Silent Sundays: Stoke the Metabolic Fires

Often at this time of year, people in colder climes gain a few pounds. Some of that may be due to less outdoor activity, or to an inclination toward the warming, comforting quality of fatty and sugary foods. Yet Winter is not the only time when the body slows down, and with it, the metabolism. Seasonal allergies, sedentary jobs, or long periods of stress can wreak havoc on the glands responsible for metabolic function. And should one choose to take medication meant to contend with stress, pain, or illness, the metabolism may well be affected. 

This Silent Sunday’s practice thus is less about tending the spiritual body, and decidedly more about helping the physical body achieve optimal vitality. To that end, the routine requires that you assert a little extra oomph. And although many of the practices I offer rely on specific durations of time for each movement or meditation, today’s set suggests numbers of repetitions. The crucial aspect of each move is the will and energy that you supply: Should that mean fewer repetitions, that is okay; it is more important to move with vigor for fewer counts, than to move less energetically for more reps.

Because today’s practice aims to rev up the metabolism, the inroads to the routine are the glands most responsible for metabolic balance: adrenals, pancreas, and thyroid. Additionally, the pituitary will be stimulated, as it serves as the Master Gland of the entire endocrine system. The glands will be addressed through their associated chakras, as well as through the framework of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

The adrenals sit atop the kidneys. Therefore, with regard to TCM, they are part of the Water element. Additionally, they are located in the region of the Second Chakra. Thus, the pelvis and lumbar spine must be addressed. The pancreas aligns with the energy of the Third Chakra, and also is connected to the Spleen organ system in TCM; consequently, the entire abdominal region must be awakened. The thyroid lies within the Fifth, or Throat Chakra. And in TCM, the Stomach Meridian flows through the seat of the thyroid. Thus, to equalize the thyroid, the throat and abdomen need to be opened and stimulated. 

The pituitary corresponds with the Third Eye, or Sixth Chakra. Although we focus inward and upward—i.e., between the brow points— to access the Third Eye, it corresponds energetically with the pituitary at the back and base of the brain. The eye gaze acts, then, as a beam directed through the Third Eye toward the pituitary.

Again, the key to the following routine is focus and determination. Each move corresponds directly to a gland, its chakra, and its meridian: Place your intention into the area you are working, and move powerfully.

To begin, come onto all fours. Take a few rounds of Cat/Cow spinal flexes to connect to the breath, and to wake up the spine. Then, add Donkey Kicks to the rounding and arching of Cat/ Cow, respectively: Inhale as you extend the right leg straight out and slightly up; exhale as the spine rounds, and the knee comes in toward the nose. (Careful!) Do six kicks on the right, then six on the left, moving as quickly as you can. 

From all fours, press up into Downward Dog. Turn your closed eyes to gaze at the Third Eye as you let the head nod and shake gently. After 5 deep breaths, return to all fours: Repeat the Donkey Kicks, this time for 8 reps with each leg. Then, back into Downward Dog with a Third Eye focus; and then a final round of Donkey Kicks, 10 on each leg.

Now that you have sparked the adrenals, thyroid (head hang in Downward Dog), and pituitary, come into Baby Pose for a few deep breaths. Then, maintaining the compact body shape of Baby Pose, lift the head and neck, so that they are in line with the spine. With the arms extended back next to the hips, turn the palms in to face the body. Begin Breath of Fire, feeling the rapid pulsing of the breath as the belly pushes into the legs in Baby Pose: Count the breaths for a total of 54 rounds of Breath of Fire.

Then, come out of Baby Pose to sit on your heels in Rock Pose; as always, feel free to place a pillow between your bottom and heels for support. Bring your fingertips onto the shoulders; the elbows will point to the sides. As you inhale, pull the elbows down, as if to touch them together behind you; tilt the head back to look up as you pull the elbows down. Then, exhale, and bring the head forward to look down as the elbows rise up; attempt to touch the back of the wrists together. Continue this movement, increasing the speed as the shoulders and neck warm up and release: Inhale to look up as the elbows come down; exhale to look down as the elbows come up. Continue for 26 full rounds. (Inhale/exhale is one round.)

The next portion is a powerful series of 3 moves, repeated 3 times. Again, if you find that three rounds is excessive, do one round, but with all your might and focus. To begin, come onto your back: Interlace the fingers behind the neck, and extend the legs into the air at a 90-degree angle, feet flexed. Activate your lower abdominal muscles to secure the low back into the floor, push out through the heels, and begin Breath of Fire: 26 rounds of rapid inhale/exhale through the nose.

Immediately move into Tuck Pose: Hug the legs in, and lift the head to bring the nose between the knees. I find that my neck is unhappy without support in this posture, so I bring the knees in, and squeeze them together with my elbows. I then can reach my hands back to support the base of my elevated head with the fingertips. Again, do 26 rounds of Breath of Fire.

From there, extend the legs straight out, so that they are about 6 inches off of the ground. The upper body lifts enough, so that the eyes are on the same level as the toes. Reach the arms toward the feet, along the sides of the body; if this is too much for the low back, slide the hands underneath the buttocks. In this Stretch Pose, do another 26 rounds of Breath of Fire.

Repeat the above 3-move sequence, moving in and out of each without stopping, two more times.

Now, place both feet on the floor, hip width apart: Lift the hips up into a modified Bridge Pose. Breathe deeply here for a few breaths, and then lower the hips. For the next vigorous movement, try to hold the ankles; however, if that is too much, you may leave the hands on the floor. You will again lift into Bridge, but quickly and repeatedly: Inhale up, exhale down at a rapid clip. Do 36 dynamic Bridge lifts, with powerful, intentional breaths.

After the Bridges, bring your knees in to rock side to side, and forward and back. Eventually, roll up into a seated posture of your choice, using whatever props you need to sit comfortably. With the side of the right index finger, begin rapid downward strokes on the left side of the throat. Complete 26 strokes, then use the left index finger to stroke the right side of the throat.

Next, rapidly tap the Third Eye point between the brows with the middle fingers of each hand, about 10 times. From there, tap up and over the center line of the crown with all four fingertips; when you reach the base of the skull, tap away from the center line out to the edges of the occiput. Repeat the Third Eye tapping and up-and-over-and-out pattern two more times.

