How to Hang On–Day 3: One Month Out…

This morning, I received word that I am tentatively scheduled for surgery! The expected elation was tempered somewhat, as this is not “fully finalized”: A round of phone interviews is required before the surgical center commits. That is okay, though: That I am probably 4 weeks (to the day) away from regaining a life (mostly) without physical pain is enough good news for today.

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 2: Recognize Rhythms

One of the states that most of us aim for is centeredness. And yet, one must recognize that an inherent quality of existence is change. An almost predictable rhythm accompanies each arena of Life: aging, seasons, relationships, psycho-spiritual development, etc.: One moves back and forth, to and fro, in and out, up and down within the mind, spirit, and body. Thus, while feeling centered is an empowering, contented state of being, its presence inevitably ebbs and flows.

I ponder this, because I have begun to recognize that the shifts of my physical and mental states have been nudging me off-center on a daily basis. Ironically, this non-centeredness has become my new certainty: I can not say that I enjoy it, only that I am aware of it and learning to accept it. For again, this current state will change in the future: When I finally have a new hip, my physical and emotional rhythms will take on an entirely new beat. 

So, while my feelings two days ago took on a bleak tone, yesterday delivered a boost of spirit and a less ferocious physical pain. Today, this morning, I feel somewhere in between. But to acknowledge that the swinging pendulum is the consistent aspect of moving through Life is to feel a sense of relief: To become untethered or uncentered need not connote failure or lack of discipline; simply, it reflects the nature of human being-ness.

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On: Introduction

Although several of my postings in the past few months—or more—have alluded to or directly addressed the decline of my arthritic hips, I have not wanted to focus solely on the situation. Now, however, extreme physical pain and the need to bolster my mental outlook and emotional fatigue dominate every move and thought of every day. Ironically, I have decided that the way to make it through the next month—or more—until surgery is to write one very short entry about this each day. I regard such a practice as akin to a 40-day kundalini kriya or mantra: With the commitment to the act comes a paradoxical release from the motive behind it. Thus, it is my hope that by succinctly, frankly expressing whatever arises within, I will move through this trial with new wisdom and resilience.

I am, however, reminded of a core tenet of writing a blog: No more than 15-20 percent of any post should be about the writer. With Everything Elsa, that has never been an issue: The site is intended to be a means to share tips, techniques, and full practices for physical and spiritual care; thus, the “me-ness” of any entry typically only serves as an introductory example of how that post’s practice originated or how it may be used to help in specific circumstances. 

And yet, this temporary venture into a decidedly self-centric mode does not necessarily exclude its connection to the general human experience. I think of TV shows, or movies, or books, or radio discussions wherein someone relays a personal challenge or tragedy or epiphany: In hearing or reading their words, I may recognize a correlation to my own experiences. A spark flickers, and I shine that burgeoning light upon whatever personal task I may be wrangling with. 

Such is my hope and intention during the upcoming weeks leading to surgery: As I record the emotional and physical fluctuations of this bewildering time, perhaps you will dedicate yourself equally to your own current challenge. Maybe my one word, thought, or self-care technique on any given day will be the switch you need to delve into or reframe a troubling thought; or, the way in which I tackle—or succumb—to physical strain may reignite your own resilience.. or give you permission to surrender in that moment. 

So, in a sense, this is an experiment—one that is designed to reveal, yet also to reach out, resonate, and elevate. In committing to this likely uncomfortable daily practice, I aim to demonstrate the power of sharing fear, frustration, pain, and the blessings strewn throughout it all. With the expression of these states comes the moving-beyond; with the commitment to self comes the ability to connect with others. In the name of that discipline, it begins…

Silent Sundays: Use the Mind to Assuage the Body

This Silent Sunday finds me… unfound. Ungrounded. Or rather, so very grounded that lift-off seems unattainable. Yet, I am simultaneously intrigued by the nature of creativity, fortitude, and focus: When these qualities go astray, the written word—or painted scene, or sounded tone, or choreographed sequence—plays an elusive game. How best to stir the imagination? How best to sift through the mountains of buried ideas, and unearth one to contemplate and express?

The latter scenario most likely underlies this morning’s perplexing, vexing paralysis of mind. Over the course of the previous week, I had several conversations and communications with trusted friends, first and foremost of whom is my sister. With vulnerability and honesty and intuited emotion on both sides, so very many thoughts came to light. With regard to my current physical challenges and a solution that is proving to be as elusive as today’s errant creative muscle, we discussed everything from karma, to physical patterns, to the need to be positive and forward-looking while fully inhabiting uncomfortable—even excruciatingly painful—life challenges.

