Silent Sundays: Full-body Mudra for Stability and Positivity During Challenging Times

Whether you are feeling a bit shaky amid personal difficulties, or whether current global upheavals and uncertainties have rendered you somewhat anxious, today’s practice offers an antidote. As I often suggest, a short round of simple warm-up movements will help you achieve a fuller, more comfortable expression of this Silent Sunday’s demanding postural focus. The pose requires flexibility and strength through the hips, spine, and shoulders: Feel free to modify or prop yourself, in order to support any area that needs a bit of extra help. 

To begin today’s practice, come to a standing position with feet comfortably apart. Clasp your hands behind you, and stretch the arms straight. Inhale to arch slightly backward and look up, exhale to come as far forward and down as you can. Allow the knees to bend slightly at first; also, as you bend forward, let the arms float away from the back. This will help to warm and loosen the arm from the shoulder through the bicep, which will help you in the final posture. Continue to inhale up, exhale down for 2 minutes.

When you reach your last exhale down into forward bend, release the hands from behind you; let the arms and head hang for a few breaths in Standing Forward Bend. Then, hold the ankles—or wherever you can reach—and inhale: As you exhale, bend the knees and crouch down into full squat, still holding your ankles. Inhale to raise the buttocks as you straighten the legs, again moving into forward bend, head hanging down. Continue this up/down movement from forward bend into squat for 2 minutes.

Now, move onto all fours for a few rounds of Cat/Cow. Then, come all the way onto your belly for Gentle Bow. Bend the knees, and reach back to hold the ankles: You may keep your head on the floor, or lift it to whatever point is comfortable. Simply remain here—no further effort of lift into Full Bow is necessary—and breathe deeply for 1 minute. After this easy opening of the front body, push back into Baby Pose for a few breaths, allowing your spine to relax and your breath awareness to deepen.

After you slowly roll up and out of Baby Pose, you will be sitting on your heels. Ideally, you will keep the left heel underneath you, as you bring the right foot flat on the floor in front of you: The right knee points up to the ceiling. If you can not comfortably sit on the left heel, try placing a pillow or blanket between the heel and buttock. Alternatively, bring the heel out from under you, and place it next to the right foot on the floor; the left knee rests on the ground. You may still require a bit of lift if you have a stiff lower back or hips: Sit on the edge of a pillow or rolled blanket.

Next, interlace your fingers: For women, the left thumb rests on top of the right (Venus Lock); for men, the lacing is opposite, i.e., right thumb over left. Bring this mudra overhead, stretching through the elbows to bring your arms as straight as possible. Now, flip the mudra, so that the palms face upward. This opening and stretching of the palms infuses the Heart energy—a point of which is found in the center of each palm— with the energy of the Divine. As you align yourself with the eternal wisdom of the Universe, earthly woes become more diffuse.

Initially, you may find it quite difficult to stretch up and out of the challenging seated position: This pose demands supple, yet powerful back muscles along the entirety of the spine. If necessary, allow slight bending in the arms; or, you may need to keep the right hand on the ground behind you, while stretching the left upward alongside your ear. If you choose to do this modification, bend the left wrist back, so that the palm still faces up. 

Once you have chosen a workable version of the position for your body, close your eyes and gaze at the Third Eye. Breath deeply and consciously for 3 minutes. Focus on the rootedness and stability through the base of the pose; simultaneously, feel the kundalini energy flowing into the Upper Triangle of chakras. It is this partnership of grounding and elevation that allows you to approach challenges with consistent positivity.

After three minutes, shake out your legs, and switch to the other side: right heel underneath the perineum, or just in front of the genitals, with the right knee open and to the ground; left foot on the floor, pulled in close to you, with the left knee pointing upward. Again, determine how much of the upward stretch with the arms you can manage; it may differ from the first side.

You may also decide that you would like to try the full arm extension with flipped-up Venus Lock. In that case, you may instead modify the seated pose into a simple crossed-leg pose. Eventually, with practice, you will be able to inhabit the full version of the posture. Regardless, breathe deeply into the “body mudra” for another 3 minutes.

When you are ready, unwind from your selected variation of the second side: Stretch, shake, or massage wherever you need. Then, come onto your back for a full-body stretch, perhaps adding a reclined twist: Breathe deeply for a few breaths, and then move into svasana for at least a few minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: The (Body) Language of Letting Go

Last night was the first “get an extra blanket” night in nearly four months. A hot, humid Summer had settled in quickly, necessitating little or no coverage during sleep. And then the wonder of early Fall appeared yesterday evening: humidity dissipated, and cooler temperatures arrived. Although Fall does not officially begin for more than a month, now is the time to start readying our bodies and minds for its inception. (Remember: Always begin to prepare for a new season about six weeks prior to its official start.)

As I began to think of a Fall-based routine for this Silent Sunday’s practice, I realized that mentally and emotionally, I have been working with the typical energies of the season for a while. Fall represents a time of elimination and letting go: Its organs, vis-a-vis Traditional Chinese Medicine, are the Lungs and Large Intestine, the organs of respiration and excretion. Typically, one would focus on arm movements and pranayama to awaken and stimulate the meridians needed to transition into Fall.