Then, rest the back of the hands on the knees, palms up. Breathe consciously and deeply, taking your inner eye to the level of the kidneys; then to the pancreas; then to the throat, and finally to the Third Eye, being sure to shine the Third Eye gaze back to the pituitary gland. Check in with each gland that you have stimulated, and use the breath to ensure their vitality. When you feel ready, settle down for several minutes of harmonizing svasana.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Release Valve

Stress is, of course, a natural part of life. In essence, it is an accumulation of pressure and tension. Even for those with a regular movement and/or meditation practice, stress can creep in and burrow deep before we become aware of its detriment. In this way, stress is much like thirst: By the time we recognize the need for attention, the system is near depletion. Today’s practice reflects the current need that most of us have for a release: from politics and climate concerns, to whatever personal or sociocultural challenges may be brewing in each of our lives. Whether one feels the reverberation of external stress as an emotional minefield or physical joust, today’s Silent Sunday can provide relief.

The practice begins where it typically ends: in Svasana. For this variation of the supine pose, slide a small pillow under your head; slip a bolster under your knees; and cover yourself with a light blanket. With eyes closed, bring your hands under your covering: one palm on Heart Center, the other resting on the navel. In this position, begin to monitor your breath; gradually encourage longer, fuller breaths. Continue for 3 minutes.

Then, ease the head and knee supports out and away from you, and place your cover to the side. Reach the right arm up along your ear; stretch the right leg and right arm away from each other, and let your head turn to the left. Inhale and exhale, and release the half-body stretch. Bring the right arm back down by your side, and switch to a left half-body stretch, with the head turned to the right. Inhale, exhale, and release. Finally, reach both arms long, and wriggle the legs long and away from the body and arms. Inhale, exhale, and release.

Now, turn on to your left side, and create a fetal position. Inhale, and then exhale as you extend the legs long, and gently arch the spine: The entire body resembles a banana. Repeat this contraction and expansion three more times. Then, come onto your right side, and repeat the dynamic stretch a total of four times.

After the fetal openings, turn onto your belly, and place the hands under the shoulders. You will create a rock-and-roll motion with your upper body: As you inhale, press down with the left hand, lift and turn the left shoulder, giving a slight twist to the upper spine: Look toward the left shoulder. Exhale to return to neutral; inhale as your press down with the right hand to lift and open the right shoulder. Let the head turn to gaze toward the shoulder. Exhale back to center, and continue rocking side to side for 2 minutes.

When you have finished unwinding the neck and upper spine, extend the arms straight ahead on the floor. Lift onto the forearms; use this anchor to help you stretch the torso and belly out and away from the pelvis. Wriggle the body and hips as you do this, but do not actually move forward: The emphasis is on lengthening through the torso. When you feel a sense of openness or release in the belly, move into Baby Pose for a few breaths.

 Next, sit up, and come into your favorite seated posture. Again, take a few moments to establish your breath: Consciously deepen and lengthen each inhalation and exhalation. Then, begin to massage—knead, squeeze, tap, rub—the bridge of your nose with the thumb and index finger of either hand. Continue for about a minute.

Now, with the thumb tips, press under your cheekbones, beginning next to the nose, and working out to the edges of the face. Inhale as you press in and up under the bone; exhale as you release the pressure. When you reach the end of the rim on both sides, use the knuckles of the index and middle fingers to massage the temples: Move in small, backward circles. Repeat the “massage trail” two more times: bridge of nose, to cheekbones, to temples.

Finally, today’s meditation is comprised of two mudras and a mantra. First, touch the thumb tips to the middle and ring fingers on each hand. With eyes closed, rest Apana Mudra (the gesture of letting go) on the knees, palms down. As positioned, inhale as you turn the head to the left (eyes remain closed); exhale to turn right. When you turn the head to the left, chant (whispering or aloud): Sat Nam (sut nahm); as the head looks right, chant: Wahe Guru (wah-hay goo-roo). Continue for 3 minutes.

For the second part, bring the hands into the lap: one hand rests in the palm of the other, thumb tips touching, and palms up. For this portion, be sure to roll the closed eyes up to gaze at the Third Eye. Continue the mantra, this time silently: inhale, and tilt the head back slightly with Sat Nam; exhale to tip the head just a bit forward with Wahe Guru. Continue for 1-2 minutes. Then, for another 3 minutes, still the movement of the head. Proceed to chant at a volume of your choice: silent, whispered, or aloud. The mantra connects your True Self (Sat Nam) to the guidance and support of eternal divine wisdom (Wahe Guru), thus helping to release the pressure of transitory circumstances.

Happy Sunday… 

Silent Sundays: Simple Soother for Sick Days

This Silent Sunday offers a gentle routine to help stave off the season’s bugs. If you are already felled by the flu or captured by a cold, the oils and postures will help ease your symptoms and promote healing. And although the practice is specifically designed for times of illness, it is also a wonderfully effective antidote for general fatigue or doldrums.

Typically, I suggest that any practice begin with a round of active warmups. When sick, however, your entire body may ache, and your initiative likely is low. So, the opening move for the following session is a shower or bath: Use water that is as warm as you can tolerate; the heat will help to relax your muscles and ease congestion.

To heighten the healing effect of a bath, you can add a few drops of any or all of the following essential oils (which also will be used in the next step of the routine): eucalyptus, geranium, and lavender. If you have epsom salts, you can stir the oils into them, and then dissolve the salts into the water. Or, if you choose to shower, you can make a simple scrub out of the salt and oils. Focus the exfoliation on the chest, neck, and upper back, as well as the feet.

After your spa-like warmup, wrap yourself in soft clothing (or pajamas). Place a few drops of your selected oils in some unscented lotion or oil; massage the blend into the feet, ankles, neck, and shoulders. Although a yoga practice is usually done with the feet bare (which enhances detoxification and allows for complete pranic flow), today’s set calls for swaddling yourself in warmth and comfort. After your feet have absorbed the oils, put on toasty socks, ideally cotton or wool.

