Silent Sundays: Oh, That Aching Back!

A recent bout of back pain reminded me of something a good friend likes to say: “You know you’re getting old when you hurt yourself sleeping.”

Age is not always the issue, however; often, backaches light up after a period of too much or too little activity, regardless of age. Even the most fit or aware people can find themselves suddenly unable to bend down or straighten up.

On this Silent Sunday, I share with you what I do (and did) to resolve such a physical glitch.

Special note: If you have a backache that has been consistently resistant to basic therapeutic interventions (e.g., epsom salt bath, gentle movement, alternate warm/cold packs), it may be wise to consider medical attention. About 25 years ago, I had a persistent ache that worsened with activity. After nearly two weeks, I consulted my doctor. She discovered what had become a full-blown kidney infection. Tune in to your body and your intuition: Train yourself to know when to seek help.

I have divided the following care plan into two groups: acute phase and recovery. The acute techniques are those that can help you through the first, most painful hours. Begin recovery methods when mobility begins to improve, which may be the same day.

ACUTE

From the moment I stepped out of bed on “backache day,” I realized that something had gone awry. In these first moments, I suggest a complete sensory and mobility scan: Palpate the area of discomfort to determine your care focus. Then, try to move in various directions: What movements are possible, and which exacerbate the pain?

Then, immediately apply an essential oil blend or your preferred pre-made balm. I went straight for arnica and doused the areas that seemed to clamor most loudly. After a couple of hours, I added peppermint and thyme to the mix: Both help with inflammation.

Next, try this pressure point technique: Press the thumb tips into various spots at and around the painful area. When you find the most acute places, inhale as you press the thumbs into the spot; exhale to release. This will remind the muscles that they need to contract and relax; often, sore muscles have frozen into the contracted state.

Between salve applications and pressure point treatments, I tried to go about my daily routines. It became quickly apparent that my back yearned to be still.

Heeding the body’s request, I turned to the one activity that remained doable and comforting: breathing. 

Remember that each breath is a contraction and relaxation of the diaphragm muscle. As one inhales, the muscle pushes downward, toward the abdomen; upon exhale, it releases back up to its home under the lungs.

This first round of breath may be telling: When the back, especially, is injured in any way, the torso braces against the threat of aggravation. With this guarding may come a clamp on the palliative effect of breath: The diaphragm receives the message that movement is not welcome. Breath becomes short, shallow, and reluctant.

To practice diaphragmatic breathing, get yourself into any position that feels stable and pain-free, i.e., seated, standing, prone, or supine. As you deeply inhale, let the likely tense abdomen expand; visualize the diaphragm moving downward from the ribs.

Exhale slowly and completely through the nose or mouth. As the breath travels out, use your mind’s eye to watch the diaphragm ease back up into its nest under the ribs. Continue these basic breaths, fully and with visualization, for at least 1 minute. 

RECOVERY

Eventually, I went for a walk. I proceeded slowly, being highly mindful of posture, footfall, and any changes in the ache, After about 20 minutes, I noticed that the “lock” of my back had loosened; the ache remained, but the circulation throughout the body seemed to diminish it.

This is the point at which you may be able to introduce focused, therapeutic movement and bodywork techniques. At the outset, certain positions or movement may continue to be elusive: Use the suggestions here in a sequence and with a frequency that suits your personal need.

The first movement is from a kundalini kriya to relieve depression. That the exercise became part of a backache remedy should not be surprising: From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, depression reflects an imbalance in the Water element. One of the two organ systems associated with this element is the Bladder; its meridians run the full length of the back, through the gluteals, and down the backs of the legs. With any backache, attention to the Bladder meridian is a good place to start.

I have modified the movement, so that it can be done despite a sore back. To begin, lie on the back. Bend the left knee, placing the foot flat on the floor. Draw the right knee in toward you, and extend the leg as straight up toward the ceiling as you can: Lower it about 30 degrees toward the floor.

Shake the elevated, angled leg. Be cautious at first, then increase the vigor: Use the rapid vibrations to loosen any qi (energy) that may be blocked in the leg meridians. Continue for 1 minute.

Switch sides: Bend the lifted leg, placing the right foot flat on the floor for support. Draw the left knee in; extend the leg straight up; and lower 30 degrees. Shake for 1 minute.

Then, draw both knees in toward the body. Take stock of the lower back; if it has lifted away from the floor, help it to settle, and re-engage the lower abdominals for support. Extend both legs straight up; lower both about 30 degrees; and now powerfully shake the two for 1 minute. If you like, extend both arms straight up, open them to either side about 30 degrees, and shake them along with the double-leg shake. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, help yourself to roll onto the belly. Carefully, press up onto the forearms for a soft Sphinx Pose. Use the rooted forearms to impart a sense of “drag” into the front body: Without moving, wriggle and lengthen the belly forward and away from the pelvis. 

Then, shimmy the hips from side to side. This is not a large movement; move as is you are trying to loosen the buttocks—let the flesh dance. 

