Silent Sundays: Top to Bottom, Part One–Shoulders

This Silent Sunday introduces a new series designed to address the areas of the body and realms of emotion most prone to stress and strife. As the year winds down and the holiday expectations amp up, three zones are easily strained: shoulders, low back, and knees/feet. The corresponding mental and emotional concerns are, respectively, irritability and guilt; fear and the “blues;” and earthly stability and spiritual progress.

In today’s Part One, I offer a short practice to unravel tension in the shoulders and upper spine. Also in this region lies, of course, the Heart Center: Inherently, today’s routine will free the flow of Heart Energy, thereby facilitating a calm approach toward self and others. Additionally, the Throat, or Fifth Chakra will be stimulated, thus allowing one to communicate personal needs and boundaries.

Ironically, I was motivated to create this series after considering a brief hiatus from posting pieces here. Whether it be from “perfectionism” or deep commitment, Guilt began to announce itself as soon as the thought of a break arose. For me, that feeling manifests as tension throughout the shoulder girdle.

So often, our body forms the crux of age-old aphorisms. In the case of Guilt and its effect on the shoulders, the phrase “weight of the world” comes to mind. When one insists on carrying a burden, be it presented from the outside or from within, the result is a physical weighing-down: On those shoulders the burden rests.

This may be a familiar feeling to many, especially around holiday time, when expectations and obligations are high.

Thus, on this Silent Sunday, I offer a quick routine to free the oxen yoke upon which many of us place so much unnecessary load.

Standing, begin with shoulder bounces. A “shrug” emphasizes the upward pull of the shoulder; a “bounce” emphatically, rapidly pulses the shoulder down. First bounce the right shoulder 8 times, then the left; then bounce each 4 times; then 2, alternating twice.

Next, circle the left shoulder back 8 times (only the left); then the right by itself 8 times. Then, again, 4 backward rolls for each; then 2, twice. Then, single alternating rolls 8 times.

Now, alternating left and right forward rolls, incorporate a roll-down through the torso. As the shoulders circle forward, let them bring the body along for the ride: You will roll down through the spine until the spine looks like a candy cane. This is not a traditional Forward Bend; instead, allow the spine to curve—round—naturally as you roll down, allowing the forward shoulder rolls to take you there.

After the first roll-down via forward shoulder circles, roll back up through the spine, allowing the shoulders to rest. Then, repeat the roll-down with shoulder circles two more times.

Now, help yourself to the floor, and lie on your back. With knees bent and feet flat, hip-width apart, allow the knees to fall inward; this is a restful posture for the entire back. Extend both arms straight up toward the ceiling for Shoulder Drops. Imagine that someone is pulling your hand up, lifting the shoulder off the floor slightly, and then dropping the arm. Find a fairly quick rhythm, alternating left and right for 1 minute.

Then, rest the arms on the floor by the sides of the body. Now imagine that someone is tugging one arm down toward the feet: Let the body and head respond; they will shift and roll slightly to the tugged side. Tug one arm 8-12 times, then the other. Then rest briefly, enjoying a few deep, slow breaths.

Next, again extend both arms straight up toward the ceiling, directly above the shoulders. Let the bent knees open, so that they are in line with the feet and hips. Bring the palms together. Now, drop both knees to the left as the arms move to the right. Inhale to bring all parts back to center, then exhale: knees drop to the right as arms move left. Repeat this oppositional movement for 1 minute. Allow the head to move of its own accord; it may or may not choose to participate.

Now, roll onto the belly, forehead resting on the floor. Bring each hand to either side of its shoulder; the placement is not exact, and you may need to adjust as you begin to move. Now, lift the head a bit. Pressing through the left palm, lift and roll the left shoulder away from the floor; let the head turn slightly to the left, as will be its natural inclination. Immediately press through the right hand to roll the shoulder up and way from the floor, turning the head toward the right. Alternate back and forth, left and right, and find a fluid twist through the upper spine and shoulders; the neck will enjoy a subtle release into freedom. Continue for 1-3 minutes, or as long as feels right.

When you are ready, press back into Baby Pose. Interlace the fingers behind the back, and extend the arms straight. Inhale to raise them as far up and away from the back as you can, then exhale to lower. Inhale up, exhale down; continue for 1 minute.

Next, sit up to enter your favorite seated pose. With the hands on the shoulders (fingers in front, thumbs behind), and the elbows at shoulder level, begin to flex and extend through the upper spine and shoulders. Inhale to draw the elbows back, as if to touch one another; exhale to bring them to meet in front of you at chest level. Inhale to open the chest, exhale to widen and round the upper back. Continue for 1 minute.

Finally, release the hands into the lap. With eyes closed, gazing to the Third Eye, inhale slowly and deeply through the nose; exhale fully and steadily through open, rounded lips. With each exhale, feel that the shoulders release down as the neck extends freely upward. Continue for 3 minutes. If so moved, ease your way into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Heavy Heart? Lighten the Load

Special note: Today’s meditation may be especially useful for those with a loved one struggling with a progressive or chronic condition. The practice is calming and centering: In that space, some light may shine…

On this post-Thanksgiving, pre-Winter-and-all-of-its-holidays Silent Sunday, I find myself somewhat encumbered: A heavy heart is slowing my stride, draining my reserves, and beckoning misguided thoughts.

About a week ago, after my daily morning conversation with my deep-dementia mother, I called my sister to, as I told her, “talk with someone whose voice I recognized.” As soon as I said it, I burst into tears.

A few days later, in response to a genuine “how are you” from a trusted friend, I again started to cry.

And just last night, while watching a not-especially-emotional program, the tears began to build.

In an effort to understand my leaden heart, I considered: Holiday blues? Nope, not a typical culprit for me. Loneliness? Recent loss or disappointment? No, to both. Response to less sunlight? I generally prefer the shorter days.

So, what could be the source of this weeping heart?

What I have discerned is that what I thought was a No to “Recent loss or disappointment?” is more of a Yes. The loss, however, is not recent, nor is it past; perhaps the ongoingness, itself, is the very weight hanging on my heart. 

And in writing that, I realize that that is true.