Next, begin a dynamic version of Seated Forward Bend. The legs are stretched in front of you, feet together and gently flexed (toes toward ceiling). If you are feeling achy or stiff, sit on the edge of a pillow or folded blanket; you may also place a bolster under your knees. Inhale to lengthen up out of the base of your spine; exhale to move the chest forward over the legs. If possible, hold the outer edges of the feet; if not, hold the ankles or shins, or even place the hands on the floor next to your thighs. Inhale, then exhale as you pull yourself forward toward the feet; inhale to come back to your starting position, then exhale forward. Find a steady rhythm that will begin to release the muscles of the back body. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, settle into a traditional forward bend: Ease yourself as far forward and down as possible. You may enjoy the added support of a pillow on top of the legs; then you can rest the entire torso and head on the pillow. Close the eyes, and breathe deeply through your nose. If you are congested, you may initially need to breathe in and out through slightly open lips. Eventually, the eucalyptus will begin to loosen mucous and allow for nasal breathing. Breathe in whatever way allows for the fullest breaths. Remain here for 1 minute.

For the next position, remove the bolsters. Bring the right foot into the groin, so that the sole nestles into the upper, inner left thigh. Extend the left leg out and open at an angle, i.e., into a half-straddle. Turn your entire torso to face the bent right leg; your left side should be in line with the left leg. Slowly try to lay your left side onto the left leg. When you have gone as far as can, allow your torso to bend into the side stretch. Close your eyes, breath as fully and deeply as you can, and settle into the posture for 1 minute. Then, switch legs, and take the stretch to the other side for another minute.

Finally, you are ready for a restorative chest-opener and digestion-soother. Place a folded blanket or firm pillow under your shoulder blades as you lower into a lying position; the bolster should be high enough to allow your shoulders to roll open away from the chest, but low enough to let the head rest comfortably on the floor. Alternatively, you may opt for a thicker bolster that increases the opening of the chest; in that case, you would use another small pillow or rolled towel underneath the head, so that the neck is not strained.

To enhance the calming quality of the posture, slide a bolster under your knees. Your entire abdominal region and pelvis will thus be in the “valley” between your elevated knees and upper body. This position thoroughly relaxes the organs of digestion and elimination, which often become hampered or crampy during illness. Close your eyes, and give yourself an extended svasana of at least 15 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: A Stranger’s Pain

This Silent Sunday was going to be very different than the story and meditation that now comprise today’s practice. But, as so often happens in Life, the unexpected usurped the planned. To wit: A couple of days ago, I decided to practice along with an online kundalini class. After the session, I read some of the comments about the class. Nestled among the “Namaste’s” and quick notes of thanks was the following:

Help. I was sexually assaulted two weeks ago. What can I do to heal? I am beyond anger and hate. I feel completely disconnected from myself.

Stunned to find these words floating among the relaxed, light-hearted comments, I wondered if, then how to respond. My initial reply offered practical guidance and psycho-spiritual suggestions and encouragement: report to authorities, seek counseling, allow the flood of emotion, etc. I also offered a prayer whose sole utterance was the word, “God.” Aware that my contribution presumed another’s belief system, I nonetheless took the risk.

As I half-expected, my correspondent revealed that “God” was not a source of comfort for her: 

I am not ready to talk to God. Too much anger and bitterness. I was raped at 6  again at 15  and 29..I think god has shown true colors where I am concerned.

I was stricken. I apologized for my presumptuousness, and proceeded to provide sources in response to her desire for specific mantra, meditation, and pranayama healing techniques. Even as I sent off links and thoughts, I felt the superficiality of my attempts to help. There had to be more or better: But without being able to see her eyes, or to hear her tone or feel her energy,  how could I decipher her true need, and how could I deliver? 

Her next note revealed more. I felt that I was “meeting” a fiercely honest, horrifically pained, and starkly faithless woman:

I have chosen to go inward and sit in silence to see myself. So many fragmented parts of my personality […] Perhaps I will gain an insight into this god that hates women and girls. I know I have no desire to even speak to a man now. I only see filth and pain. The trauma is now in my shoulders where he held me down. I choose not to kill him. I escaped at daylight. I can feel the rage and bitterness washing over me. I would love to hear god’s excuse for how women are brutalized in his holy name eye to eye. Hatred is a pair of shoes I cannot afford to wear. 

Her openness blew my heart wide open. I could hear her voice, feel her pain, and sense her strength beneath the dark ugliness that she currently inhabits. With a fuller picture of this woman’s plight, I replied that I wished to help, but did not know how to proceed. What I did know, however, is that the more I learned of her circumstances, and the more “real” the terror of a far-off stranger became, I yearned to help on a deeper level. 

Although I am aware that “God” yields feelings of anger and betrayal for my beleaguered correspondent, I pray for her safety, healing, and ultimate peace. The intent and energy of one’s prayers, meditations, and visualizations creates the current of Truth: The vibration that surrounds and supports my framework of thought and prayer will resonate with the recipient of my supplications. She may not think in the same terms as I; however, help and healing energy supersedes words, philosophies, and geography. 

Today’s practice is dedicated to those whose paths we cross, and who leave an energetic imprint. Whether we speak few or no words, or whether we see them a few times or no time again, the meditation sparks connection on a universal level. When help can not be offered on a practical or immediate basis, the vibration of the mediation can be sent and maintained from afar. When you do not know a person’s name, face, or whereabouts, yet feel compelled to comfort, the following practice connects you through Universal Consciousness.

Special note: Although the intention of today’s meditation is to offer or request solace for another, the practice also may be used as a technique to build one’s personal sense of connection to the greater whole. For that purpose, the meditation is ideal for times of depression or uncertainty. 

Whenever one embarks on a healing journey, it is crucial to balance and safeguard the healer’s chakras and aura. The goal is to protect oneself from taking on the other’s energy, yet be able to powerfully project through a vital electromagnetic current. To prepare, lie on your back. Breathe deeply a few times, so that your breath is steady and full. Then, with eyes closed, focus on the First Chakra: Your sensory inner eye finds the pelvic floor. Inhale deeply, as if drawing energy in through this Root Chakra; as you exhale, send the stabilizing energy down through the legs and feet. Repeat 2 more times.

