Silent Sundays: How’s Your Heart?

A few days ago, I returned to my chiropractor for the first time since February. I had been pleasantly surprised during the ongoing pandemic to realize that over the past decade, the docs had laid a strong foundation for my neck and spine health: Despite the six months of quarantine—and no chiropractic care— my neck has been at peace (mostly). When the office reopened, however, I decided to have a check-up: frankly, I was as eager to see my chiropractor and the office staff, who, after more than 10 years, have become genuine friends.

What I did not expect upon seeing my chiropractor, “S”—and the receptionist, “A”—was the physical pull and subsequent despondency that arose from not being able to hug them. The magnetic tension through my chest—clearly centered in the Heart Chakra—was fiercely yearning to connect with their Heart energy: The need to restrain the fulfillment of that contact was physically uncomfortable. We all talked about it, but I remained bowled over by the power of that force, and what it feels like to consciously stifle it.

Fortunately, I have hugged my mother and my sister over the course of the past months. We each paid brief lip service to “maybe we shouldn’t,” and then straight into each other’s arms we fell. Thus, my experience at the chiropractor’s office was an unexpected awakening to the reality of physical contact, emotional connection, and the depth of those aspects of being a human.

After the initial no-hug experience with “A”, she led me back to a treatment room: sequestering, rather than the usual time in the waiting room. After about a minute of sitting quietly alone, “A” returned and asked if I wanted to hear another hugging story. Of course, I said yes.

She told me that her daughter was to be married in October. As part of the gift bag for guests, “A’s” daughter was going to include three wrist bands: red, yellow, and green. Guests could opt to wear the one that best revealed their comfort with physical contact: red meant no touching; yellow, they were uncertain, but maybe…; and green would give the go-ahead for a hug. 

As I said to “A,” that idea seems a good one these days, wedding or not. And in my automatic mind, I assumed that I would be a Green. When I began to truly run through daily scenarios and imagine interactions with various people, however, I was surprised to find myself veering more toward Yellow; in the instance of general public outings, Red would be as evident as possible.

For a moment, I wondered what had happened to my Heart Center: Had it become infected with fear? Had I become untrusting, doubting that others could be responsible, and thus a “low risk” for a hug? Then, I realized that the pull of my Heart in those greetings with “A” and a later one with “S,” revealed the actual state of affairs: The struggle to resist the physical expression of the pull affirmed the alive-and-well status of my Heart energy.

I did, however, decide that I wanted to ensure the vibrancy of that Chakra, while simultaneously heeding its need for gentle, but unequivocal protection. Thus was born today’s Silent Sunday practice. In these times when each day—sometimes each moment—shifts shape, texture, and tenor without warning, the only constants are those we create for ourselves. And to remain hopeful, sensible, and attuned, the Heart Center needs to be strong, yet shielded when necessary.

I think of today’s practice as an active meditation, rather than a physical exercise. As you proceed through the moves, bring your attention to the physical sensations that occur in the palms, the neck and jaw, the shoulders, and the chest. These areas may be tight, or sore, or free and light. As you work to stimulate and safeguard the Heart, the sensations may shift: Allow each change and transition, just as you would have to do during “red, yellow, or green” decision-making occasions. Note—and accept—the transiency of each sensation. Allow the Heart to shift as it needs to, knowing that you are providing exactly what it needs for future encounters.

To begin, sit in your favorite pose: crossed-leg, legs extended straight forward, in a chair, etc. To help notify the Heart of the practice to come, do some spinal flexes that hone in on the arms and chest: With both arms extended to the side at armpit level, inhale as you arch the spine forward, allowing the pelvis to tip forward as well; exhale to round the spine as you fluidly draw the inner wrists forward and together at the level of the Heart. The arms remain fairly straight throughout the movement, although a slight give in the elbows is natural. Keep the head level as you flex the spine forward, opening the Heart, and round the spine back, softly shielding it. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, remaining in your chosen seated posture (or shifting, as you see fit), extend the arms out from the shoulders at a 60-degree angle; the arms are in the sagittal plane, neither forward of or behind the torso. Flex the wrists, so that the palms face the sky. This is Position 1. Position 2: From the angled arms and face-up palms, draw the arms straight above the Crown, touching the palms together. For Position 3, glide the hands down in front of the body to Heart level, forming Prayer or Namaste hands. To arrive at Position 4, point the Prayer hands forward, extending the arms straight out from the Heart, and turning the palms up as the arms come to their full length: Continue moving seamlessly as the arms open wide to the sides, palms remaining up.

Move through the sequence of positions seamlessly, at a moderate and consistent pace. Inhale in Position 1; exhale as you move into 2; inhale as you find Position 3; and exhale throughout the transition to Position 4. Continue this fluid, yet precise movement for 3 minutes.

When you have completed the moving portion of the practice, draw the souls of your feet together to form a diamond (or Butterfly) shape with your legs. Alternatively, you may sit in an easy crossed-leg pose. Regardless, bring the right hand to the left knee, and the left hand to the right knee: Round the back to the point that the arms straighten and the shoulder blades widen;  drop the head; and settle into the stretch.

This Makkho Ho position nurtures and stimulates the Pericardium and Triple Warmer meridians, which in turn protect the Heart. For today’s purpose, treat the “stretch” as a Yin Yoga posture: Remain soft, steady, and patient as you inhabit the shape of the pose, allowing your breath, time, and gravity to encourage the muscles and connective tissues to yield.

