twisting movements open the side body, i.e., the horizontal flow of energy, which corresponds with open, clear communication.

Now, bring yourself into your favorite seated position for pranayama and meditation. Allow the hands to rest where they naturally fall: knees, thighs, lap, palms up, palms down, next to or atop one another—let kinesthetic intuition guide the placement.

Once settled, begin the first phase of today’s breath work. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, inhale slowly and steadily to your personal count of 6. Exhale through the mouth, tongue softly extended, to a 2-count of short/long: If sounded, it might be, “huh, huuuuuuh.” Without a pause, continue the exhale for 4 more even counts. Close the mouth, inhale through the nose again for 6; exhale for 6, beginning with the short/long burst. Continue for 1-2 minutes.

Before entering the second phase of pranayama, sit quietly for a moment; allow your natural breath rhythm to return. Then, when you are ready, begin Sitali breath: Curl the tongue into a straw, and extend it out through the lips. (If a curled tongue is not available to you, simply part the lips slightly.) Inhale long and deep through the opening of the tongue “straw” or separated lips fo a count of 8. Then, draw the tongue in to press it against the roof of the mouth (lips closed), and exhale for 8 counts. Continue the pattern for 2-3 minutes.

Special note: To deepen the sense of whole-body “integrity,” connect the upper-palate tongue press to the rise of the diaphragm upon exhalation. These “domes” can also be visualized and sensed in the arches of the feet and crown of the head.

To conclude your pranayama, do this variation of alternate-nostril breathing: With the thumb of the right hand, close the right nostril; breath in and out through the left nostril 2 times. Inhale for the third time through the left nostril; close the left nostril with the middle or ring finger of the right hand, and exhale through the right nostril.

Keep the left nostril closed as your breath in and out through the right nostril 2 times. After the third inhalation, close the right nostril with the right thumb, and exhale through the left. Inhale left; close the left; exhale right. Inhale right; close the right; exhale left. Repeat: Inhale left; close left; exhale right; inhale right; close right; exhale left.

As you sit, allow the breath to regain its natural flow. Then, form a version of Vishuddha Mudra: This hand configuration opens and stimulates the Throat Chakra, which is the energetic center of communication with self and others. Although some depictions of the gesture show the second, third and fourth fingers tucked in, I prefer the following set-up: On the right and left hand, touch the index fingertips to thumb tips (Gyan Mudra); then, interlock the two circles, like a chain link. Extend the other fingers straight up, and touch each fingertip on the left to its respective partner on the right. Hold the interlocked Gyan Mudra circles a few inches in front of the throat; feel the connection between the tips of the extended fingers and the Third Eye. With eyes closed, gazing toward the Third Eye, breathe fully and deeply with the mudra for 3-11 minutes.

Finally, ease your way into Svasana. Arms lie several inches away from the sides of the body, palms up, fingers relaxed. Let the tongue float softly in the mouth; ease open through the jaw, neck, and shoulders; and feel the rise and fall of the abdomen and chest, and the contraction and expansion of the ribs as you breathe. Relax the buttocks, release through the backs of the knees, and allow the feet to fall open as the toes softly separate. Rest for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday… 

Silent Sundays: S-U-F-I Grinds, Part Two–Clear and Correct

In yesterday’s preamble to today’s practice, I described the recent discovery that an emotional response pattern thought long-abandoned still lurked within. It can be disappointing to realize that despite disciplined introspection, contemplation, and spiritual devotion, human flaws and foibles remain in need of attention. Yet “disappointment” need not be the abiding feeling: Rather, if one regards the ongoing pursuit and expulsion of unwanted, unnecessary traits as an integral part of a spiritually conscious life, then each recognition of ‘work to be done” becomes a boon—an opportunity for personal growth. With this continual self-monitoring and reckoning comes spiritual stamina, neutral-minded perspective, and deepened insight.

To aid in your evolution, this Silent Sunday sets forth a movement and meditation routine to clear out emotional and psychological remnants that seem to trip you up repeatedly; and then actively draws in specified beneficial energies. The key ingredient for this practice is Sufi Grinds. This is a churning, cleansing action whose appearance in any kundalini kriya or related routine signals clearing and elimination: As such, Sufi Grinds also can come to the rescue of many digestive issues.

Special note: While one typically thinks of digestion as a physical process, it also connotes the ability to ponder and then assimilate or reject thoughts and feelings. The stomach is home to many nerves: Some yogis think of the stomach is the second brain. Thus, when tending to physical digestion via exercises such as Sufi Grinds, one also calms and stabilizes emotions.

The following practice unleashes optimal movement throughout the spine. Working in increments, the entire spine and its supportive muscles receive the nourishment of spinal fluid and warmth, respectively. This section-by-section approach lays the foundation for the most fulfilling, effective Sufi Grinds.

To begin, sit on a chair, or on the floor with legs crossed or extended straight together in front of you. Use whatever bolsters you need to ensure that the spine is long, upright, aligned, and at ease. Take a few long, slow breaths as you take stock: What is it that you wish to delete from your mind and heart; and what elusive positive quality would you like to integrate?

