Silent Sundays: Keeping Up with Mother Nature–Pranayama Practice for Seasonal Transitions

Although Fall is officially upon us, the physical and mental changes that occur with a seasonal shift may need additional time to adjust. Just as the outside environment can not seem to make up its mind what to do, one’s inner environment may struggle to find stability when the weather is uncertain. This Silent Sunday provides a 3-step breath practice that will help to guide your body and mind into a state of equilibrium. The routine is meditative in its own right; however, because precise concentration is needed for the breath work, I suggest that the pranayama act as a lead-in to full meditation.

As always, if you are entering this practice after a night’s sleep or, alternatively, a long day, it is wise to do a few warm-ups before you sit: spinal flexes and twists, plus forward bends (standing or floor) help to stimulate and stabilize the brain and nervous system. When you feel adequately prepared, come into the seated position of your choice.

The first piece of today’s pranayama will oust any sense of restlessness or complacency that may accompany the move from Late Summer into Fall. To heighten the effect of the powerful breath, the arms move rapidly up and down at a 60 degree angle. With the elbows tucked into your sides, palms face in toward the body: As you inhale through the nose, shoot one arm up at 60 degrees, as if slicing through the air; exhale through the nose as you forcefully retract the arm back to its original position. Immediately raise the other arm up upon a strong inhale, then down as you exhale. The pace is strong, rapid, and rhythmic. As the right arm shoots up and down, turn the head to look at the arm; then, turn the head to the left as the left arm moves up and down. Continue for 3 minutes.

Next, shift into Rock Pose, if possible: Sit on your heels, with or without a pillow between your bottom and heels. Rock Pose is hailed for its role as a digestive aid; as this part of the pranayama is designed to release energetic and metabolic waste, Rock Pose enhances the effect. With your hands on your thighs, palms down, inhale deeply and steadily through the nose for a count of 6-8; suspend the inhalation calmly for 10-12 counts; then, stick the tongue out, extending it toward the chin, and exhale quickly and powerfully as you tilt the head back slightly. Continue this inhale; suspension; and Lion’s Breath for 2 minutes.

For the final segment of today’s pranayama practice, you will work with bahya kumbhaka (retained exhale, versus antara kumbhaka, or suspended inhale, as in the previous exercise). If you like, you may shift from Rock Pose to another seated position. Then, interlace your fingers in Venus Lock. Traditional practice says that for women, the left thumb will cross over the right; for men, the opposite crossing occurs. Regardless, place the alternately intertwined fingers of Venus Lock in your lap, palms facing up.

The breath is as follows: Inhale through the nose for 6-8 counts at your personal pace; exhale through the nose for the same amount of time, and then keep the breath out, or “empty,” for 12 counts. This retained exhale creates a vacuum inside the body. The feeling may be off-putting at first; however, keep your closed eyes gazing toward the nose or chin. Along with the sensation of the mudra in your lap, the inner, downward gaze will help to calm whatever nerves rise up to rebel against the cessation of breath. Eventually, your system will accept and ease into the deeply pacifying effect of the pranayama. Continue for 3 minutes.

When you are ready, take a few normal, yet full and steady breaths in and out with no count attached. As you help your body return to its natural breathing rhythm, you may continue on with another meditation; or, if your practice feels complete, lie on your back for another few minutes of svasana.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: See Your Way Clear–Warm-ups and Mudra for Third Eye Acuity

Several years ago, my best friend and I began what is now a cherished tradition: Every New Year’s Eve day, we meet for an early, relaxed lunch at our “regular” spot. Eschewing the pressure of resolutions, we instead toast to a certain quality or perspective that we hope for each other in the coming year. At the outset of 2019, I toasted to “getting out of my own way.” 

So often, we become attached to goals and plans, forgetting to allow for what may be more prudent—or predestined—in the larger picture of Life. To get out of your own way means to align with that which the Universe intends for you; it means that your earthly vision must cede to the clarity provided through the Spiritual, or Third Eye.

Because this Sixth Chakra point that lies between the brows at the top of the nose is responsible for insight and intuition, activating the Third Eye helps you to move past your ego, past your plans and desires. The Third Eye must be open and charged, in order to sense that which is misguided, and that which is meant to be.

The Third Eye connects directly to the pituitary gland in the brain. Thus, to stimulate intuitive energy, we work with the head and neck; first, however, one needs to awaken, harness, and move energy from the lower chakras to the upper chakras. The following warm-ups charge the entire system, and channel the wealth of each chakra into the Third Eye.

Begin simply, coming onto all fours for several rounds of a Cat/Cow variation. In this version of the classic spinal flex exercise, move incrementally, starting with pelvic isolation rocks. Inhale to tip the front of the pelvis forward and down; exhale to roll it back and down. Continue with this gentle rocking of the pelvis for 1 minute.

Then, begin to include the mid-spine in the flexion: Again, inhale to arch and tip the tailbone up; exhale to round the spine and tuck the tail. For this and the previous solo pelvic movement, the head remains still and in line with the neck. Continue to open more of the spine, moving the flexion and rounding into the thoracic spine (between the shoulder blades), as well, for another minute.

