Silent Sundays: Ode To The Lobes–Conclusion

The past three posts—written and audio (at anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson)—contribute more than expected to today’s conclusion to the series, “Ode to the Lobes.” Part One revealed the wonders of a brain in perfect harmony, with an emphasis on the Frontal Lobe. Part Two noted the relationship between an anatomical understanding of the brain and aspects of higher consciousness, specifically through the Parietal and Temporal lobes. In between those two pieces, I offered a quick routine to cope with Mercury in Retrograde.

Cut to the day of the following piece. As I puttered about in my apartment at 4 a.m., summoning the “spark” necessary to delve into writing, the lights went out. A quick check told me that the entire house was powerless, as were nearby houses. No light, no landline, no supplemental heat source, no internet: in the dark, in every sense of the word.

Yet, as I lit favorite candles and clicked on the artificial ones, I, too, began to feel a “lightness.” After reporting the outage with my rarely used cell phone, I went to my meditation space. I used the time to center myself physically and mentally. As I moved into the soft dimness, a clear path toward Part Three came into view.

First, with regard to Part One’s whole-brain and frontal lobe attention, the need to remain on an even keel and to hone in on the bare necessities becomes readily apparent in the face of any challenge. Second, Part Two’s “ode” to the temporal and parietal lobes underscores sensory awareness as a means to navigate physical space. And finally, Mercury’s infamous games with all things electric and communicative were enthusiastically at play during the outage: The ability to adapt and move inward rises to the fore when pitched into darkness.

And for those first minutes before I found alternative light sources, my sense of balance was swiftly upset with the loss of visual function. Those functions—balance and eyesight—are controlled by the Occipital Lobe: the focus of today’s Conclusion.

It is not groundbreaking information that when one closes the eyes, balance is thrown off. In today’s session, however, we see how the brain provides alternative means to remain centered. The following practice stimulates those “second tier” abilities: The entire brain pitches in when a typically reliable player is benched.

Metaphorically, today’s routine highlights this comforting notion: No matter how deep in the dark, one can find a way through. More often than not, that means turning to means not typically considered, be they from within or without. The following practice will both strengthen the physical eyes and improve balance. In doing so, one will discover that the physical empowerment yields improved insight and confidence: vision and steadiness.

To begin the practice, stand in an unencumbered space: nothing to trip on or knock over. Establish a balance pose. It may be Tree Pose; it may be a knee held up at waist level; or it may be bringing foot-to-buttock, and holding the foot. Or, as you are getting your bearings, simply lift one foot slightly off of the floor. Note the body and mind’s first reaction to the removal of stability. 

In your selected pose, hone in on which muscles contract to maintain the posture; how the breath shifts; and where the energy flows. To be steady, the physical core—hips to chest, front and back—must be strong. A resilient calmness must prevail. And your overall vibration should emanate from your sense of a “center,” as it reverberates evenly and steadily throughout the subtle energy bodies.

Breathe consciously and evenly: Then, slowly close the eyes. If your body sways or shifts, notice any emotion or thought that arises.

Then, pause briefly, and open the eyes. Take stock: Did you release a breath that you may have held for most of the previous move? Do you feel a sense of relief, or realize that there was a diffuse sense of “threat” as you worked for balance? Simply make an inventory, and then proceed to the next move.

Still standing, create your balance posture on the other side: From the first thought of doing so—on what you may perceive as your “bad” side—the brain already is gearing up for greater effort. Yet, you have the same resources and abilities to achieve balance on both sides, regardless of your preconception. Take the time to observe your physical and mental reactions, just as you did on the first side.

Now, take a break. Move into a seated position, either on the floor or on a chair. Here, you will revisit some moves from a previous podcast about the eyes.The exercises ease eye strain and introduce a feeling of “fresh eyes.” The mental focus necessary to play with visual focus ushers in an initial sense of disorientation, and then finds its home as you adapt. When “in the dark,” or presented with a confounding situation, new strategies and perspective are the way through.

First, turn your head slowly from side to side: Look to the left, using the eyes to track and focus; then, look to the right. Go back and forth a few times, inhaling left, exhaling right; be aware of the how the eyes travel with the movement. 

Then, when the head is turned to the left, maintain the left-facing eye focus as the head turns to the right. When the head is turned, bring the eyes to join it on the right. Then, keep looking to the right as the head goes left. Again, repeat the move until you achieve ease, still inhaling left, exhaling right. Once you feel comfortable, repeat 4 more full rounds of the alternating turns with oppositional focus.

Next, bring the head to center. Tilt the head to look up, then down—inhale up, exhale down: Again, bring the eyes along for the ride. After a few of these moves, prepare to engage the opposing eye gaze: As the head tilts back, look down toward the nose; when the hid tips forward, look up to toward the forehead. Repeat until you find fluidity, and then repeat 4 more full rounds.

When you have finished working the eyes, close them. Breathe deeply for a few moments. Then, come onto all fours. Place your body into Bird Dog position: left arm extends forward from the shoulder, right leg extends back, raised to hip level. Keep the eyes closed: Let the core help you establish steadiness in this balancing, conditioning move. Breathe deeply and consciously for 3 full breaths, then switch sides. 

After 3 breaths on the second side, switch again: take 2 full breaths before changing arm and leg. Repeat one more time, using one deep breath before switching. When finished, shift back into Baby Pose for a brief, centering rest.