Today’s focus follows closely on the tail of a conversation I had last week with my mother, who is in the steadily progressing throes of dementia. We had been talking about all sorts of things, including each of our various struggles and joys over the course of a lifetime. Our discussion deepened into the spiritual realm, as she and I always have tended to do: For a short time, I was again in the presence of the attentive, deep-seeing mind of my mother.

As we spoke, our talk moved toward our views on the end of life, and how we both believe that it should be up to any individual to choose their path out of Life, just as each of us should be allowed to choose our pathways through Life. As my mother’s health proxy, it would be up to me to help my mother if the day came when she clearly, definitively wanted “out”: Unfortunately, we live in a society that legislates against choice in this matter. I explained to my mother that although I would be mentally and emotionally prepared to help her, my hands are tied with regard to the practical application of our belief.

I realized, and articulated to my mother, that I had reached a point where the thought of her not being around was no longer an acute sense of grief or missing. Rather, I could discern within my  cells and my soul a clear divide—one compartment for sadness and one for detached awareness, softly, yet powerfully functioning in tandem. Kinesthetically, I felt this duo as a thin, vertical line through the center of my body: the plumb line of balanced acceptance.

And it is this partnership of energies that one addresses when preparing for the upcoming Fall. As we eliminate through breath and digestion, we leave space for whatever fresh foci will serve us best as the weather and mood changes. Just as I have come to a place where I have released the need to hold on to my mother, I simultaneously have taken in a new sense of spiritually mature detachment. Such is the nature of the back-and-forth “pranic pump” of Fall: let go, smooth the ground, prepare for what comes next—repeat, repeat, repeat.

In order to awaken your body and mind to the processes of elimination, try the following short routine. If you practice the set for 40 days, it will carry you into the autumnal season healthy and ready for any changes that may arrive with Fall. Begin with a brisk round of arm shaking, rubbing, and gentle pummeling: include the armpits, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, and fingers. Spend about 2 minutes tending to this thorough stimulation of the Lung and Large Intestine meridians that run through the arms.

Next, with whatever fingertips feel natural, start to tap up and down along the sides of the nose. After about 30 seconds of this, begin pinching and releasing the soft fleshy webbing between the thumb and index finger on both hands: Do each side for about 30 seconds. Finish this tweaking of the organ system by tucking the index fingertips inside their respective thumb tips: Flick the index finger outward, as if sending a crumb away. Continue this flicking for about 30 seconds.

Now, bring a focused qigong move into the mix. In a grounded standing position, bring the right hand a few inches in front of the area between the sternum and collar bone, palm facing in; hold the left hand, palm facing in, at the level of the navel. Begin to circle the elbows forward, keeping the hands where they are. As you circle the elbows forward, allow the whole spine to round, and let the head drop forward slightly; as the elbows reach the bottom of their forward circling, and begin to circle back up, inhale and allow the spine to arch and undulate from its base to the neck. Exhale to circle the elbows forward and down, rounding the spine; inhale to arch the spine in the opposite direction as the elbows circle back to the start. This movement connects the energy of the Lungs and Large Intestine, and ensures that eliminative energies flow smoothly and steadily.

The following sequence is one that I have developed over time. Not only does it clear the magnetic field surrounding you (which makes way for a fresh influx of energy), it stimulates all of the meridians in the arm: Heart, Pericardium, Triple Warmer, and of course, Lungs and Large Intestine. Additionally, the angles at which the arms move encourages the detoxifying action of the lymph nodes in the armpits.

In your favorite seated posture, alternate strong, rapid punches out to the left and right at shoulder level: punch left, right, left, right as you inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. Then, with open palms, shoot the arms up 60 degrees to the side: palms face inward as you again alternate 4 times, inhaling left, exhaling right. Next, punch vigorously forward, left and right, for a total of 4 punches with the same left, right inhalation and exhalation. Finally, with open palms facing down, punch up and forward at a 60-degree angle: 4 punches with the same breath pattern. Repeat the sequence—side at shoulder level, side at 60 degrees, forward at shoulder level, forward and up at 60 degrees—for 3-5 minutes. When you have finished, massage your arms from shoulder to fingertips.

To close your practice and release any remnants of stagnant qi or pranic waste, sit in an easy crossed-leg pose. Bring the fingertips of the middle and ring fingers to touch their respective thumb tips. With palms down, resting on the knees, close your eyes and gaze at the Third Eye. This mudra stimulates the action of apana, or eliminative energy. Begin a pranayama designed to support this release: Inhale through the O-shaped pursing of the lips; exhale through a fully opened mouth with the tongue extended. After about a minute of this breath, close the mouth; inhale and exhale deeply and steadily through the nose. Continue breathing this way with the mudra for 3-5 minutes. Then, allow yourself to spend a few minutes resting on your back in svasana.

Happy Sunday…

 

Silent Sundays: Rally Your Qi

Some qigong exercises are designed to address specific organ systems and their needs. For example, flares of temper typically require attention to the Liver/Gall Bladder pair; negative manifestations of that system’s energies point to obstructions or excesses of qi in the organs’ meridians. 

