Silent Sundays: Corral and Calm Chaos

Right off the bat, I admit that the use of the word “chaos” for this Silent Sunday practice is purposely hyperbolic. The following meditation with mantra and moving mudra addresses low-grade anxiety and vaguely obsessive thinking. The chaotic churning that arises when the mind is allowed to run amok for too long may manifest as headache, nervous habits, or overall physical tension. Thus, this is a chaos borne of inner turbulence: However, should you be thrust into tumultuous circumstances of a truly grave nature, the practice will ground and support you while in the midst of more significant upset.

The technique of today’s meditation combines nuances from two different kundalini  mantra practices, and places them in the intuitive and sensory realm of qigong. Thus, I suggest that you begin with a few minutes of spinal  flexes, followed by standing arm and torso circles: These warmups will center you, while clearing the auric space around you; this rooting and simultaneous opening will help you access your intuitive kinesthetic sense for the practice.

When you are ready, sit in your favorite, aligned meditation pose. Place your hands on your knees; you may rest the hands on the pinky edge, or hold them palm up or down. At a steady, moderate pace, touch the index finger to the thumb; then the middle finger to thumb; followed by the ring and pinky finger, one at a time, one after the other. Repeat this pattern of one finger at a time, over and over, for 1 minute, as you breathe more deeply and consciously.

Now, hold your hands in front of you, one in front of the other, palms facing in, about 3-6 inches from the torso. This is your first task of intuitive sensing: Hold the hands at a distance where you can feel the energy of the hands connecting to the energy of the body, without touching it. Next, slowly begin circling one hand over the other in an outward motion, away from the torso: However, the hands should not move more than 2-4 inches away from each other in the front to back space. 

As you circle the hands, they can and will move away from each other in the vertical space: Circle until you find the “right” up/down distance between the hands, as determined by your sensory intuition. For example, at their peak of separation, my hands tend to be about 6-8 inches apart, vertically. As you circle, the speed of your circling will settle and find its own rhythm. At that point, begin the mantra: Har Haray Haree, Wahay Guru. Join the mantra and the movement as you discover whether you feel akin to an out-loud chant; a whispered mantra; or silent chanting. This may change as the mediation develops.

Finally, we put the pieces together. As you circle the hands in their vertical range, add the individual finger touches from the first part of the practice. The difference at this point is that you will not physically touch the fingers to the thumb tip: Instead, begin to draw each finger tip toward the thumb, but stop before the actual contact. Continue the one-finger-at-a-time almost-touching movement, as you circle the hands in their vertical, outward motion; all the while, chant the mantra, “Har Haray Haree Wahe (Wahay) Guru.” Continue with steady, complete breathing, eyes closed, gazing at the Third Eye, for 7-11 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Three Oils, Total Care

Often in these writings, Silent Sundays or otherwise, I offer a practice that focuses on a specific organ system (vis-a-vis Traditional Chinese Medicine); energetic quality; or spiritual challenge. Today, however, I suggest a self-care technique that tends to the multifaceted system of human being-ness. You can use this idea as a blueprint, and make adjustments according to your personal needs and preferences.

The inspiration for today’s offering arose after a bumpy week that culminated in one final, unexpected stressor. I felt the need to sink into the healing magic of a soothing, all-encompassing antidote: Enter essential oils. 

Additionally, the 10 Bodies concept of kundalini yoga serves as the backdrop for the idea. In the traditional framework, humans are said to be comprised of 10 various physical, mental, and ethereal bodies. For the purposes of this Silent Sunday, I grouped the 10 components into three primary bodies: physical, mental, and spiritual. Next, I assigned an essential oil to each group, and subsequently applied them to corresponding locations.

Should you prefer an oil other than those that I used, you may find it helpful to understand that I made my selections based on the part of the plant from which the oil is derived. For example, oils from the root provide grounding, as you may deduce: This would be an oil that reflects the physical, or earth-bound body. My choice was vetiver; ginger is also an excellent and readily available root oil.

If you imagine a plant, the parts that extend above or out of the root and stem would be akin to the brain sitting atop the spine, i.e., the mental bodies. Thus, leaves and needles would serve as your basis of selection if you would like to use something other than my preference: patchouli. Additionally, flowering herbs, such as peppermint and lavender, provide a similar benefit to the mental body.

Finally, in order to address the spiritual environment within, one looks to the ethereal aroma of flowering buds, as well as to the mysterious “blood” that resides in plants: resin. First, the flowers: Think of the heady, transporting scent of neroli, rose, and jasmine. Alternatively, thick resins and gums seem almost antithetical to the “higher” consciousness associated with the spiritual body: However, frankincense and myrrh are commonly used to soothe distressed souls.