For as I think this and now write it, I know that the steady disappearance of my mother is an energy shift that reverberates profoundly throughout my Heart Center. Always close, perhaps to a detrimental degree at times, my mother and I made great strides over the past 15-20 years to establish “healthy boundaries.” I exalted in the times when I could stand my ground, or when she did not exert her will over my choices. I respected her past and path, and learned to separate my decisions from her desires. We had evolved, and in so doing, could enjoy a new relationship born of a deeper understanding.

Now, after about 5 years of wrangling with her dementia (and thinking that I had come to terms with New Mom), my Heart energy is sounding the alarm: I remain in grief over the loss of Old Mom. This is not a cut-and-dry end, however: I still talk to the woman—a Woman—every day. She remains in her house, has a daily routine, forms strong opinions, enjoys conversation, makes observations, and is in overall sound health. So where did Old Mom go?

When my sister and I discuss this issue, we typically land on: Deal with the Woman in front of us; honor the essence of the Mom we knew; and allow the sadness we feel.

Such has been our mantra, increasing in volume, over the course of the past several years. So why now am I experiencing a resurgence of grief?

It can be no coincidence that I recently heard an actor (Andrew Garfield) describe his grief over the passing of his mother. In speaking of it, he made the unusual pronouncement that he valued the feeling of grief: He regards it as “unexpressed love.” 

And for me, that is the key to the unexpected depth of my sadness. Psychologically, it makes sense that I would grieve the “loss” of my mom, the one who raised me, the one to whom I was so close, and the one from who I healthily distanced. But that grief is ongoing, as she has yet to pass from this earth. Thus, each day is a reminder of the disappearance, and each day is a reminder that the Woman to whom I express my love does not necessarily know who I am.

So, if grief is “unexpressed love,” I am in a state of constant grief: Whatever love I express falls on ears that acknowledge the sweetness of my words or tone, but can not fathom its depth. This is a state of “incomplete grief.”

How to make whole a thing that most people avoid? How to “complete” grief when the source of it is actually present? How to lighten the load of a heavy heart when the weight must be born each and every day?

This is the type of spiritual pain and effort that, ironically, fuels me. When I am able to identify the challenge, the load already is lessened. To that end, I suggest the following meditation to honor and bolster your Heart, however it may be feeling.

The power of Prayer Mudra (Anjali Mudra) can not be overstated, nor can the value of your breath and focus. To that end, find a version of Prayer Mudra that resonates with your current Heart energy: traditional palms together at Heart Center; backs of hands together (Reverse Prayer); fingers pointed up or down; mudra at Heart or Head or elsewhere. Allow this to be a choice guided by intuition: When we can surrender to a suggestion from the Universe, Truth responds to that reverence. As the Heart detects that devotion, its vibration strengthens.

Then, with eyes closed, gaze up to the Third Eye. This focus ushers in a vibration of Truth. Use your deep, steady breath to guide the pulse of this energy in and through you; breathe again to send it back out for more. Inhale through the Third Eye; exhale into the Mudra, whatever variation is and wherever it lies. Then take breath in through the mudra, and exhale out through the Third Eye and beyond. In this way, you begin a cycle of renewal and understanding with the Universe and its eternal Truth. Immerse yourself in the process for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday… 

Silent Sundays: Future You

So often, that which we need to do to make ourselves feel better—stronger, calmer, clearer, kinder—is the very thing that seems anathema to the need. When angry, how to convince ourselves to take the time and self-inventory necessary to move past the rancor? When down, how to find the vigor to move or breathe more? When tense or anxious, how to settle into seemingly elusive stillness?

At such times, I recall a sweet, simple motivational phrase that an acquaintance once shared: In a state of procrastination or resistance, she would rouse herself into action with the words, “Future Me will be happier if I…”

The self-encouragement has greater implications: It serves as a reminder that the Soul needs our efforts in the earthly realm to ensure its progress in the next incarnation. Future You…

In recent days, I have summoned this idea more than once. A general agitation—be it from household circumstances, last week’s heightened planetary activity, or familial concerns—had seeped in to my head and heart. Certainly, I have a repertoire of ways to ameliorate barbed thoughts and errant nerves. But, of course, the most extensive supply of know-how is useless unless one engages with it in earnest.

On this Silent Sunday, I offer a way to approach yourself, regardless of state of being: It begins with the adage that Future You will thank you for your actions now.

To begin, give yourself the next 10 minutes. If you are uncomfortable physically, set yourself up in whatever position is most soothing to your body; use whatever props or covers you like. If mental dis-ease has become a roadblock to Future You, do nothing to change that: Take yourself by the hand, note your mental mire, and lead yourself into the next minutes nonetheless.

Once situated, return to basics. Close the eyes, relax the tongue in the mouth, and rest your hands in your lap—one in the nest of the other, palms up.

Take your first conscious breath, in and out through the nose. Proceed through any resistance: Remember—Future You will thank you.

Keep breathing, allowing the breath to deepen with each inhale and exhale. Recheck that your tongue is floating free in the mouth; the closed eyes are soft, the brow relaxed; and the chest is open, shoulders at ease. Take about a minute to establish complete breaths.

Now, turn your closed eyes up to gaze between the brow points, i.e., to the Third Eye. On your resting, nested hands, touch the fingertips of the thumbs together. And begin to extend the exhalation: Breathe in slowly and steadily for 4-6 beats; exhale deeply for double that count. Continue for about 2 minutes.

Now, to further ascend above any earthly concerns to a place of peaceful clarity, you will assist your Crown Chakra to open. Inhale fully without any count; as you exhale press the tongue firmly up into the roof of the mouth. Create a soft, yet firm energetic nudge upward through the mouth, the brain, and into the Crown. Keep the closed eyes focused on the Third Eye as you breathe in through the nose, relaxing the tongue; and out through the nose, pressing the tongue upward. Gradually, feel the release and ease in the Crown as it opens to welcome the wisdom and guidance of the Universe. Continue with this gift for Future You as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: What’s Next?

On this Silent Sunday, I am in the midst of revamping: a re-evaluation of my Life that entails clearing, resetting, and opening. To “clear,” for me, means to unequivocally detach from past, present, and potential obstacles. Once freed, the task is one of discernment: What earthly scenario will be most conducive to the hum of my spiritual vibration? And with all of this wired through mind and heart, I actively open each and every channel to that which God and the Universe decrees.

