Silent Sundays: The Stark Line of Change–Introduction to New Series

As alluded to or mentioned in several previous articles, I have been wrangling with hip pain for nearly two years. The same time period has seen my mother move through the unsettling progression of dementia. Although the two may seem unrelated—one physical, and of my body; the other cognitive, and of her brain—I had suspected and now feel certain of their intertwined dynamic. The following thoughts on the matter introduce a three-part series on physical pain, transformation, courage, and ultimately, hope.

Some background: My mother has always been my “buffer.” Although she could not (nor did she wish to) shield me from Life’s inevitable hard knocks, her consoling hugs and listening heart almost always lessened the impact. Even when “out in the world” pursuing goals and dreams, I carried a strong sense of a warm, safe home base: If I faltered, I knew I could return to the Buffer Zone for a dose of support and encouragement.

I began to contemplate the interplay of Mom’s dementia and my increasingly aching hips when I recalled a strong metaphor that arose shortly after my father’s death nearly 13 years ago. Although my mother had always been the more immediate source of solace and wisdom, my dad was the unwavering stronghold of our family as a unit: He took his role as provider seriously, and he did it well. While his words of love were few and indirect, he, too, delivered a powerful wrap of a hug when we needed one.

And then he was gone. Within 3 months of his passing, my entire inner thigh muscle tore open. My immediate thought? “I do not have a leg to stand on…” Equally applicable to the physical status of my leg, and to my feeling unmoored without Dad’s steadfastness, the phrase motivated me: I would bolster my ability to stand more firmly on my own, physically and emotionally. The years following clearly revealed where I had perhaps over-relied on Dad’s support; the weaknesses showed up quickly, and I continue to try to strengthen them—practically, spiritually, and ceaselessly.

The succinct, undeniable truth of that previous correlation between emotion and bodily injury began to seep into my current consciousness, with regard to my mother and me. So, when I finally visited an orthopedist last week, the diagnosis made perfect sense, both physically and psychologically. The x-ray showed advanced arthritis in both hips: no cartilage, no buffer.

When it comes to how and where the body contends with imbalance, I gravitate toward Traditional Chinese Medicine and yogic philosophy for insight. From time to time, I also consult Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life. An included chart presents the physical area of concern or type of problem, and then suggests possible emotional or psychological reasons for the occurrence. 

A quick look at “hip problems” and “joints” revealed the link between my mother’s and my challenges. “Hip Problems: Fear of going forward in major decisions. Nothing to move forward to.” (It should be noted here that the overarching family concern of the past two years has been whether and where to move our mother. Most recently, I offered to share a household with her, which is a decision I had been resisting. While I remain committed to the challenge, I continue to have doubts.) And then, “Joints: Represent changes in direction in life, and the ease of these movements.” Cue my jaw dropping.

The same night of the day I saw the x-ray, I had a moment of stark realization that my life had changed: There was no going back, nor even would there be a continuation of how I, until that moment, envisioned my future. So often, transformation unfolds almost invisibly; we carry on as our personal evolution simmers away beneath our awareness. This was different: I physically felt the divide between What Was, and What Is—the line was firm and clear. Although What Is is new, and What Will Be remains hidden in the firmament, I have been able to release What Was: To continue with courage and acceptance is the name of the current game.

In Parts 2 and 3: Warmups and Qigong Visualization to Create Your New Way; Pranayama for Pain and Anxiety; and Third Chakra Routine, plus Mudra and Meditation for Positivity and Possibility

Silent Sundays: Reveal the Mudra You Need

In the pursuit and practice of any creative or spiritual discipline, there comes a moment or a period of time when connection to that focus seems unattainable. Perhaps external circumstances distract from the ability to still restlessness; or perhaps emotional overdrive or stagnancy prevents sensing and tuning in to a point of entry. This type of block is not easily overcome with traditional practices or advice: Rather, one must forego expectation and plummet into the unexplored regions within.

The way forward when faced with a creative or spiritual impasse is to clatter about as much as needed: Allow physical tension, circuitous thoughts, boredom, and frustration to have their way. For some, this may mean stimulating the physical body through exercise; for some, this may signal the need to sink into a bath, surrounded by silence or music; for some, this may mean adding distractions such as socializing or watching a movie. The key is to relent to internal pressure, giving it what it thinks it wants or needs. Eventually, the energies become saturated, overflow, and naturally subside.