When you have a goal to which you may dedicate this practice, you are ready to move. Start by isolating the pelvis: Inhale to tip the pelvis forward (which will create a slight arch in the low back); exhale to rock it back (which gently rounds the lumbar region). 

Special note: If you have any difficulty honing in on this movement, place your fingers on the front of the pelvic rim, with the thumbs on the back of the rim (iliac crest). As you inhale, use the thumbs to press the pelvis forward, as the fingers direct it a bit downward. Then, upon exhale, press the fingers into the pelvic rim to tip it back, as the thumbs press in and down to tilt the pelvis back and down.

Once the fingers release from their initial aid of the move (if you found it necessary), rest the hands—palms down—on the thighs as you rock and roll, tilting the pelvis forward and back. Continue for 3 minutes, increasing the speed as you see fit. Make the breath deep and powerful, and sense the awakening of the entire low back and belly.

Now, come to standing. Moving from the pelvis into the waist, begin large torso circles. For the purpose of today’s practice, these standing circles serve as a circulatory exercise: However, I also include them to highlight the difference between circling the torso and eventual Sufi grinding. As you circle the entire upper body (hands on hips), the pelvis remains fairly stationary: The focus of the torso circles is to warm up throughout the entire waist circumference, while encouraging deep breathing and blood flow. Circle clockwise for 1 minute, then reverse the circles for another minute.

Still standing, use your arms to clear the auric space (magnetic field) around you. By doing so, the path is cleared for both the removal and intake of old and new energies, respectively. Standing strong, inhale, and criss-cross the arms in front of you, moving upward from about the waist to directly overhead. Complete this rise in 4 crosses of the arms. 

Then, without stopping, touch each thumb to the palm-side base of its pinky finger: Curl the other fingers around the thumb to form a fist on each hand. Exhale to circle the arms with fisted hands out and down to the sides: Circle 4 times to lower the arms all the way, making circles of about 4-6 inches. Both arms make outward circles, i.e, the right arm circles clockwise as the left circles counter-clockwise. Continue the crosses up and the circles down for 1 minute.

Now, return to the floor, and come to all fours. Here, take 1 minute to engage fully with Cat/Cow spinal flexes. The lower spine and upper body have been warmed up, so move deeply and at a good clip as you inhale to extend (arch) the spine, and exhale to flex (round). 

Next, find your way into a seated crossed-leg position. (Although you may sit on a chair or with legs extended straight, the full benefit of Sufi Grind is experienced most easily in Easy Pose.) Place the hands on the knees: You will use your hands to help encourage and direct the rotational movement of Sufi Grinds. Keeping the arms actively engaged, inhale to tilt the pelvis forward and allow the spine to arch naturally, opening the front body. As the breath continues to flow in, circle the body to the right: Use the right hand on the knee to pull you to the right, as the left hand pushes against the left knee to further aid the movement.

Then, as you exhale to circle into the back space, tilt the pelvis back and under; the spine will respond naturally into a flexed (rounded) shape. Continue to exhale as you circle around to the left: The left hand pulls, as the right hand pushes. As you approach the front space and your start position, the exhale completes. You are thus ready to inhale and begin the clockwise “grind” again. To reap the deep-cleaning and eliminative benefit of Sufi Grinding, accentuate each part of the movement: However, do so seamlessly; the move should feel luxuriously thorough and fluid.

Circle clockwise for 2 minutes, then reverse, and circle to the left for an additional 2 minutes. Move at a pace that allows complete breaths and total fulfillment of each phase of the move, and that also actively creates warmth. You may speed up as you grow more comfortable with the movement.

When finished, sit quietly for a few breaths, allowing the body’s natural rhythms to return. Then, remind yourself of whatever quality or habit you wish to eject from your being. With that in mind, create a cross of both hands in Ardachandra Mudra: Each hand is palm-open, fingers together and straight, with the thumb reaching out to the side. Place the right hand in front of the Heart Center, palm facing out, fingers pointing up. The left palm, facing toward you, covers the right; left fingers point right. 

Special note: As stated in Mudras of India (Carroll, Carroll, p. 68), “This mudra represents destruction of one’s ignorance and realization of one’s true nature.”

With eyes closed and focused on the Third Eye, inhale through the nose; exhale forcefully and quickly through a wide-open mouth, tongue extended out and down. Feel free to make any sounds than naturally want to accompany the purifying exhale. Breathe in and out in this manner 10 times.

Finally, focus on the perspective or behavior with which you wish to fortify your inner adjustment. To support this commitment to change, place the left hand on the Heart Center. The right arm is bent at the elbow, resting against your side, as if taking an oath. Form a gentle fist of the right hand, palm forward, with the index finger extending straight up. The right hand of the gesture forms an antenna through which the wisdom of the Universe enters and meets your intention; the left hand ensures that your Heart and its inherent wisdom oversee the new energy. Breathe through the nose, deeply and slowly, with eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye. Continue for 3-11 minutes, and then release into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday… 

S-U-F-I Grinds: Part One– Backstory

Today’s piece serves as prologue to tomorrow’s Silent Sunday practice. The backstory and subsequent routine offer a stern dose of self-reflection and -correction, with a dollop of psycho-spiritual progress. To honor the adage of “business before pleasure,” today addresses a course correction after a jolt of self-awareness; Silent Sunday will put forth the lighter side, and how to get there.

