Silent Sundays: Revisit Peace

On any given day, if most of us were asked to define “peace,” or to describe what “peace” means to us, some likely responses might be: 

Absence of war

Inner calm

Truce

Emotional stability

All desires or needs met

Yet yesterday, a friend offered a new perspective on Peace. Some background: This friend, “L.,” teaches social policy and is is actively involved in Christian-Jewish relations: In particular, she is drawn to and has led multiple student groups to Israel. There, her aim is to dispel some of the stereotypes and misguided notions that many Christians may have with regard to Israel and its Jews. Primarily, her aim is to show that both sides of any given story have some validity, somewhere, at some point in time. Certainly, she has been immersed in a region and a topic that has spurred her to consider not only the meaning of, but how to achieve Peace.

After one of her trips to Israel, she presented me with a lovely gift. At a market in Jerusalem, she had found a beautiful plaque with but one word: Shalom. From the City of Peace, she had returned with a reminder of Peace. The plaque hangs on my door to this day.

Cut to my recent bout with post-surgical swelling. As previous posts have revealed, I have tried everything—doctors orders, esoteric healing techniques, prayer—to alleviate the condition. 

To no avail…

As is her kind-hearted wont, L. had taken my struggle into her heart as part of her morning prayer sessions with her husband. Knowing this, I felt a supportive strength that I felt would undergird my own healing rituals: However, as I described to L. yesterday, the right words with which to frame my intent have eluded me. Sanskrit and Gurmukhi yoga mantras calm me, but seem to have no bearing on my physical concern. My supplications in English yield words or phrases that feel trite, or yield no intuitively “correct” resonance. 

As my frustration to discern how and with what to address the swelling grew over the course of the past week, I learned yesterday that L. had begun to center her prayers on Peace. She had been spurred by seeing her gifted plaque on my door: She revisited the meaning of Shalom—and of Peace from a biblical perspective—and discovered its original, intended meaning.

Peace in that regard refers to wholeness, to a centered, aligned union with Spirit. Peace is a state of perfect balance, of harmony. Hearing this, I immediately recognized its inherent value to my situation: Of course Peace would be the antidote to my body’s clear state of imbalance. And although I have addressed this over-saturation of the Water element in my physical body, I did not connect it to the concept of true Peace.

After our conversation, I realized that to pray for the draining of fluid, to ask that it be flushed from my system, signals my distress and dissatisfaction with my body. Rather, I decided to approach the healing from a Heart-centered place: To usher in Peace, the Heart must be open. To regain systemic balance—to instill the perfect wholeness of Peace within—I must first offer the Heart’s love (which in my mind, is born of and ultimately one with God’s Love and Grace).

To that end, I have revamped that which goes into my thoughts and ears; I have shed what I think I need, in favor of what will be given according to God and the timing of the Universe. I now fill my space with sounds and music designed to resonate with the Heart Center; and my prayers and meditations center on coming into alignment with Spirit.

Further, I find this to be a profound lesson in Faith and Healing: Both require ongoing patience and fine-tuning; in order to progress and evolve, both require attitudinal exploration and adjustment. And these continual reassessments extend to all aspects of the living of a spiritual life in this earthly realm, which often can seem antithetical, if not downright inhospitable to spiritual development. 

Today’s Silent Sunday, then, is more about helping the Heart call to and welcome Peace: in my case, Peace for healing, Peace to promote physiological and spiritual alignment. The following short practice, though, is designed to address any situation wherein the ego may have usurped the Heart. Whether your personal trial is professional, psychological, socio-political, financial, or spiritual, to center within the Heart will lead you toward the truth of your particular matter: Once the True Way has been revealed, you can begin to move forward with divine guidance.

The practice is short and sweet. Begin standing. Bring both hands to the Heart Center in Prayer Mudra (the classic palm to palm gesture). With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, give yourself a full minute of deep breathing and grounding in the energy of the Heart: As you press the palms firmly together, simultaneously press the edges of the thumbs into the sternum. Give yourself a full minute of this entry into Heart energy: Contemplate the circumstance to be addressed, and commit to the call for Peace. Think not of the negative aspects that drew you to remedy a situation; focus solely on the opening of the Heart.