After several shimmies, settle the body. Still in Sphinx, slowly turn the head left and right; this will help to shed any tension that may have accrued while tending to the back.

Now, with great care and awareness, shift up onto all fours. Explore traditional Cat/Cow spinal movements; perhaps start with rocking the pelvis only. If these extensions and flexions do not yet feel safe, simply shift your weight forward and back; or, circle the hips and/or ribs; or otherwise undulate in any way that seems to improve circulation and release tension.

Finally, shift into Baby Pose, if possible. Although this pose is ubiquitous, and one associated with restfulness, it can prove daunting to a tight back and hips. If this is the case, shift the hips back toward the heels; should your body resist, remain in the halfway position. Lower the forearms to the ground, and let the head rest on the hands: You will be in a mini-Downward Dog, a variation sometimes called Puppy Pose. Take at least 5 full breaths here.

When you are ready, find a way to sit that allows the spine to be upright: for example, on the floor, seated on a bolster, legs extended forward; or perhaps on a chair, perched at the front edge. Close the eyes. 

Then, use a qigong healing technique. Take your attention to the site of the backache. Allow the inner eye to provide a description of  the area: Is it murky, thick, mottled; fragmented, sharp-edged, dark? Register your visual perception of the pain. 

With one or both hands, grab the air around the affected site to extract the physical form within that you have identified. Inhale to pull it out; exhale to shake it down and away from the body.

Continue this clearing for 1-3 minutes, then sit quietly. Place both hands on the knees, palms down. Return to the conscious diaphragm breaths for at least 1 minute.

Repeat any or all these steps (acute and/or recovery) as needed.

Happy Sunday…

 

Silent Sundays: On Conflict, Karma, and Moving Beyond

At some point, most of us have been told—by ourselves or others—to: “Be the bigger person;” “Take the high road;” or, “Rise above.”

Often, it is sound advice. When in a situation of conflict, one person embroiled needs to ease up enough to allow for an overall adjustment; or, fully disengage. As I used to joke with a friend, “It takes two to tangle.”

What of those circumstances, though, wherein the walking-away spurs the opposition? To that person, the feeling of being ignored becomes tantamount to a battle cry: They may feel dismissed, misunderstood, or undervalued, thereby motivating them to further negative words or actions.

Recently, such a situation has re-entered my personal realm. I have learned to keep a distance from this relative, but as I have positive, ongoing relationships with other members of the family (who maintain communication with him), separation can never be entirely complete.

Now, the person has been put into a position of authority in a particular family matter. The result? His rededication to asserting control over other family involved. One of those family members is me, who, for reasons unclear to any of us, triggers his worst tendencies of emotional tyranny.

I have a hunch that as he witnesses my psychological and spiritual growth, his fear-based self aims his missives at me: In denigrating or attempting to thwart my evolution, perhaps he feels less imprisoned by his own choices and trajectory.

I do pray for him: that that darkness within yields to Peace. We once were close; to watch him wrestle with deep-seated dis-ease leaves me sad.

I have learned over the course of many years, however, that the best approach is to not engage. But in this case, sheer refusal to address my relative’s behavior will result in practical impediments to my professional and personal goals.

In order to proceed, I must walk into the lion’s den.

With good reason, to entertain this decision awakens anxiety. But I have spent decades learning how to assuage this nervous, fearful state; I am better equipped now to deal with the discomfiting situation at hand.

What trips me up the most, perhaps, is the ever-deepening realization that such “surges” from the antagonist likely will never cease. His calls to battle will resound periodically, all borne from a place within him that thrills to taunt and tussle.

In my best moments, I imagine that the tension and upset he tends to leave in his wake are his calling cards for help. Perhaps his inner anger feels as bad to him as it does to those of us at whom it is directed. When I think in that way, I feel compassion; I send up my prayer.

I share this personal story, because I recognize that such dynamics are those that many have experienced. Regardless of the relationship or embattled circumstances, such situations may call for a layered coping approach.

First, as always, it does help to put forth genuine effort to see the matter through the other person’s eyes. Rev up the compassion and imagination. Give all the credit you can muster that the person means no ill, that their heart is fundamentally “good.”

If and when the hits keep coming, retain the idea of a wounded soul seeking connection: that the only way they know how to have a relationship is by wreaking havoc on the hearts and minds of others. Hold tight to this thought. To “do battle” from a place of “knowing the enemy” will help you stay the course (even if what you “know” is a false narrative you have conjured).

Along with this spiritual generosity—which is a mighty task in itself—protect yourself. To lay oneself bare leads to martyrdom, which seldom, if ever, leads to evolution. Be steadfast in the aim to proceed in and with Faith; if the arrows pierce, pray that the Divine and the Universe help you sally forth nonetheless.

For so long, I tried to rise above and move beyond: My mother infused me with the idea that I needed to be the bigger person, because I could. I heard those words as compliments to my character. What I did not recognize is that my mother’s own trepidation when interacting with the challenging person was her motivation for me to keep the peace.