These are the thoughts that prevailed last week, and that have been looming nearer and larger over the past several months. It as if they always were meant to be part of my life cycle: I however, had no say over their appearance; God and the Universe revealed them in accordance with divine Time.

And certainly, I am conscious of my earlier word choice: “paralysis of mind.” As my body struggles with each and every step, with each and every position, with each and every task (who knew that standing to brush teeth or chop vegetables, or to rise from sitting could engender such dread?!), an all-too-close sense of what a paralyzed body would be like begins to color the edges of my experience. Yet, in keeping with my overall Life view, these thoughts needs to be corralled and tamed. If, indeed, this personal challenge is part of my karmic task in this lifetime, then I must be acutely aware of the thoughts I think: Their energy will foster the approach and direction I take.

So, with that in mind—and body—I wend my way toward today’s practice. While my muscles and lungs and overall resilient vitality crave big, open movement, that space must instead be found within. And, as the mind channels that which God and the Universe decree, those declarations will manifest in body, as well. In essence, it is the rebound action of what yoga flow and posture aim to accomplish: Typically, one uses the vehicle of body to clear the mind and delve into spirit. Now, in reverse, this Silent Sunday digs deep within, in order to free the body from its unanswered call for movement. With that freedom comes acceptance and renewed determination to abide challenge.

Because this morning finds me obsessively desirous of the vast variety of movement that I used to enjoy (and, with an awareness of my good fortune, fully expect to regain in the future), the first step of today’s practice is a mental nod to a Buddhist tenet: Desire is the cause of suffering. This is certainly true for me and my frustrated cleaving to a desire to move freely and endlessly. Thus, the routine begins where I have so often suggested beginning previous practices: Shake and shimmy and tap and wiggle in any way, with any body part that you can. Do this without thought to time; rather, shake until your physical need to move feels sated.

Once you have responded to the body’s need (if not entirely fulfilling desire), find a comfortable position for contemplation: prone, supine, chair, bolster, crossed- or straight leg… Follow the lead of your body as best as it is able to communicate, and you are able to respond. Then, move into the posture, and leave the body behind.

Realize as you enter this state that contemplation connotes conscious focus on a specific thought, topic, idea: Some may regard this as prayer. While it may be a form of meditation, I have come to differentiate between the two. In yogic terms, meditation singularly focuses on communication with the Divine. 

Thus, to contemplate that which brings you to a practice designed to delve within means to acknowledge fears and limitations of your current state. Then, as their presence diffuses under the laser light of contemplation, you can unfurl the inner sails that will guide you into meditation.

For this phase of practice, realign yourself in an upright, seated posture: easy crossed-leg pose or sitting on the heels. If you have not already, hone in the breath: aim for complete, steady inhales and exhales through the nose. Then, using your inner eye, track the breath as the inhale travels up the front cross-section of the spine—root to Third Eye; then, follow the breath with your mind as it flow down the back of the spine upon exhale. Continue this breath visualization for 5 minutes.

Now, release the mind’s eye; refocus your closed-eye gaze on the Third Eye. Willingly empower your understanding that this Spiritual Eye point is the way in to communicate with God and the Universe. The depth of your focus and the power of your belief ultimately lead to Faith. As such, one learns that the ability to acquire, sustain, and renew Faith begins with a decision to focus and to open to possibility.

As you sit—eyes closed and upon the Third Eye, and deep, steady breath engaged— bring the hands into the lap. Loosely interlace the fingers, allowing the thumbs to cross naturally; the palms may face the low belly, or face up. Breathe in and out through the nose in this position for 5 minutes. As you sit, should you feel distracted or restless, focus on the body’s call for attention: Relax the mouth and jaw; let the tongue float in the mouth; consciously release the shoulders from their typical holding state; and drop the elbows. Once you have melted bodily tension, return to the sound of breath and the focused Third Eye gaze.

Next, release the position, and—keeping the eyes closed—shift forward onto the belly: Make fists of the hands, stack one atop the other, and rest your forehead on the stack. Find a spot where you can feel the Third Eye in contact with the top fist. In this position, begin breathing in through the nose; exhale slowly, deeply, and steadily through the gently opened mouth. Continue for 3-5 minutes.

Then, shift back into Baby Pose. Let the arms rest back on the floor, alongside the legs. Resume deep breaths in and out through the nose. Remain here for 1-3 minutes.

Now, sit up and re-enter your seated meditation posture. Let the hands rest gently on the knees, palms up. Refocus the closed-eye gaze on the Third Eye, and begin the following breath: Inhale through slightly parted lips, with the tongue curled softly toward the back of the mouth; exhale through the nose, maintaining the tongue position. Continue for 3-5 minutes.

