Yesterday’s writing discussed the challenge of caring for an elderly parent, while simultaneously experiencing the physical and sometimes emotional changes of aging through one’s 50’s, 60’s, and into the 70’s. New and often chronic pains set in; sleep patterns may change; and metabolic and skin concerns may arise. When committed to addressing the many concerns of an elderly parent, your own very real needs may go unmet.
Today, I offer a practice dedicated to all who give care and thus need self-care. The session ends with a healing “active” meditation that one can use for self or others. The focused energy work and visualization of this healing technique may be applied to anyone, whether they are strong in mind, weak in body; or faltering in mind, fit in body. Overall, the practice provides solace in the face of care-born sadness, frustration, and guilt; the movements, postures, and meditation offer healing on a variety of levels.
The intention to create a feeling of calm and stability begins with how one enters into and proceeds throughout the practice. If ever there were a time to gather an array of pillows, blocks, and/or blankets, this would be it: Because this is a set for aging bodies, call upon your deepest self-respect with regard to any physical limitations you may have. The use of props will create and ensure a sense of security and soft support. Rather than aiming to perfect a posture, the intention is to reside fully within the specific energy that a pose evokes; one needs to be comfortable, in order for the body to connect with and absorb the vibration of the physical position.
To begin, assume a version of all fours, where you are one your knees and forearms, eyes closed. The knees are in line under the hips, and the elbows are in line under or a bit ahead of the shoulders. Bring the palms to touch, as if clapping your hands; extend the thumbs straight up. Keeping the knees in place, bring the big toes to touch each other: You will have created a long diamond shape with your legs, arms, and and torso. From here, inhale to rock or shift the body forward, slightly arching the spine (as in Cow pose) and tilting the head back; exhale to shift back, moving the hips toward the feet, rounding the spine and dropping the chin toward the chest as you do so. Continue this gentle shifting back and forth with a slight spinal flex for 1 minute.
Then, separate the hands and feet: The forearms are parallel to each other on the floor, palms down; the shins are parallel to each other, feet long with toes pointing back. Continue rocking with the opposite breath pattern: Inhale to shift back, exhale to move forward. Move with this rhythm for another minute.
To complete this all-fours sequence, come onto your fingertips, arms straight, and curl the toes under, stretching through the bottom of the feet. From a reflexology standpoint, the toes and fingertips correspond with the brain; the posture now awakens and stimulates concentration and focus. Positioned in this way, begin traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes, inhaling as you deeply arch the spine into Cow; exhale to round the spine, drop the head, and curl the tail under. Continue for 1 minute.
Now, settle into Baby Pose, buttocks on heels, torso on thighs, and forehead on the floor. (Remember to use whatever supportive measures you need.) Using your open palms, begin to rub the low back in outward circles: Thus, the right hand moves clockwise, and the left circles counterclockwise. From a qigong perspective, outward circling gathers and expels stagnant or detrimental energy.
After circling on the low back for a few seconds, seamlessly move to the buttocks, then the outer hips, and down along the outer thigh: This pathway draws out mental and physical toxicity from the Kidney, Bladder, Liver, and Gallbladder meridians; the technique helps to eliminate fear and anger. Continue circling up and down from low back to knees, and then back up the outside edge of the leg and hips to the low back: Move up and down this route, breathing deeply, circling steadily, for 2 minutes.
After your self-massage and qi clearing, rest quietly in Baby Pose for 3 minutes. You may place your arms on the floor by your feet; stretched out in front of you on the floor, or with the backs of the hands on the low back, elbows draping toward the ground. If you like, you may also rest your forehead on a block or pillow, instead of on the floor. Sink deeply into the restorative energy of the pose: As it is said that 11 minutes of Baby Pose is equivalent to 4 hours of sleep, your 3-minute rest will feel like a refreshing 1-hour nap.
Next, after slowly helping yourself roll up and out of Baby Pose, bring your legs in front of you on the floor, and then into a crossed-leg position. Again, if your hips are tight or aching, sit on the edge of a bolster, and/or place props under each knee for support and lift. When settled, cross your arms over your body, tucking each hand into the opposite armpit; the thumbs remain exposed, resting against the pectorals, pointing up.