It all began this morning, although arguably the road to insight was paved a few days prior. As with many tasks during these past months of surgical rehab, I needed help. My intrepid neighbor and friend has been the primary source of “in-house” aid: taking out garbage and recycling; bringing in mail; doing laundry, etc. I have made my gratitude well known, and of course have been of help to her in the past. We are friends: That is what we do.

My buddy is a helper and a wonderful shoulder for many. As such, she frequently struggles with how to salvage her own mental and physical strength; all too often, she subsumes her own needs to those of others. That clearly is part of her karmic journey, of which she is aware and continually addressing. As you may imagine, I am conscious of depleting her energies further with my own requests for help. But again, as true friends, we have found a balance in the ways in which respect each other’s quest to be of aid, and also to be left alone.

This past week has been an especially rough ride for my pal. With her own chronic health issues (both muscular and immune system-related), the week’s stressors wore her down quickly. (In sum, her mother is in a nursing home; the home has faltered frequently since COVID; her two brothers are not active participants in their mother’s care; and, in a stunning turn of events, a dead mouse was discovered in her mother’s bed three days ago.)

My friend had had it.

Because of the emotional and advocative rigors of her week, “MJ” let me know each day that she would take care of my laundry the next day. With a get=away planned to begin tomorrow, there was a deadline: Of course, for MJ, this meant another pressure in her already about-to-burst Help bubble. I encouraged her need to rest, and to put my laundry at the bottom of her priority list, certain that she would get to it eventually.

This morning, however, I received an email: MJ’s immune system had responded to the accumulated stress—her stomach was rebelling, and she had a fever of 100F. 

My mixed reaction, and the one that spurred today’s writing? Part dismay for my friend; part annoyance that my laundry had been put off; part shock at my selfishness; and part determination to reset my attitude—pronto!

First, I rallied rational thought: If I could not hoist a bag of laundry down and up 50 steps—twice—without damaging my recovering hip and aching leg, it could wait. Or, I could round up another friend after this holiday weekend; or, I could hand wash the most-needed items. Plenty of options to remind me: 1) that I remain capable, despite some incapabilities; and 2) that someone else (a dear friend, to boot) had greater needs than my own.

A bit anxiously, but nonetheless determined, I proceeded to do laundry. Yes, the multiple trips to the basement with a pillowcase full of clothing (the winnowed-down version of what ultimately needs to be washed) put my body through its own wringer. As I plodded away, however, I recognized that my physical strength and my hip’s endurance was greater than I had expected.

As it turned out, MJ delivered yet another gift: that of my renewed optimism and self-confidence.

And this is where the foul discovery of a dead mouse in MJ’s mom’s bed entered my mind. After the initial disgust, MJ had identified a hidden blessing: One of her brother’s— who typically is absent in every way concerning their mother—had been with MJ during the “mouse visit.” With MJ leaving town for a week, “Jaime” would be on duty with regard to their mother and the nursing home, and had come along to get the lay of the land.

As MJ put it, “It is a good thing he saw the mouse. Now he is more apt to keep track of Mom, and to stay in touch with the social worker.” Blessing recognized, table turned.

My own version of a dead mouse came in the form of being pushed to test my physical abilities; fortunately, the result was positive. Alongside that came the awareness of the aforementioned inner foe: a selfish anger that arises when “betrayed.” I choose quotation marks, as this certainly was no true betrayal: Rather, my friend was at her wit’s and body’s end, and she needed a break.  

But my initial response of a perceived “betrayal” roused those emotional scoundrels that I thought had long ago been chased from my inner sanctum. Selfish and Angry once again showed their faces; however, I quickly called in the troops to oust them yet again. To my aid? Sufi Grinds.

Or, as I think of them in this context: S-U-F-I Grinds. They form the crux of a practice designed to jettison the remains of yesteryear’s emotional habits; and to draw in new vibrational patterns of mental energy. S-U-F-I: Turn Selfishness into Understanding (of self and others); and transform Frustration into Insight. 

In tomorrow’s Silent Sunday: The Practice—S-U-F-I Grinds to Clear and Correct

Silent Sundays: Pumping and Pranayama for Vibrancy

This Silent Sunday offers an active practice suitable for just about any person and any need. I have combined breath and both external and internal “pumping” to stimulate circulation and invigorate the lungs. The result is one of refreshment and unencumbered clarity. The combination of moves is a wonderful warm-up before meditation; or as a technique to sharpen focus and boost energy.

