Silent Sundays: Blank, Blanketed, and Finally, Blanket

Prior to my first hip replacement, I dedicated this forum to a 30-day exploration of “How to Hang On.” While the impetus for the series was the painful wait for surgery, each piece served as a stand-alone practice or commentary about ways to cope with seemingly relentless challenge of any kind.

Now, with the next surgery scheduled in five days, I find that I have gone in a very different direction. I am more still and calm, yet also less enthused: I know now the many rigors of rehab—mental, physical, and spiritual. Then, though, my psychological pendulum swings back to hope and hardiness: I may be more in the midst of challenge than I would have imagined at this juncture; however, I also am aware that my trajectory is one toward renewed health and vitality.

Why, then, do I feel “blank?” Several mundane tasks await me pre-surgery, and I am procrastinating as never before. Motivation and efficiency seem locked in and blocked by a brittle, hurting hip. Even my daily practices of movement and meditation lack the determination and devotion that typically accompany them. 

The past couple of weeks also have been blanketed with earthly obligations and psycho-spiritual bewilderment, the combination of which has squelched the fire needed to stoke my reserves. Thus, this Silent Sunday focuses on the restoration of harmony among the Water, Fire, and Earth elements. When in excess, the Bladder and Kidney meridians “flood” Fire and Earth elements, leaving one physically extinguished and mentally muddy. In order to bring the elements into harmony, the following practice creates an interplay between front and back body—stimulating the former and pacifying the latter.

To begin, sit quietly to to contemplate your personal situation at this moment. Perhaps you feel at peace and in balance: Wonderful! In that case, this practice can be used to seal in your already contented state. If you feel uncertain, foggy, detached, or worn, begin slowly: Monitor your energies, and befriend yourself.

Start on your belly. Bend the arms to bring the hands underneath the forehead, palms down, one hand atop the other. If this position feels awkward, due to stiffness in the shoulders, adjust the pose slightly.

In this prone position, breathe deeply into a visualization. Take your inner eye to the center-back of your skull: Inhale, and imagine the breath spreading from that point, down and out to the sides of the torso, as if slowly opening and widening the back body. When you have guided your inhale all the way to the waist, pause with the breath suspended. 

Take this brief moment to shift your inner gaze to the tail bone; once there, exhale through the mouth. Make this a steady, long “whooshing” sound as the breath travels down the back of the legs to exit through the soles of the feet. The inhale is as if you have filled a basin with water; the exhale is used to empty the vessel thoroughly. Repeat this breath and visualization 4 more times, for a total of 5 rounds.

Now, still on the belly, bend the knees. If possible, move into Bow, holding the ankles or feet with the hands, and lifting the upper body and knees off of the floor. If this is difficult, place the hands under the thighs (palms against the thighs), press them up, and raise the head and shoulders. Whichever position you can muster, begin to rock back and forth on the belly: Inhale as you rock back, exhale to roll forward. Give yourself time to find a rhythm, and then continue for 30-60 seconds.

From here, press back into Baby Pose for a few deep breaths. Then, sit up, and bring your legs straight in front of you. With the hands on the ground next to the hips, inhale to lift the body off of the floor into a table-like position: You may have to move the feet in closer, so that when the knees bend, the feet are under or slightly ahead of the knees. Exhale to lower. Again, find a consistent rhythm and workable body configuration. Move slowly at first, speeding up as your are able; continue for 2 minutes, taking breaks as needed.

Now that the front body has opened, and the back body has been contracted, Earth and Fire are beginning to step up to the overflow of Water. To further target this redistribution of energy, lie on your back: Arms and legs are in the air at 90 degrees (i.e., perpendicular to the floor). Inhale through the nose: Exhale through the nose as the right arm and left leg lower to 60 degrees (arm back toward the head; leg down toward the floor). Inhale them up; exhale to switch—left arm and right leg lower away from each other to 60 degrees. Continue this cross-lateral movement at a fairly rapid pace for 1 minute.

Next, draw the knees in, and wrap the arms around them: Inhale to rock back on the spine; exhale to rock forward. Continue to rock back and forth in this tight ball shape for 1 minute. Use this movement to press excess Water out of the back body (Bladder meridian), and to contract and shelter the arms and front body, respectively (Heart and Stomach, associated with the Fire and Earth elements).

When you have finished rolling, come into a seated position; you may also sit on a chair. Although I often suggest Spinal Flexes as a warm-up movement, this practice uses them to create a “conversation” between front and back body: The equal attention to both, by dint of the spinal movement, underscores the intended balance between Water, and Fire and Earth. 

With the hands holding the knees, inhale through the nose as you arch the spine forward (extension); exhale through the nose to round back (flexion): The eyes are closed and gazing at the Third Eye. Move as fluidly and quickly as possible for 2 minutes.

Now, release the hands from the knees and bring the arms out to the sides at shoulder level. Inhale here; exhale as you bring the arms forward, as if hugging a tree, bringing the inner wrists to touch. Inhale them wide again, leading with the backs of the hands and allowing the wrists to bend. Continue with this variation for another 2 minutes.

Finally, move into a form of Svasana. In this version, you will use hands and breath to wrap your energies in a blanket of balance. On your back, eyes closed, settle into traditional Svasana: However, turn the left palm up, with the right down. As you inhale, imagine a warm, soothing breeze entering through the left palm and spreading within; exhale through the right palm, emptying any residual mental or physical “sogginess.” Breathe and visualize this way for 1-3 minutes. 

Then, bring both hands to the lower belly. I tend to place the right hand first, thumb on belly button, with the left hand resting on top (both palms down); feel free to let your kinesthetic intuition guide the placement. This is your final resting position, in which all energy bodies and organ systems have the opportunity to flow in harmony.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Reminder Nuggets

Today, Silent Sunday provides an opportunity to revisit some foundational and demonstrably effective ways to attend to emotion, mind, and body. From spinal flex routines, to mighty mudras, to powerful pranayama, to essential oil elixirs, these techniques address myriad concerns and aims.

Special note: Depending on your personal need of the day, you could select one of the following techniques; or, experiment with them all to create a longer customized practice. I will offer an example of such a routine in closing.

First is an array of spinal flexes. These movements never fail to awaken the mind and body. Interestingly, although the flexions, extensions, and rotations are natural and vital for our body and nervous system, they are not typical daily movements in most contemporary cultures. But as a morning wake-up, nightly wind-down, pre-meditation warm-up, or midday attention booster, they are unparalleled.

You may do this combination seated on the floor or a chair, or even standing. Begin by inhaling to arch (extend) the spine forward; then exhale to round (flex) the spine back. Keep the hands in one place (knees or thighs, or on the hips if standing), and focus on moving the spine forward and backward through the frame of the shoulders. Continue for 1-3 minutes, giving yourself plenty of time to move from initial stiffness to fluid ease.

Then, begin Sufi Grinds. This adds side-space movement to the forward/back move: Inhale to move the spine forward and to the right; exhale as you move back, and around to the left, circling the entire torso and allowing the pelvis to move as well. Continue “grinding” clockwise for 1 minute, then reverse to circle to the left. Breathe deeply, and use the movement to massage the inner organs: This is an excellent way to aid digestion.

