Special note: You can follow along to this routine at anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson. Remember to scroll down the full list: The audio version of this practice is titled, “Spice of Life.”
Last week, a number of people I know spoke of how tired they felt; how their mood was low; and how any spark of desire to socialize had disappeared. One friend was so mystified by her fatigue that she took a COVID test.
Although a mid-Winter slump is common, this year may be more wearing than most. Last Winter, concerns over COVID were high, certainly. Wrangling with the virus was, however, still a relatively new challenge; energy reserves had yet to become depleted. Now, as we continue to cope with the pandemic and its attendant societal upheavals, the zeitgeist is palpably dejected.
This Silent Sunday offers a salve: a gentle, yet rejuvenating movement progression that will provide a physical, mental, and emotional boost for a weary body and mind. The practice also offers an opportunity to sample techniques inspired by Pilates, Feldenkrais, kundalini yoga, and qigong.
To begin, lie on your belly. Slip a foam yoga block, firm pillow, or soft-bound book under the forehead: Let the nose and chin “float” in space. The prop subtly promotes a feeling of support and deep care. In this position, the arms rest by the sides; palms may be up or down. Focus on the breath, gradually lengthening and deepening each inhalation and exhalation through the nose. Continue for 1-2 minutes.
Now, remove the head bolster; let the forehead rest on the floor. Take your attention to the shoulders. In a prone position, the shoulders tend to rotate inward, or what may feel like “down” toward the floor. Inhale through the nose to roll, or rotate the shoulders open; think of squeezing the bottom tips of the shoulder blades together. Then let the shoulders roll back in, or down, as you exhale. Repeat 4-8 times.
Next, gently press yourself up into a very shallow Sphinx Pose: forearms are on the floor, wider than shoulder width, with elbows a few inches in front of the shoulders. With the eyes softly closed, begin to turn the head from left to right; move slowly and steadily. Inhale left, exhale right; alternate 8-12 times.
Then, lower back down, placing the hands under the forehead; left hand is on top of the right. As you inhale, lift the bent left arm an inch or so, keeping the forehead “attached;” simultaneously, lift the right leg a couple of inches. Exhale to lower. Keep the movement small and easy. Repeat the arm/leg lift 2 more times.
Now, change hands: Rest the forehead on the top right hand. Inhale to lift the bent right arm with head resting atop, as you simultaneously raise the left leg. Exhale to lower. Repeat 2 more times.
Next, come into Sphinx Pose again. This time, draw the elbows in, so that they are under the shoulders; the forearms thus become shoulder-width apart. Here, tilt the head to the left, as if trying to place the ear on the shoulder; then tip to the right. Alternate back and forth—inhale left, exhale right—8-12 times.
From Sphinx, lower down, and turn onto the right side. Bend your knees to an angle that is comfortable for you, and that will help support the side-lying posture. The right arm may be extended long under the head, or you may bend it and rest the head there; the left hand can also bolster the position by placing it on the floor in front of the torso. Do not allow the top hip to roll forward or back; hips remain in line with each other.
Now, extend the left leg out straight; keep the leg parallel to the ground. Inhale to move the leg forward; exhale to guide it back behind the line of the body. As you inhale to gently swing the leg forward, point the foot; exhale to draw it back with a flexed foot. This movement gently introduces flexion and extension into the hip; it also helps to soothe the sciatic, or Life Nerve. Move forward and back—inhale forward, exhale back—6-8 times.
Then, with the leg extended behind you, reach the left arm out in front of you; find the angle that creates a long diagonal from left fingertips to left toe tips. Take a breath or two in this half-body stretch across the front body.
Now, roll onto the left side, and repeat the entire sequence. First, move the right leg forward and back, inhaling and exhaling, respectively. After 6-8 repetitions, find the long diagonal stretch with the right arm and right leg. When you are ready, come onto the belly again.
With the forehead on the floor and arms by the sides, begin to “shimmy” the hips. As they wiggle back and forth, let the low spine and hips relax fully; it is okay, even desirable for the buttocks to jiggle. As you move the hips in this way, you help to roust residual tension that can contribute to fatigue. Because the hips store emotions, this movement also brings peace to the mind and heart. Continue to shimmy the hips for 1 minute, breathing deeply all the while.