Should you find yourself in—or sensing the imminence of—one of the inevitable shifts that occur for us human vessels as we lumber through this life’s incarnation, the following practice can help charter your new course. On a mundane, physical level, this short routine is an excellent way to roust stiffness and boost energy. The Third and Fourth chakras will be highly stimulated, as will the Stomach and Bladder meridians: In lay terms, the front and back bodies will be equally stretched and strengthened.

To begin, lie on your back. If you feel the need, do a few pelvic rocks to warm and loosen the low spine and hips: Inhale to rock the pelvis forward (tip the tail toward the floor); exhale to roll the pelvis back (curl the tall up and in toward you). Once you feel limber in the lumbar region, roll the spine all the way up into a modified, or Half-Bridge. Arms may rest on the ground; I enjoy the extra lift and stretch that comes with interlacing the fingers and stretching the arms straight under the arch of the body.

In your Half-Bridge, begin Breath of Fire through open, rounded lips. This breath is rapid, with equal inhales and exhales, akin to a powerful panting. Continue for 1 minute.

Slowly roll the spine down, articulating through each vertebra as you lower. Once down, draw the knees in, hug the arms around them, and lift the head, as if to tuck the nose between the knees. In this tight ball, with eyes closed, continue Breath of Fire for 1 minute, this time through the nose only.

Release the ball of your body, and roll back up into Bridge. Extend the arms straight up, perpendicular to the ground. Breathe fully and deeply through the nose as you shake the hands only: The movement stems from the wrists; do not let the rest of the arm move. Continue for 1 minute.

Again, roll the spine down, vertebra by vertebra. Find your ball shape again; however, this time, extend the arms straight forward along the sides of your body. Palms face in, and you repeat the shake of the wrists and hands: Breath is slow and steady through open, rounded lips.

Take a brief rest on your back; wiggle or stretch in any way that feels good. Then, roll onto your belly, and press up onto all fours. From hands and knees, step the feet back, so that you are in Plank; if you need to, stay on the knees, but shift them back a bit for the next part of the move.

In Plank (or the knee modification), inhale: Exhale as you shift yourself forward into an Upward Dog. Inhale back to Plank; exhale forward for the Up Dog spine extension. Move back and forth in this way; breathe powerfully in through the nose. As you exhale, extend the tongue out and down to breathe out through the move. Inhale through the nose in Plank; exhale through the tongue-out mouth as you move into Upward Dog. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, rest briefly in Baby Pose; if you prefer, simply lower onto the belly, and take a few deep breaths in a basic prone position. Then, help yourself into your favorite seated posture.

This closing meditation with mudra will draw the wisdom and guidance of the Universe in; the hand placement will direct the universal energy to the upper chakras. This will ensure that that which is meant for you will be ushered in to your Higher Consciousness, thereby augmenting its power once manifested in your earthly life.

Bring the hands into an enhanced Gyan Mudra. Curl the index fingers into their respective thumbs; use the thumbs to hold the curl. Join the hands as if in traditional Prayer Mudra: The palms will not touch, but do try to connect the edges of the pinky fingers, and also the edges of the thumbs. The space within symbolizes the cleared, open space of your being, into which God and the Universe may bestow beneficent energy.

Now, softly rest the tips of the middle fingers on the center of slightly parted lips. Roll the closed eyes up to gaze at the Third Eye. Be conscious of the Heart Center; collar bones and Throat Chakra; shape of the hands and the space within them; and the Third Eye. Feel the flow of energetic vibration moving up and down, in and around from the the Heart, through the mudra, to the Third Eye, and back again.

Breathe in deeply—and equally—through the slightly open lips and the nose. This is a unique breath, and one that demands focus. This meditation requires multidimensional focus, which may seem oxymoronic: However, this challenge strengthens the ability to discern and intend a specific outcome, while nonetheless remaining open to that which you may not have considered or conceived.

Deepen into the meditation for 7-11 minutes. When you feel finished, effortlessly release into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Bend, Bow, and Bump Your Way On…

Full disclosure: i am not feeling “deep” today. A strange weariness has come over me, one that has nearly sapped me of the energy to do anything about it. This is not a physical fatigue, nor an existential angst: Rather, I have been watching the world and those that I love in it swirl with its ever-changing circumstances; the never-ending cycle of events—be they beneficial or detrimental, joy-provoking or heart-rending—can be wearying.

In the midst of this typical array of earthly goings-on—and in the midst of my increasing tiring of their demands—I received the weekly inspirational talk from Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship. Lo and behold, the title of the service was: “Are We Letting Life’s Circumstance Control Us?” 

Tellingly, the talk was from 2019: That the topic is as applicable today (if not moreso) as a couple of years ago (pre-pandemic, nonetheless) is a solid reminder that Life never stops presenting new—and reconfiguring familiar—circumstances. What a stroke of luck that I was presented with the wisdom of the service just as I needed its encouragement.

Cut to this morning, when I had expected to listen to the talk in full. Instead, I turned it on, and within moments, turned it off. Somehow, I did not want words: To wrangle with how-to-wrangle seemed like an additional mental drag on an already sodden brain. 

But I knew I needed something to roust me out of world-weariness. Further, I yearned to connect with divine wisdom and its protective guidance: Therein, for me, tends to lie the surest source of renewal—the fount of energy that inevitably restores vitality on all levels.

Thus, the following practice: It is one meant to rebuild you when you may not know why you need restoration. If you do, however, have a sense of why you feel the need to shore up your hardiness, keep your mind attuned to your circumstances as you proceed through the unusual flow. Your situation likely will shift in significance, or your perspective may starkly alter.

If you simply want to adjust an “off” feeling, be fully conscious of three things as you practice: closed-eye gaze to the Third Eye; sound and steadiness of your breath; and the vibration of your physical sensations. In this way, the body become the mind: Let the physical lead you further within, so that mental yields to metaphysical yields to spiritual.

Begin on your knees, with the forearms on the floor in front of you: a variation of all-fours. Forearms are shoulder-width apart and parallel to each other, palms flat on the ground. As you inhale, shift the body forward; exhale to slide back. Inhale to slide the angled torso toward the hands; exhale as you shift the body back, moving the hips toward the feet. Continue for about a minute.