From here, come onto all fours: Cat/Cow essentially transposes the seated (and thus vertical) spine to a horizontal plane. Any time one shifts movement to another level or orientation, the brain receives a burst of alertness, while circulation improves and muscles are challenged. On your hands and knees, inhale to deeply arch the spine, open the chest, and look forward or slightly up; exhale to round, tuck the tail, and allow the head to hang. Continue for 1 minute: If you find a spot that feels stuck or stiff, remain in the position, breathing and wriggling into the area, and then resume the flex/extend movement.

The next infallible tool in this particular “kit” is Nadi Sodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing. I have found that this pranayama can resolve restlessness, anxiety, overthinking, worry, and even anger: As a balancing, centering technique, it comes to the rescue every time. 

Special note: An easy way to remember when to change fingers/nostrils in this breathing technique is to switch after each inhale. Using this method, the pattern quickly becomes second-nature. 

Sit in your favorite meditative position. Typically, one uses the right hand to guide the breath through the nose; if you are injured or unable to use the right hand, the left is fine. Simply make the necessary adjustment to the following instructions. I enjoy keeping the left hand in the lap, palm up, when practicing this pranayama. If you prefer a mudra, or to keep the palm down, feel free: You also may find that the resting hand wants to do something different each time your practice; follow your intuition and the need of the day.

Further, I tend to use the right thumb and ring finger, with the  flat space between the first and second knuckles of the index and middle fingers resting on the Third Eye. Again, though, if you are more comfortable with a different configuration, e.g., thumb and index as the “operators,” certainly do that. 

Regardless, begin by closing the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril; then, close the left with the ring (or index) finger, and exhale fully and steadily through the right nostril. Inhale through the right; close the right; and exhale through the left. Inhale left; close it; exhale right; inhale right; close; exhale left. Continue with this alternate-side breath for 3-7 minutes.

Now, it is mudra time. There are countless hand and finger configurations in different religions, cultures, and practices. To select even five favorites would be a true challenge for me: Instead, I offer three that find their way into my daily practice almost every time. Each is simple, soothing, and seems to open a portal for prayer and mediation. 

First is a Heart Center mudra. Almost always, I close a kriya, prayer, or meditation with some variation of hands-on-heart: The classic Prayer Mudra is a good example of such a gesture. One version that I use without thinking is to hold my gently fisted right hand with the left, and bring the package to rest on my chest.

As a fundamental hand position during pranayama or meditation, I enjoy placing the left hand in the right, both palms up with the thumb tips touching. Simply rest the hands in the lap or at the base of the belly.

And, of course, Gyan Mudra is a traditional and oft-seen and -used gesture. This classic configuration touches the thumb tip to index finger tip: One may also curl the index fully underneath the thumb, or partially, to about the level of the first knuckle. Gyan mudra is used to enhance communication and to invoke divine wisdom. 

More often than not, I use a different finger as a one-finger mudra. If needing patience and discernment, I’ll touch middle finger to the thumb tip. Or, to energize any thought, movement, or goal of a particular practice, use the ring finger and thumb. To align with subtle and Universal energies, touch pinky to thumb tip. These are all fundamental, powerful mudras; as such, they form the basis of more complex configurations. Use your kinesthetic and intuitive abilities to feel your way toward one that suits you at any given moment.

Finally, a frequently overlooked adjunct to any practice, and a highly therapeutic modality any time: essential oil blending. As with mudras, I find it difficult to choose “favorites,” as I use the oils for specific purposes: However, I do use the following oils most often, either in combination with others, or as their own elixir. Regardless, a carrier oil that harmonizes with your skin is also an important part of creating an oil mix.

Most often, I use jojoba oil as a base. I may blend it with Vitamin E oil, and/or almond oil. Others swear by avocado, apricot, or even olive oil; my skin and nose, however, prefer the more neutral carriers.

As for go-to essential oils: peppermint, lavender, geranium, and vetiver are among my personal staples. In different combinations, I may add eucalyptus or thyme; bergamot, orange, or neroli; or deeper, “woodier,” oils, e.g., patchouli. When selecting oils, sniff them as you would when choosing a fragrance: If it is unappealing, trust that your body will not respond easily to your desired therapeutic goal. If an oil “sparks” or “perks” your nose, it likely will serve as an excellent mood or energy boost. Conversely, an oil whose scent immediately soothes or quiets you will be an excellent start for a grounding blend or sleep aid.

To close, the following is an example of how one might combine the above power-players into a full practice. Begin by anointing yourself with an oil or blend: If you want a more meditative session, try lavender alone, or in combination with vetiver or frankincense. If you need energy or stimulation, peppermint or sweet orange oil are wonderful choices. Regardless, dab your selection onto the soles of the feet, wrists, and temples.

Then, spend a few minutes warming up the spine. If you prefer only the seated spinal flexes, or alternatively, only Cat/Cow, that is fine. Be sure, though, that you move deeply and long enough to expel stiffness from the muscles and distractions from the mind. A thorough stimulation of the spine will aid the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which in turn will enhance concentration and meditation.

With the body prepared, settle in for several minutes of Alternate Nostril Breathing. When you have finished, sit quietly with a selected mudra. Keep the eyes closed, gazing to the Third Eye, and allow the vibrations from movement, breath, and the imbuing oils to settle. If you like, you may further integrate the energies with a few minutes in Svasana.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Feeling the Full Moon? Power Up to Settle Down

This Silent Sunday falls the day before the Full Moon of April 26. As always, a Full Moon brings heightened energies: Sometimes, the feeling is one of adrenalin and sleeplessness; other times, the Universe seems to throw curve ball after curve ball; and most of the time, our nerves are easily frayed or taunted. According to Susan Miller’s analysis on astrologyzone.com, however, this Full Moon is super-charged with challenge: specifically, with regard to compromise.

When I hear (or read) the word, “compromise,” I infer that a conflict or power struggle is under way. Two or more people or groups fail to agree; or, one may be waging an inner war of indecision. The road forward, then, lies in the art of compromise. Agree to disagree; find a halfway point; give a little to get a little; perhaps brainstorm a brand new option—each possibility moves toward compromise, which in turn shifts the tenor and trajectory of the situation.

When compromise seems unattainable, emotions and perspectives stall: One becomes locked into a viewpoint; grudges and blame begin to form; and the heart goes into defensive mode, with no room for the head to mediate. As one who historically has avoided conflict, this Full Moon once could have triggered anxiety. Now, however, I prefer to take the caution of challenging days ahead as an opportunity to stand firm, while remaining open and fluid.

Thus, when the Full Moon—or any earthly circumstance—delivers daunting or distressing energies (typically,  planetary events can be felt plus-or-minus 4 days from their actual occurrence), shore up your inner strength and prepare to learn. As Susan Miller noted, “…[T]ake in what the full moon will reveal…. That full moon will work to give you the information you’ll need to protect yourself… [and] to make sound decisions.”

In honor of April 26’s Full Moon, today’s practice is designed to ground and stabilize, while allowing room to adapt and flow. By rooting, then moving freely, the mind and nerves are reminded that they can accommodate any conditions. And although this Silent Sunday focuses on coping with an exceptionally charged Full Moon, the following practice can be used in anticipation of or response to any situation or period of stress and uncertainty.

First, find two equally weighted objects. You may use gym-style free weights; you also may use cans of soup or vegetables; water bottles; or even yoga sand bags.  Choose a heaviness that you can bear, with movement, for 1-3 minutes.

Special note: These props will enhance the grounding effect of today’s moves; upon their release, a feeling of freedom and lightness will abound.