To continue the initial protective phase of this practice, take your focus and breath to each chakra. Thus, the inhale and exhale moves next to the Second Chakra, which lies just below the navel point. Again, inhale to infuse the energy center; exhale to push out into the organs at that level. Repeat 2 more times.

Then, move to the Solar Plexus; Heart; Throat; Third Eye; and finally, the Crown. With each exhale at the respective chakra, move the energy that you generated upon inhaling out into the area around the chakra. For the Crown, or Seventh Chakra, send the energy up and out, which will help strengthen the aura.

With your system empowered and balanced, and your personal energy field protected, you may begin the meditation. The mudra is Prayer Pose; however, the placement and finger positioning is slightly atypical. With your hands in traditional Prayer Pose, rest the sides of the index fingers against your closed lips; the remaining fingers are together, and reaching up to just below the nose. The thumbs extend away from the other fingers to reach downward toward the clavicle; rest the thumb tips in the notch at the center of the collarbone.

Now, with eyes closed and gazing up to the Third Eye, conjure the one who needs healing. In the case of someone you have not met, think of what you do know of them, or what you have observed. Whatever aspect of their situation has motivated you to help, summon that energetic vibration. With your will, empathy, and Spiritual Eye gaze, align with their need.

To send peace and comfort through the electromagnetic current that you have established with your recipient, chant the sound of Universal Connection: Aum, or Om. Chant out loud, but with your lips remaining closed: The sound will become a radiating hum, and will vibrate against the mudra. Continue the humming chant for 5-11 minutes. When you have finished, release the hands to the knees or thighs, palms up, fingers relaxed. Eyes remain closed as you return to conscious, steady breathing. This will allow you to realign with your personal energy, in your personal space.

Happy Sunday…

2020: A Practice to Welcome Number 4

Special note: Each month, I contribute a piece from Everything Elsa to my gym’s newsletter. As a result of an early deadline, the following post intended for Jan. 1, 2020, appears on Everything Elsa ahead of time. Feel free to get a jump on the new year by practicing this routine for the next 5 days. Or, save today’s post for a special practice on the first day of 2020, a year destined to provide a sense of solidity in all areas of life.

In numerology, 2020 is a Four Year. The number four signifies the concretization of whatever ideas, plans, or intentions have been in the works. The new year will be a time when we begin to see the material and spiritual culmination of all that we have been working toward; praying for; and meditating upon. Think of a “pranic square”: an evenly balanced vessel of accumulated, equally distributed energy.

To honor the Four, and to help usher in this distinctive vibrational period, the following practice breaks any chains or blocks that may be holding you back from “solidifying”  goals or dreams. The routine contains two pairings: Each begins with a vigorous clearing exercise; then, its partner opens the front body to receive and integrate the energy of solidification, the bedrock of what is to come. A meditation to establish the optimal inner environment for this energy rounds out the practice.

To begin, come into your favorite seated posture. If your upper body feels stiff, do a few warm ups: e.g., spinal flexes, shoulder shrugs and/or rolls, gentle twists. Then, bend your elbows in by the waist, forearms parallel to each other, and hands in light fists. Inhale as you cross the wrists, one over the other, but not touching; strongly chant, “Har,” as you firmly and quickly yank the arms back to their original position. (To heighten the energy of “Har,” which is the sound of Sun, or energizing energy, touch the tip of the tongue to the upper palate, just behind the front teeth, as you enunciate.)

Slightly open the fists when they cross, as if grasping a binding chain; then close the fists as you retract the arms back to their starting position. Call to mind whatever or whoever you feel has been holding you back; free yourself from any constraint as you pull back and “break the chain.” Repeat a total of 8 times with the chant.

Then, still seated, assertively open the Third and Fourth chakras, i.e., the entire area from solar plexus to upper chest. To do so, bend the elbows with palms facing each other, fingers pointing up, a few inches apart, at the level of the sternum. Inhale, and then exhale strongly as you quickly shoot the palms away from each other, about 8-10 inches to either side. Inhale as they quickly return to the original position. As you exhale the hands apart, be careful not to squeeze the shoulder blades together. Keep the shoulders steady; isolate the energy in the front space of the upper body. Find a rapid, sharp rhythm as you repeat for a total of 8 powerful open-and-closes.

To complete this paired sequence, repeat three more times: the Har chant and chain-breaking move, followed by the invigorating chest opener. When you have finished four rounds of the two 8-repetition exercises, you are ready to practice the next set.

For the first half of the second pairing, lie on your back with the legs straight up over the hips. inhale, then exhale to bring the left foot down to kick the left buttock. Rapidly straighten the left leg back up; exhale to kick the right buttock with the right foot. Inhale the right leg back up; exhale to kick the left. Continue swift, alternate butt kicks for a total of 20 kicks (i.e., 10 kicks on each side). The movement and breath are strong and quick; use the physical power to dislodge and eject any stored emotional pain that may reside in the hips. 

After the 20 alternating kicks, bend the knees to place the feet on the floor, parallel to each other and hip-width apart. If possible, reach down to hold the ankles with each hand; otherwise, keep the hands on the ground wherever they naturally fall. Inhale to lift the hips and torso up into a modified Bridge Pose; exhale to immediately lower down. Repeat a total of 4 lifts, breathing fully and powerfully with each lift.

Repeat this second pairing 3 more times, for a total of 4 rounds: 20 alternating buttock kicks, followed by 4 Bridge lifts. After you have completed this sequence, rest briefly on your back, stretching in any way that you need to. Then, come into a seated posture.

The meditation for this practice also will be repeated 4 times; additionally, each piece of the mantra has four syllables, each of which will be repeated 4 times. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, the hand placements and sequence are as follows:

The full mantra is Sa Ta Na Ma/ Ra Ma Da Sa/ Sa Say So Hung. (The “a” sound is pronounced “ah,” except as indicated in the final “say.”) For the first portion—Sa Ta Na Ma—rest one palm, with the other covering it, on the lower belly, or Dan Tien: the point is located about 2 inches below the navel. Inhale: Suspend the breath in as you silently chant, “Sa Ta Na Ma,” 4 times. Exhale: Keep the breath out as you again chant the “seed sounds” 4 times.