It was not until about 10 years ago, after a particularly distasteful awakening of the person’s negativity, that I felt I was being martyred. More significantly, I realized that I did not have to be: I could say no; I could protect myself.

As noted above, my first and foremost way of ushering in a feeling of protection is to call upon the guidance of the Divine and the Universe. Within those eternal realms of wisdom and grace lies the most sure haven.

But sometimes, such as the case before me now, that security must serve as the fortress from which to engage more directly with the situation. Be it an intervention of legal or personal nature, there are occasions which demand that one fight for themselves in a tangible, earthly way.

In the midst of all of this arrived inspiration in the form of a talk from the Self-Realization Fellowship. (The SRF is the affirming foundation for my spiritual beliefs and practices.) The service concerned “even-mindedness,” specifically with regard to its relationship to karma and meditation.

Certainly, each of the ideas discussed could have a separate and lengthy address of their own. What resonated for me, however, was the reminder that one must perform “right action” without an attachment to the consequences. So, when I think and pray in the “right direction,” I must focus only on that energy, and not the outcome of my intention. 

An “even mind” helps one to release expectation: Do or think what feels most in accordance with the Divine Decree; then, double-down on Faith that the outcome will usher forth that which the Divine intends (i.e., even if it is different from what one hopes for or plans).

When one detaches from the results, be they welcome or disappointing, a karmic bond can not form or continue. 

I was struck by this with regard to my interactions with my relative: Before I disconnected from him, I played into whatever “karmic bond” we have. Once I cut off interaction, my Self—my spiritual essence—felt lightened and liberated.

So now, with a resurgence of negativity pointed in my direction, I feel buoyed by the SRF talk: I can add to the karma that binds me and this relative; or, I can push forth in Faith, trusting that no matter the outcome, I will have weakened, if not broken the karmic bond.

And this brings me to a short, but potent routine that prepares me for and sustains me through such times.

First, continue whatever practice rises to the fore for you during such times. Perhaps it is physical activity, or discussing the matter at length; perhaps it is more internal, e.g., prayer or meditation. Repeat, repeat, repeat your personal practice: Shore up the strength.

Then, dare to inhabit the mind-space of the “opponent.” As described earlier, imagination  can lead to compassion; even an illusory, temporary state of understanding can help when in conflict.

On a very mundane level, try pacing. Think of it as a precursor to—or condensed version of— a longer, contemplative walk. The idea is akin to the premise behind labyrinths, or walking meditations. Distinct from seated meditation, a moving meditation encourages thoughts and feelings to be consciously contemplated; and ideally, reframed or released.

Pacing often happens naturally; most of us pace while talking on the phone. The repetitive motion circulates the energy that arises from whatever is being discussed. Just as physical circulation propels physical processes, such as digestion, to circulate mental energy helps to process thoughts and feelings.

After a few minutes or so of the fervent pacing—or any full-body movement of your choice., e.g., jumping jacks or body swings—move into shaking: simple, powerful shakes of the entire body. I tend to begin with one arm, then the other; followed by each leg; and culminating in a vigorous, full-body shake. Shake for at least 3 minutes.

The pacing and shaking not only expel anxiety and overthinking, they lead to fuller, deeper breathing.

With these optimal breaths at the ready, assume your preferred position for meditation. Rest both hands on the knees, palms up, and configure Gyan Mudra: thumb tips touching index fingertips. 

Call to mind a comforting or empowering affirmation: scripture or sutra, mantra or encouraging word. With closed eyes gazing up to the Third Eye, begin long, deep breathing. As you inhale, begin a silent recitation of the supportive words; as you exhale, complete the inner chant. Impart the vibration deep within. Continue for at least 5 minutes.

Then, release the mudra; turn the hands, so that the palms rest softly on the knees. Maintain the Third Eye focus, and simply breathe. Allow your natural breath to connect you fully to the frequency of the equanimous state you have evoked.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Coming Soon!

This Silent Sunday finds my mind full of visions and plans. All concern the evolution of my personal and professional lives, which means that some of them affect Everything Elsa.

While the practices that one finds here and on anchor.fm in audio form are those that I create “for others,” they are borne of my own experience with or need for the specific aim of any given routine. What is personal to me reveals itself to be common to many: In making my way spiritually, emotionally, and physically—and in sharing how I perceive and proceed through challenges and doubts and aches and pains—it has become eminently clear that all who abide this human existence are, in a deep and true way, “in it together.”

Thus, as I take each baby step toward a move abroad and toward expanding the ways in which I can create and share Everything Elsa practices, I will keep readers and listeners apprised of the developments.

First and foremost, a new Everything Elsa website is in the making. There, you will find new ways to develop your personal practice, including live options. The launch date will be announced here.