Now, move into traditional Cat/Cow. As you inhale, the pelvis tips forward, the spine arches deeply, and the neck and head tip back. This full movement stimulates the entire chakra system; as you exhale, allow the head and neck to release and hang toward the ground, as you round the spine and tuck the pelvis under. Keep your eyes closed as you move, focusing intently on the Third Eye. This mental focus acts as a magnet to attract the awakened energy into the pituitary gland. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, shift forward onto your belly. Place your forehead on the floor, and then meticulously connect the Third Eye point to the ground. Depending on the shape of your nose, you may have to wriggle a bit to find a way to breathe deeply and keep the Third Eye in contact with the floor. Again, with closed eyes, focus inward and upward between the brow points. Then, interlace your fingers behind your back, and lift and extend the arms straight back and up, as high as your joints will allow.

With your arms lifted up and behind, and your Third Eye stimulated through tactile contact with the ground, begin Breath of Fire. Inhale and exhale rapidly in equal, short breaths through the nose; because you are prone, you will feel the pulsing of the belly more acutely. Keep your closed eyes focused on the Third Eye, and continue Breath of Fire for 1 minute.

When you are ready to release the posture, turn your head to one side on the floor for a few seconds; then, switch sides. Next, rise up onto your forearms, arching the upper spine into Sphinx pose. Keep the head in line with the neck, shoulders down, away from the neck. With eyes closed, turn the head to the left as you inhale; imagine that you can actually see through the Third Eye. Exhale to turn the head to the right; again, bring your attention the Third Eye, as if it is leading the movement through its “sight.” Continue to inhale left, exhale right for 1 minute.

Now, press back into Baby Pose for a brief rest. When you are ready, rise up to come into your preferred sitting position for meditation. On your right hand, create Buddhi Mudra: The thumb tip and pinky tip touch, which will connect to and enliven your intuitive power. Place the back of the hand on the right knee; the other fingers are together, yet relaxed.

Place the center point of the left palm directly on the Third Eye. Again, the placement will depend on your face and hand shape; find a way to connect the palm’s center (a Heart-energy point) to the space between the brow points. Eyes are closed, again focusing intently on the Third Eye. Bring your attention to the flow of your breath; be sure that you complete each inhale and exhale. Continue breathing with the mudras in place for 3-11 minutes.

Special note: If you would like to meditate for 11 minutes or longer with this mudra configuration, your left arm may grow tired at some point. If that happens, lower the left hand, placing the back of the hand on the left knee with Buddhi Mudra, exactly as you have on the right hand. When you feel able to resume the original meditative position, bring the left palm up again to connect to the Third Eye, and continue.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: (E)motion Sickness–Getting to the Heart of the Matter

During a recent conversation with my sister, I expressed that I had once again had had a bout of nausea triggered by, I suspected, unsettling emotions. I went on to recall my first reading of Jean-Paul Sartre’s La Nausee (Nausea) in college. His descriptions of existential angst and its accompanying physical manifestations were an eye-opening relief for me; feelings that had been seemingly unexplainable began to be untangled by this French author. The book also served as an early harbinger of my later exploration into the inextricability of body and mind; eventually, I would come to understand the omnipotent role of unseen spiritual force that governs the whole.

After my revelations, I heard my sister utter a sigh of recognition; she, too, had been having bouts of nausea. She had considered physical causes of the discomfort, but ultimately reckoned that emotions were the likely root of the problem. Certainly, the two of us have been wrangling with the same familial issue for more than a year; I suspect that the crux of the nausea is a lack of clarity, leading to our inability to make a decision; further, there is an overarching heavy-heartedness that the issue is upon us at all.

Mind you, nausea is an inarguable physical sensation, and certainly may arise from a host of physical concerns. In addition to “la nausee,” I have been prone to actual motion sickness my whole life: car rides, fair rides (even something as benign as a merry-go-round can rev up the feeling), turbulence, boat rides. etc.  Dramamine was ever-present in my carry-on. 

Enter yoga and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Both modalities underscore the interconnectedness of mind and body, and both exalt spiritual energy in the mix of a balanced being. I first used a mudra and a qi pressure point to address physical motion sickness; later, I added techniques to calm and steady the Spirit. The combination of tending to physically generated nausea, and of guiding emotionally based dis-ease to a place of peace results in a multi-pronged approach to resolving “(e)motion sickness.”

Today’s Silent Sunday offering may be considered a kit of remedies for physical or spiritual nausea. First, I offer the two anecdotes that I have used many times when I know that nausea is the result of physical motion or illness. Typically, I call upon Pushan Mudra for such cases: On the left hand, touch the thumb, middle, and ring fingertips together; on the right hand, the thumb tip touches the index and middle fingertips. Lie or sit quietly with the mudra, breathing deeply, eyes closed, until the unpleasant sensation begins to dissipate. I have found relief in 1-3 minutes; repeat as often as necessary.

The qi point that I use when afflicted with nausea borne of movement is Pericardium 6. You may know that the pericardium surrounds and protects the heart; this is the first metaphorical link to the role of Heart—or Spirit—energy in feelings of nausea. To locate PC6, look at your open palm, and the wrist crease at the base of the palm. Place the first three fingers of the opposite hand on the wrist just below the crease, bringing you to a spot on the forearm about 2 inches below the wrist crease. At this point, apply thumb pressure directly between the two tendons in the center of the lower wrist/forearm point. Maintain pressure on PC 6 as you breathe deeply; if you prefer, you may inhale as you press, and exhale to release.