Still standing, bring your hands behind you, interlacing the fingers. (You may slightly open the eyes to aid balance.) Inhale as you stretch the arms up and away from the body, slightly arching the spine to stretch through the chest; exhale to bend the knees into a small squat as the arms relax down toward the buttocks. Continue this inhale to rise and open the Heart Center, exhale to gently squat and relax the arms behind you, for 3 minutes.

Now, come into a seated position on the floor or a chair. Ensure that the spine is upright and long, and that you feel balanced atop the sit bones: As the body is aligned, it makes way for the energetic alignment of Peace. Here, with eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, once again interlace the fingers, and bring them to the level of the Throat Chakra, palms open and facing down. Inhale, then exhale and forcefully press the interlaced hands down to the Navel Center. Inhale and exhale powerfully through the nose as you lift the hands to throat level and press down to the level of the navel, respectively. Find a steady, fairly rapid pace, and continue to energize the Heart’s magnetic field for 3 minutes.

Next, with your eyes remaining closed, return your focus to that which you seek to remedy. Realign your thoughts with the idea of Peace, of wholeness, of the Heart’s openness to the presence of Peace. Extend both arms straight up, and then open them into a V: Each arm should be at a 60-degree angle from the body. Crook the wrists, so that the palms face up as much as possible, the fingers of each hand pointing out to the sides. In this full-body mudra, begin Breath of Fire, igniting the power of Peace and its partnership with the Heart. Continue for 3 minutes.

Finally, return the hands to the Heart Center. Create Lotus Mudra: From Prayer Mudra, separate the palms while keeping the edges of the thumbs together, and the edges of the pinkies together. The other fingers are straight, with some space between them. As you inhale, draw the essence of Peace into the awaiting vessel of your hands; exhale, and guide it into the Heart. Continue to breathe deeply and steadily through the nose for 3 minutes.

When you have finished, feel free to sit quietly, hands resting palms down on the knees. Or, if you prefer, take Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday… 

Silent Sundays: Water, Water–Part 2: “But” Check

In last week’s Silent Sunday, I described the persistent edema (swelling) of my post-surgical leg: From thigh to knee to ankle, through the entire foot, the swollen limb has been aesthetically disconcerting and extremely uncomfortable. “Pain” is not entirely appropriate to describe the sensation of the tightly encased sausage that is now my leg; however, “insidious discomfort” aptly reflects the state of my leg… and my thoughts about it.

For today’s writing, I revisit the treatment that I created last week. After a week of noting my response to queries about my healing, I decided that both my attitude and last week’s therapeutic routine needed some tinkering. Throughout the week, I would answer the question of, “How are you doing?” or, “Are you making progress?” with a pause; then an affirmation of steps forward; followed immediately with a “but…” That “but” led into the description of the edema that would not quit. I found that my focus was more on the negative, i.e., incessant swelling, than the overall positive and real demonstrations of progress.

As I thought about the way in which I responded, I realized that my one-pointedness with regard to the edema may well be the thing that is preventing the full release of fluid. I was holding on to my discomfort and disappointment in a way that usurped the wonder of a new hip. Instead of accepting and encouraging the swelling and its drainage, respectively, I felt beleaguered and betrayed by its refusal to abate.

I do believe that each aspect of the original treatment that I created last week is beneficial. My demeanor around it, however, either negated or hampered its full effect. To remedy that, I have vowed to eliminate the “but” when asked about my recovery: From here on out, the answer will contain no reference to the edema (unless specifically asked).

Further, I have redesigned the routine itself to include a more developed pranayama; an essential oil blend to aid the goal of moving fluid; and an intense cleansing and energizing portion. Anything that may have appealed to you from last week’s suggestions certainly has its place in this new version: for example, color visualization and therapeutic sound. Keep the pieces that resonate with you, or try today’s variation as a brand new routine unto itself.

Special note: Although the following treatment arises out of my need to eliminate post-surgical fluid retention in the leg, the intricate pranayama and enlivening core exercise are profoundly effective means to center and refresh. If you are on your feet a lot, or conversely, sit for most of the day, today’s offering provides a full recharge.

