Often at this time of year, people in colder climes gain a few pounds. Some of that may be due to less outdoor activity, or to an inclination toward the warming, comforting quality of fatty and sugary foods. Yet Winter is not the only time when the body slows down, and with it, the metabolism. Seasonal allergies, sedentary jobs, or long periods of stress can wreak havoc on the glands responsible for metabolic function. And should one choose to take medication meant to contend with stress, pain, or illness, the metabolism may well be affected.
This Silent Sunday’s practice thus is less about tending the spiritual body, and decidedly more about helping the physical body achieve optimal vitality. To that end, the routine requires that you assert a little extra oomph. And although many of the practices I offer rely on specific durations of time for each movement or meditation, today’s set suggests numbers of repetitions. The crucial aspect of each move is the will and energy that you supply: Should that mean fewer repetitions, that is okay; it is more important to move with vigor for fewer counts, than to move less energetically for more reps.
Because today’s practice aims to rev up the metabolism, the inroads to the routine are the glands most responsible for metabolic balance: adrenals, pancreas, and thyroid. Additionally, the pituitary will be stimulated, as it serves as the Master Gland of the entire endocrine system. The glands will be addressed through their associated chakras, as well as through the framework of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
The adrenals sit atop the kidneys. Therefore, with regard to TCM, they are part of the Water element. Additionally, they are located in the region of the Second Chakra. Thus, the pelvis and lumbar spine must be addressed. The pancreas aligns with the energy of the Third Chakra, and also is connected to the Spleen organ system in TCM; consequently, the entire abdominal region must be awakened. The thyroid lies within the Fifth, or Throat Chakra. And in TCM, the Stomach Meridian flows through the seat of the thyroid. Thus, to equalize the thyroid, the throat and abdomen need to be opened and stimulated.
The pituitary corresponds with the Third Eye, or Sixth Chakra. Although we focus inward and upward—i.e., between the brow points— to access the Third Eye, it corresponds energetically with the pituitary at the back and base of the brain. The eye gaze acts, then, as a beam directed through the Third Eye toward the pituitary.
Again, the key to the following routine is focus and determination. Each move corresponds directly to a gland, its chakra, and its meridian: Place your intention into the area you are working, and move powerfully.
To begin, come onto all fours. Take a few rounds of Cat/Cow spinal flexes to connect to the breath, and to wake up the spine. Then, add Donkey Kicks to the rounding and arching of Cat/ Cow, respectively: Inhale as you extend the right leg straight out and slightly up; exhale as the spine rounds, and the knee comes in toward the nose. (Careful!) Do six kicks on the right, then six on the left, moving as quickly as you can.
From all fours, press up into Downward Dog. Turn your closed eyes to gaze at the Third Eye as you let the head nod and shake gently. After 5 deep breaths, return to all fours: Repeat the Donkey Kicks, this time for 8 reps with each leg. Then, back into Downward Dog with a Third Eye focus; and then a final round of Donkey Kicks, 10 on each leg.
Now that you have sparked the adrenals, thyroid (head hang in Downward Dog), and pituitary, come into Baby Pose for a few deep breaths. Then, maintaining the compact body shape of Baby Pose, lift the head and neck, so that they are in line with the spine. With the arms extended back next to the hips, turn the palms in to face the body. Begin Breath of Fire, feeling the rapid pulsing of the breath as the belly pushes into the legs in Baby Pose: Count the breaths for a total of 54 rounds of Breath of Fire.
Then, come out of Baby Pose to sit on your heels in Rock Pose; as always, feel free to place a pillow between your bottom and heels for support. Bring your fingertips onto the shoulders; the elbows will point to the sides. As you inhale, pull the elbows down, as if to touch them together behind you; tilt the head back to look up as you pull the elbows down. Then, exhale, and bring the head forward to look down as the elbows rise up; attempt to touch the back of the wrists together. Continue this movement, increasing the speed as the shoulders and neck warm up and release: Inhale to look up as the elbows come down; exhale to look down as the elbows come up. Continue for 26 full rounds. (Inhale/exhale is one round.)
The next portion is a powerful series of 3 moves, repeated 3 times. Again, if you find that three rounds is excessive, do one round, but with all your might and focus. To begin, come onto your back: Interlace the fingers behind the neck, and extend the legs into the air at a 90-degree angle, feet flexed. Activate your lower abdominal muscles to secure the low back into the floor, push out through the heels, and begin Breath of Fire: 26 rounds of rapid inhale/exhale through the nose.
Immediately move into Tuck Pose: Hug the legs in, and lift the head to bring the nose between the knees. I find that my neck is unhappy without support in this posture, so I bring the knees in, and squeeze them together with my elbows. I then can reach my hands back to support the base of my elevated head with the fingertips. Again, do 26 rounds of Breath of Fire.
From there, extend the legs straight out, so that they are about 6 inches off of the ground. The upper body lifts enough, so that the eyes are on the same level as the toes. Reach the arms toward the feet, along the sides of the body; if this is too much for the low back, slide the hands underneath the buttocks. In this Stretch Pose, do another 26 rounds of Breath of Fire.
Repeat the above 3-move sequence, moving in and out of each without stopping, two more times.
Now, place both feet on the floor, hip width apart: Lift the hips up into a modified Bridge Pose. Breathe deeply here for a few breaths, and then lower the hips. For the next vigorous movement, try to hold the ankles; however, if that is too much, you may leave the hands on the floor. You will again lift into Bridge, but quickly and repeatedly: Inhale up, exhale down at a rapid clip. Do 36 dynamic Bridge lifts, with powerful, intentional breaths.
After the Bridges, bring your knees in to rock side to side, and forward and back. Eventually, roll up into a seated posture of your choice, using whatever props you need to sit comfortably. With the side of the right index finger, begin rapid downward strokes on the left side of the throat. Complete 26 strokes, then use the left index finger to stroke the right side of the throat.
Next, rapidly tap the Third Eye point between the brows with the middle fingers of each hand, about 10 times. From there, tap up and over the center line of the crown with all four fingertips; when you reach the base of the skull, tap away from the center line out to the edges of the occiput. Repeat the Third Eye tapping and up-and-over-and-out pattern two more times.
Then, rest the back of the hands on the knees, palms up. Breathe consciously and deeply, taking your inner eye to the level of the kidneys; then to the pancreas; then to the throat, and finally to the Third Eye, being sure to shine the Third Eye gaze back to the pituitary gland. Check in with each gland that you have stimulated, and use the breath to ensure their vitality. When you feel ready, settle down for several minutes of harmonizing svasana.