With one weight in each hand, stand tall, feet a natural width apart. Let the arms hang by your sides, and allow the weights to help root your stance. With this downward pull, reach the head, neck, and spine long, as if extending up and out of the standing posture. Tilt the head back slightly, and gaze at a spot on the ceiling: Focus intently, and breathe slowly and deeply here for 1 minute.

Next, widen your stance a bit. Bend the knees softly, and bring the weights up next to the shoulders: Elbows are tucked into the ribs, and the palms face forward. Here, begin a rapid, small bounce through the legs; move vigorously enough that the entire torso feels the reverberation. Continue this nervous system reset for 2 minutes.

Now, straighten up into a standing position again. Still holding the weights, bring the feet as close together as feels comfortable and stable. Bring the arms overhead, and then bend the elbows, lowering the hands behind the head: The backs of the hands or knuckles rest against each other. Inhale through the nose, and rise onto the toes; exhale powerfully through rounded lips as you lower onto the heels and extend the arms up by lengthening through the elbows. Inhale again onto tiptoes as the arms lower; exhale through the mouth to lengthen the arms and root into the feet. Repeat for a total of 26 lifts and lowers. (As always, begin with fewer repetitions, if needed.)

Then, resurrect the squat-bounce with weights static in front of the shoulders. Continue the tiny, quick bounces for 1-3 minutes.

You may now place your props safely to the side of your practice space. From standing, bend the knees a bit, and bring your torso as close to parallel with the floor as possible. (If your back is tender, lean forward only as far as feels right for you.) In this position, let the arms dangle straight down from the shoulders: Do nothing here but breathe fully and steadily through the nose for 1 minute.

Now, in the same semi-forward-bend, begin to swing the arms loosely: Inhale as they swing wide open to the sides; exhale as they criss-cross easily underneath your torso. Move swiftly and freely with these arm swings for 1 minute.

Remain in the posture, if possible; if you feel that you need a break, you may also do the next move in an upright standing position. Regardless, inhale as the left arm swings forward, and the right swings back; exhale to swing the right forward as the left goes back. (If bent to the full 90-degree angle with the torso, the forward arm would extend alongside the head; the rear arm would swing back as if reaching past the hip.) Again, move as quickly and fluidly as possible for 1 minute.

Next, stand up tall. Begin the same rapid bouncing that you did with weights; however, this time, let your body bounce and shake and move in any direction, at any level. Let the arms move as they want; engage the full body into the fast-paced vibrating for 1 minute.

Finally, again from standing, inhale through the nose to lengthen the arms straight overhead as you rise onto the toes. Make tight fists as you rise onto the toes and suspend the breath for as long as possible. When you need to exhale, release the fists as you drop the arms; drop firmly into the heels; and exhale with “bellow breath”—strong and short through an open mouth. Repeat 2 more times.

Now, make your way to the floor for Cat/Cow spinal flexes. As much as this is a traditional spinal warm-up, it also serves here as a grounded-yet-moving asana: Use the movement to further remind the body, mind, and nerves that they can feel rooted while in motion. Continue this move for 1 minute.

From all fours, shift back into Baby Pose. Reach the hands around to hold the feet, fingers firm against the soles. Keep the head on the floor (you may roll forward toward the crown) as you round the spine. The knees and feet and head remain grounded; the hips and spine try to lift up and away into Rabbit Pose. Breathe and move as deeply into the posture as possible for about 10 full breaths.

Then, slowly release into Baby Pose, where you will take a few natural-rhythm breaths. When you are ready, help yourself into Svasana to consolidate and integrate the steadying and grounding quantities of your practice.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Gentle Multi-Purpose Moves to Ease into (or Out of ) the Day

This Silent Sunday focuses on the physical body. For most of us, there are days when the body feels sluggish or obstinate: Physical discomfort may try to convince the mind that movement is undesirable, thereby further decreasing energy and oomph. Remember: The mind is able to override the complaints of the body; this practice will help it do just that.

Special note: Here, a caveat is  required. If your body is in prohibitive pain or you are ill, rest may certainly be in order. For bodies that feel stiff or rundown, however, the following moves will slowly and thoroughly reawaken muscles and motivation.

While today’s routine is particularly effective for aching lower backs and overall stiffness, it also can serve as a wonderful warm-up to another activity. Or, enjoy it as a release from a physically or mentally demanding day. 

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the first round of moves are done standing. Often, a tender lower back can make getting to the floor a true challenge. If your low back prevents you from being on the floor comfortably, start and end with these. Eventually, you may loosen up enough to try the floor-based set.

STANDING SERIES

So, to begin, stand firm with your feet aligned under the knees, about hip-width apart. If you feel that you may need support, place your hand on a chair for the opening bits. Very simply, one foot at a time, inhale and roll the heel up off of the floor to point the foot onto the toes; exhale to roll through the foot back down. Change to the other foot; alternate this way 5-10 times for each foot.

Then, flick the feet. One at a time, imagine that you are pushing forward, staccato-like, with the front of the ankle. This will push the foot into a point. Move back and forth, as quickly as you can, from foot to foot. Continue for 30-60 seconds.

Now, as you roll through or flick the foot, keep the movement going: Try to lift the knee as high as you can. Basically, you are moving into a march. Alternate sides for 1 minute.

Next, inhale in your basic standing posture: Exhale to round the back slowly into a C-curve; inhale to slowly straighten up. Continue for 10-15 reps: A sore or stiff back will need this repeated circulation from movement.

Then, begin to “open and close” the shoulders. With arms by the sides, roll the shoulders open; the palms will face forward. Exhale, and roll them decidedly closed; the palms will almost face backward. Continue this move for 1 minute, in order to gradually release through the chest and upper back.

Now make the previous movement bigger. As you inhale to roll the shoulders open, allow some extension (arching) into the spine; the arms will move further away from the body. Exhale to round deeply as the arms roll forward, bringing the backs of the hands to touch. Continue for another minute.

With the back likely more comfortable, begin to make big circles with the hips. Move slowly at first, especially if your back has been precarious. Aim to make 15-20 circles in one direction; then reverse for the same number of repetitions.

For the final standing move, do very basic side stretches. Reach the right arm overhead, and open through the right side body: bend the right knee to deepen the stretch. Inhale to lift the arm; exhale to stretch side; inhale up, and exhale the arm down. Repeat for the left side. Alternate sides for a total of 8-10 stretches on each side.

FLOOR SERIES

The next set of moves take place on the floor. This may a continuation of the standing moves, or you can start with these as your sole set. Alternatively, you can begin here, and move seamlessly into the standing series, as this set ends standing.

Come onto all fours for a Cat/Cow/Baby Pose flow. Inhale to extend (arch) the spine; exhale to round into Cat; inhale into Cow; exhale back to Baby Pose. Immediately inhale up to hands and knees and into Cow; exhale, Cat; inhale, Cow; exhale, Baby. Continue for 1 minute.

From the previous flow, end in Baby Pose. Breathe deeply here; if you like, use your palms to slowly massage the lower back. When ready, sit up, and bring the legs straight out front. Place a bolster or rolled blanket under the knees. Ease slowly into a forward bend for a Yin-style position: In this tradition, the spine can round naturally, and the head can hang. Remain here, giving in to gravity and breath, for 2-3 minutes.

Slowly release the forward bend: Yin postures may seem to add stiffness upon their release; this is temporary. Keep breathing, and find your way onto your back. With the knees bent and feet flat, begin pelvic tilts: Inhale to tip the pelvis forward; exhale to roll it back, as if beginning to roll the spine off the floor.