When you are ready, help yourself to stand. Once again, find your initial balance pose. This time, configure it first on what was previously the “unnatural” side. Slowly close the eyes. Let the mind and body’s now-balanced eye function; stimulated core; and steadied vibration supersede any uneasiness. Take a couple of deep breaths, then open the eyes. 

Now, balance on the first—your “good”—side. Again, close the eyes. Remain here until the brain and body find stability: Breathe consciously and deeply. With all that you have done to harness the brain’s power, note the likely greater ease with which you can inhabit an inherently “precarious” situation. Call upon this potential whenever darkness descends

To close, return to a seated position for a grounding, yet elevating mediation. These seemingly opposed qualities are the same ones that must function in harmony when one is “in the dark.”

Bring the left hand over the head, palm down: Use your kinesthetic intuition—what somehow “feels right”—to tell you how far overhead the hand should be. It may be but 2-3 inches; it may hover aloft as high as you can reach. 

On the right hand, create Rudra Mudra: Touch the thumb tip to the index and ring finger tips. Although this centering hand gesture is typically associated with the Third Chakra—solar plexus—use it today to ground to your very foundation. Place the pinky-side edge of the hand on the low belly, a couple of inches beneath the navel point, just above the pubic bone: Palm is up.

With the eyes closed, gaze up to the Third Eye. Breathe in and out through the nose: Exhale for at least 2 more beats, or counts, than the inhale. (For example, inhale for 4, exhale for at least 6.) As you breathe in this stabilizing, calming way, maintain the closed-eye Third Eye focus; all the while, be aware of the hand on the belly, the mudra on the hand. Simultaneously, sensitize to the air and space around the raised, down-turned hand: The field in which it floats is the aura. Note the feeling of uplifted steadiness that you now abide. Continue for at least 3 minutes.

When you are ready, move into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Make Peace with Mercury

Special note: The following practice was first presented in July 2019. With all that has transpired in the world since then, Mercury Retrograde may seem the least of our problems. Yet, because of the global challenges that we collectively face, daily frustrations can take on an added weight. 

To remedy the likelihood of irksome situations that Mercury likes to unleash when retrograde, I offer an updated version of the original routine: The Miracle Bend is an additional move that clears the auric field, while also warming the back body for a subsequent Yin Forward Bend. New, too, of course, is the date of the retrograde phase: Mercury began its “backward” movement on January 14, 2022, and will get back on course February 3. 

If you like, you may practice with the audio version at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

From today until July 31, the planet Mercury once again begins its backward-seeming movement through space. Although this retrograde phase occurs 3-4 times a year (in different months, thus in different astrological signs), each time typically manifests mix-ups and frustrations. The reverberations of Mercury’s rush past Earth affects all areas of communication: spoken, written, business, computer coding, etc. Additionally, the retrograde period precedes a shift in some area of your life; however, this fluctuation is unpredictable and will usually be felt only after Mercury returns to its normal orbit.

Today’s Silent Sunday suggests an unusual strategy for that scamp, Mercury: Instead of combatting the potential for skewed energy, the practice honors Mercury. As we can not yet know the change that Mercury will usher in; and because earthly miscommunication is likely at this time, intuition takes on a significant role in our ability to dance with Mercury. Certainly it is no mistake that the pinky finger, which channels intuitive energy, is called the Mercury finger.

To begin, come to stand with feet a comfortable distance apart. Touch the thumb tip of each hand to the fleshy mound at the base of its respective pinky; make a fist with the thumb inside. Now, with both arms at your sides, circle the arms outward, keeping the circles low and about 8-12 inches in diameter. Continue for 30-60 seconds.

Then, start to move the circles upward at a steady pace. Circle 8-10 times to bring the circling overhead. With your arms shoulder-width apart, continue the outward circles for 1 minute, breathing deeply and strongly as you do. When you have finished open the hands, and shake the arms as you bring them back down to your sides.

For the next movement, use each thumb to clamp its partner-pinky into the palm of the hand: The other three fingers are together and straight. Begin to seesaw the arms: Inhale as the left arm rises above the “horizon” about 45 degrees; exhale as it lowers and the right arm comes up. The palms of each hand face forward as you seesaw the arms up and down.

Next, still standing, begin what is called Miracle Bend in kundalini yoga. Inhale the arms up through the front space; exhale to bend forward to touch the ground. When in the standing position— with the arms overhead and shoulder-width apart—introduce a modest back bend into the spine. To modify, feel free to bend the knees for the forward bend; or, simply come down as best you can, and touch the hands to wherever you can on the legs. Further, if the standing spinal extension (arch) is not comfortable for your back, simply stand as tall as you can. Continue to inhale up, exhale down at a steady pace for 26 Miracle Bends.

Now, you may bring yourself to the ground for a yin-style forward bend. Yin yoga focuses less on perfecting alignment of a pose, and more on connecting deeply with the specific energetic quality of a posture. Forward bends access the back body, in which the Bladder meridian lies; the Life Nerve, which courses through the back of the entire leg, is also stimulated. As these energies are awakened, we deepen our ability to flow with the twists and turns of Life. 

If you like, prop yourself: perhaps a pillow or rolled blanket under the knees, or a bolster on your thighs to support your torso fully as you relax into the Forward Bend. Feet can be at ease: no forced arch is necessary. With your legs out in front of you, and your body resting on them, close your eyes and breathe consciously, but naturally. Focus your attention on the sensations and emotions that arise as you descend fully into the posture. If you need to adjust slightly as the muscles release, do so; then, return to the aware stillness. Remain with the pose for 3-5 minutes.

