Silent Sundays: The Clue of Calm

When I began thinking about today’s piece, I found myself returning over and over to a small interaction from the week. The conversation lasted all of 5 minutes, but had been preceded by a few weeks of tension that arose from two previous encounters. If I described the preliminary incidents, anyone would be hard pressed to understand why they resulted in a slow-burn anxiety for me.

Essentially, the issue was a practical household matter about which my landlady, “J,” and I seemingly disagreed. “Seemingly” is the key word for how today’s Silent Sunday came to be. After too much stewing over something that should have been quickly and easily remedied, I took my emotions out of the equation: I decided to be clear and straightforward with my landlady about the primary reasons for my stance, none of which focused on me or my feelings.

When I found a moment to approach “J,” she listened as I began to address the situation. As I started to express my fundamental concerns, she accurately finished my sentence, and then added, “I understand.” Problem resolved, good vibes returned. How did that happen so easily and calmly?

The Calm that pervaded my awareness of the non-subjective issues at the root of our discord was how I realized the need to approach the situation with practically minded bullet points. And this was not the first time that Calm has signaled the arrival of Truth. On two other occasions last week, the notion of Calm-as-the-clue came to light.

Ironically, these other reflections upon Calm arose out of a discussion regarding Love, and then again out of a conversation about ending a relationship. Both talks were ones that I listened to on the radio, so neither was personal: Yet, their correlation to Calm was similar, and the experience of that correspondence is, in my opinion, universal.

In each scenario, the question was raised, “How did you know…?” In the first instance, the question ended with, “…that you loved him?” In the second discussion, the ending was, “…that it was really over?” In both cases, the interviewees noted Calm as the clue that they had landed upon their Truth. For them, other experiences of love had been met with butterflies, adrenalin, and/or lust; conversely, anger and fear powered the previous desires to break up. When Calm permeated the realizations, however, words and actions came clearly and with a suitably detached demeanor.

Thus, throughout the course of last week, I thought more about the moments when Calm has gone deep and ridden high in my life. Typically, I felt the “hand” of a greater force, one that guided me toward that wellspring of Calm. (Here I draw a distinction between Calm and calmness; in retrospect, what I often have referred to as “calm” would more accurately be described as “calmness.”)

Swimming and walking; basking underneath a tree-filtered sun; stillness and silence; a long, honest talk with my sister or a friend; a particularly “connected” yoga and meditation practice… All of these things tend to elicit “calmness” in me, for which I feel abundantly grateful. Calm, however, arrives on its own time; it seems unbidden, as if I had never prayed fervently for relief and guidance. I have come to think of Calm as the presence of God, at the exact moment that we need to act or speak. All of the lead-up to Calm is earthbound and ego-related; as one begins to wriggle out of and away from those confines, Calm senses the opening and arrives.

Today’s practice, then, asks that you focus on a person, situation, or concern that may have been infiltrating your psyche, even if you perceive it as a minimal nuisance. For when any thought hovers or distracts for too long, its effect eventually becomes more than “minimal.” Once you have identified an issue that has gone unresolved, rotate your mind 180 degrees: Agree to not address it, to not try to fix it. If thoughts of it creep in, let them; however, apply no energy to ruminate or solve. 

With this intention of no-intention anchoring your mindset, do something physical. Ideally, an outdoor walk, hike, or meandering stroll would be viable; or perhaps a gym routine or fitness class is your preference. And if none of those are accessible, churn energy throughout your system with the following set:

1.) Arm circle variations: Right arm circles back at a warm-up, moderate pace; 8 times. Then, left arm back, 8 times. Then, both arms together, more quickly and vigorously, 10 times. Then, “swim” the arms fluidly back, alternating right and left, fluidly and seamlessly circling back, 30 seconds. Repeat the entire sequence and repetitions, this time circling forward.

2.) Torso circles, first to the right, then to the left. Legs are in a fairly wide, rooted stance; hands on hips as the body circles from the waist. Begin conservatively, allowing plenty of time for the low back to warm, and the muscles to understand the movement. Eventually, make the circle as large as possible, bending as far forward and back as your body allows; breathe deeply as you circle, inhaling through the back space, exhaling as the body circles forward and down. Give each side 2 minutes, so that there is plenty of time to build the depth and pace of the circles.

3) Supported running: Find a chair or rail—or anything—that allows you to place your hands on it, shoulder width apart. Walk your feet back, so that your body ends up in a long diagonal, much of your weight born through the arms, with the hands on the chosen support. Now, begin to alternate right and left knee coming in and up toward the belly or chest. Begin slowly, at a walking pace, striving to bring the knee as close to the chest as possible. Gradually begin to increase the momentum, moving from walking to “jogging;” eventually, increase the pace to a “run.” Again, give yourself 2 minutes, so that at least the final 60 seconds are at your optimal speed.

4) Slowly bring your body upright from the chair, and then make your way to the floor. Seated, draw your knees in close to the body, and make yourself into a tight ball. This movement is Roll Like a Ball in the Pilates world, and also appears in kundalini as a way to enliven the nervous system and enhance self-assuredness. Inhale as you roll back, exhale as you roll up. Continue back and forth, staying as tightly wrapped as possible, for 1 minute.

Now, take whatever time you need to shake out any remnants of dis-ease or stiffness; create as clear of a physical slate as possible. When you are ready, sit in your preferred posture for meditation. With the back of the right hand resting on the right knee, form Gyan Mudra (index and thumb tips touching; other fingers relaxed into natural position). Place the palm of the left hand on the Heart Center. Eyes are closed, gazing easily up to the Third Eye.

With this mudra to draw in the Truth of Calm, begin the pranayama: Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Then, inhale through the mouth, exhale through the nose. Continue this alternating breath pattern for 5 minutes, eventually working your way up to 11 minutes. 