As you inhale, immediately move the hands into Prayer Pose (Anjali Mudra), pressing into the Heart center. Suspend the breath, and silently chant, “Ra Ma Da Sa,” four times. Exhale: With the breath out, repeat the silent chant 4 times.

To start the final piece of the mantra, inhale as you loosely interlace the fingers, and bring the hands about 4 inches over the head, palms down. (The thumb tips may touch, or slightly cross.) With the breath in, silently chant, “Sa Say So Hung” four times. Exhale: With the breath out, repeat the inner chant 4 more times.

The entire meditation requires 3 more rounds, for a total of four. As you move through the next three rounds, feel free to experiment with your vocalization of the mantra: Perhaps you feel drawn to whisper; maybe you wish to chant out loud. You may also find that the hand placements—roughly at the Second, Fourth, and Seventh chakra levels—dictate the tonal quality of the mantra.

When you have completed four rounds of the multi-repetition mantra, rest your hands on your knees or thighs: Allow the inner reverberation of the mantra to decide whether the palms face up or down. As the innate clearing and healing energy of the mantra settles in, relax your closed eyes. Softly see yourself in whatever situation has been eluding you, or that you have been attempting to stabilize. Breathe deeply with the knowledge that this coming Four Year is vibrationally conducive to the solidification of your vision.

If you like, finish the practice with a few minutes of consolidation in svasana.

Happy 2020!

Silent Sundays: 180 Degrees of Change–A 10-Day Practice to End the Decade

As today’s Silent Sunday marks the beginning of a 10-day countdown to the year’s end, why not  devote the remainder of 2019 to a highly focused, efficient practice for the final days of the decade? The title’s “180 Degrees” speaks not only to a distinct shift of perspective, but to the technique of the routine to be followed for the next 10 days. Each kriya (action, or exercise) of the practice requires some body part to be held at a 60-degree angle from the horizon, or from the body. As there are three movements, the practice adjusts prana (energy) through 180 degrees of power.

Begin with 3-5 minutes of your favorite spine, shoulder, neck, and breathing warmups. I suggest starting with 60 seconds of breath awareness and deepening: Use the breath to suss out the location of physical tension, and to reveal emotions or thoughts that want to distract you from the intention of your practice. Then, spend another minute with Cat/Cow spinal flexes, or arch and round the spine in a seated position. Remember that some of the simplest movements can effectively prepare the body for practice: shoulder shrugs and circles, head rolls, torso circles, dynamic forward bends (inhale up, exhale forward for 30-60 seconds). Be sure to warm and free the muscles and joints each time you come to this routine over the course of the next 10 days.

When you are ready, sit comfortably, eyes closed. Extend the arms straight up alongside the ears, palms facing each other: Then, open each arm about 30 degrees away from the head; this establishes a 60-degree angle from the horizontal. Begin a quick open-close action with the fingers: Inhale as the fingertips pulse in to touch the base of the palms; exhale as they straighten back out. The breath will be rapid, almost a Breath of Fire: Breathe in and out through the nose as the fingers close and open (respectively). With the closed eyes gazing up to the Third Eye, continue this vigorous hand movement for 2 minutes. The action of the fingertips hitting the base of the hand, plus the rapid nasal breath, stimulates the brain, preparing it for change.

Next, establish an intention: Decide what it is that you wish to eject from your life, e.g., patterns of behavior, thought, or emotion. Open yourself to the will of the Universe as a means to replace what you discard with what you need. You need not specify what you want; rather, trust divine and universal wisdom to select on your behalf. The very act of opening to the Unknown may be a change you have not considered. For the next 10 days, allow yourself to investigate what it means to trust in this way.

To dispel that which no longer serves you, and to take in exactly what is meant for you as a new decade dawns, move the arms forward and back at a 60-degree from your body’s axis. Extend the arms straight in front of you, parallel to the floor; then, separate them each about 30 degrees away from that central axis.

Sensorily remember this position in space, and draw the elbows in next to the ribs. Inhale as you thrust the left arm out, palm up; exhale as you “grasp” the air into your fist, and retract the elbow back. Immediately inhale the right arm out, palm open to throw away unnecessary energy of the past year; exhale to grab what you need for the near future, and quickly draw the elbow back. Continue this rapid movement; distinguish the open hand clearly from the “full,” holding hand as you inhale and exhale, out and in, respectively. Continue for 3 minutes.

Special note: It may seem counter-intuitive to breathe in as you discard; or to breathe out as you take in. Consider that the inhale is a call to the Universe as you release unwanted energy; the hand takes ahold of what is given. As you quickly retract the arm, the exhale “deposits” the gifted energy into the pranic (energetic) body.

Finally, in order to introduce and integrate the burgeoning changes into your system, lie on your back. Extend the legs straight up to 90 degrees, feet together and parallel; now, lower both legs about 30 degrees toward the floor. Extend the arms straight up toward the ceiling, shoulder-width with palms facing, and then lower them 30 degrees back over your head. 

Special note: If you can not maintain this position with both legs aloft, do one leg at a time. (The non-active leg may be straight out along the floor, or you may bend the knee with the foot on the floor). 

Be precise with the position; the magnetic field opens and allows the clearest flow of energy in and out at these angles. With the arms and legs firmly engaged, begin long, deep breathing. As your center awakens and strengthens, the angled channels usher in fresh prana from the Universe. Consciously imagine the soles of the feet and the palms of the hand drawing in the energy like sponges; the posture invigorates the Third Chakra, which acts like a magnet for the prana, drawing it in to your physical and mental bodies. As you breathe here for 3 minutes (change legs about halfway through if you chose to raise one leg at a time), close your eyes, and gaze toward the Third Eye. In this way, the spiritual body connects to the earthly aspects and their changing quality.

Then, hug the knees in toward the chest. Roll side to side, and back and forth; allow the head to rock as you do so. Then, extend the legs out onto the ground, with the arms resting several inches away from the body on the ground. Ease into svasana for a few minutes.