On the other hand, qigong also can tend to an overall need to revitalize and balance one’s physical and mental state. On this Silent Sunday, I provide a short session that will stimulate the flow of qi through the entire body, and that will smooth over any “bumps,” or blockages in all meridian pathways. No warm-up is necessary for the sequence, as the movements are gentle and slow; further, the routine could be used as a settling-in combination for longer practices of yoga, meditation, or your workout of choice.

To begin, take a moment to assess your physical and mental selves: Tired? Achy? Revved up? Stiff? This preliminary stock-taking helps you to hone in on which of the following exercises you may want to repeat throughout the day, or over the course of a few days. If you determine that you have been prone to a particular state of mind or coping with a specific physical need, you may decide to practice this sequence or one of the moves for a full 40-day practice. 

The first movement is a classic exercise in Eastern movement traditions; Western cultures frequently adapt it in some form. This Bear Swing acts as an overall reliever of physical tension and low-back stiffness; additionally, the arms knock the area of the Liver and Gall Bladder, so that you begin to shed metabolic and emotional waste as you enter the routine.

Simply stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, with the knees slightly bent, and the pelvis in a neutral, relaxed position. Gently turn your torso to the right, allowing the arms to swing naturally by your sides; then twist to the left as the arms begin to feed into the back-and-forth swing. Adjust your breath, so that you consciously breath in as you turn to one side, and out as you swing back to the other. Continue this grounded, yet breezy swing to the left and right for 2-5 minutes. Move to the point where your arms feel weightless, your spine feels free, and your legs feel rooted and steady.

Next, bring your feet closer together, so that the feet are aligned just under their respective hip joints. Inhale as you raise the arms to the side at shoulder level; exhale as you bend and round into a “quarter-forward bend.” Allow your spine to find its natural rounding in the mid-back: As you fold the spine, allow the arms to swing down and cross underneath your rounded torso. Inhale back up with the arms to the side at shoulder level; exhale forward and down, switching the swinging cross of the arms underneath you. Find a fluid rhythm that suits your body and breath: Continue for 3 minutes.

Now, stand tall. Inhale as the arms come all the way overhead and you rise onto the toes; exhale to drop the arms down as you drop onto the heels. Inhale up, exhale down: Complete a total of 26 rises and drops. This move acts as a total qi “cleanser”: The body sheds unnecessary, stagnant energy that may prevent the intake and flow of fresh, vibrant qi.

The next movement reflects a traditional qigong Fragrance exercise, and seems to have ties to the Energization Exercises of Self-Realization Fellowship (founded by Paramahansa Yogananda). As such, the move stimulates digestion and helps to open the lungs: Additionally, the alternate knee bending loosens the sacrum, which lends to easier overall movement. With the freeing of the sacrum, the First and Second chakras are awakened; one feels secure, positive, and creative in all areas of Life.

Bring the hands to the level of the chest, palms down, fingertips facing each other a few inches apart. As you bend the left knee, extend the right arm to the side; bend the right knee to hinge the right elbow, bringing the right hand back in toward the chest. Simultaneously, the left arm opens to the left. Continue to alternate the rhythmic knee bends: The same-side hand remains at the chest, while the arm opposite to the bent knee extends to the side at shoulder level. Again, find a steady, yet fairly rapid pace, accompanied by a breath that pairs naturally with each movement. Continue for 1-3 minutes.

Finally, in order to consolidate the energy you have newly supplied to your physical, mental, and emotional bodies, lie on your back. In traditional vaasana pose, eyes closed, inhale deeply and fully: Use the exhale to create the sound, “Heeeee.” This is the sound associated with the Triple Warmer in Traditional Chinese Medicine; this organ system regulates the entire metabolism, and ensures the smooth running of your body and mind.

Imagine the long, soft sound as an internal shower, or stream of water flowing from head to toes, Root Chakra to Crown. Continue the vocalization, inhaling deeply before sounding upon exhale, for 1 minute. Then, allow yourself to rest quietly for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

 

New Moon, Black Moon, and Choosing to Change

As August begins, the energy of July’s Black Moon sets the tone for the upcoming weeks. Just as a Blue Moon signifies the second Full Moon in a month, a Black Moon denotes the second New Moon in the same month. And because a New Moon provides us with the vibrations conducive to fresh starts and ideas, a Black Moon enhances those energies: The time is ripe to reframe, reorient, and restart.

This lunar phase coincides with a profound and distinct shift in my emotional and philosophical approach toward a situation that has become increasingly familiar to my Baby Boomer generation: how to cope with the changes and needs of an elderly parent. There is, of course, no “right” way to handle the physical and cognitive changes that occur in most elders; one’s approach depends on multiple factors, unique to the individual and the family. Further, the needs change continually, which necessitates patience and adaptability all around.

The learning curve is steep when it comes to helping a parent whose mental and/or physical abilities are shifting or diminishing. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to corral and harness loving detachment (from expectations) and unconditional patience. I find myself greatly appreciating the qualities of all “good” parents, as those are the very qualities that seem to be required when caring and advocating for an elderly parent: unwavering support, firmness and gentleness, empathetic listening, and respect. These traits rise to the fore, only to fade in the face of challenge; my spiritual practice has become tethered to the daily ritual of coaching myself to rally the aforementioned qualities.