Special note: I have found that my open-mouth breaths change throughout the practice. Sometimes, I breathe in through pursed lips, or out through wide mouth with tongue extended; other times, I breathe in through a wide “O” mouth, or out with a near-whistle. Allow yourself to respond to whatever feels right with each breath, trusting that the body and mind are asking for what they need at any given moment.

When you have finished the pranayama, ease your way into a lengthy Svasana of 11-20 minutes, clearing the pathways for the arrival of Calm.

Happy Sunday… 

Silent Sundays: Blend and Bend–A Practice To Support Eliminative Systems

We have entered the Fall phase.

Although the calendar has not officially declared “Autumn,” the 40-some temperature of two nights ago, paired with this morning’s chilly rain tells us that Fall has entered the room. With it comes the body’s innate tendency to wrap around itself: protect the organs, warm the blood. Hibernation and slow-to-no movement will soon follow. This is the season that prepares us to be still: In order to do so, the organs of elimination—in particular, the Lung and Large Intestine—need to create a purified “cave” into which we can burrow and resist disease.

I had no conscious intention to spend the wee-early morning hours the way that I did today. Perhaps it was the pre-dawn feeding and cleaning of a neighbor’s rabbit and his enclosure that spurred my sudden desire to deep-clean small areas of my apartment. As I did, I inwardly chuckled at the incongruity of Spring Cleaning on a gray and damp September morning. And then I recognized the organic need to cleanse: Fall is the season of elimination, and its organs—Lung and Large Intestine—were requesting attention.

So, while waiting for my freshly washed bathroom floor to dry, I blended two essential oils to massage onto my entire abdominal area; the oil that remained on my hands was slowly rubbed just beneath my collar bone, as a means to target the Lung system. I chose to use ginger and neroli oils: Ginger warms, and both soothes and stimulates digestion; and neroli calms and refreshes mentally and physically. 

Special note: If you do not have ginger oil, think of other warming, piquant herbs, e.g., cinnamon, black pepper, even nutmeg. In a pinch, you can raid your spice rack and create a paste with a bit of carrier oil. No neroli? Bergamot, sweet orange, or tangerine oils would work well: And again, if you do not have the essential oils, head to the kitchen.

Once you have imbued your belly and upper chest with a topical application of blended oils (or pantry creations), it is time to move and configure your body in ways that will stoke the processes of elimination. Typically, twists and side bends accomplish this, while lateral and rotational movements further fortify the process. For this Silent Sunday, the postures will be done Yin-style, i.e., you remain in the same pose for 2-5 minutes. The initial opening movements will be done for 1 minute each.

To begin, stand with enough room around you to swing your arms through the full circumference of your surrounding space. Bring the arms to the sides at shoulder level: Bend the elbows to 90 degrees, palms facing forward. Touch the thumb tip of each hand to the inner base of the ring finger, nestled into the web between the middle and ring fingers. Inhale deeply: As you exhale,  bring the arms forward until the forearms and pinky finger sides touch in front of you; the upper arms remain parallel to the floor throughout the entire move.

Inhale to open the arms (still bent), and squeeze the shoulder blades together as you do. This move will open and stimulate the Lungs. On your exhale, again bring the arms forward to touch in front; however, this time, rotate the elbows and wrists enough that the index/thumb side of the hands bump against each other. Inhale to open again. Each time you exhale to close the arms in front, alternate hitting the pinky sides and index finger sides of the hands together. Continue at a steady rhythm for 1 minute.

Then, shake out the arms for a few seconds, and bring them back up to the sides at shoulder level. The palms face down, and the fingers relax naturally. Inhale, then exhale to twist through the waist to the right, bringing the left hand in toward the chest, reaching back through the length of the right arm. Inhale back to center and immediately rotate to the left, reaching the left arm back, and bringing the right hand in toward the chest. Continue this rotation at a moderate-rapid pace for 1 minute: This exercise helps to awaken and open both the Large Intestine—in fact, all of the digestive organs—and the Lung, as well as the Heart.

Now that you are warm, and the eliminative organs have been stirred, come onto the floor for Baby Pose. Take a few slow, deep breaths here. Then, roll up to sit on your heels; as always, feel free to pad the knees or bolster your hips in this position. Slowly begin to lean back, using your hands to guide your body toward the floor: This posture is an intense front-body opener; the knees must remain on the floor. If possible, bring your elbows to the floor; if you are able, you may lie completely on your back. Regardless, close your eyes, gazing at the Third Eye, and settle into your version of the posture for 2-6 minutes.

When you are done, you will need to ease your way very gently up and out of the pose. Slowly extend the legs forward, so that you can shake or massage them, or move into an easy forward bend for a few breaths. Then, bring yourself onto your belly. As a deeper address of the Stomach and Large Intestine, bend the knees, so that the feet move toward the buttocks: Let the legs be loose and relaxed.

Then, push yourself onto the forearms, as if coming into Sphinx Pose: However, do not remain in the arm-supported position. Instead, slide the right hand under the chest, reaching the hand along the floor all the way to the left. The right arm is now fully extended out, under the Lung region, with the palm up. Rest the right side of the face on the floor, and place your left arm anywhere that feels natural and comfortable: I find that I rest my left wrist on my right, with the left palm down, right palm up. Breathe into this pose, allowing your body to ease and open gradually: Remain here for 1-3 minutes.

When you are ready, slowly unwind the upper body; you may also release and shake out the legs for a moment preparing to do the other side. This time, with legs bent or straight on the floor, slide the left arm under the chest to the right at shoulder level, palm up. Relax the head onto its left side, position the right arm as you see fit, and inhabit the pose for another 1-3 minutes. As before, gently release the posture, understanding that the depth of Yin yoga requires the body to readjust upon exiting a pose.