As I—and you—move into this new phase, below are some links to previous posts in which I addressed courage and confidence amidst Big Changes. Although I wrote each piece while enduring an increasingly debilitating physical condition (which has since been resolved), the underlying message is one that applies universally: Belief in one’s own potential is possible, necessary, and, in my opinion, exponentially furthered by Faith.

https://everythingelsa.blog/2021/04/11/silent-sundays-in-pursuit-of-purpose/

https://everythingelsa.blog/2020/12/13/silent-sundays-sayings-series-courage/

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Yet Again…

In the last six months or so, I feel that I have been thinking continually about grief and loss, and their impact on—and perhaps ironically, their furthering of—the human condition. Of course, to mourn and question is part and parcel of the lot of every human being who inhabits this earthly existence. Sometimes, though, especially when losses seem to occur in a “bundle,” the sheer emotional and spiritual wallop seems uncanny.

On this Silent Sunday, I once again mull this matter because of a conversation I had with my sister last night. I had received a short, unexpected email from her that her bouncy, curious dog had suddenly stopped wanting to walk or eat, and was loathe to be picked up. My sister has masses of experience with and love for dogs, and does not panic when coping with their illness or injury.

Something about “CC’s” situation, though, made her think the end was nigh.

So, I called her. We talked about the heartbreak should CC pass, but also acknowledged that a sudden, swift, and peaceful exit would be a great gift for CC and for my sister. And further, we contemplated the seemingly inexplicable numbers of beloved dogs in both of our lives that had passed within the past few months.

The sense is one of a clearing-away: But to what end, and why at the expense of the beloved creatures?

By now, however, I have learned that the “why” of loss and pain is not a “real” question: That is, I do not expect an answer. I ask it to trigger a reminder: The circumstance—the death, the injury, the disillusionment—is but a beacon for Faith.

Certainly, that devotion to and full abiding of divine wisdom and mercy has helped me through… everything. When such a gift is bestowed, must it not be shared? 

To that end, I reprise a post from earlier this year. I wrote it five days before my mother’s passing; as it turned out, her leaving this life was the first of many losses to come in the few months since. Most of these grief-striking situations have been born by others; in response, my heart heeds the call to offer solace by way of Faith.

The arm movement of the original meditation was a bit more elaborate; today’s version delves directly into the essence of the practice. Should you need a bit more background, settling, and tuning-in, you can find the full narrative and meditation at:

https://everythingelsa.blog/2022/02/06/silent-sundays-for-another/

You may use the following meditation to ease another’s pain or to help them through transition. The key is to hold the person in your heart and mind: As you connect to your sense of divine presence, imbue your recipient with that same strength and peace.

As always, a few warm-up movements—e.g., spinal flexes, shoulder rolls—will help you to sit more comfortably for meditation. Then, when you are ready, settle into your preferred seated posture. 

Lightly extend the left arm out from the shoulder: Let the elbow be slightly bent, and form a cup of the hand, palm up. The sense is that of waiting to catch a drifting, falling leaf. On this hand, make Gyan Mudra: thumb and index finger tips together. 

Bend the right elbow to bring the right forearm next to the body; the right hand is at about the level of the shoulder, palm facing forward.

These respective arm positions establish your willingness to receive divine wisdom, and your vow to channel it to your dedicated recipient.

With eyes closed and gazing up to the Third Eye, breathe slowly and steadily through the nose. Continue for 2-3 minutes. Use this time to affirm your intention: to soothe and support another as they face whatever ails or limits. 

Then, begin a gathering-sending sequence. 

As you inhale through the nose, softly, but fully extend through the left elbow, reaching further out.

Exhale to gently draw the arm back to its original, relaxed position. As you do so, extend the right arm straight up and out to an angle of 60 degrees, pushing the open palm forward and up.

Inhale to retract the right arm, as the left arm again reaches forward to gather divine wisdom; exhale to retract the left arm and extend the right arm out and away to send forth that energy.

Let this back-and-forth movement carry you into the aim and vibration of the practice. Continue for at least 3 minutes, but do not limit yourself. As this is a devotion to the Heart and Soul of another, guided by divine and universal energy, the practice ends only when it signals its completion to you: That signal will be personal.

When the movement completes, release the arms and hands, letting them rest how and where they may. Remain in stillness for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Keep It Simple Conclusion–Explore and Expand

This Silent Sunday brings the final piece in the Keep It Simple series. The practice helps one wriggle free of earthly binds, and awaken the subtle energies that align with the divine Universe. Today’s routine stimulates the Second, Sixth, and Seventh chakras: Generative, intuitive, and elevating vibrations resonate first within, then out and beyond.

Turn to this routine when mundane issues overwhelm; when guidance and insight seem loathe to appear; and when you need a reminder that your eternal essence is one of Spirit, not matter.

Begin on the belly. As precisely as possible, rest the Third Eye on the floor. Seek to connect the ground to the point above the nose bridge, between the brows.

Now, slip the hands under the thighs, palms up. Use the lower arms and hands to press the legs up; let the weight of the legs rest in the palms. Breathe deeply here for about 1 minute.

Then, begin to alternate soft, rhythmic kicks of the buttocks with the heels. Inhale as the left heel tries to kick the left “cheek;’ exhale as the left heel goes back down, and the right heel comes in to kick its side. Move back and forth at a steady pace, breathing and kicking rhythmically, for 30-60 seconds.