When you have chosen an oil for each “body grouping,” place a few drops in a carrier oil of your choice: I usually use jojoba oil, or a combination of Vitamin E and almond oil. Use enough to lightly massage the following areas: 1) Both feet and ankles, in order to ground the physical body with, for example, vetiver; 2) both temples and the center base of the skull. I used patchouli at the skull base and lavender at the temples, in order to soothe and balance mental energies; and 3) neroli just below the belly button, and rose on the Heart center, as a means to connect with the spiritual bodies.

When you have anointed yourself, lie quietly for a few minutes, or allow the energies to lull you into a night of sleep. Or, use this technique to adorn yourself with a layer of stability and positivity before you enter your day.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Meditation with Mudra to Connect with Kindness

One month ago today, Saoirse Kennedy Hill ended her earthly life. A 22- year-old member of the famous and extensive Kennedy clan, she had lived with depression for many years. As the news media began to report on reactions to her death, one particular comment seeped quickly and deeply into my thoughts. Over the course of the past month, I have ruminated on the statement’s call to kindness, and why this quality so easily disappears in the wake of daily life.

And then yesterday, I alerted my brother to my our mother’s “struggling” state of mind, as I knew he would be visiting with her. Because Mom has been emotionally raw, I offered to my brother that “listening and tenderness” seem to be the best recourse in this current situation. As I wrote the note, I realized that once again, Maria Shriver’s words after her cousin Saoirse’s suicide had infiltrated my thinking.

As a media sound bite, Maria’s comment read: “Assume everyone is struggling.” That short piece provoked my contemplations with regard to how we view, judge, or disregard others without any consideration. If one thinks about walking through a grocery store, or waiting in line, or observing someone out for a walk, the set-point assumption is that all is well, or at least not in any difficulty. Yet if we think about ourselves as we move through the day, chances are that we are enduring some degree of physical or emotional discomfort: The imbalance may be fleeting, but at some point on any given day, a concern generally arises. The dis-ease may not be observable, and a person’s affect may not match the inner truth; however, “assume everyone is struggling.”

When I looked up Maria’s words again for today’s writing, I found her statement in full, more of which I include here: “Be gentle with others, as so many are fragile and struggling. Actually, I think it’s best to assume everyone is struggling, so treat everyone with love, tenderness, and compassion.” These are “big words,” and their intention often dissolves in the face of daily tensions and distractions: However, if one aims for a general abiding of their essential energy, a fundamental courtesy and baseline kindness can remain.

While we would not approach every person with whom we cross paths, and while some may be unreachable even if we did, we can align ourselves with the Universal Wisdom and its earthly attribute of basic human kindness. This is the Kindness that manifests in patience, and non-judgment, and listening with no goal other than to be present with and for another. This is the Kindness that we receive from the Universe through our Crown and our Third Eye; that we find when we attune to our Heart Center, and that we extend through our Aura.

To connect with this Kindness, first balance and circulate your overall Prana. Begin lying on your back with eyes closed. Place one hand just below your navel, with the other on the Heart Center: Bring your closed eyes to gaze at the Third Eye, and begin to build your breath awareness. Breathe deeply and consciously through the nose, feeling the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen, and the expansion and contraction of your ribcage. Breathe in this conscious way for 3 minutes.

Next, help yourself into your favorite seated posture, ensuring that the spine is long and relaxed; use whatever props will allow you to sit comfortably in this aligned manner. As you begin to focus your thoughts on how, when, and where Kindness operates in your life, become aware of when, where, and why it does not. Softly, subtly, with each inhalation and exhalation, promote within the very real idea that Kindness can be present at all times; recognize that your first response could be that, even when you do not feel “kind.” Begin to connect with the possibility on an intellectual level, and then move into the mudra practice.

As you sit with your shifting perspective, bring your left hand in front of the Heart, palm facing in; the hand is a few inches in front of the Heart Center. Place your fingers in Gyan Mudra, index and thumb tips touching. The left forearm remains parallel to the ground. Then, extend your right arm straight up alongside the right ear. Create Gyan Mudra on the right hand, and bend the wrist back, so that the palm faces up to the sky, fingers pointing behind you. Breathe fully and steadily, closed eyes gazing at the Third Eye, as you begin to draw Universal Consciousness into your Heart energy. Continue the breath with mudra for 5 minutes.