After 2 minutes in the initial position, slowly release the deep curve in your spine as you let go of the knees: If you were sitting crossed-leg, switch the cross of your legs; then, bring the left hand to the right knee, and the right hand to the left. Deeply round the back, allowing the pelvis to naturally tip backward, let the head hang, and resume the pose for another 2 minutes.

Finally, help yourself uncross and unwind from the posture. Very often, the exit from a Yin pose can seem somewhat uncomfortable. You have opened deeply, both energetically and muscularly: Breathe deeply, restore openness by gently shaking or stretching whatever feels locked or reluctant, and find your way into Svasana. Grant the body and Heart Center the opportunity to return to a renewed state of calm as you rest for 5-11 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: 5-Move Practice to Oust the Dross and Detritus of the Day

Today’s Silent Sunday title is a slight misnomer: “…of the day” could just as easily read, “…of the week, month, or moment.” Whenever you feel that you have not quite shaken or moved through an unsettling circumstance or physical disturbance (e.g., bug, stress, headache, etc.), the following practice will jettison any remaining slog from your system.

To begin, stand with the feet a comfortable distance apart. As you inhale long, deep, and steadily, rise on to the toes; simultaneously, raise the arms to the side and overhead, bringing them shoulder-width apart. Exhale forcefully as the arms drop straight down, like heavy weights; at the same time, drop the heels back to the floor. Complete the inhale with arm and heel raise, followed by the drop of arms and heels on the exhale, 12 times.

From standing, bend forward at the waist, bringing the torso parallel to the ground: If you need to bend the knees slightly, feel free; it also helps to push the buttocks back slightly, rather than keeping them directly over the heels. In this position, keeping the head in line with the spine, begin to swing the arms back and forth, strongly and rapidly: Alternate the arms, so that when the right one swings forward to head level, the left is swinging back to the level of the hip. Continue this energetic movement for 1 minute, breathing powerfully through the nose, joining the inhale and exhale to each swing forward and back.

The second half of the above move entails moving the arms out to the sides. Begin with the arms hanging loosely down from the shoulders. Inhale as you open them wide to the sides, to the level of the body at shoulder level; exhale as you let gravity swing them down, crossing them as they drop down in front of the body. Move freely, letting momentum take over the movement. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, find Downward Dog. Raise the right leg up behind you, bringing it into a long line with the torso and arms. Begin Breath of Fire (rapid, equal inhales and exhales through the nose); continue for 1 minute. Then, lower the right leg, raise the left, and do Breath of Fire for another minute. Eyes may be open or closed; do what comes naturally.

From Down Dog, lower yourself onto all fours, and then onto the belly. With the arms by the sides, palms down against the floor, rest the forehead on the ground. In this position, begin to “jump” the body up and down. Everything from chest to knees should lift as you inhale the body up; exhale to drop the body down. Continue vigorously for 1 minute. (As always, modify your position, and/or add padding where necessary to be able to complete the exercise.)

Next, press back for a few deep, settling breaths in Baby Pose; then, roll up to sit. Here you have some posture options. I prefer to sit between my heels, although I actually sit on a block or pillow, with my feet resting to the side of their respective hips. Sometimes, I choose to sit with my legs stretched out front. You may prefer to sit crossed-leg, or if possible, in full Lotus pose. Regardless of your choice, you will do Body Drops; the move is said to reset and stabilize the nervous system in preparation for or in response to a shock. It also shakes free any physical or emotional “detritus of the day.”

In your chosen position, place the hands by the hips; the palms may be flat on the ground, or you may fist your hands to support the wrists. Inhale as you lift the buttocks up; exhale to drop the body down. Continue at a rapid pace for 1 minute, allowing the body to really plunk down upon the exhale.

To close your practice, remain in your seated posture. With eyes closed, gazing inwardly up to the Third Eye, bring the arms straight overhead. Interlace the fingers, squeezing the palms together, and extend the index fingers straight up and together. Think of opening and lifting through the armpits, yet encouraging the shoulder blades to slide down the back. In this powerful position, inhale long and deep; exhale just as steadily and completely. Repeat 2 more times, for a total of three breaths. On your final exhale, release the hands and sweep the arms down through the side space. Keeping the eyes closed, ease your way into Svasana, and rest for 5-11 minutes.

Happy Sunday… 

Sayings Series: On “Silence”

Special note: In many of Paramahansa Yogananda’s writings, he refers to “God.” While this terminology is comfortable for him (and for me), others may prefer to read Paramahansa’s thoughts through a different lens. The essence will remain, in that ultimately, the philosophies and beliefs espouse the power of meditation, prayer, and spiritual discipline, regardless of religious—or non-religious—beliefs.

…[S]it in silence before deciding about any important matter, asking the Father for His blessing. Then behind your power is God’s power; behind your mind, God’s mind; behind your will, His will.

(Originally from: Paramahansa Yogananda, “The Law of Success.” Reprinted in: Spiritual Diary: An Inspirational Thought for Each Day, December 13.)

Yesterday provided a potent reminder of the wisdom of the above directive. Yet, as many missteps often reveal, one’s spiritual maturation is an unending process; some lessons need to be relearned continually. Eventually, they stick. (It is said that the “beginner mind” needs to be reminded of a concept 3-5 times before it becomes ingrained: In my opinion, the spiritual seeker is an eternal beginner, and thus may require 300-500 remedial opportunities to learn a lesson.)

In conjunction with yesterday’s lesson was another reminder: The harbinger of the need to prepare for—to be conscious of—a potential challenge often presents itself before the circumstance arises. I had started the day much as I do most others: tea, yoga, meditation, breakfast, emailing, catching up on news. Then, after I left the house to tend to some errands, I found myself feeling teary, as if the slightest thing could open the floodgates.