Finally, form Gyan Mudra on each hand: thumb and index fingertips touching. Rest this mudra on the knees, palms down. With the Third Eye gaze, intact, breathe fully, in and out through the nose. Continue for up to 11 minutes. When you feel that your meditation is complete, move into Svasana if that feels right. Remain in rest for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday… 

Silent Sundays: Head, Neck, Shoulders, Wrists… Routine for What Ails You

Today’s practice is born from the realization that almost everybody—at one time or another—grapples with headaches, neck and shoulder tension, or wrist and hand issues. For some, the cause is work (computer, phone); for others, a life of carrying loads of some kind—baby, laundry, groceries; for still others, perhaps a lot of driving. Or, you may have had an impact or repetitive stress injury whose effects linger.

Because I am currently using two canes to move through each day, there has been an undue amount of pressure on my hands, wrists, and shoulders. I find that I am doing bits and pieces of the following routine multiple times throughout the day: What follows is a full set of the techniques that I have found to be particularly helpful. Pick and choose what works best for you, or integrate the entire practice into your own routine as a preventive measure.

The practice can be done in any position that you like: I tend to do the initial moves standing, and then shift into a seated pose. If standing or being on the floor is challenging, a chair will work for all but the arm circles. Regardless, a relaxed, yet upright and aligned spine heightens the benefits of the practice; as such, I recommend warming up with a few spinal exercises. For example, if you are at a desk, push your chair back, place the hands on the knees, and inhale to extend the spine forward; then, exhale to round back, allowing the chin to drop to the chest. Repeat several times to free tension from the spine and its associated muscles.

Open the practice with firm qi taps. This qi gong technique hones in on stagnant and blocked energy in the muscles and bones that inhabit specific meridians. For today’s purpose, the tapping tool of your own hand helps to break up tension along the torso portion of the Gall Bladder line, as well as the Lung, Large Intestine, and four Heart meridians in the arms.

Form a “beak” of the right hand by bringing the thumb and all fingertips together: This pointer will be the tapper. Starting on the left upper trapezius (thick muscle that runs from neck to shoulder), begin tapping quickly and powerfully: Move back and forth along the muscle, remaining longer on any area that feels particularly tight or needy. Then move the beak along the left clavicle and around the shoulder joint, down the outer arm, around the elbow, then the forearm, and around the wrist. 

Move up and down the arm as many times as feels necessary. When you are finished, make a beak of the left hand, and repeat the same progression on the right shoulder and arm. 

Then, with an open palm, swiftly and lightly slap along the same path that you tapped with the beak. After you have done both arms, inhale: Raise the arms overhead and shake vigorously; lower the arms when you need to exhale.

Now you are ready for shoulder drops. These are the opposite of shrugs, wherein the emphasis is on the lift and squeeze of the shoulders up toward the ears: Shoulder drops inversely unload energy away from the head and neck. Starting with the right side, inhale as the shoulder lifts up easily and minimally; exhale to strongly drop or push it toward the floor. Allow the head and torso to lean to the drop side if the force of the drop suggests. Continue at a fairly rapid clip for 12-20 drops. Then, repeat on the left side. 

Special note: Although I do not suggest specific breathing for the following circling sequence, you likely will discover a natural pattern. Remain conscious of the breath as you roll, and breathe deeply and completely throughout the movements.

Now, alternate backward shoulder rolls: Do a total of 20 rolls. Then, alternate circling the shoulders forward; keep the movement continuous, rather than distinctly rolling one, then the other. For an added mental challenge and focus booster, roll the right shoulder backward, as the left shoulder simultaneously circles forward. Give yourself the chance to work it out, and then aim for a total of 10 opposite and simultaneous rolls: Repeat, shifting the left shoulder to backward rolls, and the right side to forward circles.

Next, move on to large arm circles: Rotate the right arm backward, moving slowly at first, then faster and with momentum as the joint warms. Do 12-20 circles, and then switch to the left arm. After 12-20 circles on the left, return to the right: Circle the arm forward another 12-20 times; then, repeat on the left side. This movement not only helps to keep the shoulder joint healthy, it provides a boost to overall circulation: You will feel well invigorated after a dose of arm circles.

It is at this point that I typically move to a seated position. The next set of movements uses the fingers to reset the nervous system; the sequence also releases basic tension that accrues daily in the hands and fingers. First, extend the arms out to the sides at shoulder level, palms facing down. Inhale as the fingers move in to the palm, keeping them as straight as possible; exhale as you extend them back out. This move should be so quick that the breathing becomes almost a Breath of Fire in and out through the nose, with the belly pumping and jumping: I find it helpful to focus on the exhale during the “flick” of the fingers out; the inhale and inward-moving fingers will respond naturally. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, turn the palms to face up; repeat the quick flick and retraction of the fingers for 1 more minute. To continue, raise the arms 60 degrees to form a large V with your head and shoulders as the base of the V. With the palms facing each other, repeat the same finger movement with rapid inhales and exhales for 1 minute.