For the next 10 days, as your body begins to adjust to a period of change, take a brief note of any physical, emotional, or intellectual challenges you encounter during each session. Give yourself the great gift of not addressing it any way; simply let the practice take you where you need to go for the days and months—and decade—to come. 

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Perk Up While Counting Down

‘Tis the season, yet again. As this Silent Sunday finds us with little more than a week to spare before Christmas arrives—and almost exactly a week before Hanukah begins—a pre-emptive dose of health and vitality seems in order. With the demands and expectations of the holidays comes the demand on our physical and mental reserves. The following routine bolsters the immune system; relaxes the mind; and ensures the steady flow of digestive and circulatory energy. The practice may be done in full sequence, or you may select one or two techniques for a quick boost.

To begin, give yourself 1-2 minutes of closed-eye, conscious breathing. Position yourself in any way that allows the whole torso to expand and contract with each breath. Allow your facial muscles, tongue, jaw, and shoulders to ease with each exhalation.

Now, hold one lower leg with the same-side hand. Use the thumb of the support hand to firmly knead acupressure point, Spleen 6. This is about four finger widths above the inner ankle bone, on the lower calf. This Triple Yin point is the intersection of the Kidney, Liver, and Spleen meridians. As such, the point is an excellent way to harmonize digestive, detoxifying, and nourishing energies. 

With your grip engaged, begin to open the ankle joint. Use the opposite hand to shift the foot side to side, and forward and back. Although these are actions that you can perform muscularly, manual guidance gives the nervous system and muscles a brief respite. Remember: To “circle” the ankle is a misnomer. The appearance of a circle arises as the foot shifts from side; to extended point; to the other side, and into flexion. Isolate and combine these movements, and your feet will feel open and strong. Take each foot through a few rounds of “joint rolling;” remember to activate Spleen 6 as you do so.

Next, seated in a chair or lying on the floor with knees bent, feet on the ground, begin leg extensions. Inhale to extend through the knee, exhale as it bends; repeat 12-20 times on each side. Continue to open the lower-body joints in a standing position: With knees slightly bent, inhale as you tilt the pelvis forward (back will arch slightly); exhale to tip it back, as the lower spine rounds slightly. Repeat the pelvic rock 8 times. Then, gently shift the pelvis side to side: As you rock the pelvis side to side, the knees will bend naturally. Shift back and forth for 16 counts. Finally, shift the pelvis forward, right, back, and left, completing 4 “circles;” repeat by moving to the left 4 times.

Return to a seated posture. Begin to massage the fingers: Start at the tip of each finger, and roll and knead your way to the base knuckle. Do this for each finger on both hands. Then, open and close your fists quickly a few times, followed by a strong shake of the hands and wrists. Continue by gently bending one wrist forward and back with the opposite hand, and then switch sides. Move up the arm to the elbow: With an open, cupped palm, firmly pulsate all around the elbow joint on both arms. Bring this percussive cupping all the way up to the shoulder, and beat around the shoulders and upper back. 

Complete this portion of the routine with 16 counts of rapid shoulder shrugs: Inhale the left up, exhale down, and repeat on the right. This is 2 counts; repeat until you reach 16. Finally, gradually move your head through a range of motions: Think less about stretching your neck muscles, and more about pivoting and tipping through the top two cervical vertebra. Tilt the head—barely—to the right and left; then turn slowly, minimally to the right and left. Then, tilt the head back ever so slightly, and then tilt it forward. Again, this is not a muscular movement: The idea is to glide through the vertebra, and let them shift as they are meant to. Repeat the side tilts; side turns, and forward/back tilts for 1-2 minutes.

With the joints open, healthy qi is free to flow through all meridians. This is an opportune time for a full-body stretch. Lie on your back with arms overhead on the floor. Inhale: Suspend the breath as you point powerfully through the toes, reach through the fingers, and consciously tense every large muscle group. Maintain this extension for 6-8 counts, then exhale powerfully through the mouth as you relax the muscles. Repeat 2 more times.

Still on your back, move into Banana Pose. The arms rest easily by your sides on the ground: Legs are together. Shift both legs to the right as you reach the right arm along the floor toward the feet; your body will move into a slight C shape, akin to a banana. Check to see that your buttocks and both heels make equal contact with the floor; both shoulder blades should also be on the ground. As you breathe into the pose, move the legs further to the right, and stretch the right hand further toward the feet. Inhabit the posture for 2 minutes. Then, gently return to neutral for a few breaths before moving into Banana on the left side. Remain there for another 2 minutes.

Next, come onto your belly. With the chin on the floor, and arms by your sides (palms down), begin to “jump” your hips away from the floor. Inhale as you lift the pelvis, lower abdominals, and groin off the ground; exhale as they drop down. Continue vigorously for 1 minute.

Now, shift back into Baby Pose for a few equalizing breaths. Then, roll up to sit on your heels in Rock Pose. If this is uncomfortable, place a pillow between the buttocks and heels; alternatively, you may sit in a crossed-leg posture, or in a chair. Regardless, inhale and suspend the breath: Pump the belly rapidly until you need to exhale. Repeat 2 more times. On the third and final round, exhale powerfully through the mouth.

Finally, in your favorite seated meditation pose, place the right palm on the Dan Tien, i.e., the lower-most belly, beneath the navel. The left elbow and upper arm rest against the left ribs, palm facing forward, as if taking an oath. Touch the left thumb and ring finger tips together; the other fingers are long and extended. With closed eyes gazing at the Third Eye, focus on the steadiness and depth of your breathing. The mudra and hand placements invoke a soothing, regulatory movement of energy throughout the system. Settle into the breath and position for 3-7 minutes. Then, release yourself into svasana for at least 5 minutes

Happy Sunday…

The Stark Line of Change: Conclusion–Power and Peace

One of the most insidious aspects of pain, be it physical or emotional, is how deeply vulnerable it can render the sufferer. When one feels weak of muscle, bone, stamina, or breath, there is an unnerving sense of loss of control. The same can be said when challenged psychologically: If one is not able to think clearly; if positivity has been replaced by the negative mind; or if ongoing worry creates distraction or distress, then the ability to advocate for oneself becomes greatly limited.