First, I created an oil elixir that I applied to both legs and feet before embarking on the practice. Although I typically use only jojoba oil as a carrier for essentials, I for some reason intuited the need for a carrier blend: My base consists of sweet almond, Vitamin E, and jojoba oils. Roughly, I used 3 parts jojoba, to 2 parts almond, and 1 part Vitamin E.

For the healing essentials, I chose cypress, geranium, rosemary, and lavender. My first choice would have been Juniper Berry (instead of Cypress), but they offer similar effects: Cedarwood also would be a fine substitute. Feel free to select according to intuition and your nose’s preference. 

Once the therapeutic blend has been absorbed (the Vitamin E and Almond oils need that time; jojoba, with its natural likeness to human sebum, absorbs almost immediately), position yourself on your back. Legs and feet should be elevated high enough to be clearly above the level of the heart. Cover yourself if that feels right to you.

Now, once again employing Varun Mudra on each hand—pinky finger held down into the palm by the thumb—position your hands, so that the three available fingers of the left hand (middle, ring, and pinky) line up and lie against the 3 free fingers of the right hand. Rest both hands where they naturally fall on your belly. Close your eyes, and begin the following pranayama pattern:

Ujjayi breath: 6 rounds, deeply inhaling and exhaling through the nose; the tongue rests down, away from the roof of the mouth, so that the throat gateway is fully open.

U-breath: This means that you will breath in through the mouth; out through the nose; in through the nose; and out through the mouth. For the first inhale, curl the tongue back toward the throat, touching the tip to the rear roof; breathe in through slightly parted lips. 

Keep the tongue in place as you exhale through the nose. Then, breathe in through the nose, ujjayi-style, and out through the mouth: With lips in an O shape, exhale a long, steady “whoosh.”

Repeat the U-breath 3 times.

Now, do 1 ujjayi, followed by 1 full U-breath. Repeat for a total of 6 rounds.

Next, keep Varun Mudra, but leave the left hand resting on your torso; the right hand comes to the nose. Use the right index finger to close the right nostril: Breathe in and out through the left nostril 3 times. Breathe slowly, deeply, and steadily. Change hands, closing the left nostril, and repeat 3 breaths in and out through the right nostril.

To continue, bring the left palm to rest atop the belly button; release the mudra. Bring the right hand (without Varun Mudra) to the nose: Use the right thumb to block the right nostril; breathe in through the left. Close the left with the right ring finger; exhale through the right. Inhale through the right; then block the right to exhale through the left. Repeat Nadi Sodhana for a total of 3 rounds.

Finish with one more round of the opening pattern: 1 ujjayi, followed by 1 full U-breath.

Let both hands rest on the navel, one atop the other. Rest for a moment, allowing the breath to steady and find its natural flow.

Now, bring both legs to 90 degrees. In my case, I had to use a pillow to bolster my hips, as well as hold my legs steady. If you need to accommodate any limitations, do so. Like me, you may find that after the first round, you will not need to use support.

With the legs at 90 degrees, begin Breath of Fire. Aim for 26 of these rapid, belly-bouncing breaths through the nose. Then take a brief break, keeping the legs up.

For Round Two, raise both arms straight up from the shoulders: You will resemble an upside-down bug. Again, Breath of Fire, this time for 30-40 pulsing breaths.

Relax the arms down, resting about 6 inches away from the body on each side, palms down. Repeat Breath of Fire: Aim for 10-20 more breaths than the last round.

For the final round of this purifying, energizing, strengthening set, interlace the fingers behind the neck. Give your all to Breath of Fire for at least 50 breaths.

When you are done, slowly lower the legs back onto your elevated support. If possible, ease the feet down off of the elevation, knees bent, to lift the hips either all the way or as much as you can toward Bridge Pose. Breathe deeply in whatever position you can attain.

Then, with your legs either elevated or resting down at the level of the heart, enter Svasana. Remain here for as long as feels right to you.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Water, Water, Everywhere

When my best friend’s daughter was very young, she wrote a story that featured a character based on me: “Starly Robinson, the Water Droplet.”  Little did the child know that she had pinpointed my elemental and astrological essence. My sign is Cancer, a water sign; and I do tend toward “watery” traits—physical fluidity, emotional sensitivity, intuitiveness, etc. Additionally, I gravitate toward Nature’s water, and swimming soothes my soul. 