This opening move awakens the low belly, by dint of its pressure against the floor; as well as the Third Eye, due to its felt connection to the ground. By kicking the hips with the heels in a slightly elevated position, energies begin to move from the Lower Triangle of chakras toward the Upper, or chakras Five, Six, and Seven.

Next, release the legs, and bring the arms to the floor in front of you for Sphinx Pose. Press up onto the forearms for this gentle upper-spine extension. Open through the chest, and lengthen the neck. Close the eyes, and gaze pointedly up to the Third Eye. Breathe here for 1 minute.

Again, the Second Chakra, the home of creativity, nestles securely into the ground as you inhabit Sphinx. This steady, gentle pressure on the low belly subtly stimulates the generative quality; possibilities stir, ideas percolate.

Next, shift back into Baby Pose for a moment. Then, lift the hips and roll forward onto the top of the skull, as if preparing for Headstand.

Interlace the hands behind the back. Lengthen through the elbows, and lift the arms up as high away from the back as possible. On the Crown and knees now, focus the closed eyes on the Third Eye. Welcome the full “spill” of energy from the earthly Lower Triangle into the Upper Triangle centers of Higher Consciousness. Breathe steadily here for 1 minute.

Gently ease out of this Yoga Mudra variation by carefully moving back to Baby Pose.

When you are ready, rise up onto all fours. Begin to circle the pelvis—very small “hip circles”—to the right. Keep the rest of the posture still; circle only the hips in a clockwise direction. After about 30 seconds, reverse direction: Circle to the left for another 30 seconds.

Now, sit back onto the heels. With hands on the knees or thighs, begin basic spinal flexion and extension: Inhale to fully arch the spine; exhale to deeply round the spine. Inhale, open the front body; exhale to open the back. As you breathe and move, use your mind’s eye to help the breath travel up and down the full length of the spine: Inhale, breath moves up; exhale, it flows back down. Continue for 2 minutes.

Then, sit quietly for a moment. When you feel ready, begin to tap the center of the forehead with all four fingers of both hands: index fingers near hairline, pinkies at Third Eye point. Tap rapidly, and start to move the tapping up to the Crown; up and over the skull; and down the back center line of the head. 

At the base of the skull, let the left fingers move left along the base, or occipital, line; the right fingers tap their way to the right.

Repeat the process for about 1 minute, or roughly 10-12 rounds of tapping. Inhale to begin tapping the forehead, and up and over the Crown; exhale down the back of the head and along the base line. 

Finally, sit in your preferred seated position for meditation. Place the left hand on the low belly: thumb tip rests on navel, palms settles naturally on soft belly.

Extend the right arm straight up from the shoulder; palm faces left. Begin to waft—bend and straighten—the wrist; move softly, slowly, mellifluously, like a willow branch in a gentle breeze. Closed eyes gaze to the Third Eye. Breathe fully and deeply through the nose.

Continue for 5-7 minutes. Feel free to rest the elevated arm as needed; then, after a short break, resume the position and movement. 

As you meditate within your breath and movement, the portals of exploration and expansion are fully open. Welcome, channel, and abide these energies; allow them to move you from earthly concerns to a peaceful respite within and without.

Happy Sunday…

Audio Practice! Keep It Simple–Part II: Bold And Bright

This second part of the “Keep It Simple” series can be found in its full, follow-along audio form at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson.

The routine uses powerful movements and invigorating breath work, all designed to bring you into a vibrant physical and mental state. As is the case throughout the series, the practice involves only a few moves and a modest time commitment.

As discussed in Part 1, each of the three “Simple” routines focuses on specific chakras. “Bold and Bright” hones in on the Solar Plexus (Third) Chakra, as well as the Throat (Fifth) Chakra. When these energy hubs operate together, one feels vital and confident, and can express that confidence in an approachable way.

Silent Sundays: Keep It Simple, Part I–Calm And Cool

This Silent Sunday welcomes a new, three-part series: Keep It Simple. A great irony of a physical or spiritual discipline is that when one most needs to engage with the practice, is also the moment when it may be most challenging to do so. If tired, how to find the energy to revitalize? When despondent or frustrated, how to rise up and find perspective?

When you are short on time or motivation, turn to the routine that speaks to your particular need. Each practice uses only a few moves; however, their synergy will powerfully stimulate the quality of mental, physical, and/or spiritual energy that you intend to evoke. 

The themes of each practice roughly correspond with specific chakras. For example, in today’s “Calm and Cool” session, there is a strong emphasis on the Root (First Chakra) and Heart (Fourth Chakra). Grounding, stabilizing moves, plus those that ease Fire energy will leave you feeling steady, centered, and at peace.

To begin, you will need a foam or cork yoga block (or large paperback book, or firm pillow). Begin in Baby Pose. Settle the buttocks down onto the heels, and let the body rest on the thighs; adjust the position, so that your base is narrow, i.e., knees together, or very close. 

