A few days ago, I returned to my chiropractor for the first time since February. I had been pleasantly surprised during the ongoing pandemic to realize that over the past decade, the docs had laid a strong foundation for my neck and spine health: Despite the six months of quarantine—and no chiropractic care— my neck has been at peace (mostly). When the office reopened, however, I decided to have a check-up: frankly, I was as eager to see my chiropractor and the office staff, who, after more than 10 years, have become genuine friends.
What I did not expect upon seeing my chiropractor, “S”—and the receptionist, “A”—was the physical pull and subsequent despondency that arose from not being able to hug them. The magnetic tension through my chest—clearly centered in the Heart Chakra—was fiercely yearning to connect with their Heart energy: The need to restrain the fulfillment of that contact was physically uncomfortable. We all talked about it, but I remained bowled over by the power of that force, and what it feels like to consciously stifle it.
Fortunately, I have hugged my mother and my sister over the course of the past months. We each paid brief lip service to “maybe we shouldn’t,” and then straight into each other’s arms we fell. Thus, my experience at the chiropractor’s office was an unexpected awakening to the reality of physical contact, emotional connection, and the depth of those aspects of being a human.
After the initial no-hug experience with “A”, she led me back to a treatment room: sequestering, rather than the usual time in the waiting room. After about a minute of sitting quietly alone, “A” returned and asked if I wanted to hear another hugging story. Of course, I said yes.
She told me that her daughter was to be married in October. As part of the gift bag for guests, “A’s” daughter was going to include three wrist bands: red, yellow, and green. Guests could opt to wear the one that best revealed their comfort with physical contact: red meant no touching; yellow, they were uncertain, but maybe…; and green would give the go-ahead for a hug.
As I said to “A,” that idea seems a good one these days, wedding or not. And in my automatic mind, I assumed that I would be a Green. When I began to truly run through daily scenarios and imagine interactions with various people, however, I was surprised to find myself veering more toward Yellow; in the instance of general public outings, Red would be as evident as possible.
For a moment, I wondered what had happened to my Heart Center: Had it become infected with fear? Had I become untrusting, doubting that others could be responsible, and thus a “low risk” for a hug? Then, I realized that the pull of my Heart in those greetings with “A” and a later one with “S,” revealed the actual state of affairs: The struggle to resist the physical expression of the pull affirmed the alive-and-well status of my Heart energy.
I did, however, decide that I wanted to ensure the vibrancy of that Chakra, while simultaneously heeding its need for gentle, but unequivocal protection. Thus was born today’s Silent Sunday practice. In these times when each day—sometimes each moment—shifts shape, texture, and tenor without warning, the only constants are those we create for ourselves. And to remain hopeful, sensible, and attuned, the Heart Center needs to be strong, yet shielded when necessary.
I think of today’s practice as an active meditation, rather than a physical exercise. As you proceed through the moves, bring your attention to the physical sensations that occur in the palms, the neck and jaw, the shoulders, and the chest. These areas may be tight, or sore, or free and light. As you work to stimulate and safeguard the Heart, the sensations may shift: Allow each change and transition, just as you would have to do during “red, yellow, or green” decision-making occasions. Note—and accept—the transiency of each sensation. Allow the Heart to shift as it needs to, knowing that you are providing exactly what it needs for future encounters.
To begin, sit in your favorite pose: crossed-leg, legs extended straight forward, in a chair, etc. To help notify the Heart of the practice to come, do some spinal flexes that hone in on the arms and chest: With both arms extended to the side at armpit level, inhale as you arch the spine forward, allowing the pelvis to tip forward as well; exhale to round the spine as you fluidly draw the inner wrists forward and together at the level of the Heart. The arms remain fairly straight throughout the movement, although a slight give in the elbows is natural. Keep the head level as you flex the spine forward, opening the Heart, and round the spine back, softly shielding it. Continue for 1 minute.
Now, remaining in your chosen seated posture (or shifting, as you see fit), extend the arms out from the shoulders at a 60-degree angle; the arms are in the sagittal plane, neither forward of or behind the torso. Flex the wrists, so that the palms face the sky. This is Position 1. Position 2: From the angled arms and face-up palms, draw the arms straight above the Crown, touching the palms together. For Position 3, glide the hands down in front of the body to Heart level, forming Prayer or Namaste hands. To arrive at Position 4, point the Prayer hands forward, extending the arms straight out from the Heart, and turning the palms up as the arms come to their full length: Continue moving seamlessly as the arms open wide to the sides, palms remaining up.
Move through the sequence of positions seamlessly, at a moderate and consistent pace. Inhale in Position 1; exhale as you move into 2; inhale as you find Position 3; and exhale throughout the transition to Position 4. Continue this fluid, yet precise movement for 3 minutes.
When you have completed the moving portion of the practice, draw the souls of your feet together to form a diamond (or Butterfly) shape with your legs. Alternatively, you may sit in an easy crossed-leg pose. Regardless, bring the right hand to the left knee, and the left hand to the right knee: Round the back to the point that the arms straighten and the shoulder blades widen; drop the head; and settle into the stretch.
This Makkho Ho position nurtures and stimulates the Pericardium and Triple Warmer meridians, which in turn protect the Heart. For today’s purpose, treat the “stretch” as a Yin Yoga posture: Remain soft, steady, and patient as you inhabit the shape of the pose, allowing your breath, time, and gravity to encourage the muscles and connective tissues to yield.
After 2 minutes in the initial position, slowly release the deep curve in your spine as you let go of the knees: If you were sitting crossed-leg, switch the cross of your legs; then, bring the left hand to the right knee, and the right hand to the left. Deeply round the back, allowing the pelvis to naturally tip backward, let the head hang, and resume the pose for another 2 minutes.
Finally, help yourself uncross and unwind from the posture. Very often, the exit from a Yin pose can seem somewhat uncomfortable. You have opened deeply, both energetically and muscularly: Breathe deeply, restore openness by gently shaking or stretching whatever feels locked or reluctant, and find your way into Svasana. Grant the body and Heart Center the opportunity to return to a renewed state of calm as you rest for 5-11 minutes.