Now you are ready to close your practice. Lie on your back with feet flat on the ground, knees bent. Move your feet slightly wider than your hips, and angle the toes inward: Let the knees fall inward to rest against each other in this classic Constructive Rest position. Bring your arms about 12 inches away from the body, resting on the floor, palms up. On both hands, reconstruct the mudra of the thumb holding the pinky into the palm of the hand. Bring your closed eyes to focus on the Third Eye. As you inhale, draw communicative, intuitive energy from around and within to your Third Eye: upon exhalation, send the vibration deeply into your brain, and your Throat and Heart chakras. As you inhale to fill, and exhale to imbed your “ken” into this Upper Triangle, you allow the positive aspects of Mercury to ride along with the bounces that the planet’s retrograde phase can create. Continue this breath mediation for 3 minutes.

Finally, release yourself into Svasana. Acknowledge Mercury’s need to be “out of phase” for these few weeks; imbue yourself with the awareness and equanimity that a retrograde period can stifle. As you relax into the throes of the cosmos and allow yourself to greet the energy, rest assured that Mercury recognizes your efforts to make its acquaintance.

Happy Sunday…

Ode To the Lobes–Part Two: Parietal and Temporal

Reminder: Over the course of the days to come, you can practice along with each part of this series in audio form. Visit: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

Today’s discussion and practice hone in on the parietal and temporal lobes of the brain. Further, the series begins to look at the anatomical brain’s relationship to other dimensions of physicality and consciousness: “organ systems” of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as well as subtle energies of the chakra system.

The temporal and parietal regions of the brain comprise the side zones: Remember that there also are the frontal and occipital lobes, which “bookend” the side areas. Roughly, the temporal lobe controls auditory function, plus emotions (emanating from the limbic structures), while the parietal region governs general physical sensation (somatosensory response).

To bring in some additional aspects, I first think of the temporal seat of hearing. In TCM, hearing (the ears) is associated with the Kidney and Bladder systems: In turn, the physical kidney and bladder lie in the realm of the Lower Triangle of chakras (First, Second, and Third). 

The above correlations represent human fundamentals of existence: physical survival and distinct, yet coordinated organ function. The TCM Kidneys house one’s life “essence,” or the primary spark of physical vitality. The Bladder meridians are linked to what is called the Life Nerve in kundalini yoga: the meridian that runs down the entire back body, eventually sharing space with the sciatic nerve’s path through the hamstrings and calves.

Thus, when we attune ourselves to the temporal region—even by visualizing that lobe and that part of the skull—we add a newfound depth to practices that harness the energy of the Lower Triangle.

Then, when one attunes to the physical sensations and potential emotional vibrations of the following practice, there now is an awareness of the participation of the parietal lobe. With intentional focus on the brain’s role in one’s experience of higher consciousness—that is, knowing when, where, and how it is happening—one’s connection to and communication with “other realms” is affirmed and enhanced.

In order to sample how this works, bring yourself into a supine position on the floor: Close the eyes. First, listen: Note the general sound quality or blend of sounds in your space. Then, start to differentiate what you hear. In my case, I heard a clock ticking; cars driving on damp, slick roads; a neighbor’s kitten meowing across the hall; plus an overall hum, which came with a visual of tiny dots, like star points, filling the darkness.

Then, once you have identified sounds, take your mind’s eye to the upper sides of the skull, just above the ears. As you breathe in and out through the nose, gaze internally at the wonder of the lobes at work. Allow the breath to slow and deepen as you hone in on temporal activity.

After a few minutes of this opening exercise, bend the knees: feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Begin to rock the pelvis forward and back: Inhale to tip the tail forward, toward the floor; exhale to rock it up and in toward you, as if preparing to roll up into a Bridge. Inhale to rock the pelvis forward; exhale to tip it back. Continue for about 1 minute.

Then, do roll all the way up into a Bridge, peeling the spine away from the floor, vertebra by vertebra. With the spine lifted, slowly dip the pelvis down to the floor: This will create a deep arch or extension in the lower and mid-spine. Lift the pelvis back up, recreating the Bridge, and then roll down through the spine, articulating through each vertebra.

From the beginning: Inhale to tip the grounded pelvis forward; exhale to roll the spine up into Bridge; inhale to tip and dip the pelvis toward the floor; exhale to lift it up, and roll back down. Repeat the entire sequence for a total of 12 times.

Now, draw the knees into the body, raise the head, and squeeze the bent legs together with the forearms. With the hands free, cover the ears: The head-hold will also help to support the lifted head. Breathe deeply here for 1-2 minutes, noting the depth of the sound within your head. Be aware that you continue to “hear,” despite the covered ears. Use this realization to deepen the quality of any contemplation or meditation: To “hear” universal and divine wisdom, tune in.

Next, release the hands and arms: In a slightly looser “body ball,” hold behind the thighs, and rock back and forth a few times. This will further the connection to the Bladder meridian that you stimulated with the curling Bridge and blocked-ear moves. After a few rolls—inhale to rock back, exhale up—sit with the legs extended in front of you. Open the legs into a comfortable straddle, one that allows you to bend forward and maintain a fairly straight back: Hold some part of your leg (or feet/ankles, if you are highly flexible). Begin to move up and down with the torso: inhale up, exhale forward/down. This will activate the portion of the Kidney meridian that travels through the inner thighs.