While these tendencies contribute to my overall ability to flow with Life, an imbalance in the system can result in decidedly challenging moods and outlooks. Recently, however, I have been wrangling with the clear and disconcerting result of surgery: edema. This fluid retention is the Water element run amok: The appearance and sensation of the swelling are yet another challenge for my psyche and physiology. 

Today’s practice hones in on Water and its inherent quality of flow. Whether you wish to address bloating or edema (or the opposite: dryness in the body); or a feeling of “stuckness” or disconnection (or, conversely, over-sensitivity), the following routine will help to restore balance to the emotional and physical fluid systems. Included will be the use of qigong, mudra, sound, pranayama and visualization. Below is the recording I used during the meditation:

The initial movement, based on Bear Swing in qigong, may be done standing or seated (floor or chair): If using a chair, be sure that it is armless. Moving from the waist,  arms hanging loosely, gently twist to the right; without a break, swing through center to the left. The arms will respond naturally to the weight shift and momentum: Allow them to flap lightly against the body, front and back, as you swing.

This move eases the lower back into a more supple state. Because the Bladder meridian flows through the entire back body, attention to the back is crucial when working with Water.

Special note: If twisting is contraindicated for you, you may proceed to the next move. Or, as I do, move slowly and gingerly: Hip replacement surgery precautions advise against twisting; however, I find that this gentle, flowing move releases tension and aids digestion. Be mindful of your stance, and keep the hips facing forward and still.

Next, attend more fully to the back. Remain in your chosen position (or change, if you need to): Begin an exaggerated, slow version of spinal flex; let the arms flow with the movement. Inhale to softly arch the entire spine as the arms drift behind you, palms facing forward; exhale to completely round the spine, drop the head, and float the arms forward, backs fo the hands moving toward each other at hip level. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, if you are not already seated, come to the floor (or bed or couch). Extend the legs straight in front of you. For this subtle, yet strong move, I have combined two physical therapy moves for post-hip replacement surgery, with the knowledge that one of them is a kundalini move for detoxification. The two movements—heel pumps (also the detox exercise) and thigh presses—help to move fluid from the feet and ankles; and stretch the hamstrings while activating the quadriceps, respectively.

First, with long legs in front, alternately flex and point the feet (“heel pumps”). The ankles will quickly respond, even if full of fluid. After 10-20 pumps, pause: Inhale, then exhale and engage the thighs by pressing the backs of the knees down into the ground. Hole the empty breath and muscle activation for 3 counts. Then release to repeat up to 10 times.

Now put both pieces together: Inhale to point the feet (simultaneously); exhale to flex the foot and press the backs of the knees down, pausing for 3 counts. Repeat 10 times.

The preceding warm-up prepares the Bladder and Kidney meridians—the Water element—to receive the benefits of the following meditation. To prepare, build an elevated support for your feet and legs; allow the lift to be about 1 foot high, and be sure to have some bolstering behind the knees.

Next, turn on the provided sound source. Settle into a supine position, legs and feet elevated, the sound resonating around you. On both hands, create Varun Mudra; it is a variation of Budhi Mudra. Whereas Budhi Mudra touches the pinky and thumb tips; Varun Mudra, holds the pinky down with the thumb. Budhi addresses low water levels in the body (and the corresponding psychological traits); Varun tends to fluid retention and “watery” characteristics.

Thus, with Varun Mudra engaged (pinky held into palm with thumb on each hand), rest pinky sides of the hands on their respective groin (the crevice where the belly meets the leg when lying down). Set the scene for the meditative visualization by conjuring a shade of black or blue (Water’s associated colors). With mudra placed, begin Ujjayi breathing: in and out through the nose with an open throat (tongue dropped down from roof of mouth); the breath’s sound should be steady and audible. As you breathe in, paint your selected color around your entire body; as you exhale, allow it to imbue within. Continue for 2 or 3 minutes

Now that you are swathed and immersed in a sea of blue (or black), focus on the area of your body where fluid has collected: Inhale to connect with spot; exhale to visualize the lowering level and drainage of the fluid. Be sure to continue deep, complete Ujjayi breath for another 2-3 minutes. 