It is at that point that today’s Silent Sunday practice officially begins. With your body and mind somewhat settled, start by connecting to the First and Second chakras; therein lie the energies of stability and creativity. Come into a seated position: crossed-leg, legs extended straight forward, or sitting in a chair, feet parallel on the ground. Gently rock your pelvis forward and back, honing in on the pelvic floor and base of spine: Inhale as the pelvis tips forward, creating a small arch in the low back; exhale as it tips back, slightly rounding the lower spine. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, lift the energy into the Second Chakra by stirring the spine with Sufi Grinds. Circle the torso clockwise, initiating the rotation from the lowest portion of the belly; inhale as the rib cage moves through the front cross-section of space around you; exhale as you circle back. Allow the pelvis to move with the circle: tip forward to aid the circling forward; tip back as you round into the rear half of the circle. Continue for 1 minute, then reverse directions, circling to the left.

Next, free yourself to move in whatever way you like. You may remain seated, come onto all fours, stand, lie down, or move throughout multiple dimensions and directions. Shift the body through the magnetic and auric field around you: This organic free-flow breaks down energetic barriers and balances your “shield”; thus, you become open to beneficial energies, yet are impermeable to that which inhibits your creativity and focus. Continue for 3 minutes.

Now, come into your favorite seated posture for meditation. Briskly rub your palms together until they are warm. Then, massage and wriggle each individual finger; consciously breathe deeply as you do so. Finally, raise your arms above your head, reaching as high as possible: Inhale, suspend the breath, and vigorously shake the wrists, so that the hands vibrate rapidly. Continue until you need to exhale: As  you do so, slowly bring the arms down and quiet the hands.

You are ready to configure your own mudra. Concentrate on the areas of the hands or specific fingers that remain tingly or warm after the previous massage and shaking: The sensitivity may be different on each hand. Then, listen to what that enlivened hand part wants to do: Extend a finger? Curl fingers? Cross wrists? Palms up or down? Touch fingertips on the same hand, or hand-to-hand? Let a shape evolve from the energy that lies within the hands.

If some part of your body seems connected to the developing mudra, draw the hands close to or onto that area. Notice words, images, sensations, emotions: Then, release specific associations; remain with only the underlying vibrational current. Understand that you have evoked exactly what you need to further your creative or spiritual discipline. With eyes closed, gazing upward to the Third Eye, slow and deepen your breath: Settle into the energy of your personal mudra, allowing it to connect your awareness to Universal consciousness.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: “Peace Along the Path…”

Past, present, future: Often, one of these “time zones” will play a lead role in spiritual contemplation or practice. For example, a meditation may be oriented toward transformation and the manifestation of a desired characteristic. Or, a practice may focus retrospectively, with the intention to call up and release past pain. And sometimes, I create routines whose aim is to jettison oneself out of trying circumstances by tuning in to the “above and beyond.”

Each of these vantage points prove necessary at different times, for different reasons. Recently, however, I was reminded that contained within each and every moment is the opportunity for peace: Current challenges, future goals, and previous struggles notwithstanding, one can align with a sense of faith and its inherent peace, whenever and wherever.

I found my reminder in an unlikely spot, although its messenger had previously hinted at his bent toward philosophy and spirituality. The locale? My neighborhood wine store. My Mercury? The owner’s son. In conversations past, he had discussed his fascination with Stoicism and its origins. Our retail interactions became the excuse for abridged, yet intense discussions of Creation, Being, and Mysteries.

And then, nearly two weeks ago, I arrived at the store in an atypically cranky mood. The first snowfall had arrived, bringing with it a foot of snow… and no snowplow for our apartment house’s parking lot and driveway. My neighbors and I struggled individually and as a team to dig ourselves out: However, we all felt resentful, given that we each had received notice of a substantial rent increase. We were to pay more to receive less than ever before?

So, it was with exasperation, as well as aching muscles from shoveling that I entered the store. I was greeted with a smile, and I simply said that I was not feeling very smiley that morning. I tried to rally, however, and quickly noted that the weather forecast called for clearing skies and warming temperatures. I assured my “partner-in-philosophizing” that my positivity would make a swift return.