Next, inhale to bring one knee in toward the body; give a gentle squeeze. Exhale as you begin to lengthen it long onto the floor push through the center point of the heel. Keep the leg long as you bring the other knee in: inhale to hug the knee in; exhale to lengthen out through the leg. Continue this move, now beginning from long legs on the floor: Alternate side to side, for a total of 10 reps on each leg.

When finished, bing both knees in toward the body. Inhale: Exhale, and lower the knees to one side; they do not have to touch the floor, and you may use your hands for support. Inhale back to center; exhale to the other side. Move fluidly, side to side, breathing fully, for 1 minute.

Now, roll carefully to one side to help yourself up, and into Baby Pose again. From here, repeat the Baby/Cow/Cat flow: inhale into Cow; exhale, Cat, inhale, Cow, exhale, Baby. Repeat the sequence 4 times.

Finally, from all fours, press through the hands to lift the hips up and back into Downward Dog. Feel free to keep the knees bent and the heels off the floor; also, you may pedal the feet up and down through the heels. Take 3-5 slow, deep breaths here. Then, walk the feet forward toward the hands, keeping the knees bent. Let the arms and torso hang in a relaxed Standing Forward Bend. 

After a few breaths, slowly roll up through the spine to stand. Place both hands on the lower back, and give yourself a gentle massage. Wriggle or stretch in any way that feels right. Then, bring both hands to rest on the lower belly, one hand on top of the other. With closed eyes gazing at the Third Eye, inhale slowly and deeply; allow the belly to gently move into the palms. Exhale, and feel the belly move softly away from the palms. Breathe here for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday… 

Purpose–An Afterword (with Mudra Meditation)

In the previous Silent Sunday piece (“In Pursuit of Purpose”), I discussed the idea of Purpose, versus purpose. In sum, Big P Purpose alludes to one’s destined role with regard to the whole of a lifetime; little p purpose can—and usually does—arise multiple times, in different guises, throughout ones life (e.g., as a job, goal, or relationship).

Since that time, I have found myself reconsidering and expanding some of my initial thoughts. First, I began to wonder: What if Big and little p are not distinct, nor mutually exclusive? What if the accrual of circumstantial purposes all along are the route to—or even the manifestation of—Purpose?

Alongside these queries, I also thought about the concept of a Calling, i.e, “being called” to/from the place of Knowing. I thought of young people who arrive in this world with great gifts or talents: Were they called before arrival, or is it up to them to heed the call, and thus move through this earth-life as a vehicle to display their gift?

Or, what of folks whose gifts go unattended or squelched by circumstance or lack of guidance? Does that mean that their Purpose goes unfulfilled, or does it mean that their Purpose is to unleash and exalt their talent?

With this continued pondering, I circled back around to my own distinction between purpose and Purpose. Could it be that little-p is a necessary, inherent subset of Big P? Could it be that similar activities and vocations (e.g., in my case, movement and bodywork) are the manifestations of one unifying, umbrella theme?

Perhaps, then, each of us already and always are heeding our Purpose, even if we do not recognize it as such. If Purpose is the through-line of Destiny, then each breath, thought, and action motors along that trajectory: The fervent desire to identify Purpose thus signals its existence within us; the urgency to locate and uphold it is a beacon toward its conscious discovery. 

To direct that light and to feel aligned with one’s individual Purpose may be the task of Life, the universal Purpose of humankind. For some, the means of connection is mental or spiritual; for others, the doing—dharma—is the way. 

Regardless of how one pursues the acquaintance of Purpose, discernment and patience will be powerful companions in the quest. And if one has met and become connected with Purpose, the qualities of awareness and intuition ease into the equation: In order to maintain the sense of Knowing Purpose, one must remain attentive and adaptable. Purpose may change its guise, but its essence will remain. It is to that eternal seed that one must offer consistent and nurturing attention.

MUDRA MEDITATION

As a technique to summon and discern Purpose, I have created a mudra practice to harmonize with Purpose-related vibrations from the divine and the Universe. Rooted in the classic hand gestures of Shunya and Bhudi mudras, the meditation is comprised of three parts: traditional mudras; moving mudras; and pointedly placed mudras.

To begin, sit in your favorite position for meditation. Place the hands on the knees, resting them on their pinky-side edges: Palms thus face each other. Use the thumbs to hold down the middle fingers into the palms. With closed eyes gazing to the Third Eye, breathe normally, but consciously; ensure that each inhale and exhale are fulfilled. Enter into this opening portion with the intent to shift from ego and earthly aims, to a state of welcoming and accepting that which is meant for you. Continue for about 5 minutes.

Next, turn the hands to rest palms up on the knees. Release the mudra to create another: Touch the thumb tips to the pinky fingertips. In this gesture of openness to that which the Universe has to communicate, we align our intuition with divine wisdom. Breathe here for another 5 minutes.

With patience, discernment, and intuition activated, instinctively select one of the previous mudras. It may well be that you choose the middle finger gesture on one hand, with the pinky mudra on the other: Whatever combination resonates with your current energy vibration is the optimal selection.

Now, with the palms up and holding whichever mudra(s) feel right to you, begin circling the hands and forearms: The upper arms rest in by the body. Treat the movement as a round, i.e., the right side begins its outward (clockwise) circle; about 1/3-halfway through that circle, the left side kicks in (also moving outward, or counter-clockwise). Moving in this way will begin to create a sense of a Figure 8 moving through your magnetic field. Continue fluidly for 3 minutes.

Finally, bring the hands in front of the Heart Center, palms facing each other. Bring the tips of both thumbs, both pinkies, and both middle fingers together: All 6 tips are connected with each other. Extend the index and ring fingers as straight upward as possible. This mudra aims to invoke and energize divine guidance (via the “antennas” of the first and third fingers), and to channel it into your heightened and awaiting intuitive power. Breathe steadily and deeply here for 5 minutes. When finished, place the hands, palms down, on the knees, and allow the energies of the practice to consolidate and settle: Remain here for as long as you like.

Silent Sundays: In Pursuit of Purpose

Today’s Silent Sunday reflects upon Purpose, and those times when one’s sense of that oft-elusive concept has waned or become clouded. To be clear, Purpose-Big-P aligns with Destiny: purpose-little-p corresponds more closely with earthly obligations and decisions that may arise from circumstance. Many of us spend years, even full lifetimes, committed to a purpose: a job to sustain a family, or an ideal born of societal demand. These are valiant, valid pursuits for one’s time on Earth. For the growth and evolution of the Soul, however, Purpose signifies avowal to that which God and the Universe deem yours. 

The seeds of this contemplation first sprouted with the diagnosis of my hip osteoarthritis. My daily activities were curtailed; I wondered about the reality of holding a job when sitting, standing, and walking were seriously compromised. My purpose-little-p at the time was to make it to surgery before full collapse.

And then, the Pandemic: Nearly everyone I know or spoke with felt the stirrings of, “What will I do differently when this is over?” Most of these queries referred to purpose-little-p; some were fraught with the existential uncertainty that often points to the imminent arousal of Purpose-Big-P. But as human beings who adapt, we became accustomed to the ongoing protocols of the Pandemic; subsequently, the drive to ponder purpose or Purpose simmered to a slow, if at all, boil.