With eyes closed, inhale, then exhale and lean to the left; inhale up to center, then exhale to the right. Continue moving sideways back and forth, gradually opening the side body while sheltering the front body. This movement heightens your ability to communicate clearly, while preserving your inner calm. Continue leaning side to side, inhaling each time you are upright, for 3 minutes.
The final physical piece of the practice takes place on your back. Ideally, the arms remain on the floor, a comfortable distance away from the body, palms down. If you need to slip a pillow or rolled blanket under your hips for support, you may do that. Regardless, bring both legs up to a 60-degree angle, legs together, feet gently pointed; this will open and strengthen the Third Chakra, wherein lies your confidence and ability to persevere. Breathe deeply, gazing softly at your elevated feet, for 1 minute. If you need to lower one leg at some point, do so; then, switch legs, so that you can complete the full minute.
Then, lower your legs, placing your feet on the floor about hip-width apart, knees bent. Lift the hips off the floor into a modified back bend. At the apex of the position, begin to pulse the hips up and down, barely moving, but pulsing rapidly; this move thoroughly stimulates the First Chakra, thereby awakening feelings of safety and security. Pulse 12-26 times.
Now, repeat the abdominal strengthening of the Third Chakra move for another minute, followed by the First Chakra pelvic pulse for 12-26 repetitions. Repeat the whole sequence one more time, for a total of three rounds. This set brings you into a state of quiet determination and self-confidence; only in that state of mind and physical balance can you summon and send healing energy to another, or deliver it to yourself.
After shaking out or stretching away any residual tension in the body, come into a fully supported, easily aligned seated position. If you like, you may sit on the edge of the chair, feet flat on the floor. The meditation to complete today’s practice is one inspired by the distance healing technique of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship. The SRF meditation is specific in its wording, and out of respect for their teachings, I do not use those phrasings today. I do, however, offer the energetic techniques and mudra angles, as those are consistent with other healing modalities.
To open the meditation, we call upon Universal healing light; this summoning requires deep intention and concentration. Further, I find that it helps to intuit a color that resonates with you as one of health and peace; as you harness energy to be used in healing, begin to infuse it with your color of choice. As we proceed through the technique, I will offer the way in which I use color at each step of the meditation.
With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, rub your palms together, moving briskly at the level of the Heart center: The fingers point forward, and the rub is a forward/back direction. You may create your own version of calling to God, or the Universe, or the healing force from the Earth: Invoke the energy, draw it in to your warming palms, visualize the person whom you wish to help (it may be yourself), and then extend the arms in front of you at shoulder level, palms down. Ask that the Body be healed: Continue to emanate the intention through the arms and hands, breathing deeply for 5-10 breaths.
With this first Body healing, you may “tint” the healing power that you have harnessed with a color from the Lower Triangle of chakras—red, orange, or yellow: This will help to deepen the power of the healing light that you send.
Now, again with the hands at the level of the Heart, circle the palms in a brisk rubbing movement. Gather the energy as you again call to the Universe, or whatever source speaks to you. After several seconds of drawing in the healing light, ask that the Mind of another or yourself be healed as you place the hands a few inches in front of your face; the center of the palms should be just in front of the eyes. At this point, you may find that shades of indigo or purple correspond with your intention. Breathe deeply with the vibrations emanating from the healing energy of your palms.
Finally, rub the hands together in the forward/back mode from the first round of healing. This time, bring your attention to the center point of each palm; this is a significant point associated with the healing energy of the Heart. After you feel that your hands have drawn in abundant healing energy, ask that that light move into the Soul of yourself or another. As you make your request, and visualize the recipient, extend the arms overhead, opening them into a wide V, palms facing each other.
For this portion of the meditation, I tend to work with a milky-white light, with a pale, barely discernible light blue swirling within. Gold and silver are often suggested for working with the Soul; black, too, may be a power color for the Soul. Should black seem correct for you, I suggest that it be a “clean,” shiny tone, like onyx. Sit and breathe with this posture for at least 30 seconds, all the while using your power of intention and compassion to soothe a Soul.
You may repeat the three-part round of Body/Mind/Soul healing as many times as you like. When you feel that your task is complete, lie on your back in svasana. Spend at least 5 minutes in this devoted rest time, so that you may experience the clearing and fortifying that occurs when helping another and/or yourself in a balanced, focused way.