To begin, sit wherever and however your spine is most aligned and upright: Feel free to use any bolsters that will aid this goal. Once seated, close your eyes, draw your gaze up to the Third Eye, and take a few long, deep breaths through the nose. When you feel settled, interlace the fingers and bring the arms straight in front of you. Inhale deeply through the nose. Keep the breath in as you raise the arms as high as you can, then quickly lower them all the way down. Move as quickly as possible, pumping the straight arms with interlaced fingers up and down: Repeat 4 times. (One pump is up and down.) Then exhale, inhale, suspend the breath, and pump 4 times. Complete this pattern 4 times.

Now, maintaining the clasped hands, straight arms, and breath pattern with movement, increase the number of arm-pump repetitions: With the breath in, pump up and down 8 times. Repeat a total of 3 times.

The previous external pumping now turns inward. Extend both arms overhead, lengthening through the elbows, with the palms together. It can be helpful to lock one thumb over the other; however, the other fingers do not interlace. With the eyes closed, draw your inner eye to the base of the spine: Inhale deeply through the nose, leading the breath up through the spine to the Third Eye. With your closed-eye focus now on your Third Eye, suspend your inhale: Vigorously pump the stomach for as long as you can. Then exhale fully, guiding the breath down the spine to its base. Repeat the inhale up the spine; retain the breath: pump the stomach; exhale when necessary, and return the breath and gaze to the base of the spine. Continue for 3 minutes.

The next “pump” will address two things: 1) any arm or shoulder tension that may have accrued during the previous move; and 2) lymph circulation in the armpit nodes. Whenever one opens or stimulates the armpit, lymph flow in the upper body improves. For this kriya, the arms will shoot up and out to the sides at 60-degree angles. Your breath will naturally attach itself to the rhythm of the movement: Breath through the nose powerfully enough that you can hear the breath.

To begin, inhale as the left arm fires out to 60 degrees; exhale as it draws quickly back down, with the right arm simultaneously shooting up and out to 60 degrees. As one arm comes down and in, the other goes up and out. Pump the arms as rapidly as possible for 3 minutes. (The palms are open, with the fingers long and together; allow the thumbs to find their preferred position.)

Take a moment to shake out or stretch the arms, and to allow the breath to settle. Then, with eyes closed, prepare for your final pump. This variation builds focus, stamina, and self-control: If ever you feel as if you have become reactive (rather than responsive), or are giving in to self-defeating impulses, this move on its own will re-center you. 

To begin, bring the hands into Prayer Pose in front of the Heart Center: However, keep the hands a couple of inches away from the chest. Lengthen up through the neck, roll the shoulders back, draw the shoulder blades down, and tilt the head back: The goal is to open through the thyroid and Heart Center by imparting a gentle, modest extension into the upper spine. Here, inhale fully: With the breath in, and the upper spine slightly arched, pump the stomach as quickly as you can. When you need to, exhale as you realign the spine and head to neutral, and bring Prayer Pose to rest on the sternum. In this posture, with the breath out, pump the stomach rapidly and for as long as possible.

Inhale into the original hands-off, head-back pose: Suspend the breath, and pump. Exhale to find neutral spine with the hands against the chest; with empty breath, pump until you need to breathe in. Continue this pattern for 3 minutes.

When you have finished, fit quietly to resume your natural breath rhythm. You may stay here, placing the hands on the knees in Gyan Mudra (thumb and index finger touching), palms up. Or, feel free to ease into complete Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Why You Need You

For the past several months, I have kept Everything Elsa readers up to date on the mental meanderings and physical predicaments of my time with osteoarthritis. Some of those thoughts addressed the need to let others in and help; some discussed the art of discerning when to give in and conversely, when to rally with all your might. In sum, I found myself writing pieces that fell into the category of “share my experiences with others with the intent to help.” I have been pleased with the result, both for myself and others.

This morning, however, reminded me that when it comes right down to it, your best resource is yourself. As crass and somewhat cold as it may sound, the common refrain of, “You live alone, and then you die alone” at first reading seems true. Certainly, one enters the world in the solo vessel of the body; then, that structure makes its passing as a discrete material form.

But the above adage refers to body, only: Mind, heart, and soul eternally are connected energetically to the Divine, the Universe, and—during their stint on Earth—the energies of others. Pre (or re)—birth, birth, Life, Death: Throughout this cycle that, arguably, will recur time and again, the physical body exists of its own accord—sometimes accompanied by others, and quite often, as a lone wolf. Yet even during the solo ventures, one’s personal energies remain in resonance with those of others.

I find myself wandering into this territory after speaking earlier today with a woman I had never met. She had left a message, citing a referral from another stranger, who had heard I was a dog and house sitter. When I returned her call this morning, I expected a short exchange (as I would be unavailable to help at this time): However, she talked, I listened, and both of us were a bit stunned that our call lasted 25 minutes.

In that time, I learned that “Pat” has two dogs, her oldest (16) of whom was on his last legs with cancer. She confided that while she wondered if she should end “Deacon’s” life, she felt that the time had not yet come. She underscored their bond and mutual need for each other by citing her husband’s passing just months ago, in January. She added that her sister had died seven months ago, in November. 