Bring yourself to a stop. Draw the forearms in, so that the elbows touch their respective knees. Raise the hands and forearms, and bring the palms together to create Prayer Mudra: Rest your Third Eye on the edges of the thumbs. Simply remain here, eyes closed and gazing to the Third Eye, breathing slowly and fully through the nose. If you like, use the edges or base knuckles of the thumbs to massage the Third Eye. Remain here for 1 minute.

Next, shift yourself as needed, in order to place the crown of the head on the floor. (You are still on the knees and shins.) Bring the arms behind you, interlace the fingers, and stretch the arms straight up and away from the back. The more you extend and lift through the arms, the less pressure you will feel on the head. Take 5 full breaths here.

Now, gently release back toward Baby Pose. Instead of fully settling the buttocks onto the heels, however, thread the hands through the legs from behind, bringing them into Prayer Mudra between the knees on the floor. The forearms thus will be between the thighs and calves: Release your weight onto the arms, thereby giving a surprise pressure-massage to the calf muscles. Rest here, breathing deeply, for about 1 minute.

From the enfolded Baby Pose, release the arms, so that you can once again come onto the crown of the head for the previous Yoga Mudra posture (i.e., interlaced hands behind, arms extended straight up). Now add an extra shift, one designed to remind you of your ability to remain balanced amidst challenge. From your perch on the lower legs and crown, with arms behind you, raise the lower legs and feet off of the floor. You are now perched solely on the crown and knees. Breathe deeply here for 30-60 seconds, then slowly ease your way out of the posture, coming to rest in traditional Baby Pose. 

After a few deep, settling breaths in Baby Pose, slide yourself forward to come onto the belly. Resting on the forehead, with the arms by the sides, palms down, begin to bump the body up and down: Inhale to lift the belly and hips away from the floor; exhale to drop the torso down. Repeat for a total of 26 bumps.

Next, turn over to lie on your back. Once again, bump the body up and down: Inhale to lift the thighs, hips, and most of the torso up; exhale to drop it down. The primary points of support when you lift are the heels and shoulders: Inhale as you press those points down to lift the body; exhale to release effort as you drop the body. Repeat, as before, for a total of 26 drops.

Finally, having bent and bowed to meet and overcome your specific challenge or non-specific dis-ease; then having catapulted its attendant energy from your system; you now can welcome and infuse your being with all that the Universe and the Divine have to sustain you. On your back, extend the arms straight up, and then open about 30 degrees to each side: The arms are in a wide V, creating a conduit to the Heart Center. Stretch the fingers wide apart, and bring your closed eyes to the Third Eye. Send your sensory awareness to the center of each palm, wherein lies a powerful acupressure point for Heart energy. Inhale, drawing a renewed spiritual vibration through this point and into the Heart; exhale to resound the energy within. Breathe and visualize in this way for as long as you like, and then lower the arms to ease into Svasana, also for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Let It Slide

Recently, I have found myself doing a lot of what I think of as “sliding” movements. I have realized that without conscious intention, I have been working to ease a renewed sense of freedom and fluidity into my joints. Certainly, after several years of ultimately debilitating arthritis, it should come as no surprise that I would focus on the health of my joints. The interesting aspect, though, is that I began to do a series of movements that “appeared” in my body: I did not mindfully create them, and I did not intellectually know why I was doing them. They arrived unbidden, they felt good, and so I did them.

From time to time, you may notice that you have introduced a particular move or set of movements into your  daily routine. I have learned that it pays to inquire why they have become part of your practice: What is your body trying to tell you? This can be a highly beneficial practice that educates you about your physical and perhaps emotional needs; further, it can build overall discernment. When we engage with the body on a conscious level, with the specific intention to hear its messages, we begin to train our ability to ferret through distraction, and ultimately, on a metaphoric, perhaps even esoteric level, to sift through layers of meaning.

Today’s practice thus may be used in a variety of ways: First, as a joint-friendly routine unto its own—one that provides a feeling of ease in the body, along with a sense of peaceful grounding. Or, turn to this routine when you want to see beyond typical or habitual outlooks: The  unusual, yet soothing movements will remind you that a shift in perspective can yield profound clarity and insight.

Finally, embark on the following practice with the idea of granting yourself permission to veer from its suggested trajectory. For example, you may begin, and quickly discover that your body is clamoring from within to be released from directive: On this Silent Sunday, quietly cede control to whatever vociferous demands arise from within. If, during the first movement, your felt energy craves something other than the next move, go with your personal, intuitive inner guide. To stray from the routine as prescribed may be the best outcome of all.

Special note: You will need a stretch of bare floor for part of this routine. If you prefer not to be directly on the floor, place a small towel underneath you. You  may also use this towel or wear socks for one set of movements.

To begin, come onto all fours. Instead of placing the hands in line under the shoulders—as if to do Cat/Cow—bring the hands several inches ahead of the shoulders. The tops of the feet should be flat on the floor, toes extended back. Keeping the right shin in contact with the ground (you may be on the mat or rug for this move), inhale to slide the knee straight forward, so that it moves between the hands (just next to the inside of the right hand).

Then, exhale to slide the leg straight back: Keep the shin down for as long as you can. At some point, the toes will naturally tuck under, and the knee will rise away from the floor as the leg straightens out behind you. The front of the ankle will rise away from the floor, as the heel pushes back, bringing the foot into flexion.

Inhale to draw the knee in, passing through all fours, and then straight forward again, sliding on the shin, with the toes pointed back. Repeat the move 12 times: inhale as the knee slides forward between the hands; exhale to slowly unfold the leg into its full length behind you. Then, switch to the other side for 12 repetitions.

After this freeing move for the hip, knee, and ankle joints, bring yourself prone onto the bare floor. On your belly, prop up on the forearms, as if in Sphinx or Cobra pose. Begin to slide, or drag yourself forward by alternately crawling with the forearms. As the right arm works, the entire lower body swings, or slides to the left; when the left arm works, the hips and legs swing to the right. This move takes a moment to accept ease: Once you have released into the rhythm, the feeling of free sliding will occur. Continue for as much space as you have, then turn around to travel back across the space.