To finish, find your way into Svasana for a few minutes. If you like, cap today’s practice with a cup of tea that echoes your initial anointment with oils: cinnamon or orange with ginger and/or turmeric, or fennel with lemon, or your favorite warming, spicy brew, will do wonders to support the eliminative work of Fall’s organ systems.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Ease Your Grip

One of the running themes that has developed during 2020 is the need to cede control while retaining a feeling of stability and agency. How to feel “in control” personally when everything else has seemingly gone haywire is a contemporaneous, worldwide challenge. Yet this is what religions and spiritual philosophies have sought to explain and provide solace for throughout humanity’s existence.

Concepts of detachment, acceptance, surrender, courage, mortality, and faith rise to the forefront as one confronts the ability to change and to effect change. Ultimately, the task falls upon each individual to locate, identify, and pursue a remedy for their unique feeling and response to the current circumstances. To fight to change the outside world before enacting a thorough investigation of one’s own state of mind and spirt is a fruitless task. First and foremost in these strenuous, tumultuous times, one needs to learn how to soothe and rebuild the inner environment: With that accomplished, clear-sightedness and the stamina to persevere can lead the way.

Today’s Silent Sunday began a few mornings ago when I awoke to find my right hand clutching the stones that sleep with me. Most often, if I wake to find myself in contact with the crystals, my palm rests softly over them, fingers soft and wide, like a protective veil or peacefully receptive vessel. When I realized how fervently active my grip had been during what should have been hours of release and restoration, I began to address my own thoughts and feelings about the need to impose control over certain aspects of my current circumstances.

In addition to the overarching sense of not-knowing that pervades this era of pandemic and protest, this is a time in our family when a difficult decision has been made; however, it is not a choice that feels fully “good”–“right,” perhaps, but desirable or best-scenario, no. In some ways, Time made the decision: We controlled the outcome (i.e., postponed it) for as long as possible, and now Time has imparted its solution.

To resign to this decision while having little to no sense of its wisdom or trajectory (given the world as it has become) provides a rigorous learning opportunity: yield, accept, and commit to faith… yet again. For without faith in God, the Universe, and all that is decided for us at any given moment, on any given day, the need to grip harder ultimately leads to weakness and numbness.

In order to soften your grip in whatever arena of Life currently demands attention, today’s practice focuses on the hands. Certainly, hands grip: They also open, protect, repel, offer, receive, create, and destroy. Hands also divulge tendencies, personality, lifestyles, and–according to palmists–destiny. And within hands lie meridian lines and qi points that reflect and affect our psychological and physiological systems.

No wonder we exert such fierce attempt to control through our hands: They are powerful on multiple levels.

For this reason, to soften the hands results in a swift, profound, systemic shift in one’s feelings about and response to the outside environment. When ease is consciously introduced into the hands, arm joints, jaw, neck, and tongue relax; when points in the hand are palpated or held, organs receive revitalization; with the restored fluidity in the hands comes the ability to more clearly sense and navigate the energetic sphere around us.

To begin this thorough exploration and nurturing of the hands, find a comfortable, effortless seated posture: Bolster yourself in any way that you need. Then, with the backs of the hands resting on the knees (or thighs, depending on your pose), close the eyes; turn your inward gaze up to the Third Eye; breathe long and deep in and out through the nose; and attune your awareness to the center point of each palm.

With your mind and sensory attention on this Heart point of the palm, pair your breath with a visualization: As you inhale, feel that the center point of the palm is expanding, like a portal opening; as you exhale, allow the small opening to close in upon itself. Thus, as you breathe, the Heart point begins to expand and contract–to beat–as does your heart. Continue this pranayama with visualization on a qi point for 3 minutes.

Next, float the hands straight up over your head: Allow the shoulders and elbows to be relaxed as you reach the hands high. Now, inhale steadily and completely, until there is absolutely no more left to take in; suspend the breath calmly for as long as you can. With the breath in, shake your hands lightly, yet quickly. When you need to exhale, cease the shaking, and float the arms wide to bring the hands down. Repeat this suspended inhale with hand shake overhead, followed by the exhale with relaxed hands down, two more times.

Now, bring the pinky side of the right hand to the Heart center: All fingers point straight up, and the palm of the right hand faces right. Hold the right hand with the left; use the fingers of the left hand to hold the right thumb and pull it toward the left. The left palm presses into the back of the right hand, which further opens the right palm as the right thumb is stretched open toward the left. Take a few deep breaths, and then switch hands.

Next, extend the right arm out front at shoulder level, palm up. With the left fingers on the right palm, and the left thumb under the wrist, use the left fingers to pull the right palm down and back. This may be very difficult for some, and the forearm may complain: Go easy, and use light pressure and small increments of stretching at first. After a few breaths, and pulls and releases, switch hands: Right hand works to stretch and open the left.

Now you will methodically massage each finger, working downward from the tips to the base knuckles of each finger. Begin with the left pinky: Pinch and squeeze, roll and rub your way from the nail to the web, consciously breathing slowly and fully as you go. Make sure to massage the front, sides, and back of the finger, as well as the webbing between the pinky and ring finger.

Continue moving through the left fingers and thumb, and then proceed to the right thumb; make your way from the right thumb, through all the right fingers, out to the right pinky.

When you have finished the massage, sit quietly with the eyes closed, palms up in the lap. Allow the hands to soften and accept the relaxation that you have imparted. As you do so, suggest to the elbows that they may hang; let the shoulders drop; feel the jaw release, and sense how the tongue can fall away from the upper palate and float within the mouth.

After a couple of minutes of this conscious development of calm and release, bring the hands to the Heart center. Touch thumb tips to the mounds of their respective pinky fingers. Then, turn the backs of the hands to touch, as if you were to create Prayer Pose, but “backwards and upside-down”: The index finger sides of the hands rest against the Heart center; the other fingers point straight down.

Continue to sense and cultivate the ease within your palms and fingers, despite the newness and possible awkwardness of the mudra. Remind yourself that release is ever-accessible, and that the introduction of obstacle or uneasiness need not compromise your ability to ease up while remaining secure and centered. Breathe deeply, mudra intact yet relaxed, for 7-11 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: In-Between Time

I thought that I would try something a little different today.