If you suspect that your vague nausea emanates from unresolved or complex emotions, I suggest a focus on Heart energy. The Heart works to maintain a calm, open Spirit; when discomfited, anxiety, insomnia, “heartburn,” and overall, low-grade unwellness may take root. In order to dispel nausea connected to an uneasy Heart, tap into the energy of the Heart 7 point, or Spirit Gate (Shen Men point). This is another point found on the wrist.

Again, look at your open palm; then, press into the wrist crease just below the base of the palm on the pinky (ulnar) side. I also find that tucking that edge of the wrist tightly into the crook of the opposite hand is very comforting and effective: For example, if you are working with Ht7 on the left hand, place the pinky edge of the wrist firmly into the web of flesh between the thumb and index finger of the right hand. Bring this configuration to settle in front of the solar plexus, left palm facing the body, and breathe deeply for as long as you like, eyes closed.

Finally, I suggest a side-lying posture, either stretched out or tucked in, like a fetal position. The introverted fetal pose may feel more secure if emotions are overtaking you and creating nausea; perhaps you would like to start in fetal, and begin to lengthen out as you sense the release of stagnant energy. If you intuitively select a left-lying position, it will help digestion and the Liver organ system; if you choose to lie on your right side, an overall calming effect takes place. Either choice feeds into the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is often referred to as the seat of “Rest and Digest” actions. 

If lying on your side is uncomfortable, a bolstered version of Baby Pose or Seated Forward Bend can ease any remnants of nausea. Even if you are capable of the full pose without a prop, bolstering provides a deep feeling of support and comfort; nausea of any kind needs soft steadying, first and foremost. To that end, place a large pillow or cushy folded blanket between your torso and thighs as you fold into Baby Pose or Forward Bend. Breathe deeply, eyes closed; you may choose to activate a mudra or qi point from the options described above. Remain in the pose for as long as you like, helping to settle “la nausee.”

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Honor the Earth–In, Out, and All Around

The primary suggestion for today’s practice is that it be practiced outdoors. If the weather in your area does not allow for an outside venture, certainly you may conduct the moves and meditation indoors: However, when you have an opportunity, today’s routine benefits greatly from breathing and moving in Nature.

Over the course of the past week, there has been a strong upsurge in global activism concerning climate change. Our planet has been suffering for far too long, due mostly to the ignorance and inconsideration of we humans who inhabit the Earth. I certainly have been part of the problem, as I drive and use plastic regularly: slowly, but surely, however, the Earth’s woes are beginning to resonate on a deeper level than that of intellect. Thus, today I offer a practice designed to connect one’s personal energy to that of the Earth; and then to guide the Earth energy into its rightful place in Universal Consciousness.

First, it is helpful to recall that our physical inner environment carries the element of Earth (along with Water, Metal, Fire, and Wood, vis-a-vis Traditional Chinese Medicine). By way of the Stomach and Spleen organ systems, our “earthiness” plays out physically and mentally. As described in the excellent book, Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine: “Receiving and sharing solid and liquid, perceptions and ideas, the [Earth organs] incorporate food and experience into the substance of who we are.”

The description goes on to identify Earth as a “Peacemaker” archetype: “Focusing on what is mutually shared, she synthesizes what is divided and antagonistic into what is unified and interdependent.” If one thinks of the state of Earth’s societies and cultures, or of the physical planet Earth, a first thought inevitably must be of its fractured state; certainly, those of us who live on the Earth, and the Earth itself, could use a dose of peacemaking and union.

So, when you have chosen an outdoor space for today’s practice, spend a few minutes breathing deeply and sensing your physical stance on the ground. Then begin to open your awareness to the sensation of the air on your skin: temperature, breeze, sun, etc. Finally, expand your hearing to move beyond the immediate ambient sounds: Hone in on the highest tones and hums that fill the atmosphere far beyond the place in which you stand.

Now, having aligned yourself with both your specific location, as well as the extensive scope of Earth as it relates to the Universe, begin to stoke your inner environment as you charge the air around you. First, practice Miracle Bend: Inhale to raise the arms overhead; exhale as you bend forward to touch the ground. Bend your knees as much as you need, in order to contact the Earth with your open palms. Inhale back up, arms overhead, slightly bending backward, gazing at the sky; exhale again into the forward bend. Continue inhaling up, exhaling down, for 3 minutes. Move as slowly as you need to, so that the body begins to warm and ease; remain conscious of your natural surroundings as you move and breathe.

After the final inhale-up in Miracle Bend, stand quietly, eyes closed, hands on hips: Breathe deeply and steadily for a few breaths. Then, begin to circle the torso clockwise; again, move slowly at first if you like, gradually increasing the pace and circumference of your full torso circles. Continue in this direction for 2 minutes, then reverse directions for another 2 minutes.

Next, extend the arms out to the sides at shoulder level. With the palms facing forward, create Rudra Mudra on both hands, which will help to soothe and balance the body’s Earth element (found in the stomach and spleen). On each hand, touch the thumb, index, and ring fingertips together. With the arms starting at shoulder level, inhale: Then,  exhale as you tilt the arms to the right; the right arm lowers about 30-45 degrees, the left arm rises, so that the arms remain in line with each other. Inhale back up to center, and exhale the arms to the left. The body remains upright as the arms see-saw up and down in the side space. Continue for 3 minutes.

