On this Silent Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend 2020, many regions of the country are taking their first baby-steps toward reducing social restrictions associated with the corona virus pandemic. Although the slightest fragrance of hope is in the air, many—including me—remain cautious and vigilant. As the quarantine has shuttered the external environment and limited physical proximity to one another, our bodies, too, may have curled inward: With the social concerns and stressors come the inevitable reverberations within ourselves.
Today’s practice offers the opportunity to open wide in body and mind. Just as the reopening of society requires conscious, slow unfolding, many of us could use some gentle, yet pointed help to unwind, expand, and establish steadfast patience. To that end, the moves in the following routine focus on slowly, but deeply opening the side, front, and back body. The practice also works beautifully as a warm-up for any meditation.
To begin, lie on your back. Bend the knees, feet on the floor, hip width apart: You will be rolling up and down the spine, moving in and out of a modified back bend. As you begin your inhale, curl the pelvis off of the floor; continue to breathe in as you move incrementally up the spine. Visualize and sense the lift of each vertebra off of the floor as your roll up the spine, all the way to the shoulders. Then, reverse the spinal articulation through the thoracic, lumbar, and sacral sections as you exhale back to the start. Repeat 4 more roll-ups and -downs for a total of 5.
Now, repeat the spinal roll-up as you inhale. At the top of the roll, exhale as you dip the tail bone toward the floor; this will create a deep arch in your mid-back, releasing tension in the belly. Inhale to lift the pelvis back up, and exhale to roll the spine down, vertebra by vertebra. Repeat 4 times, for a total of 5.
Bring your knees in toward your body to ease any tension in the low back or hips. Then, extend the legs straight up, knit them together, and use your hands to draw them in toward you: Essentially, transpose Seated Forward Bend into a reclined version. Send deep breaths into the back of the legs; this focus on the Bladder meridian helps to establish a sense of flow with circumstances, as challenging as they may be.
Next, still in your supine position and the feet off of the floor, draw the soles of the feet toward each other. As the knees open to the sides, allow the external hip rotation to feed a deep stretch into the inner thighs. As you draw the feet closer toward you, the stretch through the Kidney meridian deepens. This will help to flush any fear or anxiety that may have crept in during these uncertain times. After about a minute in this position, slowly bring the knees back together, extend the legs straight up, and shake them about.
Now. come onto the right side of the body—legs, hips, torso, head in one long line, legs stacked on top of each other. The right arm can reach out, continuing the long line of the body, or you may bend the arm on the floor, resting your head in the nest. Reach the left arm out at a diagonal (without moving the body or hips); extend the left leg back at a diagonal, creating a long line from left fingertips top left toes. The legs are parallel to the floor, at the level of the left hip. Inhale and exhale 5 times, slowly and deeply: With each inhale, stretch the left leg and arm away from each other; exhale to relax and feel the increased ease and openness.
After 5 deep breaths and stretches, turn to lie on the left side. Repeat the same breathe-and-stretch pattern through the diagonally arranged right arm and leg.
From the right side, come onto the belly. Draw the arms behind the back, and interlace the fingers. Inhale as you lengthen through the arms, pulling the hands back toward the feet to help lift the upper body off the floor. Exhale to release down. Repeat 4 more times for a total of 5.
Now, shift back into Baby Pose for a few deep breaths. Then, come onto all fours for a few rounds of Cat/Cow spinal flexes and extensions. When you are ready. bring the right leg up to hip level behind you; bend the knee, and reach the left hand back to hold the ankle or top of foot. Look straight ahead, and begin Breath of Fire through the mouth (i.e., tongue out, panting like a dog). Continue for 30 seconds, and then withdraw the tongue, close the mouth, and breathe through the nose. Continue this nasal Breath of Fire for another minute. Keep pressing the foot into the hand to help yourself stay lifted and open through the right shoulder and chest.
After the minute of Breath of Fire through the nose, release the left hand; stretch the arm straight out from the shoulder, and straighten the right leg out behind you. Inhale, exhale, and inhale again: Exhale as you bring the right knee and left hand down, back to all fours.
Repeat the entire sequence with the left leg up and bent, and the right hand reaching back to hold the foot or ankle. Again, eyes focus directly forward: Breath of Fire for 30 seconds through the open mouth, followed by 1 minute through the nose. Then, recreate the cross-lateral stretch with the right arm and left leg. Finish by returning to all fours, and rest in Baby Pose for a few deep breaths.
Now, come into your preferred seated posture for meditation. Create Shunya Mudra, with the thumb tip and middle fingertips touching on each hand. This gesture invokes patience and discernment, and I enjoy a slight variation, which connects these qualities to Heart energy: Doing so further embeds the accepting nature of unwavering patience.
Begin by holding the mudra as described. Bend the arms, brining the elbows in to the waist: Palms face forward at about shoulder level. The free fingers are extended and apart. With ever-so-slightly open eyes, gaze down at the tip of the nose. Inhale through the nose, and exhale through the nose. Then, with lips barely parted, inhale and exhale through the mouth. Continue this pattern of alternate nose and mouth breathing for 2 minutes.
Now, release the mudra and rest the hands briefly in your lap. Allow the eyes to close naturally, and give them a rest: Nose gazing can be daunting to the eyes muscles at first; allow them to reset. Then, on each hand, fold the middle finger into the center of the palm; this will draw them toward a potent qi point for the Heart. Hold the middle fingers down with their respective thumbs; the other fingers are extended and apart. Rest the back of the hands on the knees; turn your closed eyes up focus on the Third Eye. Breathe naturally, mudra engaged, for 5-11 minutes. As your breath and gaze help to interate the mudra’s energy, your mind, heart, and body absorb the freedom that comes with release, expansion, and calm acceptance of whatever comes your way.
To finish, ease into Svasana for a few minutes.