As a general rule, the lead-up to my morning writing time consists of the same activities as non-writing days: putter, prepare tea, stretch and greet God while it brews; then, sip slowly, savoring the honeyed milkiness of awakening; and finally, settle in for a kundalini set with further prayer and meditation. Woven throughout any particular kriya are the 40-day (or more) mantras and movements to which I have dedicated myself. This process of transition from dark into dawn is the hour when my body unfolds, my brain arrives, and Spirit infuses the day with intention.

On this Silent Sunday, however, The Tea is the sole remnant of this In-Between Time: For some reason, I have moved directly to the page as I take in the tannins. My body, although not properly awakened, seems content to remain configured in an inward-turned ball as I write. My mind feels a strong pull toward that which Spirit wishes to express. So, on this day, I yield to the ethereal trail that winds through In-Between Time.

In this odd, yet easy moment of consciously choosing Otherwise, my heart is calm, my energy scarcely vibrates: Yet, my ears take in every hum, buzz, and mellow bellow that disguise Silence. With waiting comes attention, awareness; as I wait, In-Between Time opens its world. Therein lies the peace and potential of the day.

To usher in the day with the mysteries and gifts from the night feels like taking the hand of an unusual child, one who watches the world without expression, yet with full Knowingness. To retain the presence of darkness and stillness as the moon and sun shift position feels like walking into water, only to be lifted effortlessly into buoyancy as the depth increases.

Should you find yourself at such a juncture—a time when the Usual becomes usurped by Something Different—dive in: Swim languidly with Time as it directs itself. Follow willingly, allowing Otherwise to pull you forward. This is full release, deep presence, and abiding interaction with Spirit.

Should you be there already, or if you wish to open to the In-Between Time, the first step is to sit down: chair, pillow, floor, outside ground, rock, blanket—sit. No pranayama, save for your natural breath. No mudra, save for where  your hands come to rest. No movement, save for the circulation and pulsations of your body’s rhythms. No goal, save for presence. Float.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Jump Start!

As discussed in previous posts, a great way to release remnants of old emotions or mental obstacles is to clear the aura. Most often, this is done through a series of expansive, vigorous arm movements. Today’s practice infuses the same powerful, intentional energy into a series of “jumps”: However, as one who must be mindful of imparting high-impact movement into my hips, I have instead created a practice that employs challenging, unusual movements to lift and pulsate the entire body.

The following routine is a great way to kick the body and mind into high gear; if you feel sluggish or hampered by an overload of concerns, this Silent Sunday provides a sure-fire solution. The moves encourage the body to move in atypical ways, thus requiring focus: The mind becomes immune to distraction, as the movements demand the creation of new neurological response.

Because you will be bouncing and shifting the body against the ground, I recommend a double dose of padding for your practice space. For example, add a folded blanket on top of the carpet; or, top a yoga mat with a thick blanket. Create enough support, so that you can fully engage with the movements; the more energy that you can infuse into the moves, the greater the results.

To warm up the body and engage the mind, the practice opens with a mini vinyasa. Then, a moving pranayama exercise with sounding sheds emotional debris, with an emphasis on dispelling anger.

First, come onto all fours for a few rounds of traditional Cat/Cow; find the breath, deepen it, and begin to free the entire back and neck as you flex and extend the spine. Then, come to neutral: Inhale as you reach the right arm forward, bringing it in line with the shoulder; simultaneously, extend the left leg back and up, to hip level.

As you exhale, bend the left knee, and reach the right hand back to grasp the left foot or ankle. Inhale to arch the spine into extension while lifting the left foot and opening the chest. Exhale again to release the arm and leg back into the long cross-body line (right arm and left leg extended forward and back, respectively, at the level of the torso); inhale to place the right hand and left knee down, resurrecting the initial all-fours position. Finish the sequence with an exhale as you deeply round the spine into a Cat dome.

Repeat the entire sequence, this time starting with an inhale as the left arm and right leg extend forward and back, stretching away from each other at shoulder and hip height. Continue the breath paired with movement, all the way through to the final exhale accompanied by Cat.  Complete the sequence 5 times on each side.

If you like, shift into Baby Pose for a few deep breaths when you have finished the warm-up movements. Then, configure Frog Pose for the moving pranayama: Sit in a deep squat, bringing the heels together, feet and knees turned out. Rise onto the balls of the feet; place the hands in front, between the open legs, keeping the arms fully extended. Inhale: Lift the hips up as the head and torso tip forward and down, maintaining a long line through the spine and neck. Exhale to lower the hips as the torso and head shift back to the original upright position. Each inhale emerges as a guttural snore through the open mouth; each exhale sounds as a fierce growl or “hah!” from the back of the throat, out through the open mouth with fully extended tongue. Continue the sounded inhale and exhale, respectively, with hips up/head and torso tipped into forward bend; and hips down to lifted heels, head and torso perched upright, for 2 minutes. 

Now, return to all fours. Extend the spine into a modest Cow position (i.e., arch the back slightly, as the chest opens and pelvis tips forward, pointing the tail up). Intense focus is required here: Keep the torso as still as possible, while quickly bringing the hands away from the floor to clap. Expect that you will have to “rehearse” for up to  minute before you find the way to stabilize the torso while clapping quickly.

Once your mind and body (i.e., core muscles) have managed to master the move, try another minute each of the following two variations: First, instead of clapping, bring both hands—one over the other—to touch the heart. An extra dose of focus is needed , should you choose to alternate which hand is on top with each Heart Touch.

The second variation entails crossing the arms across the chest to bring each hand to its opposite shoulder. Again, you may further fire up the brain by switching the cross of the arms each time. As with the initial clapping and Heart Touch variation, continue for 1 minute.