This feeling is familiar to many of us: a mood or physical symptom of emotion that seems to spring out of nowhere. In recent months, these moments seem to be directly related to the uncertainty of quarantine and its accompanying protocols. Frustration and fear coexist with acceptance and inner strength: Many moods fight for dominance, and mostly, they agree to share the space within. 

As I became aware of my undefinable sensitivity yesterday, I consciously heightened my awareness of its presence. I felt that I needed to be alert, so that I would not let another’s word or glance destabilize me. With that note to myself, I continued through the morning, sure that I had properly sealed myself from negative incursions.

Upon arriving home, I glanced at my old-school message machine: I had been expecting an important message since the day before. There was, however, no blinking light. I felt a brief spurt of exasperation, but reminded myself of the need to be patient during this unusual time of frequent cancellations and overworked staff. I simply decided that I would call the office again, and politely inquire about the status of my appointment.

The young lady who answered heard my query, and checked the logged calls from the day before. She acknowledged that a note had been made, and then informed me of office protocol with regard to my particular need: Because I had had the procedure that I was trying to schedule, I knew that her information was incorrect. I did tell her this, and she adamantly insisted on her position. I became equally forceful, and like a steamroller, recited the dates of previous appointments, in order to underscore that their timing was possible. Eventually, she said that she had misunderstood, and put in the referral. I thanked her, and the call ended.

Typically, I am highly empathetic to the stress of administrative and customer service employees: I have had those jobs, and impatient or rude clients/patients are the bane of the postition. I generally make sure that I am patient, encouraging, and understanding when communicating professionally; yesterday, however, an atypical stridency took over. As soon as the call ended, I burst into tears, and sobbed for 5 minutes.

Certainly, this was the release from the earlier “teary feeling.” I do not doubt that if I had taken silence to contemplate my inner environment, I would have had a better chance at discerning its root; I do not doubt that I would have uncovered hidden fear or anger. Silence would have afforded the opportunity to tend to the burgeoning emotion, and I would have saved myself and the receptionist from an unpleasant encounter.

Silence is not soundlessness: It is the chamber within that allows the hum of the Universe, the wise Word of the Divine, and the eternal communication with All That Is. Silence is a state of being, and it can be a valuable tool: “…[S}it in silence before deciding about any important matter…”

Silent Sundays: Decoding Silence–Introduction to Sayings Series

In previous posts, I have referred to my participation in the Self-Realization Fellowship, an inclusive spiritual organization dedicated to the philosophy and meditation and healing techniques of Paramahansa Yogananda. This Silent Sunday detours from past entries, in that today’s piece introduces what will become the “Sayings Series,” based on the writings and spiritual musings of Paramahansa Yogananda. His writing style is unique, sometimes childlike in its simplicity; other thoughts are expressed with a depth only possible from a spiritually evolved being. The Sayings Series will contemplate his thoughts, and when appropriate, offer a practice that relates to the ideas.

Special note: The series will appear on any given day of the week: When inspiration arrives, it will be addressed.

So today, rather than presenting a physical or meditative practice, I encourage you to ponder the idea of Decoding Silence. The first offering in the Sayings Series will stem from the section on “Silence” in Paramahansa’s Spiritual Diary. This pocket-sized gem is a year’s worth of thoughts and observations on a variety of topics that often prove to be particularly challenging in the  pursuit of spiritual development: challenging, yet necessary.

Although Silent Sundays originated out of my affinity for silence and solitude, I recently began to ruminate on the different kinds of silence, and the occasions during which they typically arise. A day dedicated to silence-as-disciplined-practice yields a much different brand of inner quiet than does silence born of bafflement or overwhelm. There is also the silence that results from a conscious decision to withhold response. And, too, there is the silence that accompanies creative pursuits: Although akin to a spiritual practice, the focus is on the artwork, or craft, or cooking, or writing. Spiritual silence, however, aims to establish the optimal environment to invoke and receive—to devote to—the Divine.

My own recent thoughts about “decoding silence” arose after an interaction with my mother that has become a frequent exchange: Her refrain centers around wanting to return “home,” yet a query as to what that means engenders an, “I don’t know.” Her method of raising the idea of wanting to move from her lovely home on a lake can range from a sweet, “I have a question…,” to: a frantic, ”I don’t want to spend the rest of my life here!” 

Most recently, she has decided that my beloved apartment of 15 years was her home in the past. Because my abode has swaddled me through some of the most wondrous and also some of the most difficult times of my life—and because other than the house where I was raised, is the place I have lived the longest—my mother’s usurping of what is for me a sacred space, feels like a theft, a true “home invasion.”

Countless attempts to dissuade her of her adamant belief that my home was hers first, and innumerable, fruitless attempts (and resulting arguments) to remind her that the house in which she resides is, indeed, hers, leave both of us frustrated and exhausted. I tense with each visit or phone call, hoping that the topic does not arise: I also say a prayer each day to help me “do better” should she begin the questioning. I do not want her to feel discontent, misunderstood, or rudderless; nor, however, do I want to enter into the fray each time the subject comes up. 

And then last week, as I was walking out the door of her home, she softly wondered if she could ask a question. I closed my eyes in a silent beckoning for God, and steeled myself to be, ironically, soft and compassionate. Mom said her piece, and then added: “This may not be something you want to—or can—answer, and that’s okay.”

This was a never-before-heard addition to her usual opening. After no more than five seconds, my insides quieted, and I decided to take her up on it: I did not respond… at all. I simply kept readying myself to depart, and soon made a small comment about something completely unrelated and mundane: She responded appropriately; we had moved on.