As you do this, add a sounded “Aum.” To chant this “seed mantra,” divide the word into three parts: ahh/ohh/mmm. Inhale, then drop the jaw, opening the mouth wide: Use the time it takes to slowly chant, “a-u-m,” to bring the jaw up and gently touch the lips together. All the while, continue to move the body up and down between the open legs. Find a rhythm in which you complete 2-4 moving forward bends per each long Aum. Continue for 3 minutes.

When you have finished. sit quietly in your straddle posture, hands on the thighs, eyes remaining closed. Scan your body for physical sensation: toes, heels, backs of the knees, inner thighs, and so forth, up through the entire torso—front, back, sides—arms, neck, face. In doing so, you focus on the gifts of the parietal lobe: somatic information via sensation.

Now, help yourself to stand, feet wider than hip width; toes may turn out slightly. Begin to bend the knees, so that you can plant both hands on the floor, each alongside the inner edge of its respective foot. Bend the knees enough, so that the buttocks comes down to the level of the knees, or just above. The arms press into the the lower legs to support the posture; the torso should be as close to parallel with the floor as possible.

In this deep, wide squat, you align the entire chakra system with the earth beneath you, and all of your subtle energies vibrate on the same plane. This is a soothing, reassuring stance for the nervous system, and thus for conscious, as well as subconscious thoughts. Remain here for 10 full breaths.

Finally, bring yourself down onto all fours, simply as a transition into Baby Pose. Take a few breaths into this restful posture, and then roll up through the spine to sit. You may remain seated on your heels, or feel free to find another position. Regardless, create a simple mudra on both hands: Shunya Mudra. Bring the middle finger tips down to the fleshy mound of their respective thumbs: Hold the fingers down with the thumbs; rest the hands palm up on the knees. With eyes closed and now gazing toward the Third Eye, begin a deep inhalation through the nose: Through rounded, open lips, exhale slowly and steadily. Notice that you have simultaneously engaged three focal points: sound of “windy” exhalation; closed-eye gaze to Third Eye; and touch awareness of the mudra’s selected fingertips.

As the side lobes of the brain allow and process this information, the mudra helps to awaken and support the ears, hearing, and deeper resonances from the Universe. As such, Shunya Mudra is also valuable in the promotion of patience and discernment. 

Sit in meditation for 5-11 minutes. If you like, move into Svasana for deep rest.

Next time: Conclusion 

Silent Sundays: Ode To The Lobes–Series Introduction

As a curious creature who feels compelled to investigate almost anything that I do not understand—or about which I seek a greater understanding—it was only a matter of time before I set my mind to… the mind. But with a mother in the depths of dementia, the curiosity became a necessity: how to accept our family’s heart-rending reality by venturing further into the arena of the challenge—the brain. And for many, certainly those between 45-70 or so, the state of their own brain health grows increasingly important. Therein lies the crux of the series to come.

For example, this Silent Sunday leads off with a short routine designed to activate and support the harmony between all regions of the brain. Future practices will address regions individually: In so doing, one can begin to discern physical, emotional, or mental areas that could use additional attention. Think of the series as an investigative tool: While offering your body and mind a novel experience, the routines will unearth information for you to apply to your personal needs.

First, a brief refresher course may be in order. When most of us think of “the brain,” we mean the cerebrum: It is the wrinkly organ under the skull bone that regulates, controls, communicates, moves, feels, and processes. The cerebrum is then divided into four lobes that comprise two hemispheres. Behind and below the cerebrum lie the cerebellum, medulla oblongata, and pons (Lat. “bridge,” i.e., connects brain to spinal cord). Each of these major regions has further divisions, but the series will focus on the main areas.

On this Silent Sunday, the first practice addresses whole-brain synchronization. Subsequent routines will focus on how specific brain areas and their associated functions can be stimulated. Along the way, I will offer insight about how these anatomical regions relate to movement and meditation, as well as to esoteric aspects of energy and consciousness. The intention is to add a new level of interest to the practices that I create and that you can enjoy.

To begin the exploration, find your way to the floor. As you do so, notice how, for the most part, you do not have to consciously conduct the movement: After countless trips down to the ground, your brain knows how to navigate the descent, which hand goes where, what needs support, etc. This “muscle memory” comes from the cerebellum. 

Once down, lie on your back, legs long, arms by the sides. Bring your attention to the breath. As you are, the medulla is in charge: breath rate, heart beat, blood pressure. The cerebrum can join the practice; it is responsible for the decision to alter the natural breath, to choose a pattern, and to control the technique. Here, begin to inhale deeply and steadily through the nose. Exhale long and slow for twice the amount of time as your inhalation. Repeat 4 more times.

Next, inhale to draw the right knee in toward the body. As you do so, lift the right arm up and over to rest on the floor behind you: Exhale to return the arm and leg to their original position. Inhale to draw the left knee in and the arm up and over; exhale to release. Alternate the unilateral arm and leg movement a total of 16 times (8 on each side). Remember that the right hemisphere of the brain controls the movement of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right.

Now, extend the legs and arms straight up into the air. Inhale: As you exhale, lower the left leg and right arm to the floor (arm next to the body). Inhale them both up; exhale to lower the right leg and left arm. Repeat for a total of 12 alternations.

Special note: Feel free to modify this move by bending the legs to 90 degrees at the knee. As the opposite arm lowers, touch the toes to the floor, maintaining the angle of the bent leg. 

This type of cross-lateral movement requires both sides of the brain to work in harmony. If you find it challenging to create the move and to make it fluid, it may be beneficial to introduce more oppositional movement into your daily routine.

