In Part One, I discussed how we can become trapped in a physical and mental prison of our own making. We may not intend to place or hold ourselves captive to past pain or societal demands; however, throughout a lifetime, we connect with so many different forms of energy, the detrimental sort can seep in without our awareness. Once the toxicity begins to accrue, our mental and physical musculature morphs in response: We tense ourselves in defensive stature; our breath becomes habitually short or unsteady; and clarity gives way to unsettled emotions.
In order to free oneself from the confines of resistant “scar tissue”—emotional, physical, or cultural—one first needs to create a base of relative ease in the body. To do this, I focus first on the pelvis and lower spine: These areas house the First and Second Chakras, and in balance, provide a consistent source of the stabilizing and generative forces within.
From there, you will begin to move the body in ways that free your surrounding “air space,” so that you can release tension out and away. Think of your “escape” in three parts: First, pounding against the hard walls of self- and societal expectation or demand; then, shifting and lifting the “swaddle” of defenses that you have constructed over time; and finally, connecting your easy rootedness with the flow of the diverse energies around you.
To begin, lie on your back with your knees pulled in to your chest. Then, with knees still bent and lower legs dangling freely, hover your knees over your hip joints: Move slowly to find the point where your lower abdominals engage slightly, yet the low back remains relaxed. Next, you will move “around the world,” as you activate and balance the muscles that provide stability to your hips and pelvis. Isometrically, press your palms into your thighs, close to the knee caps: ideally, your arms are fully extended, no bend in the elbows; imagine that you are trying to push your bent legs away from you. Resist the push from your hands with your legs; inhale as your press and resist, exhale to relax, and repeat the push/resist a total of 5-8 times.
You will move to the outer, back, and inner thighs with the same routine. As you repeatedly activate and release the muscles that allow you to move in all directions when standing, you provide stability and freedom to the pelvic girdle. With each set of push/resists, check that your arms are straight (this ensures that the knees remain aligned over the hip sockets, which helps to properly “drop” the femur bone into place), and that you are pressing your open palms close to the knees (i.e., not mid-thigh or close to the groin).
Special note: When you practice the isometric “active release” on the inner thigh, use the backs of your hands, so that your shoulder joints can remain open, rather than internally rotated.
After you have gone around the circumference of your thigh, extend your arms and legs straight up into the air; give them a thorough shake. Then, with your arms resting by your sides and the legs still aloft, begin to kick your bottom, alternating legs with each light, rapid kick. Because the hips are the anatomical “baggage” carriers, this quick kicking can help to loosen stored pain. Inhale when the legs are straight, exhale as the heel kicks the butt: Because you are kicking one leg, then the other very rapidly, your breath will become very close to Breath of Fire. This further enhances the detoxifying effect of the exercise. Continue for 1-3 minutes.
From your lying position, roll yourself over and curl into Baby Pose: buttocks on heels, torso resting on thighs, forehead on the floor, and arms on the floor by your sides, palms up. Although Baby Pose is a common transitional posture, this version embodies the theory of Yin Yoga: Remain in the pose for a minimum of 3 minutes, so that your habitually “alert” muscles get a chance to inhabit complete relaxed mode.
As you breathe, notice how your body “gives way” without any conscious effort or adjustment: You may be surprised to realize, as your body “falls open,” that you unconsciously carry tension in your shoulders, hips, jaw, and even your face and feet. When you feel that your muscles have fully released, gently and very slowly, roll up to sit on your heels. With your hands on your knees, flex your spine forward and back, arching and rounding, for 30-60 seconds. Then, alternate shoulder shrugs a few times; roll the shoulders forward and backward; and complete the circuit with a few slow head rolls in each direction.
Still sitting on your heels in Rock Pose, bring your arms to the sides at shoulder level, elbows bent at 90 degrees, palms facing forward. Curl your index finger, so that the tip touches the first inner joint crease of the thumb on both hands; the other fingers remain together and extended straight up. Begin to twist your whole torso to the left and right, inhaling to the left, exhaling to the right. Move as slowly as you need to at first; as your spine and shoulder girdle loosen with the breath and movement, increase the pace of the twist and breathing, always inhaling to the left, exhaling right. Allow your head to turn in the direction of the twist, thus freeing the neck and keeping it in natural alignment with the rest of the spine. Continue for 1-3 minutes.