And with the energy of the Black Moon comes another opportunity to contemplate the way in which I approach personal circumstances, as well as the vibration I emit to the world at large. Never has it been more clear to me that each of has infinite chances to relearn and redo our modus operandi. I have felt and continue to feel my own inner shifts, and I have witnessed subtle and grand changes in my mother, my sister, and my best friend. As each of us rises and falls with the trials and blessings inherent in swiftly evolving circumstances, we stay conscious of what and how we are doing. When that awareness dwindles, we need only observe the ongoing determination of the others to do and be better.

As we flounder, flow, and sometimes nearly drown in these simultaneously clear and murky waters of elder care, it seems helpful to focus on the universality of this particular life phase. To stay connected with your spiritual guide and to deepen your time in prayer and meditation contributes to your personal ability to withstand the pressure of continual need and change: Additionally, it creates and builds a beneficial energy that graces every effort, action, word, and thought that is released into the world. The more I regard challenge and the need to rededicate myself to patience and grace as a blessing of opportunity, the more I recognize the hand of the divine in what sometimes seems a hardship. When one can discern the power and wisdom of God and the Universe in all situations, the immediate feeling of burden lessens substantially.

So, to call upon the lingering energy of yesterday’s Black Moon and its ability to empower your choice of a new direction or approach, I offer the following mudra with which to sit. Bring the hands to the level of the solar plexus, or the seat of the Third Chakra. This energy center houses your will power and ability to act intentionally. With the right palm down and the left turned up, touch the right fingertips to the inner left wrist, so that you can feel your own pulse; connect the left fingertips to the pulse in the right wrist. 

With the hands joined in this way, allow a hollow to form between your palms. With your eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, begin to breathe deeply and fully through the nose. As you ease into a meditative state, identify whatever subtle or grand changes you would like to manifest: Contain them within the still, dark cave of your hands. Inhale, and with each exhale, send the energy of your new way into the pulsing vibration of your heart. With each breath and each beat, integrate your choice to change.

Silent Sundays: Words of Wisdom–Practice for the Throat Chakra

Ironically, on this Silent Sunday, I find myself contemplating speech: non-judgmental words and compassionate perspective. Whether you want to brainstorm, resolve conflict, or give yourself a good “talking-to,” the way that you express yourself may significantly effect the outcome. And, as this Silent Sunday will be the last in the most recent phase of Mercury Retrograde (which adversely effects all areas of communication), today’s practice can help us rededicate ourselves to equanimous expression.

In order to ensure that you deliver your message clearly, it is necessary to open and clear the Throat Chakra. To strengthen the steadiness and Truth of your approach, vital Second and Fourth (Heart) chakras offer supportive energy to the Fifth (Throat). Consequently, we begin the routine with some basic warm-ups to awaken the assisting energy centers.

First, sitting in an easy crossed-leg posture, hold your ankles with both hands. This grip accentuates the movement of the lower spine, which corresponds with the Second Chakra. Begin to flex the spine forward and back, initiating the movement from the rock of the pelvis: Inhale as the pelvis tips forward and the shoulders pull back; exhale as the pelvis rocks back, and the spine curves into a C-shape. Continue this spinal flex, increasing your pace as the pelvis frees and muscles loosen, for 2 minutes.

Now, to help the energy from the Second Chakra travel up to pair with the Throat Chakra, shift forward onto all fours, and then into a relaxed version of Downward Dog. Raise one leg up behind you, and keeping your neck relaxed, gently turn your head left to right: continue for 30 seconds. Switch legs, and continue the head-turn for another 30 seconds: inhale as you look left, exhale to the right.

After a short rest in Baby Pose, rise to sit on your heels in Rock Pose. With your hands in Bear Grip (left palm faces forward, with fingers curling and hooking into right fingers: right palm faces you), raise them to the level of the throat. Inhale, suspend the breath, and pull on the Grip: This isometric tension stimulates the energy in and around the Throat Chakra. Exhale fully, retain the empty breath, and again pull on the Bear Grip until you need to inhale. Complete this pattern of inhale/pull; exhale/pull two more times.

Now, repeat the breath and Grip move at the Throat Chakra. Then, lower the Grip a few inches, so that it is in front of the Heart Center. Begin to see-saw the elbows up and down rapidly: inhale as the left tips up, exhale as the right tips up. Continue for 30 seconds. Then, raise the Bear Grip to throat level, and repeat the breath/pull kriya. Again, lower the Grip to the Heart Center, and see-saw for another 30 seconds. Repeat the Throat Grip and pull, followed by the Heart-energized see-saw one more time.

Next, come onto your back with your feet on the floor and knees bent. Raise your hips into the air, and bring your arms underneath you to clasp the hands together. This modified bridge puts pressure on the thyroid and entire Throat Chakra, so that balanced, clear energy moves through the area. In this pose, begin Breath of Fire through an open mouth with the tongue fully extended out. This is a detoxifying move, physically and emotionally. The cleansing of the tongue further guards against negativity in your words. Continue for 2 minutes.

Finally, move into your favorite seated posture; feel free to prop yourself in any way that you like. Bring your hands in front of your Heart Center; touch all fingertips of the right hand to the fingertips of the left, palms apart. Tilt your head down as if to look at the mudra: However, keep the eyes closed, gazing at the Third Eye, throughout the entire moving meditation.