From all fours, shift back into squat for another Frog-style movement. This pose, however, brings the heels about hip width apart, with knees and toes slightly turned out: The arms reach through the legs, palms flat or on fingertips. Now, hop like a frog! Again, it may take a minute or more for the body to understand how to engage all of the involved muscles simultaneously. If necessary, divide the move in half: “jump” the upper body up, while remaining rooted in Frog Squat; then, support the body with the arms as you jump the lower half of the body up. Finally, join the two halves for 12 full Frog Jumps.

Next, come onto the back. Hug your body into a tight ball, and begin to jump and bounce like a jumping bean. Be aware of the tendency to roll, rather than to elevate the tight ball of the body into the air. This is a decided challenge: If approached with an attitude of playful experimentation, the mind is more likely to connect with its intention, and the jumping ball will manifest. Continue your efforts for 3 minutes.

Now, extend and stretch the body in any way you need to for a few deep breaths. Then, bending   the knees, draw the heels in close to the buttocks, as if preparing for Bridge Pose. Keeping the arms on the ground, palms down, raise the torso away from the floor. This is not an incremental roll up the spine; rather, it is a lift of the torso as one unit. Think of leading with the front of the pelvis; lift the hips strongly and quickly, as if you were trying to jettison something perched on the pelvis. Inhale with this sharp movement up; exhale to lower the body back to the floor. Repeat the powerful lift and tempered lowering of the torso 26 times.

Finally, extend the legs out for Svasana, arms resting several inches away from the body, palms up. Legs and heels are about 18 inches apart; allow the feet to roll in our out, whatever comes naturally. Consciously follow the long, smooth flow of the inhale and deep, serene exhale for a few rounds of breath. Then, allow yourself to ease into the calm and peace of rest for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: How’s Your Heart?

A few days ago, I returned to my chiropractor for the first time since February. I had been pleasantly surprised during the ongoing pandemic to realize that over the past decade, the docs had laid a strong foundation for my neck and spine health: Despite the six months of quarantine—and no chiropractic care— my neck has been at peace (mostly). When the office reopened, however, I decided to have a check-up: frankly, I was as eager to see my chiropractor and the office staff, who, after more than 10 years, have become genuine friends.

What I did not expect upon seeing my chiropractor, “S”—and the receptionist, “A”—was the physical pull and subsequent despondency that arose from not being able to hug them. The magnetic tension through my chest—clearly centered in the Heart Chakra—was fiercely yearning to connect with their Heart energy: The need to restrain the fulfillment of that contact was physically uncomfortable. We all talked about it, but I remained bowled over by the power of that force, and what it feels like to consciously stifle it.

Fortunately, I have hugged my mother and my sister over the course of the past months. We each paid brief lip service to “maybe we shouldn’t,” and then straight into each other’s arms we fell. Thus, my experience at the chiropractor’s office was an unexpected awakening to the reality of physical contact, emotional connection, and the depth of those aspects of being a human.

After the initial no-hug experience with “A”, she led me back to a treatment room: sequestering, rather than the usual time in the waiting room. After about a minute of sitting quietly alone, “A” returned and asked if I wanted to hear another hugging story. Of course, I said yes.

She told me that her daughter was to be married in October. As part of the gift bag for guests, “A’s” daughter was going to include three wrist bands: red, yellow, and green. Guests could opt to wear the one that best revealed their comfort with physical contact: red meant no touching; yellow, they were uncertain, but maybe…; and green would give the go-ahead for a hug. 

As I said to “A,” that idea seems a good one these days, wedding or not. And in my automatic mind, I assumed that I would be a Green. When I began to truly run through daily scenarios and imagine interactions with various people, however, I was surprised to find myself veering more toward Yellow; in the instance of general public outings, Red would be as evident as possible.

For a moment, I wondered what had happened to my Heart Center: Had it become infected with fear? Had I become untrusting, doubting that others could be responsible, and thus a “low risk” for a hug? Then, I realized that the pull of my Heart in those greetings with “A” and a later one with “S,” revealed the actual state of affairs: The struggle to resist the physical expression of the pull affirmed the alive-and-well status of my Heart energy.

I did, however, decide that I wanted to ensure the vibrancy of that Chakra, while simultaneously heeding its need for gentle, but unequivocal protection. Thus was born today’s Silent Sunday practice. In these times when each day—sometimes each moment—shifts shape, texture, and tenor without warning, the only constants are those we create for ourselves. And to remain hopeful, sensible, and attuned, the Heart Center needs to be strong, yet shielded when necessary.

I think of today’s practice as an active meditation, rather than a physical exercise. As you proceed through the moves, bring your attention to the physical sensations that occur in the palms, the neck and jaw, the shoulders, and the chest. These areas may be tight, or sore, or free and light. As you work to stimulate and safeguard the Heart, the sensations may shift: Allow each change and transition, just as you would have to do during “red, yellow, or green” decision-making occasions. Note—and accept—the transiency of each sensation. Allow the Heart to shift as it needs to, knowing that you are providing exactly what it needs for future encounters.

To begin, sit in your favorite pose: crossed-leg, legs extended straight forward, in a chair, etc. To help notify the Heart of the practice to come, do some spinal flexes that hone in on the arms and chest: With both arms extended to the side at armpit level, inhale as you arch the spine forward, allowing the pelvis to tip forward as well; exhale to round the spine as you fluidly draw the inner wrists forward and together at the level of the Heart. The arms remain fairly straight throughout the movement, although a slight give in the elbows is natural. Keep the head level as you flex the spine forward, opening the Heart, and round the spine back, softly shielding it. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, remaining in your chosen seated posture (or shifting, as you see fit), extend the arms out from the shoulders at a 60-degree angle; the arms are in the sagittal plane, neither forward of or behind the torso. Flex the wrists, so that the palms face the sky. This is Position 1. Position 2: From the angled arms and face-up palms, draw the arms straight above the Crown, touching the palms together. For Position 3, glide the hands down in front of the body to Heart level, forming Prayer or Namaste hands. To arrive at Position 4, point the Prayer hands forward, extending the arms straight out from the Heart, and turning the palms up as the arms come to their full length: Continue moving seamlessly as the arms open wide to the sides, palms remaining up.