Of course, there will be another instance of the usual query; however, I was stunned by how simple it was to accept the offer of non-response. Had my mother not said that, I would have felt disrespectful in what would certainly have seemed a blatant dismissal of her question. Instead, the option to be silent was presented, and it was the very best choice.

So, I invite you to think about Silence: What is its role in your life? When is it uncomfortable, and when is it a true relief, a route to emotional safety or peaceful interaction? In upcoming writings, the topic of Silence will be front and center; later, different subjects will be addressed in the Sayings Series. For now:

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: 3 Mudras, 3 Ways to Make the Shift You Need

Today’s Silent Sunday falls into the category of Combo Platter Cure-All. I have chosen three mudras (created from a combination of related hand configurations) that will shift the energy of how and where you are, to the vibration that is needed to balance and steady you. Although I suggest ways in which to engage the hand gestures, mudras work best when their placement feels authentic and organic to the practitioner; therefore, if, as you experiment with the following mudras, you feel a strong pull toward a particular positioning of the mudra, go with your gut.

First, a quick reminder about chakras and their energies: For today’s purposes, the 7-chakra system is used; some chakra systems invoke an 8th energy wheel, which I interpret as the aura. In the 7 framework, the first three energy centers—Sacral, Root, and Solar Plexus—comprise the Lower Triangle. The Upper Triangle consists of the Throat, Third Eye, and Crown. Linking the Upper and Lower is the Heart Chakra. 

When you need to shift Lower Triangle energy is when you feel: overwhelmed by earthly demands; or alternatively, bored by the drudgery of routine. An imbalance in the Lower Triangle can present as sexual obsession, stubbornness, or self-centeredness. This is the time to call upon your higher self, i.e., the Upper Triangle and Heart Center.

To push the base energies further up the spine, through the wheels of energy toward the crown, come into a seated position. Rest the backs of the hands in the center of your lap, with the backs of the four fingers resting against each other and pointed straight upward: The thumb tips are free to touch each other. Hold this mudra with eyes closed, gazing steadily up and in to the Third Eye. Inhale as you visualize the breath energy moving upward from the mudra, through the Heart, and into the Crown. At the peak of your inhale, suspend the breath for as long as you can; as you exhale, imagine the energy shooting up and out of the skull like fireworks. Repeat the process 10 more times, for a total of 11 rounds.

On the other hand, you may find yourself with a hyperactive mind, speaking carelessly, or conversely, dreamy and without focus. In this case, the Upper Triangle has run amok: The antidote is to equalize its energy with that of the Lower Triangle. To do so, bring the hands above the head; allow the arms to be comfortably bent, with the hands 4-8 inches over the crown. When you find the placement that feels right, bring the backs of the fingers together as you did with the first mudra; however, in this gesture, the fingers interlace, with the intertwined fingers pointing down. The thumbs point straight behind you.

With the mudra engaged, open the eyes slightly to gaze down at the tip of the nose; be sure to keep the head upright, with no bend in the neck. Inhale long and deep through softly rounded lips; exhale deeply through a wide open mouth, tongue out and extended. Continue breathing in this manner for 8 breaths. Then, close the eyes, and relax the eyes under the closed lids. Continue to breath deeply, in and out through the nose, for another minute, mudra remaining aloft.

Finally, you will know that your Heart Center needs some attention when you feel agitated, anxious, fearful, or oddly cold and detached. More obvious occasions to attend to the Heart Chakra are grief: Death of a loved one, animal or human; demise of a relationship; or a sense of spiritual uncertainty, i.e., loss of faith. Any of these circumstances require a direct shot to the Heart. 

Although I most often employ the traditional Prayer (Anjali) Mudra placed at the Heart Center, today’s suggestion is a bit more active. The first portion of working with the Heart Chakra is a moving hand shape; the idea is to shake the energy, whether the Heart seems overly sensitive or out of touch. To do this, bring the hands in front of the chest, fingers interlaced. Turn the palms, so that they face away from you.Then, inhale, and as you exhale, push the arms straight out at the level of the heart, fingers still laced, palms pushing forward. Inhale to retract the hands to a few inches in front of the Heart; exhale to push out. Continue this movement at a rapid pace for 1 minute.

Then, with the hands a few inches in front of the chest, palms facing you, hook the middle fingers around each other. Inhale, and pull the fingers strongly away from each other (yet keeping them interlocked). Inhale long and deep, engaging the isometric pull all the while. Exhale slowly and fully through rounded lips as you relax the pull. Continue this pattern for 1 minute.

Finally, do bring the hands into Namaste, or Prayer Mudra. Under closed lids, gaze softly up to the Third Eye, and resume normal natural breath. Remain here for as long as you like.

Special note: The above mudras may be practiced individually or combined. For example, to enhance the effect of moving from the Lower to Upper Triangle, go through each mudra progressively: Begin at the base, move to the Heart, and end with the Upper. Or, practice the Lower or Upper mudras as needed, and close the practice with the Heart. As always, investigate to discover what you need, when you need it.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Get Your Head on Straight

As the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic drags on, myriad changes are taking place inside and out. I have frequently heard people talk about “discovering their secret introvert;” still others declare their ongoing frustration at being with restrictive protocols; and most have slowed their typical daily pace, enjoying the rhythmic shift.