Now, re-extend the arms to the sides at shoulder level. Hold down the ring and pinky fingers with the thumbs; the index and middle fingers are straight and together, forming a pointer. Turn the palms to face down, and extend the pointer down as well. Remain here, and refocus on long, deep breaths, in and out through the nose. If you feel that you need to exhale through the mouth at some point, do so: This signals a further release of tension and blocked energy. Continue for 1 minute: Then, turn the palms up, shifting the pointer up as well. Breathe deeply in this position for another minute.

To end your practice, come into Baby Pose. As always, if you need a pillow under your knees or forehead, and/or between the buttocks and heels, feel free to add that support. In the posture, interlace the hands behind the back; lengthen through the elbows, and raise the arms as far up and away from the back as possible. Remain here in Yoga Mudra for 1 minute. Then, slowly lower the arms, and move gently into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: In the Yin

Last week, I offered an active clearing ritual to usher in a new year— one that was particularly welcome after a bewilderingly unsettling 2020. The practice involved movement and plenty of props and objects: It was decidedly meant to shift external energy. On this Silent Sunday, I suggest a practice at the opposite end of the spectrum. Today’s offering turns fully inward; the experience of doing so can bring surprising realizations.

As 2020 forced most of us to contend with discomfort—be it mental, physical or spiritual—lessons in endurance ensued. Sometimes, the best recourse seemed to be distraction: Pick up a new hobby; tech your way into Zoom calls and parties; begin a workout regime, etc. On the other hand, some moments paralyzed any effort to put on a happy face; those times called for complete retreat.

Today, I suggest a way to abide the dis-ease, to dwell in short-term discomfort. With no objects or sounds to distract, yin yoga requires one to enter a complete, minimalist inhabitation of posture. Time spent in each pose can seem an eternity… until the inevitable shift of muscle, mind, and breath occurs. At that moment, discomfort yields to allowance; a deeply satisfying peace descends, made all the more profound by the challenge involved in achieving it.

There are only three positions in the following practice. Before you begin, understand that yin yoga carries an inherent degree of “hardness,” despite its name: The mind rises up to rebel at the duration of each pose; the muscles resist release; and emotions can be stirred unexpectedly. Yet, the result is one of infinite reward: calm, vibrant energy, in a revitalized body.

Each of the three postures has a short warm-up movement to prepare for the task to come. For the first yin pose, come onto all fours for traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes. Spend about a minute with the inhales leading into deeply extended arch (like a back bend); and the exhales rounding the spine into exaggerated flexion (full rounding of the spine, like a “scaredy cat”). Then, when the back muscles feel warm and loosened, lower down onto the belly for Sphinx Pose: propped on the forearms, shoulder blades drawn down, outer shoulders rolled back. Legs may be extended straight behind; during the time in the pose, lift the lower legs (bend the knees) for a deeper stretch. Remain here, eyes closed, breathing normally, yet consciously, for 3-5 minutes.

When you are ready to transition to the next pose, ever-so-slowly press back into Baby Pose for up to 1 minute. You may be surprised to feel a deep stiffness as you leave yin Sphinx: This is normal; with the time spent in deep yin, the muscles need equal time to rebound into their natural state of contract/release. 

From Baby Pose, roll up, and then help yourself to lie on your back. Extend the legs into the air: Begin to flex and point the feet as you bend and straighten the knees, respectively. This inversion will aid circulation, while the warm-up movements will help the legs  ease into the next yin posture.

Now, using your hands to help “hoist,” if necessary, bring both legs back over the head for Plow Pose. If the feel do not touch down on the floor behind you, that is okay: Slide a pillow under your hips to help support the backward roll of the spine; then, allow the legs to hang, knees bent if needed. During the time in the posture, you may well note the release that allows the feet to come all the way to the floor over your head, behind you. Work your way into this pose for another 3-5 minutes.

Finally, roll gently down from Plow: Let both knees fall in toward the chest, easing your way out of the pose. Extend the legs straight up into the air again, and give them brief shake or rub. Then, bend the knees, bringing the feet to the floor. From here, tip both knees to the right, and then to the left: inhale in the upright center position, exhale as the legs “windshield wiper” to each side. Let the lower spine acclimate to this moving twist for 1 minute. Then, slowly extend the legs straight out onto the floor. 

