As a curious creature who feels compelled to investigate almost anything that I do not understand—or about which I seek a greater understanding—it was only a matter of time before I set my mind to… the mind. But with a mother in the depths of dementia, the curiosity became a necessity: how to accept our family’s heart-rending reality by venturing further into the arena of the challenge—the brain. And for many, certainly those between 45-70 or so, the state of their own brain health grows increasingly important. Therein lies the crux of the series to come.
For example, this Silent Sunday leads off with a short routine designed to activate and support the harmony between all regions of the brain. Future practices will address regions individually: In so doing, one can begin to discern physical, emotional, or mental areas that could use additional attention. Think of the series as an investigative tool: While offering your body and mind a novel experience, the routines will unearth information for you to apply to your personal needs.
First, a brief refresher course may be in order. When most of us think of “the brain,” we mean the cerebrum: It is the wrinkly organ under the skull bone that regulates, controls, communicates, moves, feels, and processes. The cerebrum is then divided into four lobes that comprise two hemispheres. Behind and below the cerebrum lie the cerebellum, medulla oblongata, and pons (Lat. “bridge,” i.e., connects brain to spinal cord). Each of these major regions has further divisions, but the series will focus on the main areas.
On this Silent Sunday, the first practice addresses whole-brain synchronization. Subsequent routines will focus on how specific brain areas and their associated functions can be stimulated. Along the way, I will offer insight about how these anatomical regions relate to movement and meditation, as well as to esoteric aspects of energy and consciousness. The intention is to add a new level of interest to the practices that I create and that you can enjoy.
To begin the exploration, find your way to the floor. As you do so, notice how, for the most part, you do not have to consciously conduct the movement: After countless trips down to the ground, your brain knows how to navigate the descent, which hand goes where, what needs support, etc. This “muscle memory” comes from the cerebellum.
Once down, lie on your back, legs long, arms by the sides. Bring your attention to the breath. As you are, the medulla is in charge: breath rate, heart beat, blood pressure. The cerebrum can join the practice; it is responsible for the decision to alter the natural breath, to choose a pattern, and to control the technique. Here, begin to inhale deeply and steadily through the nose. Exhale long and slow for twice the amount of time as your inhalation. Repeat 4 more times.
Next, inhale to draw the right knee in toward the body. As you do so, lift the right arm up and over to rest on the floor behind you: Exhale to return the arm and leg to their original position. Inhale to draw the left knee in and the arm up and over; exhale to release. Alternate the unilateral arm and leg movement a total of 16 times (8 on each side). Remember that the right hemisphere of the brain controls the movement of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right.
Now, extend the legs and arms straight up into the air. Inhale: As you exhale, lower the left leg and right arm to the floor (arm next to the body). Inhale them both up; exhale to lower the right leg and left arm. Repeat for a total of 12 alternations.
Special note: Feel free to modify this move by bending the legs to 90 degrees at the knee. As the opposite arm lowers, touch the toes to the floor, maintaining the angle of the bent leg.
This type of cross-lateral movement requires both sides of the brain to work in harmony. If you find it challenging to create the move and to make it fluid, it may be beneficial to introduce more oppositional movement into your daily routine.
On that note: Once you have completed the above exercise, help yourself up to sit. Here, begin backward shoulder rolls, both at the same time, for 8 repetitions. Next, roll them forward 8 times. Now, begin to roll only the left shoulder back; repeat 6 times. Then, roll only the right shoulder back 6 times. Finish this portion with 4 shoulder rolls forward on the left, then the right.
Now, your brain will have to work: Inherently, your focus must increase, which is an initial portal into meditation. As you roll the left shoulder back, roll the right forward: Take as much time as you need to achieve ease with this move; once the movement is fluid, roll in opposition 4 times. Repeat the process as the left shoulder rolls forward and the right back.
After you have finished the “brain teaser,” sit quietly to resume natural breathing. Then, shift onto all fours for a breathing variation of Cat/Cow. (This move was introduced in the previous post, “Where You Are.”) Here—and anytime breath and movement synergizes intentionally—the move harnesses the functions of the hindbrain (motor control with autonomic nervous system); simultaneously, both hemispheres of the cerebrum are engaged with the creativity and organization of the movement.
Begin with a few rounds of traditional Cat/Cow: Inhale to extend (arch) the spine, exhale to flex (round). Pause for a moment, breathing in and out completely. Then, inhale to round the back; exhale to arch. Again, you may need a few rounds before the move flows seamlessly with the new breath pattern: Inhale to round, exhale to arch. Once you find a sense of flow, complete 6 rounds of the atypical movement.
Then, shift into Baby Pose for a few rounds of natural, but deep breathing through the nose. When you are ready, sit up, and come into your favorite seated posture for meditation. With the eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, bring the fingertips of each hand to touch their match on the opposite hand: The fingers are straight and apart from each other, and palms do not touch. Bring this Hakini Mudra just above the level of the Heart Center, a few inches in front of the body. This gesture coordinates and focuses the mind. Breathe into its centering power for 3 minutes. Then, if you like, find your way into Svasana for as long as you like.