There are certain changes, though, that are less obvious to the outside world: “quarantine brain,” sluggishness, subtle depression, altered diet or sleep habits, to name a few. Today’s routine is dedicated to those symptoms of stress and anxiety, and to their physical and mental ramifications. Through gentle movement, subtle bodywork, and conscious breathing, the following routine can address muddled thinking, lack of focus or motivation, headache, and neck stiffness. Overall, today’s session serves as a dose of rejuvenation and light in the midst of a seemingly endless challenge.

First, a reminder about the importance of spinal health: As Everything Elsa readers know, I almost always suggest spine movements as a warm-up, regardless of the practice to follow. A spine that operates optimally through flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral bends is a spine that allows cerebrospinal fluid to flow freely, from base to brain. This fluid is responsible for supporting the workings of the central nervous system. When the muscles that run along the spine, including neck muscles, stiffen, the spine tends to lock; cerebrospinal fluid loses its easy, open pathway to bathe the brain. Consequently, we lose: clarity, focus, alertness, and expansive, creative thinking. Tension or blockage anywhere along the spine can result in headache, dizziness, eye or ear glitches, and neck or shoulder pain.

So, when one wants to address physical or mental issues with regard to the head, attention to the spine is the suggested place to start. For this Silent Sunday practice, begin by lying on the back: Bend the knees, feet hip width and flat on the floor. Let the knees fall inward to lean against each other; this “constructive rest” position helps to relax the lower back.

With the arms on the ground, several inches away from the sides of the body and palms up, close your eyes and find the breath. Breathe in long and deep, and exhale completely through the nose. When you feel that the breath is fully present for your your practice, move the right hand down along the ground,  as if someone were lightly, quickly “tugging” your arm by holding the wrist. As you tug and find a tug/release rhythm, allow your head to move in accordance: It will rock slightly to the right each time the right arm and shoulder move slightly down and to the right on the floor. Stay in touch with the breath, and continue for about 30 seconds. Then, switch to the left arm, and tug-and-roll for another 30 seconds.

With the neck gently released, take your attention to the base of the spine. Separate the knees, so that they are now parallel to each other. As you inhale, slowly tilt the pelvis toward you, rolling it subtly off of the floor until you feel the lower back press into the floor. Exhale to roll the pelvis back down, and tilt it away from you; this will deepen the curve of the low back off of the floor. Continue the small pelvic tilts for 1 minute, uniting the movement to the breath.

Now, roll to one side, and help yourself onto the belly. Support the upper body on the forearms, elbows under shoulders. Bend the knees, so that the lower legs are perpendicular to the  floor. Check that you are not sinking into the shoulders; instead, actively press down into the forearms to keep the upper body lifted and open. Neutralize the head; the chin is neither up or out, nor in or down. Here, begin to make very small circles with the chin. (Think of circling in this manner, rather than doing “head circles.”) Circle 8-12 times to the right, then repeat to the left.

From the belly, press back into Baby Pose, arms on the floor by the legs, palms up. Breathe hear for a few deep breaths. Then, interlace the fingers behind the back, and straighten through the elbows. With the arms long and engaged, inhale as you lift your hips and roll forward onto the crown of the head; you may need to adjust your position to do this. Inhale as you lift and roll onto the head; exhale to settle back into Baby Pose. Each time you rise, let the arms rise up behind you; this will open the shoulders, and also provide support as you come onto the head. As you roll back down, let the arms lower to contact the back. Continue this powerful lift and lower at a moderate pace for 1 minute.

After you finish in Baby Pose, help yourself onto all fours. Do 8-12 rounds of traditional Cat/Cow. Then, with a neutral spine, head in line with the spine, begin lateral movement of the spine: Inhale, then exhale to shift the hips to the right, and draw the shoulder down as if to meet the hips; allow the head to turn and look toward the hips. Inhale back to center, and exhale to move the hips to the left as the shoulder goes to greet them, creating a deep lateral C-shape in the spine. Repeat 8-10 times to each side, alternating each time. 

Then, press into Downward Dog. Let the head hang naturally, walk out your feet, move the hips: Allow your body to investigate any areas of tension or holding. Then, walk the feet toward the hands: With knees slightly bent, heels directly in line with the sit-bones, walk your fingertips out in front of you as far as you can: Essentially, you have the torso in Down Dog, with the legs in Standing Forward Bend. Remain here for several deep breaths.

Then, walk the hands back toward the feet. Loosely cross the arms, resting the hands in the elbows, and hang; gently nod and shake the head if it feels good. After several breaths, release the arms, and lower your hips down into a squat. From there, sit, keeping the knees bent, and roll down the spine to come onto your back. As at the start of the practice, let the knees fall inward to rest against each other.

Now, bring your full attention to your face and head. Consciously release the tongue, letting it float inside the mouth; ease through the brow and jaw. Using your fingers, you will manipulate the ears for a profound release of skull and facial tension. 

With eyes closed, bring the tips of the thumbs to the innermost upper rims fo the ears. Gently, pull the ears back (technically, up toward the top of the head; because you are supine, it will register as “backward”). The pull is barely perceptible; anyone watching would not notice movement. Again, check on your mouth and eyes; consciously relax any holding or gripping. After about 10 pulls and releases, lie quietly to allow the effects to settle.

Next, place the index fingertips inside the tough rim of the ear openings. Using the same subtle touch, shift the ears up and out. You likely will feel little movement; the effect of this angle of manipulation, tends to register on the level of inner congestion or headache. Again, pull and release about 10 times, and then rest for a few deep breaths.

Continue your trek around the perimeters of the ears: Use the index fingers and thumbs to lightly pull the earlobes in the direction of the feet. If your jaw wants to open, let it. Pull gently and release about 10 times, then lie quietly to consolidate the effects.