Now you are ready for Spinal Twist. Bring the right knee in toward you; guide it to the left side of the body, using your left hand to help. The right arm may rest by your side, or out to the side at shoulder level; allow the head to turn or stay centered, as feels right to you. Remain in this gentle twist for 3-5 minutes. When you are ready to switch sides, do so with care: If you need to rest briefly on your back with both legs straight for a few breaths, feel free. Then, bend the left knee in toward you, and guide it over to the right to move into the twist. Again, spend another 3-5 minutes breathing deeply, noting any discomfort, and allowing time and gravity to ease your way into peace.

When you have completed the twist on both sides, lie on your back, covered with a blanket, for a consolidating Svasana. Rest here for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Prep Work and Practice to Oust the Old, Welcome the New

This Silent Sunday is the last one of a year that leaves a distinctly undefinable taste in the mouth of experience. Call it bitter, perhaps with a touch of balancing sweetness; label it overbearing, or hold out for the faint notes of hope; rail at the sour, or ease it with a dose of comforting spice. However the year seemed to you, whatever circumstances surprised you, the end of this particular cycle is nigh: In 5 days, a New Year with a new “flavor profile” begins.

In an effort to create a recipe for a very different outcome in 2021, today’s practice begins with prep work: a gathering of ingredients to clear body and environment. Come Dec. 31, 2020, you will be prepared to bid farewell to what was, and open arms (and heart) to what will be. 

First, if you do not already have a sage bundle, find one at a local natural grocer or apothecary. Barring that, a sage essential oil soy candle or incense may be substituted.

Next on the list are two teas: One will be have a detoxifying purpose; the other will brighten and fortify. For the former, try ginger, fennel, dandelion root, or lemon. It also can be fun to experiment with combinations of these, or others to which you are drawn. For the New Year welcoming tea, tune in to your senses and mental state: Mint teas will simultaneously boost and soothe; piquant spices will awaken and strengthen. 

For example, a blend of peppermint, spearmint, and vanilla assures a calm release and hopeful welcome of ’20 and ’21, respectively. An equally effective, but different intention of striding forward with impenetrable optimism could be created with cinnamon, pepper, and honey. The intuitive process of selecting the teas acts as a warm-up exercise for the clearing and empowering practice to come.

Finally, determine a sound bath in which today’s movements and meditation will take place. You may have a recording of gong, bowls, or chimes that you enjoy: There are also a multitude of online options. Recently, I have been using hertz Solfeggio frequencies to address physical pain; You Tube, for example, has a vast array for your specific energetic concern. Regardless, choose an ambience that will nurture the intention to move out of 2020 with grace and awareness, and into 2021 with renewed spirit and faith.

And now the practice…

To begin, open whatever window will allow fresh air to circulate in the immediate area. (Even a slight crack in the coldest of climes will serve the purpose.) Now, first tea in hand, stand in the center of your space, i.e., the middle of a mat or of a room. With eyes closed, sip slowly: As the liquid moves through your lips and over the tongue, envision snapshots of the moments that marked your 2020. As the tea slips down your throat, allow the warmth to guide those freeze-frames out of your realm. Sip only as much and as long as you feel is necessary to acknowledge and release the essence of the past year. 

When you are ready, set aside the tea. Take your mind to the soles of the feet: Inhale deeply, and then exhale as you lift one foot and shake it. As exhalation ends, replace the foot; inhale, then exhale to shake the other. Continue this breath with progressive shaking up through each leg, then each hand and arm, and then one, big, full-body shake. 

Now, light the sage bundle (or candle or incense). With it in one hand, extend both arms straight to the sides at shoulder level: Breathing deeply and consciously, turn 4 times to the left (counter-clockwise); then, turn 5 times to the right. (Four is the numerological equivalent of 2020; 5 stands in for 2021. Turning left releases; turning right draws in.)

Then, face North. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, draw a large infinity sign (a sideways figure 8) in front of you; repeat 8 times. Again, with deep, steady breathing, repeat this movement to the East, South, and West. Finally, draw the largest Infinity symbol through the air all around you, sage in hand, faint trails of smoke imbuing the space. Make 8 signs at any angle and on any level that intuitively appeals to you.

Next, set aside the still-burning sage source; keep it close by, but allow some space between it and your sitting spot. Turn on the sound bath that you have selected, and then move into your favorite seated posture. Begin Sufi Grinds: This classic kundalini movement appears in nearly any practice that aims to dispel or detoxify energy. Allow the pelvis to rock and shift as you circle the entire torso to the right (clockwise): Inhale as the body moves through the front space; exhale as the back rounds and circles into the rear half of the circumference. Move as slowly as you need, with deep, powerful breath: As the spine and hips warm up, you may find that you can  speed up the circling. Continue in this direction for 2 minutes. Then, reverse direction for another 2 minutes.