One of the first steps that I have found helpful when trying to ameliorate blocked or dissipated energy is to hone in on the Third Chakra, i.e., the core, or “abs.” Movements designed to stimulate the abdominal muscles—deep and superficial—awaken the proverbial fire in the belly: It is this energy that boosts confidence and allows one to be proactive. With the strengthening of the core comes a desire to fend for oneself, to find a way to feel better.

Peace begins to develop as one actively pursues a solution. “Self-empowerment” is more than a buzz word of our times: It is the state wherein one reconnects to the full expression of their whole being. It is the aspect of Power that is calm, fluid, and trusting. In the Peace born of Power lies possibility; the Power of Peace is its inherent connection to hope and faith.

So, when some form of pain threatens to overturn your spirit, first know that you can find some way through the challenge. When pain enters your life, realize that it can be the catalyst for profound transformation. If you have wanted to change habits, outlooks, or relationships, tune in to the energy of your pain: It has arrived as a harbinger of potential change. The way in which you choose to transform at this point is the very recourse that will come to your aid in future challenges. With the practice of Third Chakra stimulation and a balancing pranayama, you will feel a sense of positivity that you can recall when confronted with future unsettling situations.

Begin simply. If you are feeling depleted or constrained, lie on your back. Or, sit in a chair with feet flat on the floor; or, move into your favorite seated posture on the ground, with or without props for support. Close your eyes, and begin to zero in on the flow of your breath. It is likely that your breath is shallow or barely discernible: Place one hand on your upper chest, and the other on your upper belly. As you breathe in through the nose, feel first the slow expansion of the belly, and then the puff and lift of the chest. Exhale through the nose, and let the chest lower as the lungs deflate; and sense the diaphragm rising back into place as the belly moves inward. Practice this conscious breath progression for 3-5 rounds of inhale/exhale. Then, release the hands to the knees or floor, and breathe deeply into the fullness and sound of your inhale and exhale. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, on your back, raise both legs to 60 degrees from the ground. (Place a pillow or your hands underneath the hips to support the low back, if necessary.) With the legs together, or slightly apart, begin a Breath of Fire: rapid inhale and exhale in equal parts through the nose; you will feel your belly pulsing. You may also choose to begin with Breath of Fire through the mouth, as if panting like a dog. Eventually, move into nasal Breath of Fire. Aim to extend strongly through the legs, feet pointed, eyes focused on the toes, and firm the lower back toward the floor as you breathe. Continue for 1 minute.

If you need to, take a brief rest by drawing gate knees in toward the chest for a few deep breaths. Then, re-extend the legs out to 60 degrees, feet and legs firmly stitched together. Now, extend the arms straight up toward the ceiling, directly above the shoulders; the palms face each other. Keeping the heels together, inhale and bend the knees in toward the elbows; your legs will create a diamond shape. Exhale to straighten the legs back out to the 60 degree angle. Continue for 1 minute.

Before the next move, draw your legs in toward the chest: Rock and roll a bit forward and back, and side to side. Then, with your feet on the floor, knees directly over the ankles, and arms resting on the floor next to the body, begin a small roll of the pelvis up and away from the floor. Inhale as you do this, then exhale to replace the pelvis back to neutral on the floor. Repeat 6-8 times.

Next, with the same focus as the small pelvic tilt, inhale by rolling the pelvis up, and then continue the roll up as you peel the entire spine off of the floor. Keep the head in line with the spine, and the shoulders and neck relaxed. Time your inhale to match the full movement; then, exhale to roll the spine down, from top to bottom, finishing your exhale as you return to neutral. Complete 8-12 repetitions.

Now, help yourself turn over, so that you can come into a full plank position, as if you are in the “up” portion of a push-up. If necessary, you may keep your knees on the floor, with or without an extra blanket or pillow underneath. Regardless, maintain a strong line from knee to head; be mindful that the hips stay up, and that the head does not droop. If your wrists bother you, “stand” on the fists. In plank, begin Breath of Fire for 1 minute.

When you have finished the plank, come onto the belly for a gentle Sphinx. Rest on the forearms, and keep the shoulders drawn down away from the neck. With eyes closed, feel the contact of the warm, empowered belly on the floor. Breathe slowly and deeply as the stimulated Third Chakra energy begins to summon its partner, Peace. Breathe here, closed eyes to the Third Eye, for 1 minute.

Next, press back into calming Baby Pose for a few breaths. When you are ready, find your comfortable seated pose. Again, place one hand on the belly, the other on the heart, and notice the ease with which your breath moves. After a few sensory breaths, place the left hand on your knee, palm up. The right hand will act as the switch for Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing. With the right thumb, close the right nostril; breathe in through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the right ring finger, and exhale through the right nostril. Then, in through the right, out through the left, using the fingers to close the aperture of the non-breathing nostril. Continue in through the left; out, right; in, right; out, left, for 5 minutes. Eyes remain closed, gazing at the Third Eye.

With the practice of these energizing Third Chakra kriyas and the equalizing pranayama, your ability to address the challenge of pain begins to manifest. Welcome the possibilities ahead: May you forge your way with determination and hope.

The Stark Line of Change: Part 2–Qigong Healing and Visualization

As described in the Introduction, I have reached a point in my life where the focus seems to be on physical pain. I write, “seems to,” because so often, the body’s outcry of pain reflects facets of one’s lifestyle or temperament. In my case, wear-and-tear are the medical “cause”: A need to temper anxiety with near-constant movement, however, led to the current arthritic result. Of course, other factors—climbing multiple flights of stairs with heavy loads every day, for example—also placed undue pressure on my joints. And certainly, ongoing concerns for a loved one’s mental state and living situation add emotional stress to any physical stressors.

I mention these components, in order to establish the setting for how to think about qigong visualization. Should you find yourself needing to heal or transform some aspect of your mind or body, the first step is to sense, name, and/or visualize what it is that you want to alter, and how you want to alter it. For example, do you need to modify or completely eliminate an activity or perspective? 

With physical pain, a goal is to lessen the degree of discomfort. Psychological suffering, too, seeks release, or perhaps reframing. Once you have set a specific intention, the next step is to create a calm, centered internal space conducive to concentration and creative visualization. To do this, fist connect to the Second and Sixth chakras, which correlate with creativity and intuition, respectively.