As you inhale, tilt the head back to look up (maintaining the closed-eye gaze at the Third Eye). Simultaneously, move the hands away from each other, extending the arms to each side at shoulder level; as you complete your inhale, the arms should be fully extended with palms up.

Immediately exhale to draw the hands back into the mudra at the Heart Center as you tilt the head down. Continue this rhythm of inhale to look up and extend the arms out, ending with palms up; exhale to bring the hands into the mudra with head down. Find a pace and range of motion that suits your neck; breath fully and deeply to charge the energy of the mudra, Heart Chakra, and Throat Chakra. Continue gently, yet purposefully for at least 3 minutes, working your way up to 7 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Receive and Release– Simple, Soothing Meditation with Mudra

Last week, my sister and I were hopeful for a specific outcome to a situation. The surrounding circumstances involved our mother; thus, our prayers and desires were deeply personal. In times such as these, when our earthly minds so badly want something to go a certain way, we can lose sight of the “meant to be” aspect of Life: Our ability to remain open to possibilities other than that which we envision often diminishes. Today’s meditation gently, yet decidedly opens the Heart center, so that its energies align with the Universe; further, the mudra helps to access our Higher Consciousness. Consequently, we are better able to discern that which is meant for us to receive, and gracefully release that which is not.

When my sister requested that we join forces in prayer with regard to our mother’s care, I suggested that we direct our energy through a specific hand and arm position: the third part of today’s mediation. Since then, I have developed an extended version, which ensures the opening and clearing of multiple pathways of communication with the Universe. Each path moves from, through and to the Heart Chakra. As we direct our mental energy through these different levels and planes, the nature of how and what we receive and release changes: Our spiritual mind takes over and is able to guide us toward what is—and is not— intended for us.

So often, when one thinks of “praying for” something, there is a request to meet a goal, to solve a problem, or to bring abundance: However, these seem to be more “hopes and dreams” than prayers. I have found that to pray necessitates a willingness to accept the divine decree, with no particular result in mind. So, although my sister and I did have a specific end in mind, to meditate with mudra and an openness to what likely had already been put in motion, our prayer spoke through the language most clearly understood by the Universe.

To begin, vigorously shake your arms in each plane through which the mudra will operate in today’s practice. First, extend both arms out to the sides at shoulder level; shake for 30 seconds. Feel the vibrating movement from your chest and upper back, through the shoulders and elbows, into the wrists, and out of each finger. Next, bring the arms in front, still at shoulder level, about shoulder-width apart; continue the shaking for another 30 seconds. 

Now, with the arms by your sides, begin swinging them around yourself, just above the ground; shake and swing for 30 more seconds. Finally, bring the arms straight overhead, shoulder-width apart. Inhale, suspend the breath for a few beats, and then lower the arms down, lightly shaking them as they descend.

Take another minute or two to roll the shoulders forward and back; rub the upper arms, elbows, hands and fingers; and finally, roll the wrists. These opening moves rid the Heart meridians, which flow through the arms, of any qi (energy) blockages or stagnancies. Further, by moving through the air around you, the magnetic field clears and prepares to communicate with the Universe.

Now you are ready to sit with the first position. Bring your hands into Gyan Mudra, thumb tip of each hand touching its respective index fingertip. Extend the arms to the sides at shoulder level; the left palm with mudra faces up, the right faces down. With your eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, breathe deeply and fully in and out through the nose. Consciously relax your jaw, neck, and shoulders.

There may be some ache as you remain in the position for 3 minutes. If this occurs, acknowledge any discomfort, bring your awareness back to the sound and thoroughness of your breath; soften your tongue and mouth; and re-establish your Third Eye gaze. Allow the receiving vessel of the left hand to open to the Universe; the releasing left hand gathers and frees that which is of no consequence to you.

After 3 minutes, shift the mudra to the arms-extended-front position: left palm up, right palm down. Sense that you are moving toward that which God and the Universe has decreed for you. Breathe here, keeping the arms at shoulder level, for another 3 minutes.

Finally, bring your hands to the knees, mudra intact: again, left palm up, right palm down. Continue to breathe and, through closed eyes, gaze at the Spiritual Eye. After 3 minutes, release the mudra. 

Turn both palms down, still resting on the knees. Allow your mental and physical effort to ease into the energy of your spiritual body. Sense the calm acceptance that you have awakened within; reaffirm your faith in the divine wisdom behind any outcome.

Happy Sunday… 

Silent Sundays: When Your C-U-P Runneth Low–Part Two

Today’s practice follows yesterday’s discussion of how emotional detritus can impact and impede one’s physical well-being and spiritual development, respectively. The routine combines self-massage, kundalini kriya, qi-point stimulation, and meditation. Specifically, the Heart, Liver, and Stomach organ systems will be stimulated: As a result, anger will diminish; and compassion and inner strength will increase.

Before you begin, take a few moments to sit with your eyes closed. Notice if that mere act causes a feeling of resistance or resentment; perhaps a bit of anxiety stirs. Also remark upon any areas in your body that feel uncomfortable in any way. Your observations are meant only to serve as comparisons to how you likely will feel after your practice. 