Next, bring your middle fingertips to the inside edges of the outer rims, directly opposite the ear openings. With the same subtle pull-and-release manipulation, move the ear down toward the floor. After about 10 repetitions, release the arms to the floor. 

Draw both knees in toward you; bring the arms to shoulder level on the floor. Inhale, then exhale to drop the legs to the right; use your hand to guide them down if necessary. Keep the opposite shoulder on the ground; let your head turn either to the right or left, whichever feels natural for your body. Inhale to bring the tucked legs back through center, then exhale as you lower them to the left. Continue for 8-12 repetitions to each side, alternating each time. 

Then, release the legs out long, and return the arms to about halfway down from shoulder level on the floor, palms up. Breathe deeply as you enter into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Day of Rest

As one who has been interested in astrology since my teen years, I gravitate toward astrologers whose forecasts provide substantial background and explanation of planetary interactions and positions. It all boils down to the physical reverberations of specific synergies, within the ever-changing context of the cosmos and of earthly circumstances. Factor in the physical and psychological constitutions of an individual, as well as their current personal situation, and the insight provided by an astute, experienced astrologer can offer perspective and insight.

This month, as usual, I consulted the website of Susan Miller (astrologyzone.com). What caught my attention most was the caution to “rest”: a simple notion, but one that seemed unusually significant, for some reason. Often, when Miller interprets the health sector of each sign, she hones in on a particular body part or physical vulnerability. “To rest” seemed vague, yet it sounded a distant bell. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic began several months ago, many decided to use the mandated home time to address issues of wellness: stress, nutrition, fitness, etc. Because my access to swimming had been removed, I focused on ways in which I could keep my body strong and lean. Barring the forgiving cushion of water, I naturally gravitate toward long, high-impact movement sessions: However, arthritis presented a conundrum. Instead, I initiated a plan of moderate walking, in-home dancing, Pilates, and occasional free weight routines.

At some point, I realized that my tone was actually improving (although I would have traded it for re-entry into the swimming pool). I also, noted, however, that my joints were troubled, and that my clothes were looser. Because I am a slender person, the weight reduction had not been a goal: I began to question my determined fitness program.

So, when I read that the Universe itself seemed to advise a need to rest, I paid heed. Just last week, I allowed myself to cut back on the amount of time spent moving with vigor. I adjusted my plan to include only yoga and meditation in the morning; a moderate walk or dance session later on; and half of what had become my usual evening Pilates routine. 

“Rest,” for me, does not mean full stop. It means to nurture my body in a way that is acceptable to my mind: I continue daily exercise, for movement calms me. I no longer focus on how much I can do, or how long I can do it for; rather, I focus on giving my physical self caring, beneficial attention. 

This “rest” has been a turning point: My almost-60-year-old body certainly does not need or want the fierce physical tests that it endured in my younger years. It has, though, taken my mind and energy a moment to settle into this new paradigm, for I remain full of vitality: I am eager to create movement that appeases my appetite to address that energy. Yet I now recognize the need to redirect my focus toward the just-as-great need for Rest.

I share this tale on Silent Sunday as an invitation to investigate one’s “old ways.” Perhaps a pattern of recent comments from others, or possibly a horoscope, or maybe a certain topic keeps reappearing in your life: Any of these could signal that something needs to shift. 

With this in mind, grant yourself a day of Rest and Reflection on this Silent Sunday. Offer yourself the option to soften the edges of needs, of habits, and of routines. So, with a nod to the great posture of restoration, feel free to forego the active, and ease into passive: Today’s entire practice consists of Svasana. Lie down, cover yourself, close the eyes; Then, one hand on the Heart center, the other on the low belly, breathe consciously. When you feel settled, allow the hands to rest on the floor, slightly away from the body, palms up. Breathe naturally as you discover Rest.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Brave the Wave

For some, the unwavering heat and sun of Summer signals the prize season of the year. For others, unsistent sunshine, 90-degree temps, and stifling humidity signal just as much of a need to hibernate as Winter does. Regardless of preference, hot weather can throw anyone’s physiology and temperament out of whack: Today’s Silent Sunday offers an antidote to a lengthy heat wave, in the form of an active movement set and  progressive, warming-to-cooling pranayama.

To prepare for today’s practice, find a temperate spot: Air conditioning may feel pleasant, but the idea is to keep the body in as natural a state as possible, so that it may use its intrinsic heating and cooling systems. As you move and warm up, and then ease into the cooling portion of the routine, your internal system will shift in the ways that provide the most potential for integration.

After you have selected a comfortable practice space, stand to face the brightest window or light source. Bring the arms up overhead as you inhale; exhale to bend forward and down, keeping the arms straight and alongside the head. Touch the floor, bending the knees as necessary, and then immediately rise back to stand. Inhale and exhale, up and down, 26 times.

Still standing and facing the brightness, extend the arms straight out to the sides at shoulder level, palms down. Stay in tune with your breath as you begin to turn in a clockwise direction: Use your eyes to “spot” something each time you complete a turn; this will help to prevent dizziness. Turn to the right 26 times. Then, turn to the left (counter-clockwise) 7 times; circle back to the right 3 times. Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands on the waist, eyes softly closed, and breathe deeply: in through the nose, out through the mouth in long sighs. Complete 5 full breaths.

Now, bend forward to come into Downward Dog (kundalini “Triangle”). Make the posture easy and relaxed: Let the head hang loosely; remain soft through the belly and thighs; and breathe naturally through the nose. If you feel the need to wiggle the hips, or walk out the feet, or undulate through the torso, do so. Remain here for 2 minutes.