With these three movements, you have cleared and energized your surrounding magnetic field. Further, you have initiated a connection between your inner Earth system and that of the physical planet. The synergy of clearing, energizing, and connecting act as a Siren song to the Universe; its vibration becomes eager to resonate with your human physical being, as well as with the broader energy field of the Earth.

Having established optimal conditions for meditation upon the needs of the planet, sit in your favorite position on the ground. If you like, you may use a blanket; however, the more direct contact you have with the earth’s “skin,” the better. To begin, place the left hand on the Heart center; the right hand reaches down to rest on the ground, palm down.

With eyes slightly open, gazing down at the tip of the nose, breathe deeply; inhale through the nose for a count of 4-6; exhale through rounded lips for the same count. Then, inhale through the open O mouth; exhale through the nose, using the same or slightly longer count. Continue this version of alternate breathing–in, nose; out, mouth; in, mouth; out, nose–for 2 minutes. Once you have established steady, complete breaths, you may choose to drop the counting.

Finally, place both hands on the knees, palms up. Create Gyan Mudra: thumb and index fingertips touching on each hand, other three fingers together and straight. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, inhale; at the peak of your inhale, open the mouth wide. Allow your exhale to become the Universal sound of “Aum” (Om); as the sound flows out of you, slowly close the mouth.

Special note: If you feel self-conscious “Aum-ing” outdoors, you may try a long, whispery Aum. Be sure, however, to open the mouth wide before you chant, and then slowly close the mouth as the sound vibration flows and finishes.

Continue to chant, filling the air around you with the Universal vibration. In this state of aligning and uniting with the Whole, retain a sense of physical rootedness. Feel secure in your firm grounding on and with the Earth, while allowing an elevated sense of trust and connection to permeate within and without.

Happy Sunday…

Aging While Caring for the Aged: Part Two–The Practice

Yesterday’s writing discussed the challenge of caring for an elderly parent, while simultaneously experiencing the physical and sometimes emotional changes of aging through one’s 50’s, 60’s, and into the 70’s. New and often chronic pains set in; sleep patterns may change; and metabolic and skin concerns may arise. When committed to addressing the many concerns of an elderly parent, your own very real needs may go unmet.

Today, I offer a practice dedicated to all who give care and thus need self-care. The session ends with a healing “active” meditation that one can use for self or others. The focused energy work and visualization of this healing technique may be applied to anyone, whether they are strong in mind, weak in body; or faltering in mind, fit in body. Overall, the practice provides solace in the face of care-born sadness, frustration, and guilt; the movements, postures, and meditation offer healing on a variety of levels.

The intention to create a feeling of calm and stability begins with how one enters into and proceeds throughout the practice. If ever there were a time to gather an array of pillows, blocks, and/or blankets, this would be it: Because this is a set for aging bodies, call upon your deepest self-respect with regard to any physical limitations you may have. The use of props will create and ensure a sense of security and soft support. Rather than aiming to perfect a posture, the intention is to reside fully within the specific energy that a pose evokes; one needs to be comfortable, in order for the body to connect with and absorb the vibration of the physical position.

To begin, assume a version of all fours, where you are one your knees and forearms, eyes closed. The knees are in line under the hips, and the elbows are in line under or a bit ahead of the shoulders. Bring the palms to touch, as if clapping your hands; extend the thumbs straight up. Keeping the knees in place, bring the big toes to touch each other: You will have created a long diamond shape with your legs, arms, and and torso. From here, inhale to rock or shift the body forward, slightly arching the spine (as in Cow pose) and tilting the head back; exhale to shift back, moving the hips toward the feet, rounding the spine and dropping the chin toward the chest as you do so. Continue this gentle shifting back and forth with a slight spinal flex for 1 minute.

Then, separate the hands and feet: The forearms are parallel to each other on the floor, palms down; the shins are parallel to each other, feet long with toes pointing back. Continue rocking with the opposite breath pattern: Inhale to shift back, exhale to move forward. Move with this rhythm for another minute.

To complete this all-fours sequence, come onto your fingertips, arms straight, and curl the toes under, stretching through the bottom of the feet. From a reflexology standpoint, the toes and fingertips correspond with the brain; the posture now awakens and stimulates concentration and focus. Positioned in this way, begin traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes, inhaling as you deeply arch the spine into Cow; exhale to round the spine, drop the head, and curl the tail under. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, settle into Baby Pose, buttocks on heels, torso on thighs, and forehead on the floor. (Remember to use whatever supportive measures you need.) Using your open palms, begin to rub the low back in outward circles: Thus, the right hand moves clockwise, and the left circles counterclockwise. From a qigong perspective, outward circling gathers and expels stagnant or detrimental energy.

After circling on the low back for a few seconds, seamlessly move to the buttocks, then the outer hips, and down along the outer thigh: This pathway draws out mental and physical toxicity from the Kidney, Bladder, Liver, and Gallbladder meridians; the technique helps to eliminate fear and anger. Continue circling up and down from low back to knees, and then back up the outside edge of the leg and hips to the low back: Move up and down this route, breathing deeply, circling steadily, for 2 minutes.