After your self-inventory, take three deep breaths, in and out through your nose. Then, bring the base knuckles of each thumb under each of your cheekbones: Starting on the sides of the nose, firmly press in and up under the cheekbones. Begin to work your way out toward the ears: Inhale to press, exhale to release and move slightly outward. Continue until each thumb knuckle lands just in front of each ear, where they will meet the thick muscle called the masseter: This tissue runs from the outer edge of the cheekbone to the lower jaw; it helps to open and close the mouth.

The masseter becomes very tight and stiff in anyone who clenches or grinds their teeth. With your thumb knuckles, press into the muscle as you slightly open and close your mouth: Move the pressure into different areas of the masseter as you open and close. This may be quite uncomfortable at first; ease up on the pressure that you apply, but continue to massage the area for at least a minute.

Next, bring one or two of your fingertips to the two knobs at the center of the collarbone. Press firmly into the knobby bones as your slowly turn your head left and right; continue for 30-60 seconds.

Now, move into a seated crossed-leg pose. If you have already been sitting in this position, change the cross of your legs. Then, bringing your left arm all the way up alongside your ear, lean to the right; reach through the left ring and pinky finger to help adjust your arm into correct alignment with the left side body. Remain in this right-leaning position for 1 minute. Then, continue to stretch to the right, but slowly bring your left arm down to rest on your side. Remain in this deep side stretch for another minute.

Inhale to rise slowly out of the pose; release and shake out your legs, and then come back into crossed-leg, again switching the cross of the legs. Lean to the left, bringing the right arm up and over; remember to reach through the ring and pinky fingers of the right hand. Let your head hang to the side, and breathe deeply for 1 minute. Then, lower the right arm, and continue deepening into the stretch for another full minute.

Next, stretch your legs out in front of you, and open them into a comfortably wide straddle. If you like, bring a pillow under the front edge of your buttocks to help till the pelvis forward. Then, with a long spine, reach forward to hold the big toes of each foot with the first two finger and thumb of each hand. If you can not reach that far without curving the spine, pull back a bit to hold the ankles or shins. Then, inhale, and as you exhale, bend forward between your legs. Inhale up, exhale forward: Breathe deeply and powerfully, and continue the movement for 1 minute.

Now, bend your knees and lean back on your hands. Inhale to lift your hips up into back platform: The shape of your body, legs, and arms is one of a table top; your feet should be in line under your knees, and your hands in line under your shoulders. Inhale each time you lift up into the pose, exhale to lower the hips: Continue for 1 minute.

Then, remaining in back platform, tilt the head back slightly, and begin Breath of Fire. If the head tilt bothers your neck, keep the head up, in line with the spine. Regardless, use your will power and hip strength to maintain the platform position: Continue Breath of Fire for 1 minute.

Slowly come out of the position, and move your body into Rock Pose (buttocks on heels). As always, feel free to place a pillow between your lower legs and bottom. Cross your arms, holding the elbows with opposite hands. Inhale, and exhale to bring your forehead to the ground. If you can not get all the way down, persevere: As you inhale up and exhale down for 2 minutes, the body will begin to allow you to move further and faster. The arm position applies pressure to the Liver meridian as you bend forward, helping to release toxic energy from your system. 

After two minutes, release the arms. If you like, bring your knees closer together or further apart, and add or remove the pillow. Your Rock Pose is now going to become Baby Pose. In this version of the posture, place a heavy, folded blanket on your low back and buttocks; if you have a sandbag, you may use that. The idea is to weigh down your hips, so that they are encourage to relax and release. 

Your arms stretch forward on the floor and open into a wide V, with your forehead resting on the floor. Of course, adjust the arms to your comfort level. This hip-weighted, long- and wide-arm variation of Baby Pose accentuates its ability to release old emotional pain from their storage area in the hips; further, the Heart meridian in the arms is fully stretched open, allowing for the free flow of its qi. As you breathe deeply into this posture, the energy of the Heart replaces the energy of unnecessary, detrimental emotion. Remain in the pose for 3 minutes.

Now, prepare to fire up the Third Chakra, which will insure that you emerge from the practice with confidence in your ability to apply calmness and wisdom to challenging situations. Lie on your back, with your arms stretched to the sides at shoulder level, palms up (i.e., your body and arms form the shape of a cross). With both legs straight and together, raise them 6-10 inches  off of the floor. If your lower back bothers you, bring the arms down, so that you can slide your hands under your hips for support. In either case, hold the legs steady as you breath deeply for 2 minutes. If you need to bend the knees or release the legs for a moment, do so; then, resume the full posture and continue for the remainder of time.

When you have completed the exercise, bring your knees into the chest, and hug them as you roll back and forth a few times to come up into a seated pose. Now, extend each arm to the side at shoulder level. Make a fist of each hand, and bend the wrists back, so that the hidden palm of each hand points outward; extend only the index fingers straight up. With your eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, begin Sitali pranayama: Inhale through a curled tongue “straw;” exhale through the nose. (If you can not curl your tongue, breathe in through slightly parted lips; exhale through the nose.) Continue the breath with arm and hand position for 5 minutes.