On that note: Once you have completed the above exercise, help yourself up to sit. Here, begin backward shoulder rolls, both at the same time, for 8 repetitions. Next, roll them forward 8 times. Now, begin to roll only the left shoulder back; repeat 6 times. Then, roll only the right shoulder back 6 times. Finish this portion with 4 shoulder rolls forward on the left, then the right.

Now, your brain will have to work: Inherently, your focus must increase, which is an initial portal into meditation. As you roll the left shoulder back, roll the right forward: Take as much time as you need to achieve ease with this move; once the movement is fluid, roll in opposition 4 times. Repeat the process as the left shoulder rolls forward and the right back.

After you have finished the “brain teaser,” sit quietly to resume natural breathing. Then, shift onto all fours for a breathing variation of Cat/Cow. (This move was introduced in the previous post, “Where You Are.”) Here—and anytime breath and movement synergizes intentionally—the move harnesses the functions of the hindbrain (motor control with autonomic nervous system); simultaneously, both hemispheres of the cerebrum are engaged with the creativity and organization of the movement.

Begin with a few rounds of traditional Cat/Cow: Inhale to extend (arch) the spine, exhale to flex (round). Pause for a moment, breathing in and out completely. Then, inhale to round the back; exhale to arch. Again, you may need a few rounds before the move flows seamlessly with the new breath pattern: Inhale to round, exhale to arch. Once you find a sense of flow, complete 6 rounds of the atypical movement.

Then, shift into Baby Pose for a few rounds of natural, but deep breathing through the nose. When you are ready, sit up, and come into your favorite seated posture for meditation. With the eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, bring the fingertips of each hand to touch their match on the opposite hand: The fingers are straight and apart from each other, and palms do not touch. Bring this Hakini Mudra just above the level of the Heart Center, a few inches in front of the body. This gesture coordinates and focuses the mind. Breathe into its centering power for 3 minutes. Then, if you like, find your way into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Where You Are…

On this first Silent Sunday of 2022, I share no reflection or intention. Rather, I offer empathetic encouragement to those who may have wandered into the turn of the calendar year under less-than-desirable conditions. And if that is the case for you or someone you know, today’s practice honors the uncertainty and doldrums that can arise when one’s experience does not match the expected feeling of the moment.

Of the trio of end-of-year holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations), January 1 is lauded as a clean slate—a prime opportunity for growth, change, and most of all, Hope. If, however, one leaves the previous year with unresolved issues—or, in the case of someone dear to my heart, painful challenge enters the fray as the year ends—the “new beginning” can seem like a cosmic taunt. How does one wrangle with an off-putting circumstance when the expectation is one of exuberant determination to progress and evolve?

In such times, I return to the adage: Begin where you are. To try to force energy and optimism into a weakened body or heart is, indeed, a fool’s errand. To address a vulnerable state with kindness and gentleness, on the other hand, is a wise and loving gift to oneself or another. 

When confronted with heavy emotion or physical ailing during what is typically a time of renewal, recognize outright that the psycho-spiritual self is not bound by the human construct of time, nor by social admonitions. Preserve your energy, in order to direct it to that which needs your attention. In doing so, you clear what will be a hard-won path forward: When the moment is right for reflection, that pathway will shine as the undergirding of your newfound strength: a fortitude that can only have arisen as a result of your devotion to honor “where you are.”

Special note: If you are fortunate to be ringing in this New Year in a state of Hope, Joy, and Peace, today’s practice will enhance those vibrations. And for all, remember that you can find an audio version of this practice at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

For those who are physically well and able, begin on the floor in Baby Pose (buttocks on heels, forehead on floor): If mobility is a bit limited, feel free to sit in a chair. Regardless, close the eyes, and inhale through the nose; exhale through rounded lips. Complete a few rounds of this pattern, and then, if in Baby Pose, rise up to sit on the heels. 

In the posture or in a chair, place the hands on the knees or thighs: Inhale deeply, and then exhale through the nose as you bow the torso forward, coming as close to the legs as possible. Inhale up, exhale down: Complete 26 bows.

Now, shift onto all fours: If in a chair, remain seated for the imminent spinal work. To introduce the notion of change—and thus, reassurance that “where you are” is not permanent—you will reverse the breathing typically associated with Spinal Flexes. On all fours or seated, inhale deeply through the nose: As you exhale, arch (extend) the spine, opening the front body and looking up slightly; inhale long and steady to round (flex) the spine, freeing the back body and allowing the head to hang. Inhale to arch; exhale to round. Complete 16 sets. After the final exhalation, inhale to sit back on the heels if you were on all fours: Suspend the in-breath as you elongate the spine; eyes are closed and gazing at the Third Eye. Then exhale powerfully through the mouth, and sit quietly.

Next, help yourself into a soft Standing Forward Bend, allowing the knees to bend. With the hands on the floor (or the ankles, or wherever you can manage), inhale to bend the knees more deeply; exhale to lengthen through the legs as much as possible. Inhale bend, exhale straighten: Complete 26 repetitions. This move will help to restore any stability that may have wavered during the previous atypical breathing. Simultaneously, moving rhythmically and fluidly in an inverted position will suggest to the mind and body that a change of perspective is achievable.

When you are ready, return to standing. Cross the arms over the body, so that the hands rest on the opposite ribs, just under the armpits: Imbue tenderness into this supportive hold. Close the eyes, and inhale slowly and fully. As you exhale, bend to the left; inhale up to center, and exhale to the right. Moving in this way through the sagittal plane ushers in the idea that one can cope and ultimately thrive in external environments. Continue to alternate these gentle side-bends 32 times (a total of 16 to each side).