Rest your forehead on the block, brows on the near edge; eyes are closed. The arms rest on the ground alongside the legs, palms up. Inhale through the nose; extend the tongue out, and exhale through the open mouth. Complete 5 of these breaths.

Then, remove the head prop; forehead rests on the ground. Interlace the hands behind you, and raise the arms as high above the back as you can. Breathe in and out through the nose here for 1 minute.

Now, ease up to sitting on the heels, and come forward onto all fours. Curl the toes under, so that you can lift the hips, and move toward an easy Downward Dog. 

Let the position be relaxed, rather than a “perfected pose.” The heels are lifted, the knees are slightly bent, and the head hangs freely. Here, begin to “wag” the hips from side to side; let the knees and heels swivel, too, as you move your “tail” back and forth. Breathe deeply, and continue for 30 seconds, or so.

Bring the movement to a close; perhaps find a more traditional, fuller expression of Downward Dog for a few breaths. When you are ready, walk the feet toward the hands.

In this approximation of Standing Forward Bend, inhale: Exhale to bring the hips down into a crouch, i.e., buttocks drop to heels. Inhale to lengthen the legs, returning toward Forward Bend; exhale into the crouch.

Each time the hips come down to the heels, the torso becomes upright; each time the hips lift, the body inverts forward and down. Continue this inhale hips up, exhale hips down motion for 1 minute. Breathe powerfully through the nose.

Next, come into a seated position for Sufi Grinds. Circle the entire torso clockwise: Deeply “stir” the ribcage and organs to eliminate stagnancy and negativity. Circle to the right for 1 minute; reverse, circling counter-clockwise, for 1 more minute.

Now, still seated, extend the arms to the sides at shoulder level. Bend at the elbows to create “pitchfork” arms. With the arms aloft and bent to 90 degrees, curl the middle finger into the palm of each hand; use the respective thumb to hold it down. Palms face forward.

Begin to twist the upper body: Inhale left, exhale right. Breathe deeply through the nose. Start as slowly as you need to, and aim to pick up the pace as the body becomes comfortable with the movement. Eyes are closed, breath is strong, arms and mudra are up: Each exhale to the right releases overstimulated Fire energy, and eases the Heart into harmony. Continue for 1 minute.

Finally, prepare for Sitali pranayama. In your preferred seated position for meditation, curl the tongue into a tube, and extend the tip through the lips. If you cannot form this “straw,” simply extend the tongue tip through the barely parted lips.

Inhale through the tongue (or parted lips); exhale through the nose. (Slightly retract the tongue when you breathe out through the nose.) Eyes are closed, gazing to the Third Eye. Hands rest on the knees or thighs: left palm up, right palm down. Sitali breath cools the mind and body, and introduces gentleness and serenity to your system. Continue for 3 minutes, and then ease into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

NEW: “Joint Effort” Audio Practice!

The routine that accompanies “Joint Effort–Introduction” is now available in follow-along audio form at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

This “more-than-movement” practice combines stagnancy-releasing bodywork; unusual movements; and a visualization meditation. The session is designed to introduce you to the depths of information nestled in your own body, specifically within the joints. As a fringe benefit, you may experience temporary relief from stiff or aching joints.

Silent Sundays: Choice, and Beyond…

I am once again in a mental and spiritual state that leaves me wondering, “What’s next?”  and, “To what end?”

To the first query, who can say? As humans here on this seemingly unpredictable, yet proven transitory and cyclical Earth, we are prone to follow news, exchange gossip, choose sides, and battle ourselves into the ground.

When the United States Supreme Court ruled three days ago to overturn the long- and hard-fought-for Roe v. Wade law, a familiar set of feelings seeped in and crept through:

To invalidate a woman’s right to choose the circumstances amidst which she—and potentially, a new being—will live immediately raised my ire. The anger and frustration quickly became bafflement, accompanied by cynicism, and eventually, sprinklings of logic atop a large mound of fervent Faith.

The rapid rate at which this torrent of emotion and thought occurred points to the many times I have felt similarly. Racial injustice, sexual discrimination, tyrannical and nonsensical leaders, mass genocides… Each time one of these abominable situations arise, I feel the same set of emotions as the ones sparked by the Court’s recent decision.

This time, however, a new thought has made its way into the lineup. Intellectually, I have always known that there are legions of people who support a ban on abortion: Never, however, have I been able to occupy—not for even one second—that mindset. Never, though, have I tried, at least not with any degree of genuine openness to what I may find.

But suddenly, after the initial deluge of anger-based emotion, I somehow tip-toed my way in to the hearts and minds of those who applaud the ruling. 

It was and is a strange sensation, but one that drastically has reduced my bewilderment. This tentative step over to the “other side” has reminded me of the inevitability of polarity, duality, and the discord that typically follows when “opposing sides” butt heads.

My way through such times is not a socially active one… at least, not overtly. But because my beliefs and practices focus on the spiritual through-lines of all that occurs in this material world, I am able to summon thoughts and techniques that uplift that perspective.