Now, you will definitely need socks or a small towel under your feet. From the forearms and belly, press up onto all fours. With the towel under the feet or in socks, hover the knees a few inches off of the floor: This is the starting position. Then, slide the feet back, so that the legs are fully extended; you will be in Plank Pose.

From Plank, pike the hips up, as if moving into Downward Dog: As you do this, let the feet slide in toward the hands a bit, effectively narrowing the Down Dog position. Then, slide the feet all the way back, allowing the body to return to Plank.

Continue the reversal of this sliding vinyasa: From Plank, draw the knees in under you, so that you return to the starting position. Then, again, slide the feet straight out behind you into Plank: pike the hips up as the feet slide in a bit; slide the feet out, back to Plank; and draw the knees in to the original hover position.

Inhale to slide out to Plank; exhale to pike; inhale to slide out to Plank; exhale to draw the knees in. Repeat a total of 8 full rounds.

After the Plank Slides, rest for a few deep breaths in Baby Pose. Then, roll up to sit on the heels. Even if you can sit comfortably here in Rock Pose, I suggest the use of bolsters: The extra lift and support will allow for greater ease in the following movement.

Seated in supported Rock Pose (pillow or block under the buttocks), begin to slide the rib cage from side to side. If this movement is unfamiliar to you, think of a string threaded through the rib cage, from one side to the other: As you inhale, the line is pulled gently to the left, sliding the ribs that way; as you exhale, the string is pulled to the right, shifting the ribs to the right. The entire rib cage remains in the sagittal plane as it moves—no leaning or curving forward or back. Experiment for about a minute; as the muscles understand the request, and the breath deepens, the entire barrel of the rib cage will experience newfound freedom.

Now, extend the arms to the sides at shoulder level, palms down. Point all the fingers down, sending a deep stretch through the forearm extensors. Touch the thumb tips to the inner, base edge of their respective ring fingers: This mudra for release and elimination will heighten the freeing effect of the rib cage slides. With the arms and mudra in place, continue to move the ribs from side to side for 1 minute.

Next, keeping the arms extended to the sides at shoulder level, turn the palms up. Bring the hands into Gyan Mudra, and again, point the fingers down, including the mudra. (Upturned palms will shift to face out to the sides, significantly stretching the flexors in the forearm.). Now as the rib cage moves, the Third and Fourth chakra energy centers receive the healing wisdom of the Universe, via the activation of Gyan Mudra. Thus, with the movement and mudra, your personal sense of Self, along with your seat of compassion for others, becomes linked to the Truth of the Divine. As you continue to slide the ribs from left to right for 1 minute, your energies release into this eternal connection.

Finally, help yourself into Svasana. Remain in deep rest your as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Out Loud–Introducing the Everything Elsa Podcast

Irony of all ironies: On this Silent Sunday, I introduce the Everything Elsa podcast. You can find new episodes on Mondays and Thursdays: From time to time, bonus episodes will air on other days. Already recorded are several routines specifically for the podcast; eventually, you will hear audio versions of some of my previous pieces from the Everything Elsa blog.

You can find them all, beginning with the most recent, at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson.

One of the things that I have realized—with amused chagrin—is that I am an “umm”-er: Apparently, when speaking extemporaneously over the airwaves, my thought-gathering needs a verbal nudge: “um.” Certainly, I could write out an entire script; however, I find that a verbatim recitation results in a loss of vitality and personality. For this reason, when I record previously written pieces from the blog, the posts will serve as templates only—they will not be word-for-word transpositions. This will allow me to speak from a place of dedication and sharing, rather than one of obligation and reporting.

I regard “um” as a gift: It has alerted me to the difference between the transmission of written and spoken word. And this awareness has awakened a curiosity: How can I translate the ease and immersion I feel when writing—an “umm”-less terrain—to verbal expression? Upon further inquiry, I wonder why I seldom “um” when in profound conversation with others? The answer would seem to lie in the depth of connection. When connected through personal vibration, “um” is not needed; when vibrationally connected to creativity as in writing, “um” lies dormant.

To manifest creativity through human interaction—e.g., conversation—and writing follows the trajectories from the Second to Fourth (Heart Center) and Sixth (Third Eye) chakras, respectively. I am beginning to understand that to ease “um” out of the mix, the creative vibration needs to travel to and resonate through the Fifth, or Throat Chakra.

Thus, today’s practice focuses on the stimulation of the Second Chakra, i.e., the fount of creative energy; the elevation of this vibration to and within the Third Eye; and ultimately, to its resonance at the level of the Fourth and Fifth chakras. Personally, I would use the following routine to bring myself into a focused, yet intuitive state of mind for the purpose of creating and presenting an orated practice—without “um.”

This sequence of movement and mudras is, however, one that applies to any creative endeavor: Whether one is blocked; or has become aware of an unwanted habit of expression; or needs a shift of perspective, this practice will ignite that spark. 

The entire routine will be done seated: You may choose to sit anywhere and in any way that allows you to be relaxed, but with an aligned, neutral spine. To begin, place your hands lightly on the thighs. Begin a long, slow inhalation through the nose as the pelvis tips forward, gently arching the low back. With the mind’s eye, follow the breath as it moves up the spine.

As the inhalation continues, deepen the spinal extension. As the breath reaches the Heart Center and travels up through the Throat Chakra, first shrug the the shoulders up, then back and down, followed tipping the head to face up. This is the apex of both breath and movement.

Think of the following progression: active pelvic tilt; spine extension; first half of a shoulder circle; and head tilt back.

Exhale to reverse the above move: Drop the head forward, chin to chest; release the shoulders up, forward, and down; round—or flex—the spine; and tilt the pelvis back. Repeat the entire sequence, inhaling and exhaling slowly and completely, for a total of 10 times.

Having awakened and invigorated the entire chakra system, you are now ready to hone in specific sources of inspiration and means of expression. First, connect the Second Chakra to the Sixth: Place the left hand on the low belly; place the thumb on (or in) the navel, and rest the palm of the hand on the belly below.