Still seated, begin large criss-crosses with your arms. Open and close the arms out to the sides and then in front, crossing the arms as they come in front: Move this open-close pattern up and down in your front space, as low as the floor, and as high as straight overhead. Continue at a steady, strong pace for 3 minutes. (Take a brief break to shake out or massage the arms if necessary; then immediately return to the movement designed to clear the magnetic field around you.)

Now, lean back on your elbows, and extend both legs into the air. Begin to alternately kick your bottom: Inhale through open, rounded lips; exhale through the rounded mouth as the left heel contacts the rear. Inhale that leg up; exhale as the right heel kicks its butt. Continue the open-mouth breath; move rapidly, so that the breath becomes nearly a Breath of Fire through the rounded lips. Alternate the bottom kicks for 3 minutes.

Rise up off the elbows, and extend the legs straight ahead. Guide yourself into a gentle forward bend. Use the posture to quiet and soften, and to contemplate the emotional and spiritual qualities that you aim to establish in the coming year. Breathe deeply and calmly here for 3-5 minutes.

When you are ready, sit up. Rise to close the window, turn off the sound bath, and to retrieve the second cup of tea. Return to seated. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, dip your thoughts into the brew. Infuse the tea with the intentions you established in the forward-bend contemplation. Then, drink slowly and reverently from the cup; welcome the beneficial energies of the elixir as they permeate your cleared inner environment. 

After a few symbolic sips, move the tea aside, and settle into Svasana. Remain here for as long as feels right to you on this particular day. When your rest feels complete, rise slowly; perhaps enjoy the remainder of the 2021 tea as you look to the future with steadfast faith in the plan of the Universe and of the Divine.

Happy Sunday, and Happy New Year…

Silent Sundays: Moving Mudra Meditation to Make Sense of It All…

As we move closer to the end of what could be called one of the most globally unsettling years in many decades, the typical end-of-year review takes on an atypical tenor. Whereas one may usually reflect on goals met or unmet, or on aspirations for the new year, 2020’s wrap-up may find many of us still baffled by the events of the year. Although adaptability, discipline, and hope forged strong wills in some people, just as many wrangled with frustration, anxiety, and rebelliousness.

This duality of perspective and behavior starkly illustrates what is always true about the human experience: We live in a perpetual state of uncertainty; very little is as it seems; and there are multiple sides and angles, curves and bumps throughout our lives. While 2020 demonstrated the ever-present Yin-Yang quality of Life to a sometimes overwhelming degree, that dichotomies and flip-sides underlie everyday life is an inevitable hallmark of earthly existence.

As I think about the months since March, I am most stunned that I am not more stunned. Inarguably, I have had my share of emotional upheaval with regard to the pandemic: Yet, too, I find myself peacefully centered in the acceptance of that which I can not control. Perhaps the physical pain that has permeated my experience this year is connected to the ability to withstand the challenges of pandemic life: My focus has been as much on the immediate need to cope with a struggling body as it has been on the greater societal needs and hardships.

And in a peculiar way, this oscillation between personal and universal is an energetic ebb and flow that undergirds every aspect of existence. Even when subconscious, human minds take in and rifle through an astonishing amount of information each day, or each hour or minute. We contemplate what to do and how to do it: Constantly, we are in a state of flux between options and choices.

On this Silent Sunday, I offer a meditation with moving mudras to orient the unceasing to-and-fro energy of earthly life. When one is able to harness and direct this energy, the rising and receding vibrational waves become less distracting and unnerving. As one melds the universal with the personal, the resulting synergy can imbue every thought, emotion, and action.

To begin, create a bolstered supine position on the floor. In classical Corpse Pose, slide a pillow or rolled blanket under the knees; do the same under the thoracic spine. The support of the upper back should allow the shoulders to roll open, provide a pleasant opening across the chest, and allow the head to rest on the floor without straining the neck. With arms at rest by the sides, palms up, breathe deeply into the pose: Stay aware of the teamed feeling of support and openness. Breathe here, in and out through the nose, for up to 3 minutes.

When you are ready, remove the props, and roll to one side before sitting up. Find your preferred seated posture, and again take a minute or two to breathe consciously and completely. With the breath and body prepared, the meditation may begin.

Throughout this practice, the eyes remain closed and gazing at the Third Eye. The first mudra connects one to the eternal wisdom and guidance of the Universe and the Divine; its partner mudra draws the scope of the Universe into the individual domain. The dance between the two allows that which is personal to harmonize with the universal vibration, and then allows the Universe to project its energy back into the individual sphere.