Move through the sequence of positions seamlessly, at a moderate and consistent pace. Inhale in Position 1; exhale as you move into 2; inhale as you find Position 3; and exhale throughout the transition to Position 4. Continue this fluid, yet precise movement for 3 minutes.

When you have completed the moving portion of the practice, draw the souls of your feet together to form a diamond (or Butterfly) shape with your legs. Alternatively, you may sit in an easy crossed-leg pose. Regardless, bring the right hand to the left knee, and the left hand to the right knee: Round the back to the point that the arms straighten and the shoulder blades widen;  drop the head; and settle into the stretch.

This Makkho Ho position nurtures and stimulates the Pericardium and Triple Warmer meridians, which in turn protect the Heart. For today’s purpose, treat the “stretch” as a Yin Yoga posture: Remain soft, steady, and patient as you inhabit the shape of the pose, allowing your breath, time, and gravity to encourage the muscles and connective tissues to yield.

After 2 minutes in the initial position, slowly release the deep curve in your spine as you let go of the knees: If you were sitting crossed-leg, switch the cross of your legs; then, bring the left hand to the right knee, and the right hand to the left. Deeply round the back, allowing the pelvis to naturally tip backward, let the head hang, and resume the pose for another 2 minutes.

Finally, help yourself uncross and unwind from the posture. Very often, the exit from a Yin pose can seem somewhat uncomfortable. You have opened deeply, both energetically and muscularly: Breathe deeply, restore openness by gently shaking or stretching whatever feels locked or reluctant, and find your way into Svasana. Grant the body and Heart Center the opportunity to return to a renewed state of calm as you rest for 5-11 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: 5-Move Practice to Oust the Dross and Detritus of the Day

Today’s Silent Sunday title is a slight misnomer: “…of the day” could just as easily read, “…of the week, month, or moment.” Whenever you feel that you have not quite shaken or moved through an unsettling circumstance or physical disturbance (e.g., bug, stress, headache, etc.), the following practice will jettison any remaining slog from your system.

To begin, stand with the feet a comfortable distance apart. As you inhale long, deep, and steadily, rise on to the toes; simultaneously, raise the arms to the side and overhead, bringing them shoulder-width apart. Exhale forcefully as the arms drop straight down, like heavy weights; at the same time, drop the heels back to the floor. Complete the inhale with arm and heel raise, followed by the drop of arms and heels on the exhale, 12 times.

From standing, bend forward at the waist, bringing the torso parallel to the ground: If you need to bend the knees slightly, feel free; it also helps to push the buttocks back slightly, rather than keeping them directly over the heels. In this position, keeping the head in line with the spine, begin to swing the arms back and forth, strongly and rapidly: Alternate the arms, so that when the right one swings forward to head level, the left is swinging back to the level of the hip. Continue this energetic movement for 1 minute, breathing powerfully through the nose, joining the inhale and exhale to each swing forward and back.

The second half of the above move entails moving the arms out to the sides. Begin with the arms hanging loosely down from the shoulders. Inhale as you open them wide to the sides, to the level of the body at shoulder level; exhale as you let gravity swing them down, crossing them as they drop down in front of the body. Move freely, letting momentum take over the movement. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, find Downward Dog. Raise the right leg up behind you, bringing it into a long line with the torso and arms. Begin Breath of Fire (rapid, equal inhales and exhales through the nose); continue for 1 minute. Then, lower the right leg, raise the left, and do Breath of Fire for another minute. Eyes may be open or closed; do what comes naturally.

From Down Dog, lower yourself onto all fours, and then onto the belly. With the arms by the sides, palms down against the floor, rest the forehead on the ground. In this position, begin to “jump” the body up and down. Everything from chest to knees should lift as you inhale the body up; exhale to drop the body down. Continue vigorously for 1 minute. (As always, modify your position, and/or add padding where necessary to be able to complete the exercise.)

Next, press back for a few deep, settling breaths in Baby Pose; then, roll up to sit. Here you have some posture options. I prefer to sit between my heels, although I actually sit on a block or pillow, with my feet resting to the side of their respective hips. Sometimes, I choose to sit with my legs stretched out front. You may prefer to sit crossed-leg, or if possible, in full Lotus pose. Regardless of your choice, you will do Body Drops; the move is said to reset and stabilize the nervous system in preparation for or in response to a shock. It also shakes free any physical or emotional “detritus of the day.”

In your chosen position, place the hands by the hips; the palms may be flat on the ground, or you may fist your hands to support the wrists. Inhale as you lift the buttocks up; exhale to drop the body down. Continue at a rapid pace for 1 minute, allowing the body to really plunk down upon the exhale.

To close your practice, remain in your seated posture. With eyes closed, gazing inwardly up to the Third Eye, bring the arms straight overhead. Interlace the fingers, squeezing the palms together, and extend the index fingers straight up and together. Think of opening and lifting through the armpits, yet encouraging the shoulder blades to slide down the back. In this powerful position, inhale long and deep; exhale just as steadily and completely. Repeat 2 more times, for a total of three breaths. On your final exhale, release the hands and sweep the arms down through the side space. Keeping the eyes closed, ease your way into Svasana, and rest for 5-11 minutes.

Happy Sunday… 

Sayings Series: On “Silence”

Special note: In many of Paramahansa Yogananda’s writings, he refers to “God.” While this terminology is comfortable for him (and for me), others may prefer to read Paramahansa’s thoughts through a different lens. The essence will remain, in that ultimately, the philosophies and beliefs espouse the power of meditation, prayer, and spiritual discipline, regardless of religious—or non-religious—beliefs.