Cut to today. For anyone, perhaps illness, injury, family need, or travel has taken you out of your usual routine; perhaps grief or medication has pulled you away from a feeling of connection to the divine and the Universe. Or, as does happen from time to time, perhaps you have reached a personal or professional impasse: Possibilities have fogged over, and the ability to shine a light on a solution has dimmed.

For me, over the course of the past few weeks, I have realized with a powerful punch my tiny place in the grand universal scheme. The pain-filled road to surgery; the weeks of self-focus during rehab; and the unanchored feeling that has accompanied my emergence from surgical pain and meds—all have ushered me to a seat that feels entirely unfamiliar.

More than that: I am left with the sense that I have left my “old life” behind. It would stand to reason, then, that I am embarking on a “new life.” Certainly, most of us can divide our lives into chapters or phases—their delineations are clear, be it in the form of a job, a person, or an impassioned pursuit. Yet, my current condition feels more like a second volume; the previous tome contained particular lessons, growing pains, and emotionally fraught chapters. These new pages seem pre-written with invisible ink: It is the energy of my active participation that will allow their intention to be revealed.

I am feeling the early stages of nervous anticipation: However, with Faith, nerves settle, and anticipation becomes imbued with curiosity and a promise to open to and uphold that which the Universe and the Divine decree for me: my Purpose.

How to trust in that which one has not met, has yet to experience, and initially inspires trepidation? How to feel strong and sure when all that is to come is as yet unrevealed? 

It seems to me to be yet another adventure with Faith. Wherever you have arrived in Life, whatever is going right or terribly wrong: Faith that you are in the place you are meant to be, and Faith that circumstances are exactly as they should be—this is the mindset and Heart-hold that will carry you through, unto the next.

Thus, when you recognize a change in your very vibration—and are uncertain of its significance or outcome—that is the time to double-down on whatever version of Faith has brought you to this point. While you may need to reframe thoughts; shift perspective; adjust the construct or nature of your practices; or—often most challenging—subsume plans or desires to the vast Unknown, you nevertheless continue to have choice. 

Choose courage over crumbling; choose open eyes over head in the sand; choose promise over despair; and, as ever, choose to look to the Universe and the Divine for strength and guidance. Regardless of when or where your path diverges or darkens, Faith in the wisdom present throughout eternity will grace your process.

As such, today’s practice calls for a “dig deep” commitment. Let today be the day that you fully immerse into each moment, throughout the times suggested: Tasks can wait, and mental chatter will dissipate as you spend more time within the folds of the process.

To begin, lie on your back. In order to spark the gritty determination and confidence needed to evolve, stimulate the Third Chakra, or Solar Plexus. As its name implies, this energy center corrals the Sun Energy, radiating power throughout the body and mind. The full posture, Stretch Pose, requires legs and feet 6-12 inches off the floor, with upper body raised to allow the eyes to be at the same level as the feet. Arms are stretched long by the sides, palms up, and Breath of Fire begins. 

If, as you move through this 3-minute challenge, you need a break, lower the head. Or, place one foot on the floor, and lift one leg; switch sides halfway through. After a break, perhaps you will be able to resume the full posture.

After the previous “Stretch Pose,” place both feet on the floor, knees bent, hip width apart. With the arms on the floor, lift the hips and torso up as you inhale; lower down as you exhale. Continue as rapidly as possible for 26 lifts. This move will stabilize the energy stirred in the first exercise, and root you into the goal of discovering Purpose.

Now, help yourself into a seated posture. Extend both arms to the sides, and pull them slightly behind the line of the body, thus opening and stretching the chest and fronts of shoulders. Palms face up as cups, fingers long and together: The thumbs extend up way from the hands. Again, do Breath of Fire with this arm and hand mudra for 3 minutes.

Next, relax and shake out the arms for a moment. Renew your focus on Purpose and your lot in Life. On each hand, curl the index finger into the thumb; the other fingers are together and straight. Bring the left hand in front of the Heart Center (not touching the body), palm down; place the right hand underneath a few inches, palm up. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, breathe deeply and steadily with this mudra for 7 minutes.

For the final mudra and breath portion, bring the hands in front of the Heart: The backs of the hands touch, fingers pointing down, with palms open to the sides. Rest the hands against the sternum, and close the eyes to gaze at the Third Eye. Remain here, breathing fully and slowly, for another 7 minutes.

When you are done, sit quietly, hands resting (palms down) on the knees. Or, release into Svasana for as long as you like. 

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: (And When They Are Not…)

On this Easter Sunday—a Sunday of all Sundays to submerge into silence—I will not be dwelling in that inner sanctum.

Instead, I will be traveling with friends to a nearby city. There, two of us will receive our COVID-19 vaccines. (The third in our party has already done the deed.)

And I am somewhat torn. Torn, that I will be introducing a “new brew” into my body; torn, that in order to feel one with society, I must do this; and torn, most of all, that what has become a truly sacred time for me must be sacrificed.

Yet, I venture forth. For when one is torn is when one calls out most vehemently for guidance. I do feel the presence of divine accord with my choice: More accurately, I sense the guiding omniscience that led me to this day, with the company I will have. I followed several serendipitous bread crumbs to get to this point: each one seamlessly sprinkled after the next, as if I were barely a part of it.

So, while “torn,” my rend is a small one, and one that can be repaired with resilient faith. On this day, when silence will be had only on the inside, I suggest the following techniques to feel at one with the Divine Universe—centered, guided—even in the midst of whatever fray one must enter.

Each of the following practices may be done individually, or combined. None will garner curious eyes or questions: They may be done at any time, in any situation. What matters most is that you summon your focus; use it to quietly connect with that which you abide as divine.

First, find the breath: As you inhale and exhale through the nose, steady and deepen each intake and release. With your mind’s eye, track the inhale from the First, or Root Chakra (basically, the perineum) all the way up the front cross-section of the spine and through Chakras 2-5, to the Third Eye, or Chakra Six. 

Upon exhale, draw the breath from the Third Eye to the back of the skull, attuning with the pituitary gland: Continue a long, slow exhalation as the breath travels down the back cross-section of the spine, to return to the Root. Breathe in and out with this visualization at least 3 times, more if circumstances allow.

The next piece engages the fingertips. From a reflexology standpoint, when the fingertips are activated, the brain and nervous system receive stimulation. In this sequence, the orderly and repetitive nature of the move helps the nerves to settle and balance. On both hands, touch first the index finger to the thumb; release, and touch middle finger and thumb; release, touch the ring finger to thumb; release, and finally touch pinky and thumb tips together. Continue this pattern, over and over.

If the situation allows, silently chant, “Sa” with the index touch; “Ta” with the middle finger; “Na” on the ring finger; and “Ma” with the pinky. This mantra represents the eternal cycle of Life, and as such, helps one see beyond earthly confines.

Still using the hands, interlace the fingers; leave the thumbs free. With the right thumb, begin to make a tiny, massaging circle, counter-clockwise, in the center of the left palm. The circle is so small that no movement will be perceptible visually: The firm, but slow pressure is detectable only by your sense of the touch. Breathe slowly and completely with the massage of this Heart Point for about 1 minute. Then, with the fingers remaining interlaced, switch sides: Use the left thumb to circle the center of the right palm. Continue for another minute or so. 