No wonder she was having a hard time letting go of Deacon.

To further her overwhelming feelings, Pat had never lived alone. She spoke of not eating well, due to her dislike of dining alone: Each night, she would sit for supper, and “give up” after a few bites. She mentioned her aloneness several times throughout our conversation. Because my heart had swung wide open by this point, I felt comfortable enough to comment that I would be sending prayers: “If that would be meaningful to you…” is about how I put it. She responded quickly with a clear, “Oh, yes, it is.” Thus, I knew that she had some connection to that which reverberates around us.

And yet, Pat felt at sea with the idea of being alone. Her aloneness stems from not having a physical human presence share her daily routines and abode; however, she never once used the word lonely. Because I now know that Pat has some sort of spiritual leaning; that she has a supportive family, albeit not locally; and that she feels the powerful energetic impact of the loss of her husband’s physical presence, I believe that she is not at all alone.

To love, to miss, to feel adrift: These states themselves refute that one is alone. When one becomes aware that earthly existence is anchored in and potentially unmoored by the energetic shifts wrought by emotion, circumstance, and relationship, one then recognizes the “never-aloneness” of Life.

And now, the title of this rumination: Why You Need You. If granted the idea that energy resonates between each of us and with the Universe at all times, throughout eternity, then the greatest relationship to hone is that with yourself. By taking the time to pray, meditate, and contemplate the notion that “God and Me are One” (a kundalini mantra), our energy fields expand, brighten, and vibrate more strongly. 

When one’s physicality becomes hindered, it need not signal a lessening. Times of illness, injury, or even a lifetime of physical challenge can lead one to a greater reliance: not on the physical help of others, but on the ever-present treasure that is your subtle energy body. “Live alone and die alone?” Not when you have You.

Silent Sundays: Pockets of Change

As readers of Everything Elsa know, I have been writing frequently about arthritis: its trajectory, ramifications, and eventual surgical journey. From how to contend with pain, emotional depletion, and forced change of lifestyle, recent writings have given me and you an opportunity to confront challenge in ways that boost spirit and physical vitality. Now, with the second hip replacement performed two days ago, I am approaching this recovery slightly differently.

Almost from the moment of diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both hips, I was intrigued by the potentially esoteric underpinnings of the ailment. In somatic and yogic circles, hips are said to be the storehouse of old pain: emotional, physical, and psycho-spiritual. I wondered if the wearing away of cartilage in the joints could possibly be a boon: Perhaps this would be an opportunity to shed all remnants of past struggle and strife; perhaps the erosion of tissue and the resultant bone-to-bone situation meant I could create a new type of vessel in my hips.

Now, as I experience the clear distinctions of sensation between right and left side recovery, I begin to add another layer to this idea of establishing a clean start in the hips. Because the right side of the body is said to be “masculine,” and the left to be “feminine,” I am not entirely surprised by the remarkably different quality of discomfort in the recovering hips. 

The first replacement was on the right: The surgery itself was rougher, more damaging; the subsequent recovery seemed “loud” within my body. My energy, too, took on an “outgoing,” determined tenor. The left side, currently entering its healing time, feels initially more rickety and uncertain: It wants a tender, slower care. And psycho-energetically, I find myself more introverted and needing to retreat. If “masculine” connotes tough and forceful, and “feminine” aligns with softness and gentleness, then my hips are doing a superb job of demonstrating the right/left side qualities.

Special note: As mentioned in an earlier post, any reference here to masculine or feminine characteristics are aligned with ancient and nature-based thought. As feminine corresponds with yin in Traditional Chinese Medicine—i.e., cool, receptive, soft, dark—masculine corresponds with the heat and outward movement of yang energy. By no means are the words or connotations meant to subsume or elevate the traits of men and women. Simply, they are guides within a framework that gives context to this discussion.

With these ideas in mind, I am expanding my recent practices of physical cleansing and karma-clearing to allow input of fresh, consciously conjured energy. In a sense, this concept corresponds nicely with the need to balance prana and apana, the energies of taking in and elimination, respectively. Just as the body (in its optimal state) harmonizes intake with output, one can draw in fresh perspectives and values, and shed old habits and emotions.

The main difference between the physical body’s innate drive for balance between what comes in and what goes out, and one’s decision to discharge the past to make way for a different state moving forward, is just that: The body behaves without conscious thought; our choices necessitate contemplation and discernment.

In the case of addressing the hips, this means that one may think about lifelong patterns of thought and behavior: What habitual reactions, what snap judgements, what negative slants have infiltrated your life? Then, when contemplating the idea that these can be ejected and replaced, what would be the qualities you would choose to take in? Further, in my case, I have begun to recognize when negativity is taking hold; I have made a firm pact with myself that these thoughts or energies will not be allowed to settle in to my fledgling hips.