Then, allow the breath to seek its natural rhythm. Breathe into the blueness, still holding the mudra. At some point, when it feels right to you, release the mudra and place the arms and hands on the ground, palms up, for Svasana. Maintain the elevated supports, and allow the breath to resume its natural flow. Remain here through the end of the musical sound.

Happy Sunday… 

And The Evolution Continues…

The following piece is specifically intended for my monthly contribution to the gym I attend (where I have not been since early December!). In response to a photo on the gym’s Facebook page, I realized that my intense struggle with hip arthritis and the current recovery from my first hip replacement have resulted in a significant change in my outlook on movement and health.

Special note: Because this post leans heavily to the side of personal observation and insight, I here include a previous practice that reflects the theme of today’s writing. Thus, a reader may choose to try the routine before, after, or instead of reading the entire following discussion.

https://everythingelsa.blog/2021/02/21/silent-sundays-fill-with-what-you-will/

Now, back to the aforementioned photo, which read: “Exercise is a celebration of what you can do, not a punishment for what you ate.” Because these words crossed my screen at a time when I am homebound and tethered to a walker on which I carry a “reacher;’ unable to bend forward past the waist; and enduring extreme swelling in leg and foot, I reacted with a visceral power that surprised me.

If one were to cut off the end of the quote (i.e., “… for what you ate”), the statement certainly has applied to me in the past. As much as I cherish and am elevated by the true joy of movement, I also know that I sometimes would beat myself into submission through physical activity: I ran, jumped, lifted, danced, and shook away frantic anxiety, anger, or fear. When at a loss for what to do or where to turn, exercise was a trusty battle partner—one that I would send in to destroy negativity, but ultimately would bring harm to my body.

For the past 15-20 years, I have been essentially free from that mindset. Yet, when COVID struck at just about this time last year (March 2020), I became very anxious—despairing, even—over the loss of access to a pool. At that time, however, I was still able to take long walks and, despite the pain after each outing, I committed myself to 45-minute walks almost every day. 

That turned out to be the precisely wrong thing for my already deteriorating hips.

Cut to September 2020: Increasing pain and lessening mobility reduced the walks to 15-20 minutes.

By November, they were officially off the activity list. December was the turning point of no return: Most movement that involved placing weight on my legs, save for errands, was eliminated; only Pilates and kundalini yoga remained accessible to my body.

And then: surgery on February 19, 2021.

The recent days of early recovery and rehab have been eye-opening. At first, I worried that my usual vitality would send me through the roof: How would I expend pent-up energy, both physical and psychological? But the extreme state of a body that has been hammered and sawed upon (and filled with drugs) inherently diminished my fervent need to bounce around.

What was crucial to me, however, was the need to maintain circulation (to help with swelling and digestion) and overall positivity. Additionally, I learned that both anesthesia and the prescribed oxycodone place significant strain on the lungs. Thus, I began to create short practices to address both: lots of seated upper-body movements (culled from kundalini kriyas) and pranayama sets. 

By revitalizing and strengthening the body in this way, my spirit has entered a wonderfully centered and open-hearted state. My past tendency to use exercise as a weapon against all that troubled me seems now an unfortunate, misguided approach to the wondrous miracle that is the physical body. Now, the innate ability of the body to heal from trauma (coupled with outside aid) colors my every choice: If I do x, will it set me back? If I do y, am I introducing kind, supportive energy, or am I unfairly frustrated with my body?

At the age of 57, I consider all of the above to be a clear message and exceptionally generous gift from God and the Universe.

Movement, mobility, health, positivity: These are wildly phenomenal treasures that deserve—need—to be celebrated. And by doing so—for example, through exercise—one bolsters their quality and increases their presence. When “what you can do” becomes limited, think not of loss; rather, find the challenge and opportunity in creating a path for change. When the body falters, it needs you and your mental and spiritual strength: Give it, live it, and share it.

Silent Sundays: Fill With What You Will

Two days after a total hip replacement, I enter today’s writing with one thing in mind: Where once my hip held unresolved emotion and pain, now it will be consciously refilled with only that which will aid and better myself and others. 