Finally, as a closure to whatever combination of moves you have selected—or, as a practice unto itself—sit upright, and draw your attention to the soles of your feet. (Even with shoes on, this visualization is effective.) Inhale long and deep through the nose: Exhale through the mouth to send the full breath down through the torso and legs, and out the soles of the feet. The lips are only ever-so-slightly parted; no observer will notice any change. This breath will shed any unwanted energy that may have entered your system when surrounded by others. Continue for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday… 

Nobody’s Fool: Lessons from Pain, Rehab, and Beyond…

On this April Fool’s Day, I am nearly six weeks into post-operative (hip replacement) rehab. The more-than-3-year journey that led up to this point has taught me many things. When it comes to fitness and exercise, for example, I have learned that so much of what one considers a workout to preserve or bolster health is the fun, often advanced stuff. What is essential for resilience of body and mind, however, is fairly simple, yet nonetheless challenging, especially when one is compromised.

Special note: Although this piece reflects my experience with osteoarthritis and post-surgical rehab, the routine is an efficient, effective alternative practice for anyone short on time; needing a mental or physical boost; or looking for an “off-” or “sick-day” source of circulation and limbering.

Since my mid-40s (I am now 57), my favorite forms of physical activity have been swimming, walking, and kundalini yoga. I considered these to be “softened” versions of what I had done previously: biking, running, dance, and full-body cardio moves, often with weights. And throughout my 30s and early 40s, I was an avid ashtanga yogi: I taught, practiced, studied, and thrived on the power of the fast-paced, acrobatic, contortionist tradition. I will always revere what the form did for my stamina, mental stability, and fluid strength.

But as with so much of what a younger body loves, there comes a time when a reprieve or retooling is necessary. With that admission, I grin a bit, sigh softly, and slightly roll my eyes as I imagine my late father’s satisfaction: Finally, he would be thinking, she has seen the light.

“Moderation in all things…”

That refrain, stated outright and continually, was my dad’s siren song. As an enthusiastic, curious, stubborn young ‘un (and even when not so young), I heard those words as a dampening, strangling threat to my own determination to try everything, and to do it with gusto.

But dang it if Dad was not on to something…

While I can not possibly regret the joy, emotional catharsis, strong muscles, or mood-balancing that extensive, intense workouts provided, I do question the near-obsessiveness that accompanied them. And when my hips tried to call a truce in 2018, I shrugged and assumed that they would be fine, that my ways would prevail, and that we—my hips and I—would find a way to continue on as always we had.

Cut to 2020, and my first desperate need for cortisone, shot straight into the withered, crying hip joints. Even then, I would not quit: Movement had always been my mental and physical sustenance, and pain seemed no reason to doubt that.

But by December 2020, when even the forgiving water of a compassionate pool could not assuage my pain, I knew that my approach had to change. Although it was too late to save my hips, I vowed to be kinder to my body once the hips were replaced. I had a new mission: Move for the mind, move for function, and move with the gratitude that only the threat of immobility can engender.

So, here I am, having stumbled through the first month of post-surgical recovery; recognizing progress, as I simultaneously contend with the ever-worsening pain and dysfunction of the other hip; and deeply considering how I will move forward, and what those moves will look like.

The following practice consists of the techniques and exercises that I have found to be invaluable to recovery. As such, I have realized their place in any day’s routine, for any body, at any age: For hard-core fitness folks, they may seem simplistic; however, to forget the basics is to forget one’s human-ness. Engage with the moves as if they are as vital to your health as a long run, heavy-weight session, or challenging yoga class: They are.

Start seated, on a chair, on the floor, or in bed. Close the eyes, and breathe: Inhale through the nose as you feel the chest rise, and the ribs expand; visualize the descent of the diaphragm and its gentle pressure onto the organs. As you exhale, be conscious of the belly’s retraction and contraction, and of the diaphragm’s slow, steady rise into its nest beneath the ribs. Take 3-5 of these deep, focused breaths.

With the abdominals, lungs, and attention awakened, shift your seat to ensure that you are perched atop the sit-bones: spine and head upright and aligned, shoulders and neck at ease. With the hands on the knees, begin Sufi Grinds: Circle the entire torso to the right, allowing the pelvis to partake of the motion. Inhale as the body circles through the front half of the circle, tipping the pelvis forward; exhale to circle through the back cross-section, tipping the pelvis back. Make 8-15 circles, then reverse directions, moving counter-clockwise, for 8-15 circles.

From there, bring yourself to stand. Taking a cue from qigong, place the hands next to the hips, palms up: Inhale, and arch the spine, pulling the elbows back. Exhale as you flip the hands, moving the backs of the hands forward as you round the spine deeply. When the hands nearly touch in front of the torso, inhale as you turn the palms up again, pull the elbows back, and arch the spine. Repeat for a total of 10 undulations.

Now, extend the arms straight forward from the shoulders, parallel to each other: left palm down, right palm up. Inhale: As you exhale, shift the weight into the heels as you do a slight squat, only enough to feel the bends at the ankle, knee, and groin; simultaneously, the left arm rises 30 degrees, as the right arm moves down 30 degrees. 

As you inhale, straighten the legs, and bring the arms back to neutral, left palm still down, right one facing up. Immediately exhale into the modified squat: This time, the right arm lifts 30 degrees, as the left lowers 30 degrees. Inhale back to neutral. Repeat the squats with alternating arms for a total of 10-15 times.

Still standing, open the side body with focused lateral bends. Again, this variation stems from a qigong move for the Liver and Gall Bladder meridians: These energy channels are associated with the clearing, cleansing energy of Spring. Stand with the right hand a few inches above the left: right palm down, left palm up—imagine holding a ball between the hands in front of you. 

Inhale as you turn from the waist to the right. As you do, the left palm turns up as the left arm straightens up toward the sky; simultaneously, the right palm turns down as the right arm pushes down alongside the hip and thigh. The fingers of the raised, upturned left hand face the right; the fingers of the lowered, palm-down right hand face extend forward. Exhale here.

Inhale long and deep to return the hands to “hold the ball” mode as you turn slowly through center; this time, the left hand is on top (palm down) with the right hand below, palm facing up. Exhale to push the hands into their opposing stretch on the left side: right hand and arm up, fingers pointing to the right; left hand and arm pushing down, fingers pointing forward. Move fluidly back and forth with the breath and movement: Complete 5 stretches on each side.

Next, still standing, bend forward at the waist, so that the torso is perpendicular to the legs: Feel free to bend the knees. Inhale as the left arm swings forward alongside the ear, and the right swings back to the level of the hips; exhale as the right comes forward, and the left swings back. Continue vigorously with powerful breath for 1 minute.

Then, help yourself back to a seated position. If you choose to sit on a chair, sit sideways, so that you can lean back 30 degrees. With the torso at a 30-degree lean back, raise both legs 60 degrees. You may choose to support the legs with the hands; have the hands by the hips; or, for a more intense version, extend the arms straight forward or up alongside the ears. In your selected position, begin Breath of Fire: rapid, equal inhales and exhales through the nose, with enough vigor to pump the belly. Continue for 1 minute. 

Special note: If you can not raise both legs, do one at a time, Or, lift both legs, but let them bend at the knees. Either option will modify and ease the posture.

Now, gently resettle into seated mode, legs long and straight in front of you. If necessary, place a pillow or bolster underneath your bottom and/or knees. Interlace the hands behind your back, lengthen through the elbows to straighten the arms, and raise the arms up and away from the back. With the arms behind, fingers interlaced, and arms raised, ease into a forward bend: Keep the spine long; think of bringing the chest toward the feet, rather than the head toward the knees. Find your personal place of stretch, close the eyes, and breathe in and out through the nose: Complete 8 full breaths.