…[S]it in silence before deciding about any important matter, asking the Father for His blessing. Then behind your power is God’s power; behind your mind, God’s mind; behind your will, His will.

(Originally from: Paramahansa Yogananda, “The Law of Success.” Reprinted in: Spiritual Diary: An Inspirational Thought for Each Day, December 13.)

Yesterday provided a potent reminder of the wisdom of the above directive. Yet, as many missteps often reveal, one’s spiritual maturation is an unending process; some lessons need to be relearned continually. Eventually, they stick. (It is said that the “beginner mind” needs to be reminded of a concept 3-5 times before it becomes ingrained: In my opinion, the spiritual seeker is an eternal beginner, and thus may require 300-500 remedial opportunities to learn a lesson.)

In conjunction with yesterday’s lesson was another reminder: The harbinger of the need to prepare for—to be conscious of—a potential challenge often presents itself before the circumstance arises. I had started the day much as I do most others: tea, yoga, meditation, breakfast, emailing, catching up on news. Then, after I left the house to tend to some errands, I found myself feeling teary, as if the slightest thing could open the floodgates.

This feeling is familiar to many of us: a mood or physical symptom of emotion that seems to spring out of nowhere. In recent months, these moments seem to be directly related to the uncertainty of quarantine and its accompanying protocols. Frustration and fear coexist with acceptance and inner strength: Many moods fight for dominance, and mostly, they agree to share the space within. 

As I became aware of my undefinable sensitivity yesterday, I consciously heightened my awareness of its presence. I felt that I needed to be alert, so that I would not let another’s word or glance destabilize me. With that note to myself, I continued through the morning, sure that I had properly sealed myself from negative incursions.

Upon arriving home, I glanced at my old-school message machine: I had been expecting an important message since the day before. There was, however, no blinking light. I felt a brief spurt of exasperation, but reminded myself of the need to be patient during this unusual time of frequent cancellations and overworked staff. I simply decided that I would call the office again, and politely inquire about the status of my appointment.

The young lady who answered heard my query, and checked the logged calls from the day before. She acknowledged that a note had been made, and then informed me of office protocol with regard to my particular need: Because I had had the procedure that I was trying to schedule, I knew that her information was incorrect. I did tell her this, and she adamantly insisted on her position. I became equally forceful, and like a steamroller, recited the dates of previous appointments, in order to underscore that their timing was possible. Eventually, she said that she had misunderstood, and put in the referral. I thanked her, and the call ended.

Typically, I am highly empathetic to the stress of administrative and customer service employees: I have had those jobs, and impatient or rude clients/patients are the bane of the postition. I generally make sure that I am patient, encouraging, and understanding when communicating professionally; yesterday, however, an atypical stridency took over. As soon as the call ended, I burst into tears, and sobbed for 5 minutes.

Certainly, this was the release from the earlier “teary feeling.” I do not doubt that if I had taken silence to contemplate my inner environment, I would have had a better chance at discerning its root; I do not doubt that I would have uncovered hidden fear or anger. Silence would have afforded the opportunity to tend to the burgeoning emotion, and I would have saved myself and the receptionist from an unpleasant encounter.

Silence is not soundlessness: It is the chamber within that allows the hum of the Universe, the wise Word of the Divine, and the eternal communication with All That Is. Silence is a state of being, and it can be a valuable tool: “…[S}it in silence before deciding about any important matter…”

Silent Sundays: Decoding Silence–Introduction to Sayings Series

In previous posts, I have referred to my participation in the Self-Realization Fellowship, an inclusive spiritual organization dedicated to the philosophy and meditation and healing techniques of Paramahansa Yogananda. This Silent Sunday detours from past entries, in that today’s piece introduces what will become the “Sayings Series,” based on the writings and spiritual musings of Paramahansa Yogananda. His writing style is unique, sometimes childlike in its simplicity; other thoughts are expressed with a depth only possible from a spiritually evolved being. The Sayings Series will contemplate his thoughts, and when appropriate, offer a practice that relates to the ideas.

Special note: The series will appear on any given day of the week: When inspiration arrives, it will be addressed.

So today, rather than presenting a physical or meditative practice, I encourage you to ponder the idea of Decoding Silence. The first offering in the Sayings Series will stem from the section on “Silence” in Paramahansa’s Spiritual Diary. This pocket-sized gem is a year’s worth of thoughts and observations on a variety of topics that often prove to be particularly challenging in the  pursuit of spiritual development: challenging, yet necessary.

Although Silent Sundays originated out of my affinity for silence and solitude, I recently began to ruminate on the different kinds of silence, and the occasions during which they typically arise. A day dedicated to silence-as-disciplined-practice yields a much different brand of inner quiet than does silence born of bafflement or overwhelm. There is also the silence that results from a conscious decision to withhold response. And, too, there is the silence that accompanies creative pursuits: Although akin to a spiritual practice, the focus is on the artwork, or craft, or cooking, or writing. Spiritual silence, however, aims to establish the optimal environment to invoke and receive—to devote to—the Divine.

My own recent thoughts about “decoding silence” arose after an interaction with my mother that has become a frequent exchange: Her refrain centers around wanting to return “home,” yet a query as to what that means engenders an, “I don’t know.” Her method of raising the idea of wanting to move from her lovely home on a lake can range from a sweet, “I have a question…,” to: a frantic, ”I don’t want to spend the rest of my life here!” 

Most recently, she has decided that my beloved apartment of 15 years was her home in the past. Because my abode has swaddled me through some of the most wondrous and also some of the most difficult times of my life—and because other than the house where I was raised, is the place I have lived the longest—my mother’s usurping of what is for me a sacred space, feels like a theft, a true “home invasion.”