In kundalini yoga and studies of somatic and cellular memory, the hips are said to be the storage unit for emotional “baggage.” About midway through my experience with hip arthritis, it occurred to me that perhaps the deterioration and subsequent loss of the “hips I came in with” was a truly divine gift. I do recognize that so, so many of the emotional reactions I have had throughout my life thus far are a direct result of previous events and circumstances. If given a chance to clear the clutter of long-past, unnecessary feelings from the hips, why not?

Given that the first hip to be replaced is the right one (read into that what you will), I have begun to hone in on the more aggressive reactions and emotions that have heretofore been part of my life. The right side is said to be the masculine side—aggressive, hot, active. (Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a debate about gender roles or traits.) Certainly, despite my overall mental and emotional stability, I have retained the ability to flare, to roil, and to strike when stricken.

This is not to say that I will never again become angry or defensive or vehement: My aim, however, is to fill the new hip with a solid set-point of kindness, beneficent strength, and peace.

Today’s suggested practice involves self-contemplation; seated auric clearing; pranayama; and basic mudra. The contemplative aspect introduces your own ideas into the practice: What would you remove, and with what would you fill the space of unwanted thoughts and feelings? Who would you be, base level, with that which you will into your life?

Then, when you have integrated your motivation for meditation, begin to clear the auric field around you. I have offered several previous practices for energy clearing: Fundamentally, if one does large, vigorous, multi-directional moves with the arms, the magnetic field is cleared of stagnancy, blockages, and negativity. If you are physically capable, allow the torso to join the movements; if you need to stay somewhat stationary through the core, engage the arms more powerfully. Actively move and clear for 3-5 minutes.

Then, with the left hand resting palm up on the left knee and the right hand palm down on the right knee, begin deep breaths in through the nose, and slowly, deeply, and fully through rounded mouth. As you breathe, align your breath with your “willed fill”: As you inhale, draw your intention in through the left palm; upon the cleansing exhale, envision all that you wish to eliminate through the right palm. Stay with this meditation, eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, for 11 minutes.

When you are finished, simply sit and allow the breath to resume its normal quality, or feel free to enjoy Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

How to Hang On–Day 30: This Moment

Today, I am immersed in duality.

Not wanting to move, but fidgeting incessantly; needing to complete multiple pre-surgery tasks, but tethered to online word games; nerves are kicking, but emotions are numb.

This dual nature is part and parcel of Life: in humans, in the environment, in politics, in socio-economics, in romance, in each and every one of us on many levels. Yet with duality comes dissatisfaction: One yearns to remain on one side or the other, to choose their comfortable spot. But as always, one must swing back and forth between states, which themselves are ever-changing.

And yet, my experience of this two-sided feeling somehow keeps me in the moment. As I wrangle with which way to turn, how to feel, and what to think, I can not bemoan or become nostalgic for what was; nor can I imagine or dream of what will be. I can stay only here and now, watching and waiting as my body and mind try to decipher their dueling nature—as I await a new experience, a new phase.

Whereas I have signed off from each day of the How to Hang On series with “’til tomorrow,” I won’t be doing that today. For tomorrow starts at dawn (or thereabouts), when I will be carted off to the surgical center by my best friend: The day will see me undergo my first surgery, my first anesthesia, and my first new hip. The eve will be a “girl’s night,” with my buddy enjoying wine, and me and my body trying to understand what is going on through a drug-induced haze.

One thing is clear, however: I am fortunate, and I am grateful.

’TIl next time… 

How to Hang On–Day 29: Prep

Oh, goodness: The day after tomorrow will bring me a new hip…

And until that time, no rest for the weary!

Apparently, surgery entails not only appointments galore, but household preparations beyond belief. Today was Day 1 of the nitty-gritty: Start with pre-surgery nutrient drink (I lasted 3 sips); order the “hip kit”—tools to help with dressing, reaching, washing, etc.; field calls concerning insurance and payment; move car into distant spot, so that other tenants can have “prime” parking during my non-driving weeks; and on and on it goes…

But more than once in the midst of all of this, I found myself marveling—yet again—at the abundance of gifts and blessings I have been receiving: not only during this challenge, but throughout my life. Those unappetizing, gag-reflex-inducing supplement drinks? How dare I complain, when a less fortunate person, somewhere, would surely regard them as bounty, The financial drain of the surgery? I can respond only with gratitude that my family can help. And the inconvenience of the tasks required to ready my apartment for post-surgical-me? Lucky to have a place to live, with help all around, every day.