From Down Dog, step the right foot forward to the outside of the right hand, as if into a low lunge. Immediately, however, step the left foot to the outside of the left hand: You will be in a low, wide crouch with the hands on the floor between the feet. Without pausing, step the right foot, and then the left foot back to resurrect Downward Dog. Then, immediately repeat the movement into crouch, this time stepping the left foot first, followed by the right: Step the left foot back, followed by the right, into Downward Dog. Repeat this pattern, alternating the starting foot each time you step forward, a total of 18 times. End in Downward Dog.

From Down Dog, come onto hands and knees, and then back into a restful Baby Pose. After a few breaths, roll up to sit on your heels. If this is uncomfortable today, feel free to sit in an easy crossed-let position. Bring both arms up alongside the ears: Interlace the fingers, and extend the index fingers straight up. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, begin Breath of Fire through the mouth (I.e., short, equal inhales and exhales, as if panting like a dog). Continue for 1 minute, then close the mouth and continue powerful Breath of Fire through the nose for another 2 minutes.

Now, close the curtain of the bright window, or turn off the light source. Sit down again, facing away from the window or light. Roll down to lie on your back, arms resting on the floor about a foot to either side of the body, palms down: Raise both legs to a 45-degree angle, with the feet together and in a relaxed point. Close your eyes, and begin deep breaths in through the nose, and out through rounded lips. Let each inhale visibly expand the belly, ribs, and chest; with each full exhale, consciously draw in your ribs and belly, and firm the lower back into the floor. (If this is difficult, prop up your hips on a pillow for support.) Continue for 3 minutes.

Briefly hug the knees in toward the chest, and rock about on your back for a few breaths. Then, turn onto the belly, legs long and wide behind you, and prop yourself on the forearms for Sphinx Pose. Here, breathing naturally, begin to make tiny circles with your head. If you feel a big stretch through the neck muscles at any point in the circumference, the circle is too big: It should feel as if your head is swiveling freely around the Atlas and Axis (C1 and C2) of the spinal vertebra. Make 6-10 circles to the right, followed by 6-10 to the left: Keep the eyes closed and face soft.

Finally, press back into Baby Pose for a few breaths, and then rise to come into your preferred seated posture for mediation. Here, bring the left upper arm in close to the ribs: Bend the elbow, so that the forearm extends forward at a 90-degree angle to the upper arm; the palm faces up, fingers together and relaxed. Extend the right arm straight out at shoulder level, then bend the elbow, bringing the forearm forward to create a 90-degree angle with the upper arm, palm facing the ground: The entire bent arm remains parallel to the floor. 

This mudra is one of exceptional balancing power. That which is unsettled within you, that which is chaotic around you—all settles and realigns into its state of calm neutrality and optimal function. Hot and cold; intake and elimination (prana and apana); light and dark; Heaven and Earth: Extremes are respected and softened. Balance resides. 

Sitting in your posture, begin Sitali Pranayama: Inhale through a curled tongue, or slightly parted lips; exhale through the nose. Continue the cooling breath with balancing mudra for 3-7 minutes. Then, ease into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: The Heart of Summer

Although this Silent Sunday does not find us yet in the “heart” of Summer, Summer is nonetheless the season of the Heart. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart organ pairs with the Small Intestine; the two are further supplemented by the Pericardium and Triple Heater systems. All in all, Summer percolates with the warming, invigorating, and uplifting energy of the four meridians. Their balance is crucial, however: When the energy of the Summer organs becomes excessive, the result is anxiety; if blocked, despondency can seep in.

Because we as a society continue to bump our way through the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 (and perhaps beyond), our natural rhythms and resets may have become confused or stymied. So, in order to ensure that the Heart system and its associates are functioning optimally, today’s practice focuses on easing the organs of Summer into their prime environment. When the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium, and Triple Heater are happy, the mind is capable of experiencing the joys of Life, even amidst the wildest challenges.

You will notice that the arms and their positioning factor greatly in the following routine: The meridians of the Summer systems flow through the arms, and into the chest and fingers. To ease into this area, come onto all fours for a few rounds of traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes. Use this simple, but deeply affecting warmup to deepen the breath; make sure each inhale and exhale is long and completely fulfilled. 

Then, come to rest on all fours in a neutral position. From here, reach the right arm underneath the body; keep reaching the arm out through the left arm and hip along the floor. Eventually, your right shoulder will come to rest on the ground, with the right side of the face resting there, as well. (The left elbow naturally bends as you find your way into position.) Turn the right palm to face the ceiling, and feel the stretch all along the outside and back of the right arm and shoulder.

This move tracks the Small Intestine and Triple Heater meridians. For an extra salute to the systems, touch the thumb tip to the tips of the ring and pinky fingers outer edge of the right pinky nail to the inner edge of the right thumb nail; this “seals” the channel. After 5-8 deep breaths here, gently draw the arm back, and help yourself rise onto all fours. Then, “thread” the left arm through to open the other side. Breathe deeply for 5-8 breaths.

Next, move from all fours onto the belly. Bend the knees, so that the shins are perpendicular to the thighs. Bring both arms to shoulder level on the floor; bend the left arm to a 90 degree angle (“goal post”-style). Extend the right arm straight out, palm down; turn the head, so that the left cheek rests on the floor. Touch the right thumb tip to the tips of the right middle and pinky fingers, thus sealing the Heart and Pericardium channels on the extended arm.