Bring the heel of the right hand—the puffy part, or Thenar Mount, at the base of the thumb—to the Third Eye (between the brows at the root fo the nose). With the left hand gathering creative energy, use the right hand to vibrate the Third Eye, as if summoning that creativity. Eyes are closed and gazing to the Third Eye; this will compound the effect of the active vibration. Keep jostling and pulsating the forehead while maintaining awareness of the left hand on the Second Chakra for 1-3 minutes. Remember to breath steadily as you proceed.

Now, pause for a few breaths before moving to the final piece of the practice. When you are ready, engage a variation of Gyan Mudra on each hand: curl the index fingers inside their respective thumb; hold the finger down with its thumb. With the mudra, bring both hands to the Fourth Chakra. Join the backs of the hands, so that the palms face out, and the fingers point up; the pinky finger edges lie against the Heart Center.

In this position, begin to turn the head from left to right; this simple movement will help to stimulate and balance the Fifth, or Throat Chakra. Keep the eyes closed, still gazing to the Third Eye, as you turn the head: Inhale to the left, and exhale to the right. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, if you like, add the mantra “Sat Nam” to the head movement: Sat (“suht”) as the head turns to the left; Nam (“nahm”) as it goes right. Sat Nam signifies that “Truth is my identity”: further, that one’s identity is inextricable from the Divine. Thus, Sat Nam underscores that each of us is eternally connected to the Divine, Creative force; we, as humans here on Earth, embody this Universal energy, and thus can communicate from, with, and through it. 

If you feel that you need a break from the head movement, simply sit with the mudra, and chant the mantra silently, in a whisper, or aloud. Regardless, continue for 3-5 minutes. Then, feel free to settle into svasana for a bit before you embark on a creative adventure.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: There and Back

“The trouble is you’ve got to get through to him inside yourself; you’ve got to understand him…”

(From May Sarton: Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, 1965).

I decided to put myself There. There, in the mind of someone—anyone—who thinks differently than I do: less rationally, or more accurately, or more open-mindedly, or more narrowly. Perhaps this person was raised in a different culture or country or religion; perhaps this someone is a different gender, color, age, or of a different educational or economic status. Maybe, even, They are family or a close friend.

The thoughts and perspectives of this person are frustratingly opposed to mine. Or, they seem to be: What if, somewhere in all of the dissonance and vitriol and bafflement that our differences elicit, we have something in common? What if, for one brief moment, we determined to freeze our opinions in time and space; what if, from there, we each grabbed the other’s thoughts and considered them our own?

In recent days, especially, but also for almost a year, I have tried to occupy the mind space of people with whom I disagree about a significant social issue. Part of the difficulty is that while at first it may appear that we differ on one topic, that topic is tied in to many others: It does not begin and end with a global health emergency; it does not reside solely within the realm of politics or policy; and it is not only a matter of demographics. Thus, to wrap my head around and burrow into the mind of another has proven challenging.

I have come close. I have paid attention to the emotion or lack thereof associated with those of a different view: The greater the emotional vibration attached to the person’s ideas, the more likely I am to feel my way into their mindset. This is typical of me: I tend to resonate with another’s emotions; empathy is a strong connector for me. There have been times, of course, when I must quickly and definitively erect solid boundaries, in order to safeguard my energy, my heart, my mind. But for the most part, I am more able and willing to pursue a differing opinion when I can detect the emotion behind it.

“Do not be satisfied with drops of wisdom from scanty earthy sources; rather seek wisdom without measure from God’s all-possessing, all bountiful hands” (Paramahansa Yogananda, Para-Grams).

This is in keeping with my usual Way: I am eminently more comfortable with all things Spirit and Heart, than with earthbound qualities and behaviors. The spiritual realm simply is one in which I feel at home. That is not to say that prayer and meditation resolve all earthly conundrums and conflicts, but they offer solace to my Soul and Heart in times of distress.

“As you look upon creation, which appears so solid and real, remember always to think of it as ideas in the mind of God, frozen into physical forms” (Yogananda, SRF Lessons). 

Yet, intellectually and physically, I exist on this planet at this time in eternity. What happens in the world matters to me: What happens to each one of us in the context of earthly life can create vibrational fissures or melds for the whole. Thus, while I am wont to focus on inner peace as an offering to universal peace, I recognize that sometimes one needs to wrangle with the hard-hitting illusions that we call reality.

At some point, rationality kicks in; evidence and experience rise to the fore. Then, I need to softly find my way out of the mind into which I wandered. Those thoughts do not belong in my personal field of perspective and spiritual pursuit.

And that, I believe, is the crux of the current social antagonism about an issue which at first glance would seem to be clear-cut. But even the most rational discussion bears the mark of each participant’s past, present, and assumed future. We bring our emotions, mental processes, and psychological tendencies to the table every time, regardless of intellectual and rhetorical prowess. 

One is arguably most likely to rant at or belittle or dismiss the thoughts of another when those ideas seem to threaten a fundamental sense of security. One may think that the battle is with a virus, but such an enemy to physical health would be the province of science and medicine. Instead, the waged war has become a war of rage. Many seem to feel more threatened by differing opinions than by a deadly virus.

Yet “rage” is based in fear: fear of loss of freedom, of work, of agency, of choice. Most of all, each person with an opinion—regardless of its nature—seems to be shaken by the Other’s inability to understand, much less agree. To realize that the most vehement of beliefs are Truth to the believer may be an inroad. As inconceivable as another’s opinion may be, it may be valuable to enter the struggle to comprehend their perspective. And if such a venture results in thrown-up hands and rolling eyeballs, it may help to remember the base need of the opponent. It is the same for all: to feel heard.

“Might a definition of ‘rest’ be just this, the being understood?” (Sarton, Mermaids)

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Head Help

Yesterday, a friend commented that she had a bit of a headache; in her case, abundant work responsibilities and little sleep may have been the culprits. Having also had a headache upon waking the previous day (most likely from a faulty sleep position), I was reminded that nagging noggins have a variety of causes. Both my friend and I also remarked that weather changes and fluctuating barometric pressures often provoke a heavy or throbbing head. Regardless of cause, even a minor headache distracts and detracts from full participation in daily life.