After your self-massage and qi clearing, rest quietly in Baby Pose for 3 minutes. You may place your arms on the floor by your feet; stretched out in front of you on the floor, or with the backs of the hands on the low back, elbows draping toward the ground. If you like, you may also rest your forehead on a block or pillow, instead of on the floor. Sink deeply into the restorative energy of the pose: As it is said that 11 minutes of Baby Pose is equivalent to 4 hours of sleep, your 3-minute rest will feel like a refreshing 1-hour nap.

Next, after slowly helping yourself roll up and out of Baby Pose, bring your legs in front of you on the floor, and then into a crossed-leg position. Again, if your hips are tight or aching, sit on the edge of a bolster, and/or place props under each knee for support and lift. When settled, cross your arms over your body, tucking each hand into the opposite armpit; the thumbs remain exposed, resting against the pectorals, pointing up.

With eyes closed, inhale, then exhale and lean to the left; inhale up to center, then exhale to the right. Continue moving sideways back and forth, gradually opening the side body while sheltering the front body. This movement heightens your ability to communicate clearly, while preserving your inner calm. Continue leaning side to side, inhaling each time you are upright, for 3 minutes.

The final physical piece of the practice takes place on your back. Ideally, the arms remain on the floor, a comfortable distance away from the body, palms down. If you need to slip a pillow or rolled blanket under your hips for support, you may do that. Regardless, bring both legs up to a 60-degree angle, legs together, feet gently pointed; this will open and strengthen the Third Chakra, wherein lies your confidence and ability to persevere. Breathe deeply, gazing softly at your elevated feet, for 1 minute. If you need to lower one leg at some point, do so; then, switch legs, so that you can complete the full minute.

Then, lower your legs, placing your feet on the floor about hip-width apart, knees bent. Lift the hips off the floor into a modified back bend. At the apex of the position, begin to pulse the hips up and down, barely moving, but pulsing rapidly; this move thoroughly stimulates the First Chakra, thereby awakening feelings of safety and security. Pulse 12-26 times.

Now, repeat the abdominal strengthening of the Third Chakra move for another minute, followed by the First Chakra pelvic pulse for 12-26 repetitions. Repeat the whole sequence one more time, for a total of three rounds. This set brings you into a state of quiet determination and self-confidence; only in that state of mind and physical balance can you summon and send healing energy to another, or deliver it to yourself.

After shaking out or stretching away any residual tension in the body, come into a fully supported, easily aligned seated position. If you like, you may sit on the edge of the chair, feet flat on the floor. The meditation to complete today’s practice is one inspired by the distance healing technique of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship. The SRF meditation is specific in its wording, and out of respect for their teachings, I do not use those phrasings today. I do, however, offer the energetic techniques and mudra angles, as those are consistent with other healing modalities.

To open the meditation, we call upon Universal healing light; this summoning requires deep intention and concentration. Further, I find that it helps to intuit a color that resonates with you as one of health and peace; as you harness energy to be used in healing, begin to infuse it with your color of choice. As we proceed through the technique, I will offer the way in which I use color at each step of the meditation.

With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, rub your palms together, moving briskly at the level of the Heart center: The fingers point forward, and the rub is a forward/back direction. You may create your own version of calling to God, or the Universe, or the healing force from the Earth: Invoke the energy, draw it in to your warming palms, visualize the person whom you wish to help (it may be yourself), and then extend the arms in front of you at shoulder level, palms down. Ask that the Body be healed: Continue to emanate the intention through the arms and hands, breathing deeply for 5-10 breaths.

With this first Body healing, you may “tint” the healing power that you have harnessed with a color from the Lower Triangle of chakras—red, orange, or yellow: This will help to deepen the power of the healing light that you send.

Now, again with the hands at the level of the Heart, circle the palms in a brisk rubbing movement. Gather the energy as you again call to the Universe, or whatever source speaks to you. After several seconds of drawing in the healing light, ask that the Mind of another or yourself be healed as you place the hands a few inches in front of your face; the center of the palms should be just in front of the eyes. At this point, you may find that shades of indigo or purple correspond with your intention. Breathe deeply with the vibrations emanating from the healing energy of your palms.

Finally, rub the hands together in the forward/back mode from the first round of healing. This time, bring your attention to the center point of each palm; this is a significant point associated with the healing energy of the Heart. After you feel that your hands have drawn in abundant healing energy, ask that that light move into the Soul of yourself or another. As you make your request, and visualize the recipient, extend the arms overhead, opening them into a wide V, palms facing each other. 

For this portion of the meditation, I tend to work with a milky-white light, with a pale, barely discernible light blue swirling within. Gold and silver are often suggested for working with the Soul;  black, too, may be a power color for the Soul. Should black seem correct for you, I suggest that it be a “clean,” shiny tone, like onyx. Sit and breathe with this posture for at least 30 seconds, all the while using your power of intention and compassion to soothe a Soul.

You may repeat the three-part round of Body/Mind/Soul healing as many times as you like. When you feel that your task is complete, lie on your back in svasana. Spend at least 5 minutes in this devoted rest time, so that you may experience the clearing and fortifying that occurs when helping another and/or yourself in a balanced, focused way.