He was silent for a few moments, and then slowly, thoughtfully offered: “Sometimes in the morning, I listen to different preachers on the radio. This morning, one of them said that peace is not a destination; it is with us always, as we move along the path…”

I was somewhat embarrassed that I so clearly needed to be reminded of this: However, I thanked my messenger, and assured him that I would go about the rest of my day with that in mind. As I left the store, I once again shook my head at the ease with which I so quickly had been thrown from “peace along the path.” All it took was a snowstorm, and its resulting physical challenges.

Since that day, I have called upon the phrase many times. It is one that I use to stay present and in full awareness of my innate potential to proceed with equanimity. Each of us has that ability; it does, however, need to be brought forth and strengthened. Today’s practice moves the body forward and back, circling all the while, in order to bring one to a sense of physical centeredness. In that most immediate and empowering place, one then may tune in to the still calm within: that Peace that always may be found along the path.

To begin, stand tall and firm in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, with feet a few inches apart. Be sure to feel your feet in contact with the ground; be conscious of your body’s strengths and vulnerable areas; and with eyes closed, focus on the sound and flow of your breath. Stand, sense, and breathe for 1 minute.

Now, as you inhale, bend your knees into a squat, sending the buttocks back past the heels. Maintain a long spine as you bring the arms up alongside the ears. Here in Uttkatasana, or Chair Pose, take a few deep breaths. This posture is grounding and strengthening, and helps to stimulate both the Root and Heart Chakra with its deep squat and lifted chest.

Next, on an inhale, straighten the legs as as you rise and, with the arms still extended overhead, bend slightly backward. As you exhale, move forward and down into a standing forward bend. Then, inhaling, bend the knees and lift the torso and arms as you rise up into Chair again. Precisely and strongly embody this pose, yet do not pause: Instead, continue to inhale as you straighten to legs to push up and back into the slight standing back bend.

Flow through these three stations—Chair, standing back bend, and standing forward bend—with seamless breathing. As you move from one pose to another, the breath encourages the fluid transition from up and back to forward and down: You begin to inhabit the circularity of the movement. The ongoingness of the breath and circling vinyasa begins to remove the sense of linear time: Instead, your consciousness supersedes any sense of past, present, or future.

Continue the movement pattern with full breath awareness for 3 minutes. To finish, hang easily in standing forward bend for a few breaths. Then, lower yourself to the floor, and lie on your back. Here, another circling movement begins: Water Wheel engages deep and surface abdominal muscles, thereby stimulating the Second and Third Chakras. These energy centers contribute to feelings of stability and confidence, which serve as an invitation to Peace.

On your back, bring your knees in toward the chest. Inhale as you extend the legs straight up; exhale as you lower them to a few inches above the floor. Inhale again to draw the knees back in and up; exhale to lower. Continue for 1 minute, and then reverse the wheel: Inhale to extend the legs straight out from the chest to a few inches above the floor, and then up to 90 degrees; exhale to bend the knees down toward the chest. Continue for another minute.

The next physical piece initially requires strict vigilance. On your back, begin to move and squirm, seeking any areas of tension that may be holding negative emotions or obstructed energy. The challenge is that no part of your body should lift off of the floor as you wriggle: This is a highly contained, yet organic vibration. By limiting the range of motion, the movement hones in on deep and specific points that need to be released. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, liberate your body from any sense of restriction. Contort and squirm in any way on the floor: you may find that you want to lift an arm or leg, or even the head. Perhaps the back arches and lifts off the floor, or you want to roll from side to side. Whatever movement needs to happen, give the body the space to do so. Continue for 2 minutes.

Finally, with the body free, yet centered, lie on your back for Svasana. In this version, place one hand on the heart, and the other on the low belly, just beneath your navel: Whichever hand wants to rest on whichever spot is your intuition’s way of guiding you toward Peace. Breathe deeply into the calm, steady flow of physical and mental energies. Remain here, abiding Peace, for 5-10 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sunday… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Whew, Shh, and Ahh…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sunday…

Take a Load Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://everythingelsa.blog/2019/10/26/rabbit-hole-pandoras-box-or-hidden-treasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sunday…

Down a Rabbit Hole, Only to Discover Hidden Treasure…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/v-4m35Gixno

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

Being Single Requires Strength and Commitment… to Authenticity and Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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