As so often happens in life, one undergoes transformation and evolution with little, if any conscious awareness of its occurrence. Perhaps months or years later, we think back to how we were Then: Substantial changees to body, attitude, relationships, values, health, work, etc., may have shifted; it is not until we focus on the past that we recognize how we have changed.
Throughout the last three years, I began a slow transformation of body and, inevitably, of mind and spirit. When I learned what was causing the physical change (arthritis), I imparedt a disciplined routine of specific healing movement and meditation into each day. After about a year, I recognized the need to alter the duration and types of activity in my daily practice: Every few months, another modification became necessary.
This transformation was one of physical deterioration, but also one of heightened awareness, acute focus, and profound spiritual endeavor. To be cognizant of change as it has unfolded in real time has been an exciting, vaguely unnerving experience. Rarely does change unfurl so dramatically and quickly.
And yet, the one aspect of practice that has not wavered is pranayama. Conscious breathing has become the trusty constant: When pain threatens activity; when emotion unearths foundation; and when prayer and meditation become distant or diffuse, a return to breath work saves the day. Today’s Silent Sunday uses simple, focused movement paired with slow, aware breathing techniques to abide the process of transformation and modification.
Begin on your back, feet flat, knees bent, hip-width apart. Let the knees drop toward each other, which will relax the lumbar spine in “restorative rest.” Place on palm on the low belly, thumb on belly button: Lay the other hand on top of the first hand. Breathe for the following count: Inhale through the nose for 6; pause for 2; exhale for 8; no pause. Continue for 5 full rounds of breath. (This will be about 1-1/2 minutes.)
Then, with legs in the same position (or allowing the knees to open hip-width, if you like), inhale the right arm up and over to the floor; exhale down. Repeat with the left arm. Inhale up for 4 counts as the arm lifts; exhale for 4 as the arm comes down. Continue for a total of 10 arm lifts and lowers (i.e., 5 times each side, alternating).
Now, extend both legs straight up into the air; gently flex the feet, as if a book is resting on the feet. Place the hands on the belly as in the first breath exercise. Repeat the same inhale and exhale—6 counts in, pause for 2, exhale for 8. Continue for a total of 10 rounds of breath. (This will be about 3 minutes of deep, slow, focused breath.)
When you are ready, bend the knees to bring the knees in toward the body: Allow the back to soften as the breath finds its natural rhythm. Then, sit up: Lightly hold the backs of the thighs, knees bent; allow the back to round slightly. Retain the bow shape of the body, almost a U shape from head to toe. Inhale as you rock onto the back, exhale to rock up; roll back and forth, using the abdominal muscles for stability. When you rock up, exhale strongly: The belly will contract and act like brakes to the rolling motion. Find a flow and range of motion that works for you, and continue for 10-20 rolls.
Next, sit in your favorite meditation pose. Practice alternate nostril breathing: Use the right thumb to close the right nostril; inhale slowly and completely through the left nostril. Use the right ring finger to close the left nostril; exhale through the right. Repeat, inhaling right, exhaling left, switching fingers to alternately open and close each nostril. Continue for 8 full rounds.
Special note: I like to use the fingers of the left hand to keep count: After Round One, touch the index finger to the thumb tip; after Round Two, add the middle finger to touch the thumb, and so on. After the pinky finger has joined the packet of fingers, reverse: Release the index, then middle, ring, and pinky fingers; that will complete 8 rounds.
When you have finished, lie on your back: Descend into Svasana, allowing your breath to move softly and deeply through the entire body. Remain in rest for at least 5 minutes.