‘Tis the season, yet again. As this Silent Sunday finds us with little more than a week to spare before Christmas arrives—and almost exactly a week before Hanukah begins—a pre-emptive dose of health and vitality seems in order. With the demands and expectations of the holidays comes the demand on our physical and mental reserves. The following routine bolsters the immune system; relaxes the mind; and ensures the steady flow of digestive and circulatory energy. The practice may be done in full sequence, or you may select one or two techniques for a quick boost.
To begin, give yourself 1-2 minutes of closed-eye, conscious breathing. Position yourself in any way that allows the whole torso to expand and contract with each breath. Allow your facial muscles, tongue, jaw, and shoulders to ease with each exhalation.
Now, hold one lower leg with the same-side hand. Use the thumb of the support hand to firmly knead acupressure point, Spleen 6. This is about four finger widths above the inner ankle bone, on the lower calf. This Triple Yin point is the intersection of the Kidney, Liver, and Spleen meridians. As such, the point is an excellent way to harmonize digestive, detoxifying, and nourishing energies.
With your grip engaged, begin to open the ankle joint. Use the opposite hand to shift the foot side to side, and forward and back. Although these are actions that you can perform muscularly, manual guidance gives the nervous system and muscles a brief respite. Remember: To “circle” the ankle is a misnomer. The appearance of a circle arises as the foot shifts from side; to extended point; to the other side, and into flexion. Isolate and combine these movements, and your feet will feel open and strong. Take each foot through a few rounds of “joint rolling;” remember to activate Spleen 6 as you do so.
Next, seated in a chair or lying on the floor with knees bent, feet on the ground, begin leg extensions. Inhale to extend through the knee, exhale as it bends; repeat 12-20 times on each side. Continue to open the lower-body joints in a standing position: With knees slightly bent, inhale as you tilt the pelvis forward (back will arch slightly); exhale to tip it back, as the lower spine rounds slightly. Repeat the pelvic rock 8 times. Then, gently shift the pelvis side to side: As you rock the pelvis side to side, the knees will bend naturally. Shift back and forth for 16 counts. Finally, shift the pelvis forward, right, back, and left, completing 4 “circles;” repeat by moving to the left 4 times.
Return to a seated posture. Begin to massage the fingers: Start at the tip of each finger, and roll and knead your way to the base knuckle. Do this for each finger on both hands. Then, open and close your fists quickly a few times, followed by a strong shake of the hands and wrists. Continue by gently bending one wrist forward and back with the opposite hand, and then switch sides. Move up the arm to the elbow: With an open, cupped palm, firmly pulsate all around the elbow joint on both arms. Bring this percussive cupping all the way up to the shoulder, and beat around the shoulders and upper back.
Complete this portion of the routine with 16 counts of rapid shoulder shrugs: Inhale the left up, exhale down, and repeat on the right. This is 2 counts; repeat until you reach 16. Finally, gradually move your head through a range of motions: Think less about stretching your neck muscles, and more about pivoting and tipping through the top two cervical vertebra. Tilt the head—barely—to the right and left; then turn slowly, minimally to the right and left. Then, tilt the head back ever so slightly, and then tilt it forward. Again, this is not a muscular movement: The idea is to glide through the vertebra, and let them shift as they are meant to. Repeat the side tilts; side turns, and forward/back tilts for 1-2 minutes.
With the joints open, healthy qi is free to flow through all meridians. This is an opportune time for a full-body stretch. Lie on your back with arms overhead on the floor. Inhale: Suspend the breath as you point powerfully through the toes, reach through the fingers, and consciously tense every large muscle group. Maintain this extension for 6-8 counts, then exhale powerfully through the mouth as you relax the muscles. Repeat 2 more times.
Still on your back, move into Banana Pose. The arms rest easily by your sides on the ground: Legs are together. Shift both legs to the right as you reach the right arm along the floor toward the feet; your body will move into a slight C shape, akin to a banana. Check to see that your buttocks and both heels make equal contact with the floor; both shoulder blades should also be on the ground. As you breathe into the pose, move the legs further to the right, and stretch the right hand further toward the feet. Inhabit the posture for 2 minutes. Then, gently return to neutral for a few breaths before moving into Banana on the left side. Remain there for another 2 minutes.
Next, come onto your belly. With the chin on the floor, and arms by your sides (palms down), begin to “jump” your hips away from the floor. Inhale as you lift the pelvis, lower abdominals, and groin off the ground; exhale as they drop down. Continue vigorously for 1 minute.
Now, shift back into Baby Pose for a few equalizing breaths. Then, roll up to sit on your heels in Rock Pose. If this is uncomfortable, place a pillow between the buttocks and heels; alternatively, you may sit in a crossed-leg posture, or in a chair. Regardless, inhale and suspend the breath: Pump the belly rapidly until you need to exhale. Repeat 2 more times. On the third and final round, exhale powerfully through the mouth.
Finally, in your favorite seated meditation pose, place the right palm on the Dan Tien, i.e., the lower-most belly, beneath the navel. The left elbow and upper arm rest against the left ribs, palm facing forward, as if taking an oath. Touch the left thumb and ring finger tips together; the other fingers are long and extended. With closed eyes gazing at the Third Eye, focus on the steadiness and depth of your breathing. The mudra and hand placements invoke a soothing, regulatory movement of energy throughout the system. Settle into the breath and position for 3-7 minutes. Then, release yourself into svasana for at least 5 minutes