Next, place the left hand on the Heart Center; fingers are relaxed, no Gyan Mudra, and the palm fills with the Heart energy. Bring the right hand to nestle just below the navel: Gyan Mudra remains intact, and the palm faces up, as if gazing toward the hand that lies on the Heart. Breathe with this integrating mudra for at least another 5-7 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

 

What-to-Do, Where-to-Turn Movement Flow

The next time you receive surprising or disconcerting news, you may want to try this short, serenity-building practice. I designed the sequence as a means to inspire acceptance and resilience with regard to a “new normal” in my life. In addition to opening the calm energy of the Heart, the routine also works to shift and expand perspective.

Additionally, the large, fluid moves stimulate full-body circulation, making this practice a great unwinding tool in the middle of a busy day, or before bed. I enjoyed moving along to a background of soft bells and chimes; feel free to choose a soundtrack that feels soothing, or opt for no music at all.

To begin, stand with your feet a natural distance apart. As you inhale, float the arms up through the front space, leading with the backs of the hands; rise up onto the toes as the arms rise. As you exhale, bend the elbows softly, turning the palms toward you, as the arms drift back down; rock back slightly on the heels as the movement finishes.

As you continue this rocking back and forth through the feet and legs, begin to sense where the neutral midpoint rests in your feet. Allow the breath to motivate the pace of the arm movement. Repeat 12-26 times, or continue for as long as the move feels good.

Next, standing with knees comfortably bent, root down into the midpoint that you discerned between the rock back and forth. Inhale as you raise the arms up through the side space, touching the inner wrists together at the top; exhale as you lower the arms down to the sides, leading with the backs of the hands, arms long (no bend in the elbows). 

As the arms go up, look down (eyes open or closed); as the arms come down, look up to open and stimulate the Throat Chakra. Again, complete 12-26 sets of inhale/exhale, up/down. 

Now, using the same arm movement as that in the first exercise, stagger your stance: With feet hip-width apart, place one foot 12-18 inches ahead of the other. Inhale to rock forward, coming onto the ball of the back foot (front foot remains neutral); exhale to rock back, returning the back foot to neutral as you lift the toes of the front foot, stretching the Achilles tendon and calf. Continue the rocking with accompanying arm movement for a 1-3 minutes. Switch feet, and repeat for another 1-3 minutes.

After the second rocking movement, return to the rooted “midpoint” squat. With the arms open to the sides at shoulder level, palms forward, inhale long and deep; exhale to draw the arms forward, leading with the inner wrists. Round the spine as the arms move forward to bring the wrists together; inhale and lightly flex, or arch the spine as the arms draw back to the start. Continue this Heart-opening move for 1-3 minutes.

Now, stand with the feet comfortably apart. Begin to sway side to side, and allow the arms to follow, moving mellifluously through space in the form of a Figure 8, or Eternity Sign. Let yourself disappear into the move, intuitively spiraling the arms at different levels all around you. This clearing of your magnetic field will help to dispel doubt and promote insight and understanding. Continue for 1-3 minutes.

To finish, place your hands at the Heart Center in Namaste (Prayer Pose). Close your eyes, gazing at the Third Eye. If your neck allows, tilt the head back slightly; lift the chest, bringing a gentle arch into the upper spine. Feel the reassurance and support of the Universe moving through your mind, your heart, and your spirit. Breathe deeply into the awakened inner peace; if you like, bring the Prayer Mudra into a seated posture, head neutral, for a period of stillness. Finally, move into svasana, so that you may fully integrate the soothing stability of the flow. 

Silent Sundays: The Gift of Glitch

This Silent Sunday began with a plan. Because I have been thinking a lot about the tendency—mine, yours, all of ours—to misperceive, misjudge, and otherwise ascribe false conclusions about others, I decided to begin a series about this careless habit. I had not mentally outlined the writing, but felt sure that the thoughts would find their proper place. Yet, an intellectual restlessness and physical tension began to caution me that the writing route may not be as clear as I had imagined.

And then, the Glitch arrived: As I began to orient myself toward clarifying and expressing my ideas, my computer dropped its internet signal; then, I was bounced off the WiFi. This pattern of beginning to focus on today’s writing, only to be jettisoned away, continued for more than an hour. In the midst of my increasing frustration, I could recognize that to be distracted from my goal by a Glitch would be a disappointing response to the challenge. Yet I also began to sense that perhaps the technical trial was a hint that I should be thinking in another direction.

So, as I sometimes do when unable to discern the next best step, I opened my Spiritual Diary, which is a collection of Paramahansa Yogananda’s insights and advice regarding a variety of concerns and circumstances. The section I randomly selected was that of Simplicity. The first piece that I saw read: “Why do you consider nonessentials so important? Most people concentrate on breakfast, lunch, dinner, work, and social activities, and so on. Make your life more simple, and put your whole mind on the Lord.”

