This Silent Sunday, February 23, welcomes a New Moon, and also falls during Mercury Retrograde (February 16-March 9). In previous posts, I have offered separate practices devoted to these cosmological events: Each generates specific energy within and without; consequently, the body and mind need extra attention when strong energies emanate from the Cosmos.
But what happens when two energetic forces vie to impart their vibrations? Today, the New Moon wishes to inspire and offer hope: a fresh start, open to possibility. That scamp, Mercury, however, likes to thwart communication when the planet moves out of phase; he delights in upending plans and intentions. Thus, today’s practice works to promote our visions for the future, while simultaneously loosening our need to control outcomes. In essence, the pranayama and meditation that follow center us in the gentle support of lunar energy, and provide the patience needed to weather the mischief of Mercury Retrograde.
Because this practice requires a strong, yet flexible spine, I suggest a few warm-up exercises to free the hips, shoulders, and spinal erector muscles. Traditional Cat/Cow is always a good place to begin: On all fours, inhale as you lift the chest and tail, creating a deep bend through the entire length of the spine; exhale to curl the tail, drop the head, and dome the spine upward. Continue for 1 minute.
Remaining on all fours, add a leg extension and knee tuck to the Cow/Cat positions, respectively: Inhale as you extend the right leg back and slightly up; exhale to retract the knee in toward the chest as the spine rounds. Complete 26 “donkey kicks” with the right leg, then repeat the movement 26 times on the left side.
Next, shift back into Baby Pose, forehead on the floor, arms resting on the ground next to the folded legs. Take a few deep breaths through the nose; then, interlace the fingers behind the back, and extend through the elbows. Feel the shoulders pull down away from the neck. With the arms fully extended and the hands interlocked, inhale to lift the arms up and away from the back; exhale to bring them back down. Continue to inhale and lift, exhale to lower, for 1 minute.
Now you are ready to sit for the challenging pranayama practice. Sit in either a crossed-leg pose, or on the heels in Rock Pose. Feel free to use whatever prop you need that allows the pelvis to tilt slightly forward, and the spine to rise long and aligned out of the pelvis. Bring both arms in front at shoulder level; the palms face each other. Curl the fingers into their bases, and extend the thumbs straight up. Now, bring the hands together, so that the edges of the thumbs touch, and the knuckles of the other fingers touch each other.
With eyes open, gaze out toward and slightly above the tips of the thumbs. Envision any goal, hope, or dream that you may have for the future as you gaze through infinity. Move from specific goal or desire, to an overall sense of what will elevate your life: “house” becomes stability; “relationship” becomes compassion; “money” becomes generosity. To this state of mind, add a breath pattern: Inhale through the nose for 6 steady beats, exhale for 8. Continue to breathe and meld with the way of the Universe for 3-5 minutes.
Next, relax the arms down, placing the backs of the hands on the knees. Touch the thumb tips to the pinky finger tips, and close the eyes, gazing up the Third Eye. With this mudra that acknowledges Mercury in its highest form of clarity and Divine communication, begin Sitali breathing: Inhale through the curled tongue (or slightly parted lips if the tongue can not curl like a straw); exhale through the nose. Breathe steadily and fully, in through the tongue or mouth, and out through the nose, for 3 minutes.
Now, still in your seated posture, deeply arch the spine: Tilt the pelvis forward (i.e., send the buttocks back), lift and open the chest, and create a deep, long extension through the spine, as if doing a seated back bend. Bring the arms into a scarecrow position: upper arms to the sides at shoulder level, forearms bent to 90 degrees. Bend the wrists, so that the palms face up, with fingers pointing out to the sides.
With the arm mudra and deep spinal arch, tilt the head back as far as is comfortable; the eyes will remain closed and gazing at the Third Eye. Inhale deeply, and exhale fully: With the breath held out, begin to pump the stomach rapidly. When you need to inhale, release the back bend and head to neutral, and exhale; retain the position of the arm mudra, and keep the eyes closed. Then, inhale as you return into the deep arch and head tilt; exhale completely, and pump again.
Repeat the pattern: neutralize the spine with an inhale and exhale; inhale to extend the spine and neck; exhale; and pump. Throughout the sequence, the arms remain in the “goal post” position with wrists bent and palms up. Continue for 5-7 minutes.
Now that you have accessed and stimulated your mental and physical pliability with the demanding spine and breath work, reinforce the focus and stamina with a simple Seated Forward Bend. If you need a pillow or block under the knees, feel free: Find a position that allows you to rest over the extended legs for 3-5 minutes.
You may use the Forward Bend as your integrating, closing posture, or move into Svasana for another 5-11 minutes of consolidation and rejuvenation.