Then, release the arms, and simply breathe as you stand with the eyes closed. After a couple of centering breaths, inhale to sweep the arms out to the sides and up, bringing the palms together overhead. Exhale as you draw this Prayer Mudra down to the Heart Center; at that point, tip the hands, so that the fingers point down as you continue the downward trajectory to its end.

Immediately open the palms to inhale the arms back up through the side space and overhead: Exhale to bring Prayer Mudra to the Heart, before flipping it to finish its path. Continue this aura-clearing movement, which also helps to draw divine guidance and universal wisdom into your earthly life. Repeat 12 times.

Finally, still standing, rest the right hand on the low belly: thumb tip to navel, palm settled naturally beneath. Place the back of the left hand on the low back (palm faces out). Here, take 3 breaths in through pursed lips, creating a soft whistle; exhale through the nose. Then, breathe in slowly and fully through the nose; exhale a “double breath” through the mouth, short-long, as if to say, “Hah-haaaah.” Do this breath 3 times.

If you like, conclude your practice with Svasana, easing your way into the New Year.

Happy Sunday… 

New Audio Practice!

As a way to transition into the New Year, I offer a brief respite from whatever tension may have accrued from the holidays, or from the inevitable stress that accompanies the ongoing pandemic. If you would like to instill a sense of ease in the body and peace in the mind and heart, look for “Release Valve” at the following address:

anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

Once there, you can scroll down for additional practices. You can also choose to listen to any of the practices on Spotify. (The link is clear when you visit the anchor.fm site.)

May you be well and safe, and may we all find hope in the year to come…

Silent Sundays: In the Meantime…

This Silent Sunday signals the start of a brief hiatus for me. I expect to return here on January 2, 2022. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy some previous pieces. Additionally, you may practice along with new audio routines at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson. (Soon, you will also find one of the below routines, “Release Valve,” in its audio form, which I plan to record before year’s end.)

https://everythingelsa.blog/2018/12/16/silent-sundays-short-practice-to-reverse-or-correct-skewed-energy/

https://everythingelsa.blog/2018/11/04/silent-sundays-steadying-practice-to-soothe-and-rebuild-your-spirit/

https://everythingelsa.blog/2019/12/01/silent-sundays-reveal-the-mudra-you-need/

https://everythingelsa.blog/2021/05/02/silent-sundays-reminder-nuggets/

https://everythingelsa.blog/2020/01/12/silent-sundays-release-valve/

Happy Sunday(s)…

Silent Sundays: Top to Bottom, Conclusion–Knees and Feet

… [A] ‘sacred physiology’… maps out the body according to subtle energy currents and power points. The body has its own special sacred points just as the Earth has its sacred sites and energy currents according to sacred geography. [One] must learn this sacred geography of [the] body in order to attune… to the Earth [and] to the greater cosmos.

                              —Frawley, Ranade, and Lele: Ayurveda and Marma Therapy, 2003.

On this Silent Sunday, the final part of the “Top to Bottom” series addresses what may be the most significant aspect of the head-to-toe practice. While my belief, experience, and practice always consider the energetic vibration associated with the physical body, some areas of the body seem to transmit a higher psycho-spiritual frequency than others. The feet certainly hold an abundance of such energy, as well as portals and points corresponding to the rest of the body. This idea is underscored in bodywork modalities: reflexology, acupuncture, and marma therapy.

Special note: Marma therapy may be thought of as the yogic equivalent of Chinese medicine’s acupuncture, or of the Western massage practice of reflexology. Marmas, however, are less fixed than pressure points: Their general location on the physical body becomes specific according to the individual’s constitution, history, and current state of being.

The knees, too, are a perhaps surprising source of subtle energy centers. While many meridians flow past the knees, and several acupuncture (or qigong pressure points) may be found at the site, the knee joints represent and house a profound, awe-worthy purpose: To steady oneself on Earth, in order to further spiritual development. (As Louise L. Hay points out in her book, You Can Heal Your Life, a helpful affirmation for any joint is: “My life is divinely guided, and I am always going in the best direction.”)

One of my earliest bodywork experiences as a client—and one that triggered my interest in “sacred physiology”—occurred when the massage therapist (working on my knees) said: “The knees relate to depression.”

At the time, I was in my mid-20s, reeling from post-college uncertainty, and in the midst of a soul- and self-crushing relationship: Depression had begun to set in. My knees did not bother me, nor had I complained of any tenderness. The bodyworker, however, had zeroed in on them; her statement was matter-of-fact, and she could not have known how deeply it resonated. But the correlation between “knees and depression” stuck with me.

Now, years later, having been steeped in the practice and study of yoga and various bodywork modalities—all bolstered by a “knowing” of their effect on and relationship to the spiritual body— the idea seems “normal.” Because Traditional Chinese Medicine introduced me to the organ systems, elements, meridians, and corresponding emotional and psychological states, the body as a vessel for spirit and emotion is a concept that comprises how I live in and see the world.

Such is the nature of today’s routine: To bring a reverent focus to the hidden spiritual bounty that can be found in the physical body.

To begin, round up an array of essential oils. You certainly may proceed and reap benefit from the following practice without them; however, to anoint the knees and feet will add a depth of devotion while simultaneously enhancing the physical intentions.