An image comes to mind: that of pants pocket (which happen often to lie on the hips). I think of pockets that seem empty or unencumbered: However, at their base lie tiny bits of grit or lint. As in the hips, these pockets may remain in this subtly sullied state without our awareness. And as with the hips, their clearing requires turning them inside out for a fresh start.

On this Silent Sunday, I suggest an emptying and refilling of those “pockets.” To do so, you will conduct a full exploration of your physical and mental state of being. The following visualization and meditation will help to create an inner environment conducive to restructuring your being, should you find that desirable or necessary.

To begin, lie down on your back, as if in Svasana. (Feel free to do this practice in bed.) First, bring your attention to the physical body: Sense where you are stiff, perhaps riding higher on one side than the other, or possibly have weakness. With regard to the hips, the pelvis may be tilted, or you may find it challenging to lie flat with both legs straight. Or, if your imbalance resides in the upper body, one shoulder may feel more in contact with the floor, or one side may feel heavier. Take this closed-eye time to travel through your entire physical being, giving yourself as much time as you like.

Then, wherever you feel drawn, focus your inner eye and awareness to that spot or area. Select a cleansing color, texture, print, or image that represents “clean and clear” to you: Imbue each inhale from this point on with that quality. Breathe in deeply, guiding the breath to your area of concentration: Exhale through gently, slightly pursed lips. Breathe out as if you are blowing dandelion fuzz off of your hand, or across a table: softly, sweetly, completely. Continue for at least 3 minutes, and then as long as you like.

When you feel that you have cleared space, summon the qualities—mental, physical, spiritual—that you wish to undergird your motive for change. At this point, add a mudra to the mix: Adhomukha Mudra is one of transformation and self-healing: In conjunction with the self-reflection, physical visualization, and pranayama, the mudra channels your intention in the most beneficial and powerful way.

As you lie, with your sensations and conscious awareness flowing freely, bring the hands to hover a few inches above the Solar Plexus area, just beneath the Heart Center. Palms are down (facing the torso), and the backs of the fingertips and first knuckles rest against each other. Reach the thumb tips to touch each other. Now, with the mudra in place, use the inhale to draw in the state of mind, heart, and body that you wish to instill: You may take it in through the Third Eye, through the body region on which you have been focused, or perhaps you intuitively sense a new direction or spot for the breath to treat. Regardless, breathe in fully and deeply through the nose; exhale through the nose to settle and further integrate your aims. Continue for at least 5 minutes, and then as long as feels right.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Blank, Blanketed, and Finally, Blanket

Prior to my first hip replacement, I dedicated this forum to a 30-day exploration of “How to Hang On.” While the impetus for the series was the painful wait for surgery, each piece served as a stand-alone practice or commentary about ways to cope with seemingly relentless challenge of any kind.

Now, with the next surgery scheduled in five days, I find that I have gone in a very different direction. I am more still and calm, yet also less enthused: I know now the many rigors of rehab—mental, physical, and spiritual. Then, though, my psychological pendulum swings back to hope and hardiness: I may be more in the midst of challenge than I would have imagined at this juncture; however, I also am aware that my trajectory is one toward renewed health and vitality.

Why, then, do I feel “blank?” Several mundane tasks await me pre-surgery, and I am procrastinating as never before. Motivation and efficiency seem locked in and blocked by a brittle, hurting hip. Even my daily practices of movement and meditation lack the determination and devotion that typically accompany them. 

The past couple of weeks also have been blanketed with earthly obligations and psycho-spiritual bewilderment, the combination of which has squelched the fire needed to stoke my reserves. Thus, this Silent Sunday focuses on the restoration of harmony among the Water, Fire, and Earth elements. When in excess, the Bladder and Kidney meridians “flood” Fire and Earth elements, leaving one physically extinguished and mentally muddy. In order to bring the elements into harmony, the following practice creates an interplay between front and back body—stimulating the former and pacifying the latter.

To begin, sit quietly to to contemplate your personal situation at this moment. Perhaps you feel at peace and in balance: Wonderful! In that case, this practice can be used to seal in your already contented state. If you feel uncertain, foggy, detached, or worn, begin slowly: Monitor your energies, and befriend yourself.

Start on your belly. Bend the arms to bring the hands underneath the forehead, palms down, one hand atop the other. If this position feels awkward, due to stiffness in the shoulders, adjust the pose slightly.

In this prone position, breathe deeply into a visualization. Take your inner eye to the center-back of your skull: Inhale, and imagine the breath spreading from that point, down and out to the sides of the torso, as if slowly opening and widening the back body. When you have guided your inhale all the way to the waist, pause with the breath suspended. 

Take this brief moment to shift your inner gaze to the tail bone; once there, exhale through the mouth. Make this a steady, long “whooshing” sound as the breath travels down the back of the legs to exit through the soles of the feet. The inhale is as if you have filled a basin with water; the exhale is used to empty the vessel thoroughly. Repeat this breath and visualization 4 more times, for a total of 5 rounds.