 

This Peculiar Time: Aging While Caring for the Aged—Part One

Recently, I seem to meet more and more people who are just beginning to notice physical signs of aging; or who are learning to wrangle with persistent pain or discomfort; or who are deep into their “wisdom years” (which ironically may leave them struggling to express or retain a thought). Because those of my generation form one of the largest demographics in contemporary society, the voices complaining of bewildering body aches sound a loud chorus. Additionally, this Baby Boomer generation is grappling with how to care for elderly parents: That concern, coupled with coping with their own aging bodies may leave many a Boomer feeling exhausted, frustrated, or even in a state of grief.

I find myself reckoning with my own newish foray into feeling my ”age of aging” by calling upon the affirmation—and continual reaffirmation— that each of us is so much more than a physical body. 

As one who tumbled and tussled; played and battled; and competed, rehearsed, and practiced from my first tip-toe steps, physical aches, injury, and recovery are second nature to me. Certainly, the importance of a determined, focused mind factored into every physical challenge I undertook, be it a match, a race, a test, or a training: I learned early on that without the input and support of the mind, the body rarely soars beyonds its basic machinations.

As my multi-modality studies in energy and bodywork deepened over the years, my spirit began to unfurl: Its sails rose steady and strong, and my body and mind began to cede their reign. No aspect felt unused or unappreciated, however; they worked together, and grew together, and their resulting synergistic strength carried me through near-hopelessness and close-to-brokenness. I was grateful for each iota of understanding and deepened faith that germinated in the midst of trials.

In the past year or two, Life’s tides have shifted yet again. As my mother’s cognitive world began to move off-axis, my body and mind faltered: Her mental struggles seemed to awaken and reactivate dormant physical and emotional strife within me. I found that I had to be ever-vigilant and diligently disciplined, in order to resist an encroaching attachment to her ride into dementia. For this is where the sensitivity and strength that I have learned to hone over the years could easily have taken a wrong turn; the distinction between empathy and enmeshment is a fine one, and one that can elude even the most aware and attuned being.

The first step to avoid begin swept along in another person’s Life path is to, of course, recognize that that possibility looms large. Then, I find that to identify where and how that near-immersion manifests on a physical, mental, or spiritual level is the next step. For example, sleeplessness; resurgence of detrimental habits; irritability; or sadness may begin to surface; physically, “mysterious” aches or skin conditions may arise.

And then, the question becomes: How does one cope with the needs and circumstances that must be addressed for the other person, while safe-guarding one’s own health and peace? This is a common question these days, given that so many of us are in similar situations, with regard to our own aging and concomitant parental old-age. The  general answer is that we do our best: Part of that requires an acceptance that some days may get away from us, and we will not care for ourselves as well as we should. Part of that requires an understanding that the struggle is a shared one, albeit felt differently. And part of that is having an arsenal of self-care techniques to call upon when we do settle in and make time for ourselves.

In tomorrow’s writing, I will offer a practice that eases physical exhaustion and over-stimulation, as well as general body aches. Further, the accompanying meditation inherently will address the flip side of, “We are more than the body.” While my focus typically is on awakening and nurturing the spiritual aspect of being through the use of mind and energy modalities, I concede that the mind may be a less accessible or friendly place for many elderly people. In my mother’s case, for example, her mind is a slippery slope, but her physical stalwartness defies expectation, if not reason: She is strong and mobile, heart-healthy and vital. When such is the case, i.e., the body is steadier than the mind, how does one access and engage the spiritual aspect of being? For it is in that spirit that the essence of Life exists and persists: Therein lies the eternal wellness that can be had by all.

Silent Sundays: Corral and Calm Chaos

Right off the bat, I admit that the use of the word “chaos” for this Silent Sunday practice is purposely hyperbolic. The following meditation with mantra and moving mudra addresses low-grade anxiety and vaguely obsessive thinking. The chaotic churning that arises when the mind is allowed to run amok for too long may manifest as headache, nervous habits, or overall physical tension. Thus, this is a chaos borne of inner turbulence: However, should you be thrust into tumultuous circumstances of a truly grave nature, the practice will ground and support you while in the midst of more significant upset.

The technique of today’s meditation combines nuances from two different kundalini  mantra practices, and places them in the intuitive and sensory realm of qigong. Thus, I suggest that you begin with a few minutes of spinal  flexes, followed by standing arm and torso circles: These warmups will center you, while clearing the auric space around you; this rooting and simultaneous opening will help you access your intuitive kinesthetic sense for the practice.

When you are ready, sit in your favorite, aligned meditation pose. Place your hands on your knees; you may rest the hands on the pinky edge, or hold them palm up or down. At a steady, moderate pace, touch the index finger to the thumb; then the middle finger to thumb; followed by the ring and pinky finger, one at a time, one after the other. Repeat this pattern of one finger at a time, over and over, for 1 minute, as you breathe more deeply and consciously.

Now, hold your hands in front of you, one in front of the other, palms facing in, about 3-6 inches from the torso. This is your first task of intuitive sensing: Hold the hands at a distance where you can feel the energy of the hands connecting to the energy of the body, without touching it. Next, slowly begin circling one hand over the other in an outward motion, away from the torso: However, the hands should not move more than 2-4 inches away from each other in the front to back space. 