And then, one breath, one prayer, one mantra or mudra at a time, I seek to “vibrate” in a way that allows respectful acknowledgement of that which initially I find abhorrent. In aligning more closely with the rhythm and frequency of the Universe, my Heart moves away from being part of the pervasive discord.

Whether you are one who delves into the public fray, or one who diligently supplies power to others from within, perhaps foster this intention: For all your personal opinions, for all your vehement stances, try to remember that those who seem in opposition are operating from a similar level of belief and purpose. When one can recognize ardent integrity in another—despite the seemingly opposite mindset—the slightest inroad toward mutual respect has begun.

With all of the above thoughts spilling forth over the course of the last few days, I also began to think about the idea of a Collective Karma. Might this concept be the explanation for why “history repeats itself?” If we as a nation—or any group as a culture or sovereignty, or family or organization—are connected eternally by dint of a massive karmic obligation, would that not explain how we can keep making the same mistakes, unleashing the same challenges?

But then what of the personal vibration to which I referred to earlier? Is it a fool’s errand to think that my or any one person’s solo, solitary efforts have value or effect? 

My sense of an answer to that lies in one of the key features with which each human being is graced: Free Will.

Free Will here on Earth may be hindered by personal or geopolitical circumstances, or even by lack of self-confidence. But it is there, lying at the ready, for any moment when personal discernment and courage, in accord with the Timing of the Universe, allow for its release.

Thus, with regard to Collective Karma, I offer the following from an article in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review: In “Karma is Individual,” Theravada monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu reminds us that “the Buddha’s teachings treat people as responsible individuals, rather than lumping them into groups. …Evaluate [yourself] by [your] own current actions, rather than by the actions of other members of the group into which [you’re] currently reborn.

“That’s how we find ourselves born into particular groups of people. …Through your own individual intentions, you develop a karmic profile. Then you’re born with people who have similar profiles in their individual backgrounds.

“[Ultimately,] spark a desire to get out of the karmic network altogether. The interim reaction, though, should be empathy: We’ve all been in this together for far too long.”

With regard to the current Roe v. Wade upheaval—bringing fury for some, joy for others—a feeling of empathy can be hard to muster. I am finding, however, that in the midst of the oppositional strife for which human beings seem custom-designed, the more I allow myself to venture into the outlooks of those with whom I disagree, the more relief I feel from frustration and helplessness.

Having said that, I feel the need to reiterate my personal belief in Choice as the Chosen Mode—after all, each of us were born with Free Will, i.e, an innate ability to determine our own earthly actions. To remove an avenue of Choice seems to fly in the face of that which is divinely decreed.

Finally, what of the second of my opening questions: “To what end?”

I return to that which I always do: Faith that the workings of God and the Universe occur, shift, and repeat in a way that have eternal significance. My single goal with regard to such Faith is to safeguard and, when possible, elevate my Soul in this earthly existence: recognize and explore my personal vibration; discern if and when and how I may need to alter it in accordance with karmic evolution and Higher Purpose; and tend to that task.

Happy Sunday…

Joint Effort–Part II: A More-Than-Movement Practice

Special note: The follow-along audio version of this practice will be available soon at anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

In Part I of “Joint Effort,” I mentioned several alternative ways to think about anatomical joints. From the mamas of ayurveda, to metaphorical somatic meaning, to the elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine: All point to some of the esoteric underpinnings of this particular facet of the body’s structure.

In previous writings, I have addressed the brain’s relationship to Higher Consciousness. The significance of chakras and meridians also is oft-discussed here. And certainly, the spine as gateway to other realms is a central feature of many of the practices offered. 

The idea that the body holds profound potential to connect us to the Divine is not new. What is different in the following session, though, is the entry point through which that communication can occur.

A quick primer on joints: There are three basic kinds—fixed, partially movable, and movable. The skull plates are prime examples of fixed, or immovable joints. Slightly movable joints make up parts of the spine and pelvis. Finally, freely moving, or synovial joints are those that we most often think of as “joints”: wrists, knees, fingers, ankles, etc.

When one thinks back to the idea of joints as “junction between body and mind,” (from Ayurveda and Marma Therapy), the lesser contemplated structures—fixed and partially movable—quietly rise to the fore. That these nearly sealed or tightly sewn joints initially seem implacable and inaccessible suggests that behind or underneath them lie energies and information meant to be met with deep reverence.

Thus, the following practice aims to foster sensitive exploration and expanded perception. Should you currently have joint pain, know that this practice is not physical therapy; it may, however, temporarily soothe an aching joint and associated muscles. Further, the routine offers a potential psycho-spiritual salve that can go a long way toward assuaging the enervating component of pain.

As you move through the following practice, be acutely aware of even the smallest discomfort in any given joint or area of the body. Free yourself from time constraints, i.e., if a spot is tender, remain there; offer focus, intent, and healing vibration to yourself for as long as needed. Use your innate sensory “detectives” to hone in, harness, and tend to any imbalance.

To begin, sit in a way that allows you to reach each foot; you will be working first with the toes. By unlocking and loosening the toes, we create an exit point for stagnant qi, or meridian energy. 

