Between the safety consciousness that has evolved during this year’s pandemic, and the heightened attention to the ongoing racism in this country, 2020 has caused many of us to take a closer look at our values and perspectives. I, for one, have transitioned into a much more cautious stance with regard to health protocols than I would have imagined: Yet, too, I am acutely aware that as always, there is a wide spectrum of thought about these matters.
A couple of weeks ago, I was conversing with a man who lamented the varying opinions about COVID-19 precautions that had arisen in his own family. (One of 10 siblings, his “immediate” family rivals the extended versions of most: The pool of viewpoints is vast.) Primarily, he wondered aloud about how to cope with family members who seemed lackadaisical about mask-wearing and social distancing: He and his wife are very careful, aiming to keep themselves, their elderly parent, and their grandchildren healthy; they opt out of most family invitations, due to the relaxed nature of others’ protocols.
I commiserated, and we agreed that each of us has to hold strong to our comfort levels; further, we acknowledged that one can model the behavior we advocate, but to judge or force the issue simply creates additional tension. It was not lost on either of us that that stand would serve most of us well in many other situations. And then we moved on to a different topic that would in turn underscore the stance in a most unexpected—and unsettling—way.
My partner in conversation went on to talk about his volunteer work with the homeless. As one who is deeply moved by the plight of the homeless (and works to overcome an oddly rooted fear that such could be my fate), I was engrossed in his observations of both compassion and fear with regard to the “street” population. As he went on, it became apparent to me that many people are more likely to “socially distance” themselves from a homeless person in their path, than they are to avoid the circumstance of contracting a potentially fatal virus.
Once again, I found myself bewildered by the minds and mindsets of human beings.
The conversation wound its way through my thoughts for the days to come; I could not help but sift through my own latent prejudices, and hark back to the thoughts and behaviors that I used to have with regard to some of them. Thankfully, many have dissipated into dormancy, although remnants float up from time to time: When that happens, I notice their filmy presence on the outskirts of my energy field; then, I shake them loose, and into the ether they vanish.
But in this election year, in this year of pandemic, and in this time of aggravated social upheavals, new fears have tried to infiltrate my heart and mind: I say, “fears,” for what is prejudice but a fear of the unfamiliar or unpredictable? As a way to shift thoughts from unfounded fear to an awareness and acceptance of varying views; and as a means to hold to a calm center when provoked or questioned on one’s own stance, I created the following pranayama and moving-mudra meditation for today’s Silent Sunday.
To begin, lie on your back, as if in Svasana. Take your attention to the soles of your feet, and the palms of your hands: Work to spread your sensory and mental awareness equally to all four parts. Initially, you may find your inner eye batting from foot to foot, then hand to hand, or some combination thereof. Allow this to happen for a few moments; then, consciously deepen your breath, using long, slow exhales to dissolve the separation of attention. Eventually, your breath will move your mind into a state of attuning to all four parts equally and simultaneously. Stay with this leveling awareness for 3 minutes.
Now, before rising to sit, take a full-body stretch, arms reaching overhead on the floor, pushing through the heels, and emitting any groans or sighs that issue forth. Follow this expansive stretch by drawing the knees in toward the belly: Inhale, then exhale both bent legs to the right upon your exhale; inhale back through center, and exhale to the left. Repeat 2 more times to each side.
Then, roll back and forth on the spine a few times before coming into your preferred seated pose for meditation. Place both hands on the knees; form Gyan Mudra on both hands (index fingertip to thumb tip), and turn the hands palm up. With this gesture of communication and wisdom, recall the soothing, “smoothing” sensation from the earlier sensory-awareness technique in Svasana. Recognize the mind’s ability to juggle information as it comes in, and then to process it in a way that refutes exclusion of one thing over another: Harness this physical and intellectual ability as you breathe fully and deeply. Continue for 3 minutes, closed eyes turned up to gaze at the Third Eye.
Next, tuck the left thumb tip into the middle-finger side of the base of the left ring finger: Place the palm on the Heart Center; the exact position will look slightly different on each person, so find the position that allow the palm to connect with the Heart. Relax the hand and arm as much as possible.
Bend the right arm, and hold it next to the body as if taking an oath; palm faces forward. Curl all fingers, except the pinky, into a fist, held down by the right thumb. Extend the right pinky—gesture of intuition and acceptance of the Universe’s ways—close the eyes, and focus inwardly on the Third Eye.
Again, mentally attend to each mudra, its placement, and the gaze of the closed eyes. These focal points may at first seem separate: While they are distinct, use your breath as in the opening exercise to diffuse the lines between them. Upon each exhale, meld your sensory and mental observations, so that you slowly inhabit all three components concurrently.
As your mudras and gaze slowly evolve to include each with the other, breathe deeply through the nose. Then, without disturbing the vibration of inclusion, allow the additional awareness of your rooted seat and the energetic flow through your long, upright spine. Stay with this deeply centered, yet expansive quality for 3 minutes.
Now, release the mudras, and shake the hands and arms for a few moments: If you like, roll the head and shoulders, and perhaps give yourself a few seated spinal flexes. Then, resume your seat (or try another, if that feels intuitively correct to you). Bring your hands into Prayer Pose, palms together, fingers together and pointing straight up. Rest the mudra on your lips, so that the upper edges of the index fingers softly touch the mouth: Thumbs are together just beneath the chin.
You will alternate this classic hand configuration with Lotus Mudra: For that, the base of the palms, thumbs, and pinkies remain in contact with their partners: The index, middle, and ring fingers open, as if blossoming into a Lotus Flower. For the final pranayama, the Lotus Mudra will pair with the inhale, and Prayer will meet the exhale.
The inhale occurs through an extended, curled tongue: If you can not do this, open the lips slightly and extend the tip of the tongue out. Either variation of this breath will accomplish the cooling effect of Sitali Pranayama. As you breathe in, the hands form Lotus Mudra, as if you are drawing in the sweetness of the blossom’s nectar: Words and thoughts are imbued with equanimity and kindness.
Exhale through the nose as the fingers close into Prayer Mudra. Maintain your closed-eye gaze on the Third Eye; breathe slowly and fully on each inhale and exhale. Check to assure that your shoulders and neck are relaxed; let the elbows hang naturally downward. Continue the pranayama with paired mudra for 3-7 minutes. Then, move gently into Svasana for as long as you like.