As you begin to wind down from the moving Spinal Twist, allow your arms to fluidly release toward the ground. Keep twisting from left to right, as the arms dangle and move through the air around the the base of your posture; continue for 1 minute.
Next, after you stretch or shake out your legs, bring yourself into a cross-legged seated position. With your hands on the ground by your hips, lift and drop yourself 8 times. This helps to activate the Root Chakra and trains your nervous system to withstand shocks. You may also notice that you can not aggressively, yet comfortably drop your weight into the floor unless you are sitting with an aligned spine; thus, this move inherently corrects lazy posture.
Now, place your thumb tip at the base of the pinky finger on the palm side of the hand; curl the other fingers around to create a fist with the thumb inside. Bring your arms in tightly to your ribs on each side, elbows bent and fists by shoulders. For the next 2-5 minutes, you will rapidly punch out straight out to each side, and then quickly retract the arms back into the ribs —in and out at a good clip. You will breathe through open, O-shaped lips: inhale as you punch powerfully, exhale as you forcefully bring the arms into the ribs.
When you have finished this move (which helps to release fear and anger), sit quietly as you breathe deeply through your nose for a few breaths. Feel free to shake out your legs, stretch them forward, or whatever feels right for your body. Then, move from cross-legged pose to sit on your heels. (Remember that you may place a pillow or blanket between your buttocks and heels, and/or under your knees.)
Next, come onto all fours for a free-flow Cat/Cow: Simply bend and flex your spine, roll your shoulders and head, and undulate the hips in any way that feels good.
Now, stand up with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Place your hands on your waist or hips, and circle your entire torso clockwise. Again, you may need to circle slowly and minimally at first; as you warm up, slightly increase the pace and circumference of your circle. Try to go as far forward and back as you can, and bend fully through the side planes, as well: Inhale as you move through the rear plane, exhale as you circle forward. Repeat this direction for at least one minute, then reverse directions for another 1- 3 minutes.
After the torso circles, stand and breathe deeply for a few breaths, eyes closed, and allow the energy to circulate and find its proper home. Next is Old Man qigong exercise. Inhale as you float your arms out to the sides and up; then begin to slowly “pull down” as you exhale and make light fists. As the fists move slowly downward toward your head, emit the sound “aaaah”: As the fists pass your throat, allow your head to come forward and your upper body to bend as you pull the fists down past the shoulders and chest, all the while continuing the sounding.
Gradually, as you bend further forward and the fists pass the belly, inhale, then exhale and transform the sound from “aaah” to “ooooh.” Keep bending forward and down past the waist and hips as you vocalize, releasing stagnant qi from the torso and organs within. As you come to a relaxed forward bend, release the arms to dangle toward the floor. Then, swing them out and back together easily, allowing them to cross each other; alternate the cross each time the arms swing in. As you freely open and cross the arms in this bent-over position, make the sound, “shhhhhh” for as long as your breath allows. Roll slowly back to stand, and repeat the exercise with sounding two more times.
Now, to break free of any remaining inner binds, begin to move in any way that you like, slowly at first, and then picking up the pace if it feels right to you. You can sway, jump, jog, kick, dance with abandon, shake all of your limbs… follow the lead of your circulating energies, and release yourself from any sense of judgment or expectation.
If you find yourself reluctant to initiate a “dance with yourself,” I ask this: Did you ever roll down a hill when you were young? I wonder: If we adults all rolled down a hill once a week, how would that change our approaches and perspectives? We might say, “Oh, my joints couldn’t take it,” or “What if I hurt myself?” Yet, if we could pad ourselves properly, and go at it without overthinking, we might find that other self-limiting thoughts begin to dissipate. Dance as if you are a child rolling down a hill…
After 3-5 minutes (or longer, if you are “moved” to do so), slowly come into stillness, remaining on your feet. Breathe deeply, and feel the vibrancy throughout your body, and the alertness in your mind: Take stock, and remark upon any emotional shifts that have occurred as a result of your practice.
Finally, to integrate this sense of freedom from any sort of mental or physical tension, inhale as you float the arms forward and straight up; simultaneously, rise onto the balls of your feet. As you exhale, let your arms drop to your sides as you drop your heels to the floor: Let this be a heavy, powerful “thunk,” which firmly consolidates and “sets” your now balanced and flowing energies. Repeat two more times.
After this final qigong exercise, you can move into your day, or ease onto the floor for 3-5 minutes of svasana.