Finally, resume your favorite seated posture. Begin alternate nostril breathing: With the right thumb closing the right nostril, breathe in through the left nostril; block the left with whichever finger of the right hand feels natural, and exhale through the right. Then, inhale through right, close the right, and exhale through the left. Continue in this manner for 11 full rounds, finishing with an exhale through the left nostril.

Close your session in whatever way your energy dictates. Perhaps you feel inspired to move more: Do your thing! 

Or, if you feel pleasantly still and seek to deepen the state, sit quietly, hands on knees, palms up, eyes closed: Focus on the sound and sensation of your breath. Finally, if you prefer to enter Svasana, lie on your back, arms a few inches from your sides, palms up, and rest. Whether seated or supine, enjoy the peace for as long as you like.

Silent Sundays: Empty Space, Empty Breath

In recent months, I have watched more—and more varied—DVDs than ever before: First came the viewing uptick due to COVID lockdown and subsequent restrictions; then, arthritis limited my outings and overall mobility. I read, meditated, wrote, visited with neighbors (properly distanced and masked, of course), and became more comfortable with talking on the phone at length. But my favorite way to cope with limited activity has been to explore diverse genres of television and cinema.

I became particularly enthralled with programs that centered around the cultural and culinary adventures of chefs: Vivian Howard (“A Chef’s Life,” on PBS) and Anthony Bourdain (RIP: “No Reservations,” on Travel Channel) have made multiple repeat appearances in my living room. There, I have been granted admission to worlds near and far: from the American South—Eastern North Carolina and its neighbors—to the more exotic lands of Asia and the Middle East.

An unexpected theme arose, and it yielded an even more unexpected relationship to my pranayama and meditation practices: That theme is “empty space.” In one of Howard’s segments, she instructs an inexperienced kitchen helper on the use of “negative space” in the plating of food. In Bourdain’s lesson on Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging), he learns the importance of not only selection and positioning, but of the space left unoccupied around the floral construct.

This idea of untouched space—whether it be deemed “empty,” “negative,” “white,” or “dead”—forms an integral part of most artistic traditions: photography, painting, architecture, etc. Where there are objects, there is space; where there is subject, there is the field in which it sits. And in that field lies the opportunity for emptiness and the promises it holds.

As I began to contemplate this aspect of space, one thing became clear: I was not—could not—and likely will not ever be comfortable with the term “dead space.” To me, the space that surrounds and mysteriously exalts a subject is clearly alive with its own vibration and meaning; to me, that is the opposite of “dead.” When I think of space and its role when left vacant, I prefer the phrase “empty space.”

And this term holds an inherent correspondence with my practice. In pranayama, the breath when held out often is referred to as “empty breath.” Thus, I could not help but consider Empty Space and its possible relation to Empty Breath. Both ironically yield a fullness unfound in the more obvious subjects of attention: form and breathing, respectively.

When one considers a favorite, famous, or new painting, for example, the eye is drawn to the person, place, thing, or abstraction represented through medium, stroke, and color. Upon extended viewing, however, one begins to explore the corners, the pockets, and the seemingly inexplicable swaths of “empty” canvas. It does not take long to recognize the balance that these voids establish in conjunction with the occupied space. Further, the Empty Space seems to act as a throne for the subject-king: That which is evident is uplifted by that which is not.

The breath, too, when stilled, reveals secrets generally not experienced during the active phases of respiration. In the briefest, newest moment of sustaining Empty Breath is the best chance to experience an integral aim of meditation: absence of thought and realization of pure essence. As one breathes in, the mind is inevitably attached to the process: While one may not be thinking of anything specifically, the mind’s sensory engine tracks the intake of air. And upon exhalation, the mind acknowledges the relief of release. 

But for the almost imperceptible moment when the breath ceases to be drawn in, the mind yields to “emptiness,” to the value of void, to the truest expression of Life: the consciousness of the Universe, without the input of one’s earthbound mind. And the same fleeting sense of Truth and Being occurs as the flip switches from exhalation to retention of No-breath: With the breath out, that light of Nothingness—which paradoxically is the essence of Everything—flickers with a brilliance beyond brightness. 

And then it is gone.

But the smallest iota of a nanosecond is all that it takes to feel certain of the power of all that we can not see. And in the surety of that Empty Space lies the potential—and yearning—for entering into its expanded essence. And this is perhaps the unspoken—or perhaps unimagined—reason to practice that which draws you closer to divine and universal connection. Typically, when one thinks of connection, it is to a person, an idea, or a feeling: Even when considering union or communication with God or the Universe, one may retain a sense of “me and It,” strongly connected, but nonetheless discrete.

Yet, Empty Breath provides the portal to the possibility of the full expression of connectivity. In that mode, there is no distinction between Breather, Breath, and No-Breath: There is but the boundless expanse of Infinity and its home in Eternity. When touched, however briefly, it reveals that which pulls us through this rough, great, gorgeous, treacherous trek called Life. In Emptiness, we find the Whole of it all.

So, with this concept at work in the conscious mind on this Silent Sunday, give yourself 15 minutes (give or take) to explore the top and bottom of breath: the suspension of a deep and completed inhale; followed by the retention of a long, steady, full exhale. As always, your mind and body will be more amenable to the fruit of this practice after a few minutes of spinal warm-ups and full-body shaking or tapping. 

Once you have released the muscular tension that can inhibit breath and physical stillness, find your preferred seated posture for meditation. Relax the hands into the lap, palms up, one hand resting in the nest of the other, thumb tips touching. Eyes are closed and intently focused on the Third Eye: Inhale through the nose, and exhale through the nose, without pause or over-effort. Breathe peacefully, but with focus, steadiness, and depth. Continue this preparatory breath for 1 minute.

Then, bring the hands to the knees: Place the left hand palm down, resting easily on the knee or thigh; right hand is palm up, resting contentedly. The eyes remain closed and gazing to the Third Eye as you breathe in deeply through the nose, and, without pause, exhale slowly and steadily through open, rounded lips. Repeat for a total of 3 breaths.

Now, bring the hands to the root of the thighs, and settle them, palms up, into the crease there. Allow the fingers to relax into whatever form they do: This is a mudra of reception—to energy, to possibility, to Truth. With the eyes continuing their gaze upon the Third Eye, inhale through the nose: Keep the breath aloft, and “watch” the space, the form, the elements that flicker through your inner field of vision and awareness as you suspend the breath. Note any shift from the first moment of observation to that which develops over the course of the next 2 or 3 seconds. Then, slowly, consciously begin the exhale through the nose.

At the end of your complete exhale, activate the same subtle sense of observation as you float on Empty Breath. Again, the miniscule glimmer of  glowing Emptiness that you experience upon the first inkling of No-breath may quickly scamper out of reach. Make no attempt to recapture it: Simply acknowledge that it graced your awareness.

Continue this pattern of inhale/Empty Breath; exhale/Empty Breath, with focused attention to the No-breath phase, for up to 11 minutes. Then, resume natural breathing, either seated or settled into Svasana.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Divinity Over Division

By nature, the physical human body is polarized, as demonstrated by our control center: The brain itself is comprised of two hemispheres, each connected to the opposite side of the body. What can this set-up be about? Why is the seat of our earthly existence divided in half? Why is each half said to represent seemingly opposed sets of traits—i.e., masculine/feminine, logical/emotional?