 A quick bit of encouragement: The following position of the hips and legs may seem daunting at first; however, it is more accessible than it initially appears. With your arm position for the right side of the Heart and Pericardium established, you will now heighten the stimulation of the meridians. Begin to tip the lower legs to the left; let them keep falling, so that the right hip bone lifts away from the floor. Continue to roll the lower body open: Allow the right knee to leave the floor as you arc the right foot and knee up and behind you; eventually, the right foot will find the floor. When you have “landed,” settle into the posture for 5- 8 breaths. Then, roll the body back to center, and shift the arm and head position to the other side. Accentuate the left arm stretch by arcing the left leg up and behind, until the left foot comes to roost. Breathe deeply for 5-8 breaths.

After the intense opening of the Summertime meridians, shift slowly into Baby Pose. Remain here for a few breaths, and then roll up to sit on your heels or in an easy crossed-leg pose. Here, engage Garudasana, or Eagle Arms: Extend the arms out in front at chest level. Cross the right arm over the left at the elbows. Bend the elbows, bringing the forearms next to each other. Finally, cross at the wrists, so that the palms come to touch. (More than likely, they will be working their way toward being together, but may not quite make it.) 

Firmly draw the arms down toward the belly; gently turn your head to gaze up. This will awaken the Throat Chakra, which will further aid your ability to express the compassion and joy culled from today’s routine. To balance the body and meridians, release the Eagle arms, and repeat on the opposite side (left arm crossed over right, and so forth). Breathe, and move into the Throat opening, remaining in position for 5-8 breaths.

Finally, using a rolled blanket, pillow, or bolster, come into a Heart-opening Svasana. Place the support underneath your upper back, so that both shoulder blades rest equally on the bolster. Ease your head to the floor, and let your neck settle slowly into the modest extension. The arms are out from the body on the floor at about a 45-degree angle, palms up. Remain in rest for at least 10 minutes, eyes closed, mind stilled. With the Heart center open, yet supported, your body and spirit are free to accept and circulate mental steadiness and emotional warmth.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Please Do Not Disturb…

Everything Elsa is dedicated to offering practices that help instill, improve, or eliminate that which one wants to change about themselves or their Life. As humans, those concerns comprise the substance of earthly existence; and as spiritual creatures, those aims create a powerful motivation to evolve. Yet every so often, a moment, or day, or an even lengthier period sets in when we simply want to retain: Perhaps we feel still, or quiet, or inexplicably positive or hopeful; when that happens, all we want is to inhabit and relish the ease and calm.

Today’s Silent Sunday suggests a way to more deeply integrate and abide a time of peace. As the practice begins to shift physical and mental sensations of peace into the more ethereal Subtle and Soul bodies, Peace becomes a quality, rather than a moment. Using unwavering focus and visualization, pranayama, and mudra, the practice creates a state of being that simultaneously grounds and elevates.

The key to today’s experience is awareness: Can you identify the kinesthetic sensation of what it feels like to be fully present in a space of peace? Is there a textural component to your emotional or physical state? Could a color, sound, or word be associated with what it is to be wholly serene? The idea is not to overburden the brain with analysis: Rather, when one can connect to their own being-ness, the goal of abiding is en route to fulfillment.

Once you have a sense of your current state, come onto your back. Extend arms and legs into the air, straight up at 90 degrees: The body forms an upside down U or staple-shape. With the eyes closed, begin to breathe fully and deeply: Do not cheat yourself of either a complete inhale or exhale. Beginning with the left leg, take your mind’s eye to the sole of the left foot. Inhale through the foot, and draw the breath up (or down, given the supine position) through the center of the entire leg, all the way to the groin; as you exhale, picture the breath swirling just above the pubic bone. Repeat on the right side.

Then, do the same exercise through the left and right arms: Inhale first through the left palm, sending the breath into the armpit; exhale to swirl the breath in the chest cavity. Do the same on the right. 

Now, for the next 3 minutes, inhale through both the left and right soles, and up both legs simultaneously; exhale, and stir the breath in the lower-most belly. Repeat with the left and right arms, starting the inhale in the palms, drawing it into the armpits, and circulating it in the chest.

Next, briefly draw the knees into the chest, and hug the legs. Rock a bit back and forth, and then come to sitting, and then immediately into Baby Pose. Bring your hands into Prayer Mudra under the forehead: The Third Eye point between the brows, at the top of the nose bridge, rests on the large (base) knuckles of the thumbs; pinky edges of the hands rest on the floor.

Here, take your inner eye to the perineum, the flat spot between the genitals and anus. Begin the breath here: As you inhale through the nose, draw the breath up the front cross-section of the spine, all the way to the Third Eye. Exhale through an open mouth, and move the breath first to the back base of the skull, then continue to breathe out as the energy travels all the way down the spine, and back to the start. Breathe within this spinal ellipse for 3 minutes: Closed eyes remain focused on the Third Eye.

Finally, roll yourself up to sit on the heels; if this is not tenable for you, find the most comfortable position that allows you to keep the spine upright and aligned. Make a soft fist of the right hand, and place it on the Heart Center. Gently over the right fist with the left palm: The sense is that of nurturing protection and support. Hold the mudra as if it were a precious creature with whom you are sharing your peace.

Sitting easily but firmly, begin a sounding rhythm: Inhale through the nose; exhale as you whisper or out loud utter, “Ahhhhh.” Inhale again; exhale, “Oooo,” through rounded lips. Continue this breath with sounded exhales for 3-5 minutes.

If you prefer to end the practice with the above mudra and sounding, continue the meditation for 11 minutes. Otherwise, move into Svasaana after 3-5 minutes, and deeply experience the integration of Peace within.

Happy Sunday…