Special note: The above is a stand-alone kundalini mediation to Conquer Inner Anger. Typically, it is done for 11 minutes; as today’s practice includes a follow-up meditation, we practice the first part for 5 minutes.

Next, bring your hands in front of your Heart center. With both palms facing you, touch the left thumb to the center of the right palm; the right hand lies gently in the palm of the left hand. Place the connected hands on your Heart center. Close your eyes, gazing at the Third Eye; breathe long and deep for another 5 minutes. When you have finished, bring yourself slowly down into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

When Your C-U-P Runneth Low: Part One

All too often these days, I find myself having to reface old, misguided, and unwarranted anger. Because my spiritual beliefs and practices factor so significantly in my earthly life, I am stunned and dismayed when I flounder wildly amidst decidedly ungenerous emotions. In the exact moments when Compassion, Understanding, and Patience are needed, my “C-U-P” has been notably absent.

What to do when you recognize your own errant ways? Although I do still have some tendency to demean myself for these flailings, I have at least learned that they are not failings: Rather, they highlight where I need to direct my practice. And for anyone, on any day, at any given moment, that need may be different.

What does seem to help in any situation, however, is a straightforward self-inventory. For this practice, I suggest noting where you ache or hold tension: The associated muscle group or nearby organ can guide you toward effectively releasing not only the physical discomfort, but its psychological counterpart. Further, when the earthly symptoms have been addressed, the appropriate spiritual route almost always presents itself.

Because most of us, at one time or another, experience an emotional or spiritual regression, certain practices can act as cover-all remedies in a pinch. For example, unresolved anger may lie dormant for years; in an instant, however, it can flare up in even the most devoted souls. The Liver/Gall Bladder system of Traditional Chinese Medicine controls this common human vulnerability. If you find yourself with a stiff neck or clenched jaw, or if your groin or outer hips are especially tight, anger may be lurking within.

Alternatively, you may feel depleted and unable to address whatever situation has your C-U-P running on empty. When your first thought is to hide under the covers… do it: However, set a limit for yourself; turn off your phone for an hour or a day, but have a deadline. During your “retreat,” try a meditation for self-forgiveness, or to free yourself from the minutiae of your concerns. Also, restorative or yin-style yoga postures can meet you in your stuck mode, and then ease you into action. 

Typically, any technique you choose would awaken and soothe the Heart energy. To this end, your hands, arms, and chest area take center stage: The Heart Chakra and Heart meridian comprise these areas. As you work with the Heart, compassion for self and others resurrects itself, and you become more inclined to connect, even within the most challenging of circumstances.

Finally, in order to withstand any difficult situation or emotion, all of us need to feel a sense of our own strengths. If your feeling of personal power has diminished, your ability to take on a trial also lessens. When you physically stoke the Third Chakra, you stimulate the source of self-esteem and will power: Your intention becomes clear, and your ability to follow through to a resolution is heightened. 

In tomorrow’s Silent Sunday post, I will offer a practice designed to address these areas that may quiver when faced with challenge. To firmly squelch this tendency, you may commit yourself to a 40-day practice of these exercises and meditation. If, however, you need an immediate jolt of courage and positivity, inject the routine into your day whenever you can. Regardless, you will feel better physically; most importantly, the grace and kindness that others need from you (and that you need for yourself) will once again light your way.

Silent Sundays: Settle into Mercury Retrograde

From today until July 31, the planet Mercury once again begins its backward-seeming movement through space. Although this retrograde phase occurs 3-4 times a year (in different months, thus in different astrological signs), each time typically manifests mix-ups and frustrations. The reverberations of Mercury’s rush past Earth affects all areas of communication: spoken, written, business, computer coding, etc. Additionally, the retrograde period precedes a shift in some area of your life; however, this fluctuation is unpredictable and will usually be felt only after Mercury returns to its normal orbit.

Today’s Silent Sunday offers a nose-to-nose approach with that scamp, Mercury: Instead of combatting the potential for skewed energy, the practice honors Mercury. As we can not yet know the change that Mercury will usher in; and because earthly miscommunication is likely at this time, intuition takes on a significant role in our ability to dance with Mercury. Certainly it is no mistake that the pinky finger, which channels intuitive energy, is called the Mercury finger.

To begin, come to stand with feet a comfortable distance apart. Touch the thumb tip of each hand to the fleshy mound at the base of its respective pinky; make a fist with the thumb inside. Now, with both arms at your sides, circle the arms outward, keeping the circles low and about 8-12 inches in diameter. Continue for 30-60 seconds.

Then, start to move the circles upward at a steady pace. Circle 8-10 times to bring the circling overhead. With your arms shoulder-width apart, continue the outward circles for 1 minute, breathing deeply and strongly as you do. When you have finished open the hands, and shake the arms as you bring them back down to your sides.

For the next movement, use each thumb to clamp its partner-pinky into the palm of the hand: The other three fingers are together and straight. Begin to seesaw the arms: Inhale as the left arm rises above the “horizon” about 45 degrees; exhale as it lowers and the right arm comes up. The palms of each hand face forward as you seesaw the arms up and down. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, you may bring yourself to the ground for a yin-style forward bend. Yin yoga focuses less on perfecting the alignment of a pose, and more on connecting deeply with the specific energetic quality of a posture. Forward bends access the back body, in which the Bladder meridian lies; the Life Nerve, which courses through the back of the entire leg, is also stimulated. As these energies are awakened, we deepen our ability to flow with the twists and turns of Life. 