Countless attempts to dissuade her of her adamant belief that my home was hers first, and innumerable, fruitless attempts (and resulting arguments) to remind her that the house in which she resides is, indeed, hers, leave both of us frustrated and exhausted. I tense with each visit or phone call, hoping that the topic does not arise: I also say a prayer each day to help me “do better” should she begin the questioning. I do not want her to feel discontent, misunderstood, or rudderless; nor, however, do I want to enter into the fray each time the subject comes up. 

And then last week, as I was walking out the door of her home, she softly wondered if she could ask a question. I closed my eyes in a silent beckoning for God, and steeled myself to be, ironically, soft and compassionate. Mom said her piece, and then added: “This may not be something you want to—or can—answer, and that’s okay.”

This was a never-before-heard addition to her usual opening. After no more than five seconds, my insides quieted, and I decided to take her up on it: I did not respond… at all. I simply kept readying myself to depart, and soon made a small comment about something completely unrelated and mundane: She responded appropriately; we had moved on.

Of course, there will be another instance of the usual query; however, I was stunned by how simple it was to accept the offer of non-response. Had my mother not said that, I would have felt disrespectful in what would certainly have seemed a blatant dismissal of her question. Instead, the option to be silent was presented, and it was the very best choice.

So, I invite you to think about Silence: What is its role in your life? When is it uncomfortable, and when is it a true relief, a route to emotional safety or peaceful interaction? In upcoming writings, the topic of Silence will be front and center; later, different subjects will be addressed in the Sayings Series. For now:

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: 3 Mudras, 3 Ways to Make the Shift You Need

Today’s Silent Sunday falls into the category of Combo Platter Cure-All. I have chosen three mudras (created from a combination of related hand configurations) that will shift the energy of how and where you are, to the vibration that is needed to balance and steady you. Although I suggest ways in which to engage the hand gestures, mudras work best when their placement feels authentic and organic to the practitioner; therefore, if, as you experiment with the following mudras, you feel a strong pull toward a particular positioning of the mudra, go with your gut.

First, a quick reminder about chakras and their energies: For today’s purposes, the 7-chakra system is used; some chakra systems invoke an 8th energy wheel, which I interpret as the aura. In the 7 framework, the first three energy centers—Sacral, Root, and Solar Plexus—comprise the Lower Triangle. The Upper Triangle consists of the Throat, Third Eye, and Crown. Linking the Upper and Lower is the Heart Chakra. 

When you need to shift Lower Triangle energy is when you feel: overwhelmed by earthly demands; or alternatively, bored by the drudgery of routine. An imbalance in the Lower Triangle can present as sexual obsession, stubbornness, or self-centeredness. This is the time to call upon your higher self, i.e., the Upper Triangle and Heart Center.

To push the base energies further up the spine, through the wheels of energy toward the crown, come into a seated position. Rest the backs of the hands in the center of your lap, with the backs of the four fingers resting against each other and pointed straight upward: The thumb tips are free to touch each other. Hold this mudra with eyes closed, gazing steadily up and in to the Third Eye. Inhale as you visualize the breath energy moving upward from the mudra, through the Heart, and into the Crown. At the peak of your inhale, suspend the breath for as long as you can; as you exhale, imagine the energy shooting up and out of the skull like fireworks. Repeat the process 10 more times, for a total of 11 rounds.

On the other hand, you may find yourself with a hyperactive mind, speaking carelessly, or conversely, dreamy and without focus. In this case, the Upper Triangle has run amok: The antidote is to equalize its energy with that of the Lower Triangle. To do so, bring the hands above the head; allow the arms to be comfortably bent, with the hands 4-8 inches over the crown. When you find the placement that feels right, bring the backs of the fingers together as you did with the first mudra; however, in this gesture, the fingers interlace, with the intertwined fingers pointing down. The thumbs point straight behind you.

With the mudra engaged, open the eyes slightly to gaze down at the tip of the nose; be sure to keep the head upright, with no bend in the neck. Inhale long and deep through softly rounded lips; exhale deeply through a wide open mouth, tongue out and extended. Continue breathing in this manner for 8 breaths. Then, close the eyes, and relax the eyes under the closed lids. Continue to breath deeply, in and out through the nose, for another minute, mudra remaining aloft.

Finally, you will know that your Heart Center needs some attention when you feel agitated, anxious, fearful, or oddly cold and detached. More obvious occasions to attend to the Heart Chakra are grief: Death of a loved one, animal or human; demise of a relationship; or a sense of spiritual uncertainty, i.e., loss of faith. Any of these circumstances require a direct shot to the Heart. 

Although I most often employ the traditional Prayer (Anjali) Mudra placed at the Heart Center, today’s suggestion is a bit more active. The first portion of working with the Heart Chakra is a moving hand shape; the idea is to shake the energy, whether the Heart seems overly sensitive or out of touch. To do this, bring the hands in front of the chest, fingers interlaced. Turn the palms, so that they face away from you.Then, inhale, and as you exhale, push the arms straight out at the level of the heart, fingers still laced, palms pushing forward. Inhale to retract the hands to a few inches in front of the Heart; exhale to push out. Continue this movement at a rapid pace for 1 minute.

Then, with the hands a few inches in front of the chest, palms facing you, hook the middle fingers around each other. Inhale, and pull the fingers strongly away from each other (yet keeping them interlocked). Inhale long and deep, engaging the isometric pull all the while. Exhale slowly and fully through rounded lips as you relax the pull. Continue this pattern for 1 minute.

Finally, do bring the hands into Namaste, or Prayer Mudra. Under closed lids, gaze softly up to the Third Eye, and resume normal natural breath. Remain here for as long as you like.

Special note: The above mudras may be practiced individually or combined. For example, to enhance the effect of moving from the Lower to Upper Triangle, go through each mudra progressively: Begin at the base, move to the Heart, and end with the Upper. Or, practice the Lower or Upper mudras as needed, and close the practice with the Heart. As always, investigate to discover what you need, when you need it.

Happy Sunday…