These polarities further manifest in respiration. Each breath we take seemingly occurs through two nostrils operating in unison: However, when one moves to alternate nostril breathing by sealing the aperture of one nostril to breathe through the other, it becomes apparent that at any given moment, one nostril dominates the inhale and exhale. When the right side is a bit stuffed, the left side—the moon, or feminine side—likely is clear, breath flowing easily and steadily. When the left is full, the sun/masculine side of the right dominates our breath. Thus, what appears to be equal, steady breathing when inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils often is a favored breath of one nostril over the other.

This illusory unity often disguises the polarities of Life. In the current state of our global society, polarities and the illusion of unity abound. Whereas the world has experienced the public health crisis of the coronavirus in unison, polarities inevitably developed and permeated the brief period of One World/One Cause. 

Just as the virus swept in and leveled our everyday lives in the first half of 2020, racial tensions erupted. In the midst of a unifying global concern, the ever-present disease of racial divide reached a fever pitch. Then, as voices raised louder and louder over the ongoing injustice of racism, our focus turned to the newest divide wreaked by COVID: mask or no mask, touch or no touch, gatherings or no gatherings.

As factions began to develop with regard to protocols and precautions, individuals and social groups—families, even—separated into Mask-wearers and Non-compliers. Under the appearance of one overarching concern—COVID—polarities persisted.

And now, with the advent of a vaccine, yet another polarization occurs. Friends and families, workplaces, and social events are beginning to divide with regard to who has been vaccinated, and who has not. There is a faint, but ever-increasing odor of judgment entering the fray: If one has not been vaccinated, questions and doubts follow. 

I, for example, am currently ineligible to receive the vaccine at this time. Although part of me smiles inwardly at the irony of being “too  young and too healthy” to obtain the shot, the greater part of me feels mildly threatened: not by the virus, but by those who have had the vaccine. A tone of superiority and righteousness sounds from some who have had the shot; suspicion begins to rise toward those who have not been vaccinated.

Is polarity necessary? Can we as human beings on Planet eEarth ever hope—should we even try—to unify? If our human bodies are built upon two discrete hemispheres of neural pathways, why do we think that Unity should be a goal? Perhaps the divisiveness upon which we were formed exists for a reason: Perhaps the opposing forces and ideologies that we encounter in Nature, in cultures, in beliefs, etc., are exactly the way this earthly dimension is meant to be.

I am, however, deeply uneasy with the thought that racial, religious, gender, and more divides could be intrinsically “correct” or “on purpose”: Such a construct has, does, and always will lead to mistrust, unkindness, and all too often, violence. Yet, in confronting polarities and divides, we challenge that construct: Perhaps the act of rejecting discrimination and segregation is, in fact, ever so slowly altering not only social outlooks, but the very matter of our brains. What if, without knowing it, we are actually evolving the duality of our minds? What if, one day, through centuries of seeking Union, we do become beings who thrive on Unity, versus Polarity?

Or, is the ever-swinging pendulum of flux and change an eternal constant? Are we doomed to forever take sides and seek sovereignty over those with whom we disagree or who look different?

I believe, now more than ever, that the surest way to move toward Peace as the pervasive mode (versus strife as the set point) is to reach outside of our human vessel body—outside of this energetic realm—toward Union with the dimension of the Divine. Certainly, this is the root of most religions and spiritual philosophies that seek to connect with Higher Powers and creative forces. Yoga, for example, as has become commonly known, means “union.” 

And yet we forget in our daily encounters with various socio-cultural and physical polarities that Union may not pertain to “unity” here on Earth, in this particular dimension of energy. To override —or at least soften or diffuse—earthly polarities may be a factor of how consistently and profoundly one can work toward Union with divine energies outside of this realm.

To that end, this Silent Sunday offers a short physical practice designed to open bodily channels of divine communication (e.g., prayer, meditation), followed by a simple, but highly focused mantra with mudra. 

To begin, come into your preferred seated posture for meditation. With the spine long, upright, and relaxed, bring the hands to the knees for a basic spinal flex: Inhale as the spine extends, arching forward to open the chest and shoulders; exhale to flex, or round the spine, stretching and opening the back body. Allow the pelvis to partake of the action: It tips forward upon extending the spine, and tilts back as the spine flexes.Keep the head stable, so that it does not flip up and down with the spinal movement. Eyes are closed, focused on the Third Eye: This drishti (focal point) acts as a beacon to guide the kundalini energy from the lower chakras to the upper. Continue for 3 minutes.

With the hands remaining on the knees, begin Sufi Grinds: Circle the entire torso in large clockwise circles, allowing the pelvis to tip forward as your circle through the front space, and backward as you round and circle into the back half of the circle. Inhale as you circle forward; exhale into the back space. Continue for 1 minute, then reverse directions (circling to the left, or counter-clockwise) for 1 more minute.

Now, sit quietly for a minute or so; feel the ease and opening throughout the torso, and the steady, relaxed nature of deep inhales and exhales through the nose. When you are ready, bend the arms at the elbows, so that the upper arms rest against the rib cage: The forearms extend straight up, with the palms open and facing forward. Keep the fingers straight up and apart, with the upper arms snug against the body; then, begin to make small U shapes with the hands. (The forearm will move, too, but try to think of the hands moving alone.) Inhale as the hands move down, out, and up; exhale as they come back—down, in, and up. As the hands move back in toward the center line of the body, keep them from touching each other. Move fairly rapidly for 1 minute.

Next, with the hands and arms maintaining their shape, begin to circle the forearms in outward-moving circles: The right arm and hand move clockwise; the left moves counter-clockwise. This time, as the hands circle back in toward the center, touch the thumb tips together briefly: They simply brush or kiss each other quickly, and then move on. The breath is powerful, but quick, almost a Breath of Fire through the nose: Inhale as the hands circle out; exhale as they circle in toward center. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, extend both arms straight forward at shoulder level, parallel to each other: The fingers are together on each hand; the right palm faces up, the left down. Rapidly begin to alternate the arms moving up and down: As the left arm moves up 4-6 inches, the right move down 4-6 inches. They seesaw to create an energetic pump in the magnetic field of chakras 3, 4, and 5. Inhale as the left moves up and the right down; exhale as the right comes up and the left goes down. Keep the arms strong, and move quickly and vigorously for 3 minutes.

When you have finished, sit quietly again: Place the hands on the knees, palms down. Breathe deeply and steadily as you feel the energy within. Contemplate the physical sensations, and wander toward an acknowledgment that they are but one facet of You as a human being. On the vibrations you have created, float toward an expanded sense of Self: In truth, your essence is, was, and always will be one with Universe.

To underscore this realization in your psyche and spirit, bring the arms to shoulder level, and bend them at the elbows: The forearms are perpendicular to the upper arms, and parallel to the floor (“genie arms”). The right hand hovers a few inches above the left; both palms face down. With this mudra, chant the mantra, “Om So Hum.” The words reflect oneness with the Universe: As you chant the Sanskrit that translates to “I am that,” your entire being becomes imbued with the eternal truth that each of us is one with—is in union with—the Universe. As you chant (aloud, whispered, or silently), polarity dissipates, and universal unity descends, transcends, and ascends—the energy of this union spirals within and without, continually and eternally. Chant with the mudra for 11 minutes.

Happy Sunday…