The technique is related to the Chinese medicine modality of Tui Na (twee nah). Using the left thumb and index finger, begin at the base of the left pinky toe: Squeeze and quickly vibrate the toe while pulling slightly: It is as if you are providing pulsating traction. Work your way up each toe in “threes”: Squeeze, vibrate, and pull at the base; then in the middle, then at the tip.

When you have done the final vibrating traction on any given toe tip, pinch the toe tip firmly; quickly pull away and off, as if clipping off the end of the toe. This is the point at which the energy you have stirred through the joints is released, taking with it stagnancy and pain.

Move through each toe, left pinky to left big toe; then on to right big toe, ending with right pinky. (Use the right thumb and index finger to work on the right toes.)

Now, from your seated position, lean back or stand up. Set yourself in a way that allows you to vigorously shake each foot—first the left, then the right. Powerfully shake each for 30 seconds.

Next, seated again, use the thumb, index, and middle fingers of each hand to squeeze and release, up and down the Achilles tendon on each hand’s respective side. Breathe deeply as you do so; continue for 30 seconds, kneading and moving up and down both tendons.

The knees are next. Form cups of both hands: fingers together, each palm “domed.” Begin to slap firmly all around the left knee with both cupped hands—front, sides, back. Continue for 30 seconds on each side.

Now, take a moment to close the eyes and experience the physical sensations in your feet and legs. Breathe deeply, simply enjoying the circulatory “buzz” that you have created.

Continue to draw the work upward. Come onto all fours. Begin to “stir” the right hip to stimulate the energy within the joint: Lift the bent right leg up behind (knee comes straight behind the hip); externally rotate the hip (knee now is to the side at hip level); and then return the knee to the floor. Circle in this direction—back, side, and down—6 times.

Then, reverse the circle: knee lifts to the side (like a dog at a fire hydrant); then shifts behind (right lower leg points straight up); and then returns to home base. Repeat—side, back, and down—6 times.

Now, switch to the left side. Complete 6 circles in one direction, then 6 in the other.

When finished, still on all fours, bring the toes to touch and widen the knees. Shift back into Open Baby Pose. Remain here: Draw your inner eye to the realm within the hip joints. This is a primary storehouse of old emotional and physical distress; use your exhale to release any past discomforts that arise. Continue to breathe and visualize for at least 2 minutes.

From Baby Pose, ease down onto your back. Let the legs stretch long and free onto the floor. Extend both arms straight up from the the shoulders, perpendicular to the body. Beginning with the left arm, inhale to lift the shoulder up from the floor; exhale to drop it back down.

This is a small, fairly rapid movement: Shoulder Drops. As the adage suggests, we tend to carry the “weight of the world”—our concerns and possibly those of others—on and in our shoulders. These Drops allow for the release of unnecessary guilt and pressure.

Inhale to lift or pulse the shoulder up from the floor; exhale to release it quickly down. Continue for 30 seconds; repeat on the right.

Finish with 12 Shoulder Drops, left and right sides simultaneously: inhale up, exhale drop.

Now, help yourself to sit again. Here you will repeat the Tui Na technique through each finger. Begin with the left pinky. Using the right thumb and index fingers, squeeze the base of the left pinky: roll, vibrate, and pull for a few seconds.

Then, move up into the next portion of the finger: Divide each finger into 3, 4, or 5 “pieces,” depending on finger length. Do what feels right: Spend as little or as much time as each spot tells you.

After working on the top portion of any given finger, squeeze the tip firmly: Pull away and off, “snapping” off the tip.

Move methodically, but with keen sensory and energetic awareness: First is the left pinky, then left ring finger, through the left thumb. The left index and thumb then work on the right thumb, then index, through to the right pinky.

When you have completed the Tui Na on each finger of both hands, inhale both arms overhead: Shake the hands with the suspended inhale. When you need to exhale, float the arms down. Repeat two more times.

To complete the joint session, find your preferred seated position for meditation. Raise the hands above the head, palms down; interlace the fingers, and hover the hands over the Crown. Use your kinesthetic intuition—what “feels right”—to tell you how close to or far above the Crown the hands should be.

With eyes closed, inhale through the nose: Use the mind’s eye to draw the breath up from the Root, or perineum, through the front of the spine to the Third Eye.

As you exhale deeply through the nose, send the breath to the back of the skull and down through the back of the spine, returning to the perineum.

Continue for 1 minute.

Finally, release the hands to the knees or thighs, palms up. Turn the closed eyes up, through and beyond the Third Eye; visualize the auric field above the Crown. Inhale through the nose; as you exhale, press the tongue up into the roof of the mouth. 

This subtle move opens the Crown. Allow the Universe to deliver its wisdom and healing in through the “immovable” skull plates, or Crown. Use each inhale to receive it.

Continue to breathe in and out, opening the Crown with the tongue, for 3-7 minutes. When you feel ready, ease down into Svasana to settle and integrate the exalted energies. Remain here for as long as you like.