As you circle the hands, they can and will move away from each other in the vertical space: Circle until you find the “right” up/down distance between the hands, as determined by your sensory intuition. For example, at their peak of separation, my hands tend to be about 6-8 inches apart, vertically. As you circle, the speed of your circling will settle and find its own rhythm. At that point, begin the mantra: Har Haray Haree, Wahay Guru. Join the mantra and the movement as you discover whether you feel akin to an out-loud chant; a whispered mantra; or silent chanting. This may change as the mediation develops.

Finally, we put the pieces together. As you circle the hands in their vertical range, add the individual finger touches from the first part of the practice. The difference at this point is that you will not physically touch the fingers to the thumb tip: Instead, begin to draw each finger tip toward the thumb, but stop before the actual contact. Continue the one-finger-at-a-time almost-touching movement, as you circle the hands in their vertical, outward motion; all the while, chant the mantra, “Har Haray Haree Wahe (Wahay) Guru.” Continue with steady, complete breathing, eyes closed, gazing at the Third Eye, for 7-11 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Three Oils, Total Care

Often in these writings, Silent Sundays or otherwise, I offer a practice that focuses on a specific organ system (vis-a-vis Traditional Chinese Medicine); energetic quality; or spiritual challenge. Today, however, I suggest a self-care technique that tends to the multifaceted system of human being-ness. You can use this idea as a blueprint, and make adjustments according to your personal needs and preferences.

The inspiration for today’s offering arose after a bumpy week that culminated in one final, unexpected stressor. I felt the need to sink into the healing magic of a soothing, all-encompassing antidote: Enter essential oils. 

Additionally, the 10 Bodies concept of kundalini yoga serves as the backdrop for the idea. In the traditional framework, humans are said to be comprised of 10 various physical, mental, and ethereal bodies. For the purposes of this Silent Sunday, I grouped the 10 components into three primary bodies: physical, mental, and spiritual. Next, I assigned an essential oil to each group, and subsequently applied them to corresponding locations.

Should you prefer an oil other than those that I used, you may find it helpful to understand that I made my selections based on the part of the plant from which the oil is derived. For example, oils from the root provide grounding, as you may deduce: This would be an oil that reflects the physical, or earth-bound body. My choice was vetiver; ginger is also an excellent and readily available root oil.

If you imagine a plant, the parts that extend above or out of the root and stem would be akin to the brain sitting atop the spine, i.e., the mental bodies. Thus, leaves and needles would serve as your basis of selection if you would like to use something other than my preference: patchouli. Additionally, flowering herbs, such as peppermint and lavender, provide a similar benefit to the mental body.

Finally, in order to address the spiritual environment within, one looks to the ethereal aroma of flowering buds, as well as to the mysterious “blood” that resides in plants: resin. First, the flowers: Think of the heady, transporting scent of neroli, rose, and jasmine. Alternatively, thick resins and gums seem almost antithetical to the “higher” consciousness associated with the spiritual body: However, frankincense and myrrh are commonly used to soothe distressed souls.

When you have chosen an oil for each “body grouping,” place a few drops in a carrier oil of your choice: I usually use jojoba oil, or a combination of Vitamin E and almond oil. Use enough to lightly massage the following areas: 1) Both feet and ankles, in order to ground the physical body with, for example, vetiver; 2) both temples and the center base of the skull. I used patchouli at the skull base and lavender at the temples, in order to soothe and balance mental energies; and 3) neroli just below the belly button, and rose on the Heart center, as a means to connect with the spiritual bodies.

When you have anointed yourself, lie quietly for a few minutes, or allow the energies to lull you into a night of sleep. Or, use this technique to adorn yourself with a layer of stability and positivity before you enter your day.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Meditation with Mudra to Connect with Kindness

One month ago today, Saoirse Kennedy Hill ended her earthly life. A 22- year-old member of the famous and extensive Kennedy clan, she had lived with depression for many years. As the news media began to report on reactions to her death, one particular comment seeped quickly and deeply into my thoughts. Over the course of the past month, I have ruminated on the statement’s call to kindness, and why this quality so easily disappears in the wake of daily life.

And then yesterday, I alerted my brother to my our mother’s “struggling” state of mind, as I knew he would be visiting with her. Because Mom has been emotionally raw, I offered to my brother that “listening and tenderness” seem to be the best recourse in this current situation. As I wrote the note, I realized that once again, Maria Shriver’s words after her cousin Saoirse’s suicide had infiltrated my thinking.

As a media sound bite, Maria’s comment read: “Assume everyone is struggling.” That short piece provoked my contemplations with regard to how we view, judge, or disregard others without any consideration. If one thinks about walking through a grocery store, or waiting in line, or observing someone out for a walk, the set-point assumption is that all is well, or at least not in any difficulty. Yet if we think about ourselves as we move through the day, chances are that we are enduring some degree of physical or emotional discomfort: The imbalance may be fleeting, but at some point on any given day, a concern generally arises. The dis-ease may not be observable, and a person’s affect may not match the inner truth; however, “assume everyone is struggling.”

When I looked up Maria’s words again for today’s writing, I found her statement in full, more of which I include here: “Be gentle with others, as so many are fragile and struggling. Actually, I think it’s best to assume everyone is struggling, so treat everyone with love, tenderness, and compassion.” These are “big words,” and their intention often dissolves in the face of daily tensions and distractions: However, if one aims for a general abiding of their essential energy, a fundamental courtesy and baseline kindness can remain.