On this Silent Sunday, I designed a practice to soothe most aches: The modality that alleviates discomfort also will help you determine the cause. For example, if the eye-movement technique is effective, your headache may have been caused by eye strain (screen time, poor lighting, reading fine print, etc.). Comfort from a restorative yoga pose, on the other hand, can indicate that fatigue or even sluggish digestion lies at the root of the headache. When practiced in its entirety, today’s routine will renew vitality while assuaging pain.

Special note: If a headache is a symptom of a known illness, I suggest that one restrict their choice of relief to resting quietly while holding the closing mudra. 

As a precursor to the following practice, have a glass of water. Dehydration is often overlooked as a source of headaches: If that is the case, an 8-ounce dose will help almost immediately. Additionally, you may enjoy anointing yourself with an essential oil blend: Lavender and peppermint are very soothing to a throbbing head. Or, if you suspect nasal congestion as the cause, eucalyptus oil may help.

Begin by lying on the belly. Place one hand on the other, palms down, and rest your forehead on the stack. Shift the left and then right wrist slightly up and down, back and forth, so that the head rolls slightly from side to side: This will begin to release tension and blocked energy in the head and neck. Roll the head gently, breathing deeply through the nose, for as long as you like.

Now, slowly shift yourself up and back into Baby Pose. Instead of resting the head on the floor (which would create a slight inversion, thus not conducive to relieving pressure in the head), bring your elbows in front of the knees. Raise the forearms, and bring the palms together: Tip the hands forward slightly, so that you can rest the Third Eye on the base knuckles of the connected thumbs. Gently massage this center brow point, as well as the forehead and brow line, with the knuckles. Be sure to fully release the weight of the skull onto the hands. Continue for as long as you like.

From Baby Pose, come up to sit in a Wide-Leg Straddle. The legs do not have to be far apart; open them only as far as you can do with ease. Add any bolsters that you need or want, e.g., under the hips or knees. Tip forward as if angling into a Forward Bend; however, go only as far as you are able to rest the hands (or forearms, if flexible) on the ground between the legs without any sense of effort. 

Close the eyes, and breathe deeply. The head may tip forward, and/or the spine may curve slightly. This is a yin posture, so allow the body to find a way to relax in the position. The pose will help to unravel leg tension from sitting, and it also will aid digestion by relaxing the belly: Ironically, imbalance in the lower body can create or exacerbate a headache. Remain here for 3 minutes.

Next, help yourself into your favorite seated position; you may choose to sit in a chair. With eyes softly open, begin to turn the head from left to right; move slowly and with awareness, tracking the movement with the eye gaze. If you have restriction due to muscle tension in the neck, honor your personal range of motion: As this exercise progresses, you likely will find that you are able to move more freely.

After about a minute of looking side to side, pause in the center. Then, turn the head to the left as before, bringing the gaze with the movement. As you turn the head to the right, however, maintain the eye gaze to the left: This may feel difficult and cause temporary strain in the eye muscles; it will dissipate as you continue.

When the head is fully turned to the right, bring the gaze there. Then, keep the eye gaze to the right as you turn the head to the left. At the end of the left-looking turn, bring the eyes all the way to the left. Keep the focus there as you repeat the head turn to the right. When fully turned to the right, bring the eyes to the right. Maintain that gaze as you turn left, and so on. Continue for 2-3 minutes. 

Special note: Due to the high level of concentration demanded by this movement, the breath may shallow or pause. Be sure to maintain deep, steady breathing as you move.

Now, lie down on your back. Bend the knees, and move the feet a bit wider than hip width; let the knees fall inward to rest against each other. (This Restorative Rest position does wonders to relax the lower back.) Reach the hands to slide the fingers under the base of the skull. I tend to use the middle fingers for this technique, but feel free to use whichever fingers operate most naturally. Alternating between left and right, firmly press the fingers into the occipital ridge (base of skull bone): Begin next to the spine on each side, and move outward as you massage back and forth; the head will rock side to side, as in the opening prone version of this move. Continue this tension-tamer for as long as feels good to you.

Finally, with the legs remaining bent or extended long on the floor, create a mudra for headache relief. On both hands, curl the ring finger to touch the tip to the inner base of the thumb; hold the ring finger down with the thumb. Touch the tips of the index and middle fingers to the their respective thumb tips; the pinkies stretch straight. Breathe slowly and deeply with the mudra hands resting on the floor, palms up. Keep the mudra intact for 2-3 minutes as you rest and breathe, and then release the hands to settle into Full Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: A Walk in the Park

More than two decades ago, I attended kickboxing classes at a local gym. While I was—and am—always eager to try new physical activities, part of the draw to this particular class was the instructor. He had his share of wide-eyed lady groupies (and perhaps a few men): The combination of a soft voice, focused demeanor, and extraordinarily handsome features kept his classes full. 

In addition to “C’s” physical and vibrational allure, I equally recall his oft-uttered phrase: “Just a little walk in the park…” He would soothingly remind us that although we were kicking and punching, it was not necessary to grimace, tense, or “over-effort.” In order to stay fluid, maximize a move, and build stamina, we were advised to practice patterns with the energy conducive to “a walk in the park.”

I remembered this particular encouragement recently when a couple of weeks of high physicality rendered me stiff and sore. Although I am nearing the time when a cane is no longer necessary after two total hip replacements earlier this year, my body still is in recovery: At times, I may become over-zealous at the prospect of a long walk on a nice day; or, I may be so thrilled that I can lift multiple objects at once, that I forget that my muscles spent nearly three years in progressive atrophy.

When I realized that I needed to incorporate more gentleness into my current movement practices, I thought of C: “Just a little walk in the park…” 

Today’s Silent Sunday practice would be effective for anyone who feels stiff or achy as a result of a hard workout, illness, or too much desk time. The sequence is further inspired by the concept of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. This condition arises after the body endures rigorous and/or long bouts of movement: Instead of immediate fatigue or ache, the symptoms arise a couple of days later, i.e., they are “delayed.”

Further, this routine would be useful as a way to settle the body for meditation, or as a reverent honoring of your body’s abilities. And if you ever find yourself in need of some “tender, loving care,” present this practice to yourself as a gift of self-compassion. 

Begin on hands and knees, and then bring your forearms to rest on the floor. Bring the forearms together with the elbows directly under the center of the chest. Turn the palms to touch each other, as in Prayer Mudra: The pinky edges of the hands are on the ground. Extend the thumbs straight up, and cock the head back slightly, so that the gaze falls just in front of the hands.