Some basic warm-ups will stimulate these chakras, and also relax the body for a period of sitting. First, sit in any position that allows your spine to be upright and aligned: Use whatever props are necessary, given likely physical limitations due to pain. Then, begin Sufi Grinds: Circle the entire torso, moving through the ribcage and waist, in a clockwise direction. The hands hold the knees or arms of the chair, so that you can use a push/pull action to accentuate the circling. Continue for 1 minute, then reverse directions for another minute; this move fires up the Second Chakra.

Now, lie on your belly. Bend the knees, and reach back to hold the ankles. Keep the head on the ground, consciously connecting the Third Eye point to the floor. With the closed eyes focused on that point of insight and intuition, begin Breath of Fire: rapid and equal inhale and exhale through the nose. Continue for 1 minute.

Release the prone posture, and help yourself into a seated position. If you have physical pain, hone in to the specific location of discomfort. If your pain is bilateral, you will use both hands simultaneously to clear the blocked energy of the painful site; however, if you have a sore shoulder, for example, use only the opposite hand. 

To clear the area, use your hand as a scoop, fingers or full, open palm. If using the right hand, move counter-clockwise; the left hand moves clockwise. Either hand scoops in an outward motion. With eyes closed, imagine the quality—texture, tone, color, consistency—of the ailment. Use your hand/s to “dig down” into the area; grab the pain, and scoop it out and away from the body, and down into the earth. Do this in a fairly rapid, but highly focused manner, for a few minutes; you will sense the smoothing or release of energy when the area has been cleared.

Special note: If your concern is emotional, energy needs to be shifted and ejected. To do this, stand up (if possible): It is your choice to engage in free-form dance, bouncing, and/or shaking. Whatever movement (or combination thereof) you select, commit to vigorous activity: Move powerfully for 2 minutes. When finished, you will sit and begin the visualization.

Now you are ready to create the healthy energy that will be placed in the clearing, whether physical or psychological. With one hand on the Dan Tien (just below the navel), and the other palm on the Third Eye, allow your imagination to conjure forms, colors, textures, words, images—whatever resonates as healthy and protective for you. When one or some combination of the senses intuitively conveys safety and calmness, mine that treasure: Use your mind’s eye to project the quality and imagery of your visualization into the area of pain. Or, envision an auric field of your conjured color or quality around you, in order to protect yourself from negativity.

This technique may be used as part of ongoing pain management. Additionally, you may practice this visualization prior to any situation that you typically find stressful. Now that you have the ability to create ease, whether physical or mental, return to the practice as often as needed.

Next time: Power and Peace

 

Silent Sundays: The Stark Line of Change–Introduction to New Series

As alluded to or mentioned in several previous articles, I have been wrangling with hip pain for nearly two years. The same time period has seen my mother move through the unsettling progression of dementia. Although the two may seem unrelated—one physical, and of my body; the other cognitive, and of her brain—I had suspected and now feel certain of their intertwined dynamic. The following thoughts on the matter introduce a three-part series on physical pain, transformation, courage, and ultimately, hope.

Some background: My mother has always been my “buffer.” Although she could not (nor did she wish to) shield me from Life’s inevitable hard knocks, her consoling hugs and listening heart almost always lessened the impact. Even when “out in the world” pursuing goals and dreams, I carried a strong sense of a warm, safe home base: If I faltered, I knew I could return to the Buffer Zone for a dose of support and encouragement.

I began to contemplate the interplay of Mom’s dementia and my increasingly aching hips when I recalled a strong metaphor that arose shortly after my father’s death nearly 13 years ago. Although my mother had always been the more immediate source of solace and wisdom, my dad was the unwavering stronghold of our family as a unit: He took his role as provider seriously, and he did it well. While his words of love were few and indirect, he, too, delivered a powerful wrap of a hug when we needed one.

And then he was gone. Within 3 months of his passing, my entire inner thigh muscle tore open. My immediate thought? “I do not have a leg to stand on…” Equally applicable to the physical status of my leg, and to my feeling unmoored without Dad’s steadfastness, the phrase motivated me: I would bolster my ability to stand more firmly on my own, physically and emotionally. The years following clearly revealed where I had perhaps over-relied on Dad’s support; the weaknesses showed up quickly, and I continue to try to strengthen them—practically, spiritually, and ceaselessly.

The succinct, undeniable truth of that previous correlation between emotion and bodily injury began to seep into my current consciousness, with regard to my mother and me. So, when I finally visited an orthopedist last week, the diagnosis made perfect sense, both physically and psychologically. The x-ray showed advanced arthritis in both hips: no cartilage, no buffer.

When it comes to how and where the body contends with imbalance, I gravitate toward Traditional Chinese Medicine and yogic philosophy for insight. From time to time, I also consult Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life. An included chart presents the physical area of concern or type of problem, and then suggests possible emotional or psychological reasons for the occurrence. 

A quick look at “hip problems” and “joints” revealed the link between my mother’s and my challenges. “Hip Problems: Fear of going forward in major decisions. Nothing to move forward to.” (It should be noted here that the overarching family concern of the past two years has been whether and where to move our mother. Most recently, I offered to share a household with her, which is a decision I had been resisting. While I remain committed to the challenge, I continue to have doubts.) And then, “Joints: Represent changes in direction in life, and the ease of these movements.” Cue my jaw dropping.

The same night of the day I saw the x-ray, I had a moment of stark realization that my life had changed: There was no going back, nor even would there be a continuation of how I, until that moment, envisioned my future. So often, transformation unfolds almost invisibly; we carry on as our personal evolution simmers away beneath our awareness. This was different: I physically felt the divide between What Was, and What Is—the line was firm and clear. Although What Is is new, and What Will Be remains hidden in the firmament, I have been able to release What Was: To continue with courage and acceptance is the name of the current game.

In Parts 2 and 3: Warmups and Qigong Visualization to Create Your New Way; Pranayama for Pain and Anxiety; and Third Chakra Routine, plus Mudra and Meditation for Positivity and Possibility