First, extend the arms straight out from the Heart Center. Interlace the fingers, leaving the index fingers together and pointing straight ahead. Lift this mudra slightly, so that the pointed fingers are in line with the Third Eye. Inhale deeply as you draw the mudra in toward the Third Eye. By the time the inhale is finished, the mudra has transformed: The fingers and palms form traditional Prayer Mudra; the base knuckles of the thumbs contact the Third Eye point between the brows.

As the exhale begins, slowly move the Prayer Mudra down to the Heart Center; continue to breathe out as the hands move fluidly back out to the original position. As this occurs, the hands recreate the first, interlaced mudra.

Special note: The tricky part of this movement is that each time the fingers interlace into the initial position, you must switch the interlace. This may be awkward or uncomfortable at first; however, as you continue with the meditation, the discomfort yields to the body’s ability to learn and adapt. This is the signal that the mind and spirit are accepting the energy of the Universe into personal experience.

In order to fully integrate the peace and power of the meditation, continue for 11 minutes. Remember that the struggle of mental or physical distraction is part of the process—part of the purpose—of meditation. Give yourself the gift of accepting and rising to the challenge.

Happy Sunday…

 

Silent Sundays: Sayings Series–Courage

Today’s exploration of the writings and sayings of Paramahansa Yogananda (founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship and its meditation and healing techniques) stems from one of his Para-grams. This little deck of cards offers a slew of philosophies and musings on a wealth of spiritual aims and concerns. On this Silent Sunday, after a quick flip through the pack, I was drawn to the Courage card.

Nearly three years ago—January 2018—I experienced the first symptoms of arthritis in my left hip. Because I managed to assuage the discomfort and retain strength and mobility, I charged through that year and half of the next without a diagnosis. It was not until mid-2019 that I learned the cause of the initial pain (which had begun to creep into the other hip, too). By the end of last year, I had my first cortisone shot.

As for many, if not most people around the world, this pandemic year has seemed to usher in a particular quality and trajectory: major hurdles, followed by bits of relief, only to be followed by an even rougher patch, a dose of reprieve, and then back to foreboding and challenge. Some have deemed 2020 the roller-coaster year; the up/down, all-around, nauseating, terrifying, unpredictability of the ride certainly applies. Yet when on a roller-coaster, one knows that the adventure will end: One can withstand the speed and heart-racing drops, for the finiteness of the experience is guaranteed.

That this painful time with my hips should come to an end with surgery, to meet with a surgeon and schedule a hip replacement has turned out to be another example of 2020’s brand of uncertainty and frustration. I have been able to persevere, to be patient, to stay strong and positive: Much of this stems from faith in the divine; from a belief that things play out as they should and always were going to; and from sheer determination to focus on God when the challenge threatens to take me down. And it is a true blessing to have friends and family who offer their unwavering encouragement and support.

The last few weeks have been especially problematic, physically. I finally admitted to a friend yesterday that each morning, I pray/wish/hope/beg to be able to walk when I arise in the morning. To have reached this stage and feel otherwise healthy is another hallmark of 2020’s unique tenor: Irony and paradox abound.

So when I came across the Courage card this morning, I recalled that almost without thinking, I had chosen a kundalini kriya for Courage a few days ago. At the time, I did not feel anxious or frightened or especially worried about any one thing: However, I intuitively felt the need for the practice. If nothing else, certainly it would shore up my will and fortitude for when I might need them again.

But today’s Para-gram caused me to think a bit more about what Courage means to me. Other words come to mind: perseverance, grit, steadiness, clarity. Yet Courage feels—on an intuitive level—like a more pervasive, omnipotent quality. Courage shows up when one is most down; Courage propels one when energy dissipates; Courage lights the way through conflict and strife, through pain and hopelessness. Perhaps Courage is the presence of God and the power of the Universe when one feels too worn to pray or meditate, to think or act, to hope or believe.

Paramahansa’s words on Courage further point out that one can become too steeped in, for example, the experience of physical pain or emotional upheaval. A world fraught with disease and fear can overwhelm Life as the Divine would have us see it. The following Para-gram reframes the notion of what it means to be Courageous:

Do not take life’s experiences too seriously. Above all do not let them hurt you, for in reality they are nothing but dream experiences. Play your part in life, but never forget it is only a role. If circumstances are bad and you have to bear them, do not make them a part of yourself. What you lose in the world will not be a loss to your soul. Trust in God and destroy fear, which paralyzes all efforts to succeed, and attracts the very thing you fear.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Practice for When “Something Feels Off”

A couple of days ago, a good friend answered my, “How are you?” with a slightly bewildered look, and: “I don’t know—something just feels off…” Most of us have had those days when the external environment or our personal energies don’t feel quite right: askew, lacking, an inexplicable feeling of trepidation… And for many months now, the pandemic and social upheavals seem to have created an overall, every-day ambience of off-ness. 