The straightforwardness of this warning against distraction immediately reset my course for today’s practice. Ironically, however, the nagging Glitch was exactly what I needed, in order to arrive at the routine that I have created for this Silent Sunday. Faced with the “nonessential” of battling technology, I decided to surrender to Simplicity, to “put my whole mind on the Lord.” For me, that signals a need to follow the lead of body and breath, which helps to open the portals to God and the Universe. 

Thus, today’s practice focuses on side-body opening and twists. Whenever we adjust and stretch by way of lateral or rotational movements, we metaphorically and metaphysically open the mind and energy centers to that which is around us. In this way, earthly and divine communication is heightened.

To begin, especially if you feel restless or irritable, lie on your belly. Turn your head to one side, and breathe deeply. This prone position is especially beneficial when you are anxious, distracted, or consumed with deep emotion: As such, one may have difficulty connecting to the breath. Lying prone demands more of the lungs and diaphragm, as they have to work against the ground; thus, breath awareness increases as we feel the pressure of our respiratory mechanisms moving against the earth. After about a minute of this focused, deep breathing, turn your head to the other side; continue breathing for another minute.

Next, slowly press yourself back into Baby Pose. Allow yourself to nestle and soften into this calming posture; place your arms alongside your body, extend them forward, or place the backs of the hands on your low back. Intuitively let your body’s wisdom guide you into position. Again, feel the rise, fall, and expansion of your torso against your legs as you breathe deeply: Continue for 1 minute.

Now, come onto all fours. Extend the left leg back, keeping the foot on the floor. Inhale, and raise the left arm toward the ceiling as you roll the body open; the right foot and knee will self-adjust on the floor to support the move. Exhale to bring the left arm back down into the original position. Inhale to roll open again, exhale to come down: Complete a total of 8 “openings,” and then switch to the other side; right leg back, with the right arm opening and closing the “gate” of your body, 8 times.

Next, move into a variation of Downward Dog. Keep the shape of your Dog short, i.e., the distance between hands and feet is less than the traditional “wide” pose. In this position, reach the right hand underneath you to hold the left ankle: Feel the deep stretch and opening around your waist, and into the back of the pelvis. Take 5 full, deep breaths, and then switch sides: left hand holds right ankle. Again, complete 5 slow, steady breaths.

From the Down Dog twist, walk your feet forward toward your hands, arriving in a relaxed forward bend: Bend your knees as much as you need. Move your feet into a wider stance, about 6 inches in either direction: gently bring your torso toward the right leg, holding the ankle or shin with both hands. Breathe deeply, again for 5 full breaths. Then, walk yourself over to the left leg; make sure that the head hands freely, and that the jaw is relaxed as you take 5 full breaths.

Now, slowly roll up through the spine to arrive in standing. Take a moment to acclimate to this upright position after having had the head below the heart for a few minutes: hands on waist or belly, breathing slowly and deeply. Once you have settled, bend the torso to the right, slowly and easily. The feeling should be that the head hangs, the right shoulder drops, and the left side body gently opens as you allow gravity to do the work of the side bend; arms hang effortlessly. Remain here for a full minute. Then, inhale to slowly come out of the bend; exhale as you arrive to a neutral standing pose. Bend to the other side, again breathing into the opening for 1 minute.

As a way to circulate the fresh energy of calm openness, move your torso in large circles, clockwise at first. Hands may rest on the low back or waist, or you may choose to let them hang loosely by the sides. Rotate your entire body over and around the firm base of your stance: Make 26 circles, and then change directions, moving counterclockwise for 26 more circles.

Finally, help yourself down onto your back. Allow yourself to quiet for a moment, and then select your favorite version of Reclined Twist. For example, you may bring your right knee toward your belly and use the left hand to guide it across and down to the ground on your left side; you would then repeat with the left knee, twisting to the right. Alternatively, you could draw both knees in toward the chest, and carefully bring the tight package of your legs to the ground on one side; then, come up, and drop both knees to the other side. Whatever variation you choose, the arms may remain relaxed by the sides, or you may stretch the arm opposite to the twist up along your ear. Find what feels right on this day, in this moment, and breathe into the pose. When you are ready, move into svasana, eyes closed, breath steadying, for at least 5 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: The (Body) Language of Letting Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sunday…

 

Silent Sundays: Rally Your Qi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sunday…

 

New Moon, Black Moon, and Choosing to Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sunday…