For the knees, try peppermint or wintergreen oil—a few drops in a carrier oil, e.g., almond or jojoba: Gently, but firmly apply all around the joint using circular, rhythmic movement. Use both hands for each knee. Then, dot one drop of lavender onto each kneecap, and rub it in with the index fingers: right finger for right knee, left for left. Finally, tap a drop of lavender onto one index fingertip, then press that into the other index tip: Take both tips to the back of their respective knee; inhale to press in firmly with the finger, exhale to release. Repeat two more times.

Next, for the feet, try frankincense, myrrh, or sandalwood for the toes and just below (i.e., into the balls and webbing of the feet). For the heels and ankles, grounding oils (patchouli, vetiver) support stability. For the mid-foot, try any of your favorites: geranium, bergamot, or sweet marjoram are lovely options.

Now, come onto the belly. With the forehead resting on the backs of the hands, bend the legs at the knees. Begin to sway the lower legs from side to side; the hips and pelvis should remain still. Move back and forth, and consciously deepen the breath as the legs move side to side. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, release the legs to the floor, letting them straighten out naturally. You may remain with the head on the hands; or, If you like, come up onto the forearms, as in Sphinx Pose. Begin to double-kick one foot in toward the buttock, and then the other: This is a quick, “beat-beat” rhythm. Two quick kicks toward the rear with the left foot; release it as the right foot “beat-beat’s” in toward its side. In this first round of swift, small double kicks, the foot is in flexion, i.e., the heel leads the way. Complete a total of 8 beat-beats (alternating, thus a total of 4 on each side).

Repeat the kick-kicks with pointed feet: again, 8 total.

To close the set, alternate the foot position each time you double kick: The first beat is a flexed foot; the second is pointed. Then, quickly switch to the other side: flex-point is the “beat-beat.” For this portion, complete 16 double-kicks, i.e, 8 each side, alternating.

Now, roll onto the back, and extend both legs straight up into the air. As you inhale, bend the knees, and flex the feet at the ankle joints. Exhale to press the legs straight up as you point through the feet (extending the ankle joint). Inhale to bend and flex; exhale to straighten and point. Repeat 12 times. 

Then, let the legs open into a wide straddle in the air. Repeat the same inhale/exhale with bend/flex and straighten/point; you will feel a deep stretch, perhaps a tightness, through the inner thigh and groin. Move gently and purposefully with steady breathing, and the tension will ease. Also do 12 bend-and-lengthen moves in this position.

Next, lengthen both legs onto the floor. Repeat the previous movement: Inhale to bend the knees as the feet flex; exhale to lengthen through the knees and point the feet. Again, do this 12 times.

Now, help yourself up into a seated position, legs straight in front of you. If this posture proves difficult, bring a bolster under the bottom to help pitch your pelvis forward a bit. Also, you may slide a cushion or rolled blanket under the knees. Move gently into Forward Bend; keep the spine long as you bend from the hips. Ideally, wrap the thumb and index finger around their respective big toe, and press firmly into the nail with the thumbs. Keep a determined gaze upon the big toes. (If you can not reach the toes, place the hands wherever you can along the leg; maintain a powerful visual focus on the big toes.) In the posture, as deep into the bend as you can go while holding the intense focus, begin Breath of Fire. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, release the Forward Bend, and sit in whatever way allows you to comfortably repeat the circular massage of the knees. Inhale deeply through the nose; exhale through the mouth as you rub this joint. Continue for as long as you like.

Then, one foot at a time, use both thumbs to press into either side of the Achilles tendon as the back of the ankle. Press in and move up and down a few times. Then, begin to use all the fingers of each hand to pinch the inner and outer edges of the feet; again, move up and down along the sides a few times, breathing deeply (inhale nose, exhale mouth).

When you are ready, hold the foot with its same-side hand, bending the knee if necessary. In a soft fist, use the opposite hand’s knuckles to knead the sole of the foot: first, the bottom of the heel; then the arch, and finally the ball of the foot. Follow that progression a few times.

Now, switch sides and repeat the  full sequence (beginning with the Achilles tendon) on the other foot. When you have completed the massage, return to the Forward Bend position, but in a relaxed manner: Allow the spine to round if it needs to, in order for you to reach the feet.

Beginning with the left pinky toe, “snap” the tip of the toe with the thumb and first two fingers of either hand. The sense is one of a quick pinch-and-pull, as if to clip off the end of the toe. Move quickly from toe to toe, moving left to right; when you arrive at the left big toe, “snap” it, then proceed directly the right big toe. Continue moving toward the right pinky toe, which will complete the process.

Finally, prepare for Svasana. In this supine rest pose, inhale deeply through the nose: As  you do, squeeze the anus and genitals (Mula Bandha) as you turn your closed eyes up to gaze at the Third Eye. Exhale to release, feeling that the breath—the Prana—is sailing through and out the backs of the knees and the soles of the feet. 

This breath pattern underscores the need to balance Root and Third Eye—the earthly and spiritual. It further ensures that this dynamic duality flows evenly and beneficially throughout your physical and subtle bodies. Complete at least 8 full rounds of the pranayama with visualization. Then, float into deep rest for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday… 

Top to Bottom–Part Two: Low Back and Belly

Special note: An audio version of this piece is available on the Everything Elsa podcast. Visit: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

In this second part of the series, “Top to Bottom,” I address two more areas prone to tension and dis-ease during times of stress. The back, in particular, may be vulnerable during the holiday season, as it also houses a large part of the Bladder meridian: As part of the Water element in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Bladder and Kidney organ systems correspond with Winter. When weak or obstructed, the Bladder meridian (which runs from the base of the skull, down both sides of the spine, and the back of each leg) contributes greatly to back pain and stiffness. Further, anxiety and control issues can arise with an unhappy Bladder meridian.