If you like, prop yourself: perhaps a pillow or rolled blanket under the knees, or a bolster on your thighs to support your torso fully as you relax into the Forward Bend. Feet can be at ease: no forced arch is necessary. With your legs out in front of you, and your body resting on them, close your eyes and breathe consciously, but naturally. Focus your attention on the sensations and emotions that arise as you descend fully into the posture. If you need to adjust slightly as the muscles release, do so; then, return to the aware stillness. Remain with the pose for 3-5 minutes.

Now you are ready to close your practice. Lie on your back with feet flat on the ground, knees bent. Move your feet slightly wider than your hips, and angle the toes inward: Let the knees fall inward to rest against each other in this classic Constructive Rest position. Bring your arms about 12 inches away from the body, resting on the floor, palms up. On both hands, reconstruct the mudra of the thumb holding the pinky into the palm of the hand. Bring your closed eyes to focus on the Third Eye.

As you inhale, draw communicative, intuitive energy from around and within to your Third Eye: upon exhalation, send the vibration deeply into your brain, and your Throat and Heart chakras. As you inhale to fill, and exhale to imbed your “ken” into this Upper Triangle, you allow the positive aspects of Mercury to ride along with the bounces that the planet’s retrograde phase can create. Continue this breath meditation for 3 minutes.

Finally, release yourself into Svasana. Acknowledge Mercury’s need to be “out of phase” for these few weeks; imbue yourself with the awareness and equanimity that a retrograde period can stifle. As you relax into the throes of the cosmos and allow yourself to greet the energy, rest assured that Mercury recognizes your efforts to make its acquaintance.

Happy Sunday…

 

Silent Sundays: Create Deep Stillness– Meditation and Pranayama with 3-Move Warm-up

On certain wondrous mornings, I have only to arrive at my practice: From there, I am welcomed into a spontaneously occurring mix of movement, mudra, and/or pranayama. Today’s “guide” ushered me into a few energy and spinal warm-ups, and on to a meditation accompanied by a specific breathing pattern. The end result is an overall experience of deepening and stilling within. This is the type of serene practice that can remedy a swirl of overstimulation, or move lethargy and moodiness into a state of balance. It also is the type of meditation that will enhance an already positive attitude, causing it to expand and touch others around you.

The warm-up sequence is fairly basic. Although it could be practiced seated, I recommend that the first, second, and final moves be done standing, kneeling, and seated, respectively. So, in a firm stance, feet slightly wider than shoulders, begin to “cup” your body: It is as if you are briskly slapping yourself, but the palm is cupped to create a hollow or suction-like sound. Start with one armpit, working your way down, around, and back up the arm; continue onto the shoulder and upper back. Repeat on the other side.

Then, cup-slap your torso, front, sides, and back (as best you can). Continue down one buttock, thigh, and lower leg; then work your way back up, so that you move to the other buttock and entire leg, down and up.

Feel free to briskly rub all over every are you have cupped. You also may feel compelled to tap or lightly, rapidly stroke your face, ears, and skull. Finally, if it feels right, shake out your limbs, and then come onto all fours for the second move.

Cat/Cow continues the warm-up sequence. Because this is a time to lubricate the spine and joints before your seated meditation, let yourself begin slowly, then pick up the pace of the spinal flexes. Focus on the depth and intensity of your breath, bringing your mind more fully to the practice. Continue with your version of today’s Cat/Cow for 3 minutes.

For the final move, sit in Rock Pose (kneeling, with buttocks on the heels), or in simple crossed-leg position. Very rapidly, begin shrugging the shoulders up and dropping them down, relinquishing all physical effort and tension as the shoulders drop. Inhale up, exhale down, moving quickly: The breath pace will be close to Breath of Fire. (Breathe through the nose, eyes closed, gazing at the Third Eye). Continue for 3 minutes.

Now, having cleared and quieted your body, sit tall, hips perched on a pillow, if that helps your alignment. Bring your hands into traditional Prayer Pose, bottom knuckles of the thumbs nestled into your sternum at the Heart Center; forearms should be parallel to the ground. Your breath will alternate in the following manner: Inhale steadily and fully through your nose; exhale through your mouth. (You may breathe out through “O” lips, slightly parted lips, tongue out… whatever suits you on this day.) Then, inhale fully through the mouth, and exhale long and deep through the nose. Continue this pattern–inhale nose/exhale mouth/inhale mouth/exhale nose–for 5-7 minutes. Eyes are closed, gazing at the Third Eye.

After this initial phase of the meditation, let your hands come to rest in your lap, back of one hand resting in the other palm: Both palms face up, thumb tips touching. Allow your breath to return to its natural rhythm–no counts or adjustments: solely your own breath, on its own time. Remain in this posture, keeping the neck and spine long, and the breath flowing surely and peacefully. Eyes remain closed and intent upon the Spiritual Eye between your brows. Allow yourself to merge with your sacred center; fully experience and absorb the calm for another 7-11 minutes. Afterward, lie down in Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…