That general socio-cultural mood is different, however, than the motivation for today’s practice. The skewed vibrations of the pandemic world that we occupy have a clear cause; the can’t-quite-put-a-finger-on-it quality of the feeling such as my friend had seems to arise out of nowhere. There may be nothing especially wrong or challenging in one’s personal realm, yet the sense of “not quite right” persists.

In order to banish off-ness and to restore inner stability and calm, I created the following practice that pairs mudras with movements and postures. This double-whammy invokes a unique synergy: When mudras are paired with moves or positions, the result yields an impenetrable fortress against any threat of dissonant vibrations that may exist within or without.

Begin standing. To establish a clear energetic field in which to practice, imagine yourself in chest-deep water: With large arm movements, imagine that you are scooping water up from the side; reach out, then down and in toward you, then thrust it up and over your shoulders. Inhale as you reach the arms out and scoop; exhale strongly through an open mouth as you jettison stagnancy or dis-ease behind you. When you breathe out, extend the tongue and create whatever sound of expulsion comes naturally. Move quickly and powerfully with this clearing move for 1 minute.

Next, still standing, extend the arms to the sides at shoulder level, palms forward. Create a fist with each hand, yet leave the middle finger pointing straight out. Begin to circle the arms backwards from the shoulder blades, i.e., the rotation emanates from the back, rather than simply from within the shoulder joint. Breathe in and out through the nose as you open and “rinse” the lungs and erase tension in the upper back. Continue for 1 minute.

Remain standing, and again reach the arms to the sides. This time, turn the palms to face down, and touch the thumb tips to the base mound of their respective pinky fingers. Then, seesaw the arms: Inhale as the left arm rises and right lowers; exhale as the right comes up and left goes down. Maintain the line of the arms, so that the diagonal they create when seesawing remains consistent. Move for 1 minute.

Now that  you have cleared the auric space around you, bring yourself into a comfortable seated pose on the floor: Crossed legs are ideal, but you may also sit on your heels or even with the legs extended forward. On each hand, touch the thumb tip to the inside, base edge of the ring finger; the thumb is thus in the webbing between the middle and ring fingers, with pressure against the ring finger. Holding this detoxifying mudra pinky-side down on the knees, begin Sufi Grinds: Inhale as you circle the torso forward; exhale as you round and circle into the back space. Move slowly at first, and then pick up the pace as the spine and hips warm up. Circle to the right for 1 minute, and then reverse, moving counter-clockwise for another minute.

Next, lengthen the legs out in front of you for a yin-style forward bend. In this variation, feel free to round the spine; create a relaxed, relaxing posture that will garner the results of a deep forward bend, by dint of time and gravity. Let your head hang naturally, and use whatever supports you need; you will inhabit this position for 3 minutes. To further a profound sense of calm and rootedness, create Rudra Mudra: The thumb tip of each hand touches the index fingertip and ring fingertip: With mudra intact, slide the hands under the knees. Descend into the mudra-activated pose for the full 3 minutes.

Before you enter the next posture, grab a pillow, block, or rolled blanket: Place it behind your hips, and then roll down over it. The bolster should ease the lower spine into a gentle lift and opening, i.e., a very modified back bend. Lie quietly, letting the bolster nurture the opening of your front body. With the arms at ease on the floor by your sides, create Pran Mudra to fortify vitality and to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain: thumb tips cover and press the nails of the ring and pinky fingers on each hand. Turn the palms to face up, and breathe deeply for 2 minutes.

Now, remove the bolster, and turn on to the belly. Aim to rest the forehead on the floor, so that light pressure falls onto the Third Eye; your facial structure will dictate the feasibility of this position. Regardless, gaze through closed eyes up to the Third Eye. Then, bring both hands to rest on the lower back, palms up, with Gyan Mudra: thumb tip to index fingertip on each hand. Remain here, breathing deeply, for 3 minutes.

Finally, press back into Baby Pose. As this posture will serve as Svasana for today’s practice, use any pillows or blankets you may need to support the knees and hips. Then, bring the hands underneath the forehead: Make fists of each hand, and stack them one over the other; the top fist should connect with the space between the brow points, thus stimulating the Third Eye. Rest here for 3-5 minutes, consolidating the flow of energy from your practice.

Happy Sunday…