After several days of single-digit and sub-zero temperatures, Mother Nature chose this Silent Sunday to deliver a welcome gift of reprieve: 40-plus degrees! The bit of thaw reminds one that while Winter has yet to depart, Spring will indeed return. As you may recall from previous posts, the best time to begin preparing for a new season (according to Traditional Chinese Medicine) is approximately six weeks prior.
Today’s practice focuses on the organ systems of Spring—Liver and Gallbladder. Physically, these partnered Wood-element meridians run through the entire side body, head to toe (the fourth toes, specifically), and the inner lines of the legs. As you may imagine, the Wood element is associated with growth and movement. Simultaneously, however, the season opens us to the great unseen realms of the Soul.
Ethereally, TCM considers the Liver to be the seat of the Soul, as well as the portal to the eternal energies of the Universe. When we engage fully with the organs of Wood, we stimulate our Higher Consciousness as we invigorate our bodies. This practice offers the opportunity to fully inhabit the vitality and hope of Springtime.
To begin, lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat and hip width apart. As a gentle warmup for the lower spine and waist, start to “windshield wiper” your legs side to side: As the knees fall to the right, your feet will roll to their right edges; as the knees move to the left, allow the feet to also roll to the left side. Move back and forth, slowly at first, and then speed up the pace as your body releases tension in the lower back and side body. Find a slightly accelerated breath rate to keep pace with the side-to-side movement: Inhale as the knees move through neutral upright position, exhale as they drop to either side. Continue for up to 2 minutes.
Next, roll to one side to help yourself sit up. Open your legs into a comfortable straddle position: Bring the left foot back to rest alongside the left hip, similar to VIraasana, or Hero pose. In this one leg open and long, other leg bent and to the side, tip slowly forward into a gentle forward bend. Focus on the sensation in the left outer hip, the entire groin region, and the inner muscles of the right leg. With eyes closed and focused on the Third Eye, breathe steadily and deeply: Remain in the position for 2-3 minutes, and then switch legs (right foot behind, left leg straight and straddled open).
Special note: If the foot-back position is bothersome in any way, simply take the forward bend in a more typical split, or straddle position.
Before you transition to the next movement, shake out your legs a bit. You may want to lean back onto your hands or elbows, bend the knees, and give them a short round of Windshield Wipers, back and forth, to further circulate the Liver and Gallbladder qi throughout the legs. Then, come into a seated position, either crossed-leg or on your heels. Bring the hands to the level of the lower ribs, a few inches apart in light fists:
Imagine that you are holding a rod in your hands, palms down. Begin to move hands left and right, sliding side to side, keeping them a few inches apart. As the hands move left, shift your ribcage to the right; hands move right, ribs move to the left: Develop a breath pattern that coincides with the movement—for example, inhale as the ribs move left, exhale right. This qigong move, the Pole, is part of a Fragrance Qigong set, and helps to cleanse and invigorate the Liver and Gallbladder. Continue for 2-3 minutes, knowing that the first minute may need to be dedicated simply to acclimate the ribs to what may be an unfamiliar movement pattern for you.
Finally, lie back down, coming first onto the right side of the body. Stretch long, ideally keeping the right (bottom) leg straight; however, if your abdominals can not stabilize you enough, feel free to bend the right leg slightly. Raise the left leg as high as possible, as straight as possible; grasp the thigh, the shin, a pant leg—whatever you can reach while keeping the torso and head relaxed on the ground. (The right arm can be stretched long, or bent underneath the head.) Eventually, you will be able to hold the big toe. In this side-lying split-leg position, begin Breath of Fire through the nose. Continue for 2 minutes before you switch to the other side for another 2 minutes. Maintain a closed-eye gaze at the Third Eye, even as you roll from one side to the other, if possible.
As you move into svasana, take note of the refreshed energies coursing through your body. Then, as your breath normalizes and deepens, gently draw your mind away from physical sensation to silently chant a mantra: Wahe Guru [wah-hey goo-roo]. (The emphasis on Wahe may be either on the first or second syllable; find what feels intuitively correct for you in the moment.) Essentially, the mantra exults the inherent divinity of the Universe’s energies; as you chant, your personal energies glorify and align with the Divine.