While we would not approach every person with whom we cross paths, and while some may be unreachable even if we did, we can align ourselves with the Universal Wisdom and its earthly attribute of basic human kindness. This is the Kindness that manifests in patience, and non-judgment, and listening with no goal other than to be present with and for another. This is the Kindness that we receive from the Universe through our Crown and our Third Eye; that we find when we attune to our Heart Center, and that we extend through our Aura.

To connect with this Kindness, first balance and circulate your overall Prana. Begin lying on your back with eyes closed. Place one hand just below your navel, with the other on the Heart Center: Bring your closed eyes to gaze at the Third Eye, and begin to build your breath awareness. Breathe deeply and consciously through the nose, feeling the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen, and the expansion and contraction of your ribcage. Breathe in this conscious way for 3 minutes.

Next, help yourself into your favorite seated posture, ensuring that the spine is long and relaxed; use whatever props will allow you to sit comfortably in this aligned manner. As you begin to focus your thoughts on how, when, and where Kindness operates in your life, become aware of when, where, and why it does not. Softly, subtly, with each inhalation and exhalation, promote within the very real idea that Kindness can be present at all times; recognize that your first response could be that, even when you do not feel “kind.” Begin to connect with the possibility on an intellectual level, and then move into the mudra practice.

As you sit with your shifting perspective, bring your left hand in front of the Heart, palm facing in; the hand is a few inches in front of the Heart Center. Place your fingers in Gyan Mudra, index and thumb tips touching. The left forearm remains parallel to the ground. Then, extend your right arm straight up alongside the right ear. Create Gyan Mudra on the right hand, and bend the wrist back, so that the palm faces up to the sky, fingers pointing behind you. Breathe fully and steadily, closed eyes gazing at the Third Eye, as you begin to draw Universal Consciousness into your Heart energy. Continue the breath with mudra for 5 minutes.

Next, place the left hand on the Heart Center; fingers are relaxed, no Gyan Mudra, and the palm fills with the Heart energy. Bring the right hand to nestle just below the navel: Gyan Mudra remains intact, and the palm faces up, as if gazing toward the hand that lies on the Heart. Breathe with this integrating mudra for at least another 5-7 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

 

What-to-Do, Where-to-Turn Movement Flow

The next time you receive surprising or disconcerting news, you may want to try this short, serenity-building practice. I designed the sequence as a means to inspire acceptance and resilience with regard to a “new normal” in my life. In addition to opening the calm energy of the Heart, the routine also works to shift and expand perspective.

Additionally, the large, fluid moves stimulate full-body circulation, making this practice a great unwinding tool in the middle of a busy day, or before bed. I enjoyed moving along to a background of soft bells and chimes; feel free to choose a soundtrack that feels soothing, or opt for no music at all.

To begin, stand with your feet a natural distance apart. As you inhale, float the arms up through the front space, leading with the backs of the hands; rise up onto the toes as the arms rise. As you exhale, bend the elbows softly, turning the palms toward you, as the arms drift back down; rock back slightly on the heels as the movement finishes.

As you continue this rocking back and forth through the feet and legs, begin to sense where the neutral midpoint rests in your feet. Allow the breath to motivate the pace of the arm movement. Repeat 12-26 times, or continue for as long as the move feels good.

Next, standing with knees comfortably bent, root down into the midpoint that you discerned between the rock back and forth. Inhale as you raise the arms up through the side space, touching the inner wrists together at the top; exhale as you lower the arms down to the sides, leading with the backs of the hands, arms long (no bend in the elbows). 

As the arms go up, look down (eyes open or closed); as the arms come down, look up to open and stimulate the Throat Chakra. Again, complete 12-26 sets of inhale/exhale, up/down. 

Now, using the same arm movement as that in the first exercise, stagger your stance: With feet hip-width apart, place one foot 12-18 inches ahead of the other. Inhale to rock forward, coming onto the ball of the back foot (front foot remains neutral); exhale to rock back, returning the back foot to neutral as you lift the toes of the front foot, stretching the Achilles tendon and calf. Continue the rocking with accompanying arm movement for a 1-3 minutes. Switch feet, and repeat for another 1-3 minutes.

After the second rocking movement, return to the rooted “midpoint” squat. With the arms open to the sides at shoulder level, palms forward, inhale long and deep; exhale to draw the arms forward, leading with the inner wrists. Round the spine as the arms move forward to bring the wrists together; inhale and lightly flex, or arch the spine as the arms draw back to the start. Continue this Heart-opening move for 1-3 minutes.

Now, stand with the feet comfortably apart. Begin to sway side to side, and allow the arms to follow, moving mellifluously through space in the form of a Figure 8, or Eternity Sign. Let yourself disappear into the move, intuitively spiraling the arms at different levels all around you. This clearing of your magnetic field will help to dispel doubt and promote insight and understanding. Continue for 1-3 minutes.

To finish, place your hands at the Heart Center in Namaste (Prayer Pose). Close your eyes, gazing at the Third Eye. If your neck allows, tilt the head back slightly; lift the chest, bringing a gentle arch into the upper spine. Feel the reassurance and support of the Universe moving through your mind, your heart, and your spirit. Breathe deeply into the awakened inner peace; if you like, bring the Prayer Mudra into a seated posture, head neutral, for a period of stillness. Finally, move into svasana, so that you may fully integrate the soothing stability of the flow.