Now, shift back into Baby Pose for a few moments. Then, find your way into an all-fours variation: On the knees, lower down to rest on the forearms. Bring the arms in toward each other, so that the elbows are underneath the Heart Center; join the palms, resting on the pinky edge of the hands—the thumbs extend straight up.
Inhale through the nose to rock forward; exhale to rock back. Any rocking movement tends to pacify the nervous system: The position here adds a stimulation to the kidneys, which in turn begins to restore vitality. Move as slowly or as quickly as feels right to you—inhale forward, exhale back—for 1 minute.
When you are ready, rise into a traditional all-fours position for a few centering rounds of Cat/Cow spinal flexes. Inhale to arch (extend) the spine, exhale to round (flex). After a few of these, come into the seated pose of your choice.
Here, with eyes closed, rest the backs of the hands (i.e., palms up) on the knees or thighs.
After a few natural breaths, begin Sufi Grinds. With the hands now holding the knees, begin to “stir” the entire torso in a clockwise direction; allow the pelvis to rock and roll, too. This should feel like a circular massage for the low belly and back, organs, and rib cage.
Generally, any practice that includes Sufi Grinds has a clearing or eliminative aim. Today, the intent is to squeeze out fatigue and tension. To that end, once you have warmed up to the movement, move a bit more quickly: Inhale as you circle through the front space; exhale as you move through the back space. After 1-2 minutes of the clockwise motion, reverse directions. Continue for another 1-2 minutes.
Now, help yourself into a Half-Standing Forward Bend. With the knees bent, bring the torso parallel to the floor, or as close to the position as your back comfort allows. Let the arms dangle down from the shoulders.
Begin to swing the arms in opposition: Inhale to swing the left arm forward as the right swings back; exhale to swing the right forward and the left back. Each swing brings the arms to the level of the body. Let this movement be as vigorous as you can muster. The arms house the Heart meridians: With the head in line with the heart as you swing the arms, you are helping to balance thoughts and emotions. Continue for 1 minute.
Next, stand up. Take 3 cleansing breaths here. Breathe in through the nose; stick the tongue out and down to exhale powerfully through the mouth. Let the force emanate from the back of the throat; allow any sound that wants to emit. Repeat 2 more times.
Now, with an open palm, use the right hand to rapidly slap the left arm. Begin on the back of the left hand and progress rapidly up the outside of the arm to the shoulder; work your way back down the inside of the arm. Repeat the upward progression: When you reach the shoulder, move into the armpit. Cup the palm as you slap the armpit. Then, after a few of these, slap all around the arm in whatever way feels right to you for another 30 seconds or so.
Repeat the entire slapping/cupping sequence, using the left hand for the right arm.
After the arm work, begin to lightly, yet decidedly address the entire body in this way. Use both hands to invigorate the chest and belly; as much of the back as you can reach; the hips, thighs, and lower legs. Move up, down, and all around. Continue the full-body revitalization for 1 minute. Be sure to breathe fully as you give yourself this stimulating treatment.
To close the movement portion of this practice, stand naturally. Inhale through the nose to raise the arms overhead; suspend the breath for a few seconds. Then, exhale slowly through open, rounded lips as you shake the hands and arms to lower them down. Repeat 2 more times.
Finally, bring yourself into your preferred seated position. Close the eyes, and gaze upward to the the Third Eye (above the nose bridge, between the brow points). Create Gyan Mudra (thumb tip to index finger tip) on both hands, which will draw in divine wisdom. When attuned to the wisdom of the Universe, one feels guided and supported; overall mental and physical energy seldom wane.
Place the left hand with mudra palm up on the left knee; the right hand with mudra rests palm down on the right knee. In this position, simply breathe in and out through the nose. Maintain the Third Eye focus as you settle into the meditation for 5-11 minutes. Then, if you like, rest in Svasana to further integrate the effects of the practice.