This Silent Sunday, I awoke from an extended dream that on the surface seemed a bit nonsensical. Often, however, such dreams are the very ones that tend to lead me to unexpected self-study and awarenesses. Today’s dream did just that, and the following practice is a direct result of recognizing the true underpinnings of a seemingly wacky dream.
In said dream, I was tutoring a 10-year-old boy in preparation for his SATs: yep, college-entrance exams. Simultaneously, my work was being evaluated by an experienced educator. As I began to decipher the dream, I noted that the message was two-fold: 1) No challenge is too big to address; and 2) evaluation is different than judgment. Even when it comes to self-observation, one can learn to critique objectively, rather than lambast oneself with non-constructive judgments.
As it turned out, the boy did so well with his practice tests, he was rewarded with a lariat-style key chain. He, in turn, was so pleased with his own progress, that he wanted to share his newly acquired gift. When he tried to give it to a friend, it was turned down, as the second boy was “too heavily cordoned.”
The latter phrase has stayed with me since awakening, and it, too, factors into the motivation for and benefits of today’s practice. The intended recipient of the boy’s gift was too laden with thoughts and items to accept an offering—too “cordoned off” from recognizing and accepting unexpected kindness.
When you feel heavily burdened—emotionally, physically, socially, or societally—it can seem stultifying to think of adding another “task,” i.e., discipline of practice, to your list. Yet that is exactly the time when it is essential to carve out the space in which to tend to your own needs. So today, give yourself 15 minutes to try this kriya, which consists of four “full-body mudras.” You will inhabit each posture for 3 minutes; begin with some light stretches or cat/cow spinal work for a minute, and end with a short svasana of about 2 minutes.
The set is called the 4 U’s, and it was created by Yogi Bhajan to strengthen the nervous system to “withstand the pressures of society and the challenges of the times.” (Granted, the times were different when the exercises were first practiced; that the need for such a set never goes away speaks to the eternal cycle of Life.) Each posture demands physical endurance and mental focus, two factors integral to optimal functioning under demanding conditions. With respect to the dream messages, the kriya provides the practitioner with the opportunity to observe one’s response to challenge; the chance to encourage rather than disparage oneself; and a reminder to stay mindful of and grateful for the surprising gifts found within even the most overwhelming circumstances.
Number One will find you lying on your back, with your legs and arms in the air at 90 degrees. Remember the name of the set: the 4 U’s. Each position is roughly a “U” shape, transposed into a different physical plane. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and allow your body to settle in to the shape. You may experience trembling or discomfort, as your body is not used to the position, especially when held for 3 minutes. Focus on the steadiness of your breath, keep your gaze on the Third Eye, and exert enough power into your lower abdominals to ensure that your low back is secure on the ground.
The second “U” may seem elusive upon the first attempt. From your lying position, roll the legs and spine off the floor to come into Plow Pose (legs over the head, with the feet on the floor over your head). Then, raise your legs about 8-12 inches, just enough so that they are parallel to the floor. The arms are extended on the ground, stretched alongside your ears.
Special note: If any aspect of this “U” is undoable or uncomfortable, you may modify: Get yourself as far into Plow as possible, supporting your back with your hands; or simply practice lifting your legs and hips off the ground a few times, using your lower abdominals to initiate the action. If you can get into Plow, but the arm position proves challenging, start with the arms on the ground alongside your torso. If your neck is uncomfortable, place a rolled towel underneath it. Aim for the 3-minute mark, but free yourself to do less if this first try is too much.
For the third position, come to standing. Bend forward from the hips, so that your body is parallel to the ground: Ideally, your legs are engaged and “straight,” but it is okay to bend your knees if your back needs help. Allow your arms to hang down toward the ground: The arms, back, and legs form the “U” shape. “Hang out” for 3 minutes.
Finally, sit on the floor with your legs together, stretched long in front of you. Hold the arms out in front at shoulder level, palms facing each other. To modify, sit on a pillow to raise the pelvis for alignment, and/or place a rolled blanket or towel under your knees if your hamstrings are tight. Breathe deeply in this pose for another 3 minutes.
After you have practiced all four “U’s,” take a brief svasana, in order to integrate the shifts of energy and alignment.
As you move through this set, pay attention to which—if any—of the postures prove most challenging. Perhaps you can make that posture your “project” for the next 11 days: Begin with 1 minute of the position that is toughest for your body to accommodate, and commit to its practice. As you move through the 11-day “training,” gradually add more time to the posture: Aim for at least 3 minutes, perhaps building to 5, with the ultimate goal of 11 minutes.
Eventually, this practice asks for 11 minutes in each posture. For the purpose of “steeling” yourself to the rigors of daily life, or to a specific challenge, this routine will stabilize your nerves and provide the physical hardiness necessary to sail through the roughest seas.