In this position, inhale as you slide the body forward, bringing the chest over the hands. Exhale as you slide back, moving the hips toward the feet. Inhale forward, exhale back: This move can be done as slowly or quickly as feels right, as long as the breath remains deep and full in conjunction with the movement. Continue for 1 minute.

Immediately release into Baby Pose. Keep the Prayer Hands; release the thumbs down, so that you can rest your Third Eye on the thumb side of the joined hands. Give yourself any bolstering that you need, so that you can rest easily here for 3 minutes. Breathe in deeply through the nose; exhale fully through the nose. Allow yourself the option to breathe out powerfully through the mouth during your time here: Be aware of your sensations and breathing; give your body what it asks for.

Still in Baby Pose, interlace your fingers behind your back. Lengthen through the arms, and lift them up and away from the back as you roll onto the crown of the head. You may have to adjust your position, so that you are directly on the center-point of the skull, with the hips lifted away from the feet and the arms stretched up as high as possible. Breathe here for 1 minute.

Special note: The more you extend up through the arms, the less pressure you will have on the head and neck. This Yoga Mudra is an excellent tool for ousting negative energy and for increasing physical and mental vitality. 

Ease yourself out of Yoga Mudra, and back up onto all fours (arms long, hands under shoulders).  Extend the right leg straight back, keeping the foot on the floor. Curl the toes under, and begin to rock forward and back through the ball of the foot: You will move in and out of a flexed and nearly pointed foot. Inhale as you rock back through the foot; exhale to come forward. Repeat 12 times, then switch sides.

After rocking back and forth through the left foot, return to all fours. Again extend the left leg back, foot on the floor. Inhale as you reach the right arm forward from the shoulder. As you exhale, bend the left knee to bring the foot toward the buttock, as if to kick it; simultaneously, lower the right arm toward the floor, sweep it back, and then up to tap the inside of the left ankle as it approaches your bottom. Inhale the right arm back to its forward reach as the left foot lowers down; exhale to repeat the arm reach back to tap the inside of the now-raised left foot. Repeat this reach-and-tap move 12 times, then switch sides (left arm to right foot).

Now, from all fours, press up into and easy Downward Dog. Pedal the feet up and down several times as the head hangs loosely. Then, allow yourself to squirm and undulate in whatever way feels good. Feed your body this organic, free-flowing movement, in order to release tension and  open obstructed energy pathways. Continue for 1 minute, taking a break as needed.

From the Moving Dog, walk your feet toward your hands, letting the knees bend for comfort. Hang softly in this modified Forward Bend, taking 5 full, deep breaths. Then, bring the hands to the inner ankles (or wherever you can reach): Inhale as you sweep the open palms up the inside of the legs to the groin; exhale to swiftly move the hands out and away from the hips, as if  throwing stagnancy into the air behind you. Repeat, beginning at the feet and ending with the “throw,” 8 times.

After clearing the lower body, continue to roll up through the spine into a standing position. Here, begin a gentle sway through the upper body. Move without thought, guided only by your breath and your body’s current inner vibration. Take up space, change direction or level, emit sound: Follow your body’s lead for 2 minutes.

Then, stand in stillness, enjoying whatever energetic reverberations occur. Should you sense areas of mental or physical dis-ease or resistance, bring your full awareness there: Using the “sweep and throw” technique that you used on the legs, clear any region of old or blocked energy. 

Special note: Remember to inhale unwanted energy into the palm, and exhale forcefully as you jettison the stagnancy away and behind you or into the earth. Do this a minimum of 3 times on any spot that needs clearing. 

Next, bend forward again, so that the body is perpendicular to the legs, like a tabletop. In this position, swing the arms back and forth alternately: As the right arms swings forward, the left arm swing back; remember to keep the effort fluid and light, like “a walk in the park.” Continue for 1 minute.

Special note: This move helps to balance the Head and Heart, so that we think and behave from a place of rational compassion, toward ourselves and others.

From here, lower down onto all fours, and then all the way onto the belly. Turn the head to the left, resting on the right cheek. Bend the  left arm, so that the elbow is in line with the shoulder, and the left forearm is perpendicular to the upper arm: It is as if you have half-Scarecrow arms on the left side. The right arm rests alongside the body. 

As you inhale, slowly, barely lift the bent left arm and side-looking head as you simultaneously raise the right leg. Exhale down. This is move of very little effort and displacement: Lift the arm, head, and leg only an inch or two. Focus on the ease (or lack thereof); the coordination of breath and movement; and where other body parts tense to help fulfill the movement. Repeat the cross-body lower-and-lift 8 times. Then repeat on the other side (head looking to the right; right arm bent near the head; and left leg lifting and lowering in tandem).

Briefly press back into Baby Pose after completing both sides fo the above movement. Breathe deeply a few times, and then return to the repeat the above move; however, this time begin with the head resting on the left cheek (looking to the right); the right arm bent; and the left leg joining in the lift-and-lower. Again, repeat 8 times before switching sides.

Special note: This move fosters body awareness, which is crucial for maintaining physical and emotional balance. Further, the cross-body technique harmonizes the left and right sides of the brain, which inherently centers us in Neutral Body energy. In that state of being, we become less reactive, yet compassionately available to self and others.

Now, slowly and gently roll onto your back. Settle yourself into position for Svasana. Before entering deep rest, however, place your fingers into Gyan Mudra: thumb and index fingertips together, palms up, backs of the hands on the floor. With eyes closed, take your inner gaze to the soles of the feet, specifically to the center point of the balls of the feet (between the second and third toes): Inhale, and begin to draw breath in through the bottoms of the feet, guiding it with your mind’s eye all the way up the front of the lower legs, thighs, belly, chest and face, ending on the Crown Chakra.

Exhale slowly and deeply through the nose as you lead the breath down the spine, and then the buttocks, backs of thighs, calves, and out the bottom arches of the feet. Return the inner eye to the bottom center of the balls of the feet to inhale again, drawing the breath up; exhale to carry the breath down and out. Repeat one more time for a total of three Breath Treks.

Now, release Gyan Mudra, and float your way into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…