Now, still on the belly, bend the knees. If possible, move into Bow, holding the ankles or feet with the hands, and lifting the upper body and knees off of the floor. If this is difficult, place the hands under the thighs (palms against the thighs), press them up, and raise the head and shoulders. Whichever position you can muster, begin to rock back and forth on the belly: Inhale as you rock back, exhale to roll forward. Give yourself time to find a rhythm, and then continue for 30-60 seconds.

From here, press back into Baby Pose for a few deep breaths. Then, sit up, and bring your legs straight in front of you. With the hands on the ground next to the hips, inhale to lift the body off of the floor into a table-like position: You may have to move the feet in closer, so that when the knees bend, the feet are under or slightly ahead of the knees. Exhale to lower. Again, find a consistent rhythm and workable body configuration. Move slowly at first, speeding up as your are able; continue for 2 minutes, taking breaks as needed.

Now that the front body has opened, and the back body has been contracted, Earth and Fire are beginning to step up to the overflow of Water. To further target this redistribution of energy, lie on your back: Arms and legs are in the air at 90 degrees (i.e., perpendicular to the floor). Inhale through the nose: Exhale through the nose as the right arm and left leg lower to 60 degrees (arm back toward the head; leg down toward the floor). Inhale them up; exhale to switch—left arm and right leg lower away from each other to 60 degrees. Continue this cross-lateral movement at a fairly rapid pace for 1 minute.

Next, draw the knees in, and wrap the arms around them: Inhale to rock back on the spine; exhale to rock forward. Continue to rock back and forth in this tight ball shape for 1 minute. Use this movement to press excess Water out of the back body (Bladder meridian), and to contract and shelter the arms and front body, respectively (Heart and Stomach, associated with the Fire and Earth elements).

When you have finished rolling, come into a seated position; you may also sit on a chair. Although I often suggest Spinal Flexes as a warm-up movement, this practice uses them to create a “conversation” between front and back body: The equal attention to both, by dint of the spinal movement, underscores the intended balance between Water, and Fire and Earth. 

With the hands holding the knees, inhale through the nose as you arch the spine forward (extension); exhale through the nose to round back (flexion): The eyes are closed and gazing at the Third Eye. Move as fluidly and quickly as possible for 2 minutes.

Now, release the hands from the knees and bring the arms out to the sides at shoulder level. Inhale here; exhale as you bring the arms forward, as if hugging a tree, bringing the inner wrists to touch. Inhale them wide again, leading with the backs of the hands and allowing the wrists to bend. Continue with this variation for another 2 minutes.

Finally, move into a form of Svasana. In this version, you will use hands and breath to wrap your energies in a blanket of balance. On your back, eyes closed, settle into traditional Svasana: However, turn the left palm up, with the right down. As you inhale, imagine a warm, soothing breeze entering through the left palm and spreading within; exhale through the right palm, emptying any residual mental or physical “sogginess.” Breathe and visualize this way for 1-3 minutes. 

Then, bring both hands to the lower belly. I tend to place the right hand first, thumb on belly button, with the left hand resting on top (both palms down); feel free to let your kinesthetic intuition guide the placement. This is your final resting position, in which all energy bodies and organ systems have the opportunity to flow in harmony.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Reminder Nuggets

Today, Silent Sunday provides an opportunity to revisit some foundational and demonstrably effective ways to attend to emotion, mind, and body. From spinal flex routines, to mighty mudras, to powerful pranayama, to essential oil elixirs, these techniques address myriad concerns and aims.

Special note: Depending on your personal need of the day, you could select one of the following techniques; or, experiment with them all to create a longer customized practice. I will offer an example of such a routine in closing.

First is an array of spinal flexes. These movements never fail to awaken the mind and body. Interestingly, although the flexions, extensions, and rotations are natural and vital for our body and nervous system, they are not typical daily movements in most contemporary cultures. But as a morning wake-up, nightly wind-down, pre-meditation warm-up, or midday attention booster, they are unparalleled.

You may do this combination seated on the floor or a chair, or even standing. Begin by inhaling to arch (extend) the spine forward; then exhale to round (flex) the spine back. Keep the hands in one place (knees or thighs, or on the hips if standing), and focus on moving the spine forward and backward through the frame of the shoulders. Continue for 1-3 minutes, giving yourself plenty of time to move from initial stiffness to fluid ease.

Then, begin Sufi Grinds. This adds side-space movement to the forward/back move: Inhale to move the spine forward and to the right; exhale as you move back, and around to the left, circling the entire torso and allowing the pelvis to move as well. Continue “grinding” clockwise for 1 minute, then reverse to circle to the left. Breathe deeply, and use the movement to massage the inner organs: This is an excellent way to aid digestion.

From here, come onto all fours: Cat/Cow essentially transposes the seated (and thus vertical) spine to a horizontal plane. Any time one shifts movement to another level or orientation, the brain receives a burst of alertness, while circulation improves and muscles are challenged. On your hands and knees, inhale to deeply arch the spine, open the chest, and look forward or slightly up; exhale to round, tuck the tail, and allow the head to hang. Continue for 1 minute: If you find a spot that feels stuck or stiff, remain in the position, breathing and wriggling into the area, and then resume the flex/extend movement.