And, oh, that belly: It will be no surprise that the foods and emotions that often spring up at this time of year can wreak havoc on digestion. To steady this area will go a long way toward instilling peace into your holiday time; emotionally, a balanced belly keeps frustration and resentment at bay.

In working with the lower spine and abdominal region, the Second and Third chakras will be awakened. These energy centers, when functioning optimally, ensure a sense of stability and confidence: With the powerhouses of esteem strong, one can proceed through any challenge with positivity.

The practice begins with pelvic tilts. On a chair or seated crossed-leg on the floor (with bolstering, if necessary), inhale to tilt the pelvis forward; exhale to gently tilt it back. If the low back is stiff, this movement may prove elusive at first. Stick with it: As your breath deepens, and the muscles warm, the pelvic rocks will become more fluid. Continue for 1-3 minutes.

Then, move into Sufi Grinds. This movement uses the pelvic tilts, plus a subtle lift of the pelvis to either side to create a perceived circling of the pelvis: Inhale to tilt he pelvis forward and then raise the right side of the pelvis; exhale to tilt the pelvis back as the right side lowers. The exhale continues as you roll through the now-rounded low spine to the left. Then, seamlessly begin to inhale as you “hike up” the left side of the pelvis, and then tilt the pelvis forward again; continue the inhale as you circle through the front space to begin the full “grind” again. 

Once you have the pelvic “circles” down, let the rest of the torso go along for the ride. You will begin to feel that the spine is naturally extending (arching) as you circle forward, and then rounds (flexes) as you circle through backspace. Continue for 1-3 minutes, then switch directions (circling to the left) for another 1-3 minutes. Always circle clockwise first, then left (counter-clockwise): This pattern mimics the progression of digestive processes.

Now, if on the floor, lie down, and prepare for a modified Bridge Pose (feet flat, knees bent). If in a chair, come to the front edge of the seat, and place the hands firmly next to the hips. Make sure the chair is stable, and that you have space in front of you. In either position, inhale to push the hips forward and up, opening the front body; exhale to lower down. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, draw the knees in, so that your body comes into a tight ball; try to tuck the nose between the knees. In this compressed position, begin Breath of Fire through the nose. Continue for 1 minute.

Open yourself up again, and resume the elevated portion of your previous Bridge Pose. This time, stay up (hips lifted). Repeat Breath of Fire, but through open, rounded lips. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, come to sit with the legs extended out and wide. (If in a chair, stay perched on the front edge: Feet can be on the floor, but allow the legs to spread as wide apart as possible.) Inhale to twist slightly toward the left leg; exhale to bend forward over the leg. Inhale to rise up and twist gently toward the right leg; exhale to forward bend over that leg. Continue alternating from one leg to another for 1 minute. Then, repeat the movement for 1 more minute, moving up and down into the space between the legs: Inhale up, exhale down, breathing through the nose.

And now, for the final series of movements, come to standing. Place the hands on the waist: Reach the thumbs in toward the lower spine. Bend slightly to one side, then the other. As you do so, let the thumbs find the tough, cable-like muscle that lies between the lowest rib and the top of the pelvis: This is the quadratus lumborum, or QL.

Special note: The QL is the culprit in many lower-back complaints. Interestingly, however, it is actually a deep abdominal muscle, lying at the rear of the abdominal wall. Thus, to work with the QL can soften tension through the abdominal region, thereby calming digestive issues while simultaneously soothing the low back.

As you lean slightly from side to side, hold the thumbs steady; let the tips press strongly into each side of the QL, by dint of the alternating side bends. Inhale as you come up and pass through center; exhale to either side. Continue for 1 minute, or until you feel an easing through the QL

Next, let the arms hang loosely. Take your attention to the rib cage: Begin a sliding, or shifting of the entire rib cage from side to side. Aim to inhale for a count of 4-6 as you steadily glide the ribs from left to right; then exhale for 6-8 beats as you continue to move the ribs from side to side. As you deepen the breath and find fluidity in the movement, tension will ease throughout the entire torso, and even into the hips and shoulders. Continue for 1 minute.

Close out this movement sequence with a round of full-spine flexion and extension. Standing, begin to round and arch the spine as you would in traditional Cat and Cow on all fours. As you inhale, the belly and chest open as the shoulders and tail move back; exhale to round deeply through the spine, allowing the head to hang and the arms to move into the front space. Continue this opening and closing for 1-3 minutes.

Finally, return to your favorite seated position, either on the floor or in a chair. Place one hand on the Dan Tien, or low belly: Let the palm rest softly here, as the tip of the thumb comes to rest on the navel point; the other hand lies on top. With eyes closed, begin guide the breath through a soothing pathway. Take your attention to the belly-button: Inhale from there into the Dan Tien (the area covered by the hands). As you exhale, use your mind’s eye to send the breath down to the perineum, and then loop it upward to the back point, just behind and in line with the navel. Continue the exhalation as the breath splits: it travels to the left and right, around the waist, and returns to the navel point.

You will notice that the breath pathway must travel a distance on one exhalation. Once you are familiar with the trajectory, the extended exhale will be easier. Again, inhale to draw breath in to the navel point and down into the low belly (Dan Tien): Exhale to guide it visually down through the genital region, up into the low back, and around the waist to return to the belly-button. Continue this qigong breath visualization for at least 5 full cycles, allowing the breath’s pathway to infuse the area with balanced, restorative energy.

Next Time: Conclusion—Knees and Feet