The next infallible tool in this particular “kit” is Nadi Sodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing. I have found that this pranayama can resolve restlessness, anxiety, overthinking, worry, and even anger: As a balancing, centering technique, it comes to the rescue every time. 

Special note: An easy way to remember when to change fingers/nostrils in this breathing technique is to switch after each inhale. Using this method, the pattern quickly becomes second-nature. 

Sit in your favorite meditative position. Typically, one uses the right hand to guide the breath through the nose; if you are injured or unable to use the right hand, the left is fine. Simply make the necessary adjustment to the following instructions. I enjoy keeping the left hand in the lap, palm up, when practicing this pranayama. If you prefer a mudra, or to keep the palm down, feel free: You also may find that the resting hand wants to do something different each time your practice; follow your intuition and the need of the day.

Further, I tend to use the right thumb and ring finger, with the  flat space between the first and second knuckles of the index and middle fingers resting on the Third Eye. Again, though, if you are more comfortable with a different configuration, e.g., thumb and index as the “operators,” certainly do that. 

Regardless, begin by closing the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril; then, close the left with the ring (or index) finger, and exhale fully and steadily through the right nostril. Inhale through the right; close the right; and exhale through the left. Inhale left; close it; exhale right; inhale right; close; exhale left. Continue with this alternate-side breath for 3-7 minutes.

Now, it is mudra time. There are countless hand and finger configurations in different religions, cultures, and practices. To select even five favorites would be a true challenge for me: Instead, I offer three that find their way into my daily practice almost every time. Each is simple, soothing, and seems to open a portal for prayer and mediation. 

First is a Heart Center mudra. Almost always, I close a kriya, prayer, or meditation with some variation of hands-on-heart: The classic Prayer Mudra is a good example of such a gesture. One version that I use without thinking is to hold my gently fisted right hand with the left, and bring the package to rest on my chest.

As a fundamental hand position during pranayama or meditation, I enjoy placing the left hand in the right, both palms up with the thumb tips touching. Simply rest the hands in the lap or at the base of the belly.

And, of course, Gyan Mudra is a traditional and oft-seen and -used gesture. This classic configuration touches the thumb tip to index finger tip: One may also curl the index fully underneath the thumb, or partially, to about the level of the first knuckle. Gyan mudra is used to enhance communication and to invoke divine wisdom. 

More often than not, I use a different finger as a one-finger mudra. If needing patience and discernment, I’ll touch middle finger to the thumb tip. Or, to energize any thought, movement, or goal of a particular practice, use the ring finger and thumb. To align with subtle and Universal energies, touch pinky to thumb tip. These are all fundamental, powerful mudras; as such, they form the basis of more complex configurations. Use your kinesthetic and intuitive abilities to feel your way toward one that suits you at any given moment.

Finally, a frequently overlooked adjunct to any practice, and a highly therapeutic modality any time: essential oil blending. As with mudras, I find it difficult to choose “favorites,” as I use the oils for specific purposes: However, I do use the following oils most often, either in combination with others, or as their own elixir. Regardless, a carrier oil that harmonizes with your skin is also an important part of creating an oil mix.

Most often, I use jojoba oil as a base. I may blend it with Vitamin E oil, and/or almond oil. Others swear by avocado, apricot, or even olive oil; my skin and nose, however, prefer the more neutral carriers.

As for go-to essential oils: peppermint, lavender, geranium, and vetiver are among my personal staples. In different combinations, I may add eucalyptus or thyme; bergamot, orange, or neroli; or deeper, “woodier,” oils, e.g., patchouli. When selecting oils, sniff them as you would when choosing a fragrance: If it is unappealing, trust that your body will not respond easily to your desired therapeutic goal. If an oil “sparks” or “perks” your nose, it likely will serve as an excellent mood or energy boost. Conversely, an oil whose scent immediately soothes or quiets you will be an excellent start for a grounding blend or sleep aid.

To close, the following is an example of how one might combine the above power-players into a full practice. Begin by anointing yourself with an oil or blend: If you want a more meditative session, try lavender alone, or in combination with vetiver or frankincense. If you need energy or stimulation, peppermint or sweet orange oil are wonderful choices. Regardless, dab your selection onto the soles of the feet, wrists, and temples.

Then, spend a few minutes warming up the spine. If you prefer only the seated spinal flexes, or alternatively, only Cat/Cow, that is fine. Be sure, though, that you move deeply and long enough to expel stiffness from the muscles and distractions from the mind. A thorough stimulation of the spine will aid the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which in turn will enhance concentration and meditation.

With the body prepared, settle in for several minutes of Alternate Nostril Breathing. When you have finished, sit quietly with a selected mudra. Keep the eyes closed, gazing to the Third Eye, and allow the vibrations from movement, breath, and the imbuing oils to settle. If you like, you may further integrate the energies with a few minutes in Svasana.

Happy Sunday…