Thus, as tired as I am, as precarious as my hip is, as drained as my energy reserves are: I feel astonished by the life I have lived… and the opportunity to begin again, with vigor and fresh humility..

’TIl tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 28: Breathe, Please

Now, more than ever, as the anticipated day draws ever closer, conscious breathing needs to be front and center. Even low-key excitement can shorten and abate the breath; when the mind gets hold of anticipation, the body reads “fight or flight.” In those moments, one must remind oneself to regard complete, calming breaths as a decision. 

As I marveled this morning about how still and even-keeled I felt inside, I suddenly realized that part of the stillness was the very little movement through my belly, ribs, and chest. When I scanned a bit further, I found that my breaths were far from full and far from deep.

Ironically, when I met with the surgical nurse yesterday as part of pre-surgery protocol, she mentioned the importance of breath in pain management. I assured her that breath work is familiar to me and part of my daily practice. So, when I discovered this morning that my breath had taken a back seat to thoughts of Surgery Day, I inwardly chuckled and lightly chided myself for the lack of my supposed discipline.

So, my light movement practice this morning gave way to a focus on pranayama. One of the simplest, most effective combinations I enjoy is the following:

Begin with chest openers: spinal flexes, arm swings (criss-cross in front), arm circles, and modified back bend or Camel Pose.

Sitting, place on palm on the belly just beneath the navel, with the other hand resting on top. Inhale into the cradle of the palms for a count of 4; exhale for 4 (breathing through the nose).

Repeat 4 times.

Continuing to breathe through the nose, increase both counts to 6; repeat 6 times.

Now, release the hands to the knees, left palm up, right palm down: Breathe in through the nose for 6; pause for 2; exhale long and steady through rounded lips for 8. Repeat 8 times. (The hand position and breath change represent taking in and letting go; this is a particularly beneficial breath when coping with anxiety or distracting thoughts.)

Close with a trio of breaths that alternate nostrils. Using the right thumb to close the right nostril, place the left palm on the knee, palm up, index finger and thumb touching. Breathe in and out through the left nostril, very slowly, for 3 rounds (no count). Change hands—left thumb closes left nostril; right hand lies palm up with Gyan Mudra on right knee—and repeat through the right nostril.

Then, using the right thumb to operate the right nostril, right ring finger to open and close the left, place the left hand on the knee, palm down, no mudra. Close the right nostril to breathe in through the left; close the left to breathe out through the right; then in through the right, out through the left. Repeat the entire round 5 times.

Finally, sit quietly, left hand resting in the palm of the right, with the hands in the lap. Touch the thumb tips together, send your closed-eye gaze up to the Third Eye, and breathe in and out through the nose. Stay here for as long as you like, allowing the body and mind to integrate the calming benefits of the pranayama.

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 27: Stay Cool

Today was the final round of appointments before Friday’s surgery.

Yesterday, my low back decided to join the party: spasm deluxe.

I was concerned about driving, about walking, about standing, about waiting—would my back, hips, and legs keep me upright as I moved through this final, necessarily busy day?

For that has been my primary goal: walk into the surgical center upright, of my own accord (with the help of canes). To be so close, yet so far… that was the feeling with which I awoke today.

And yet: I managed. One foot in front of the other; one wobbly cane maneuver, then the next; one smile for the surgical nurse; and then another for the COVID test-taker. Each move along this baffling game board toward surgery demands, overall, one thing: Stay cool.

By “cool,” I mean centered–in mind, body, spirit: When body balks, move to mind; when mind meanders, shift to spirit. And when at all possible, engage all three—ultimate coolness.

Also, however, I am acutely cognizant that Cool abides vulnerability: I am learning how to accommodate that uncomfortable, unwanted state, all while staying connected to Cool.

’Til tomorrow…

Silent Sundays: Correction–In More Ways Than One (Or: How to Hang On–Day 26)

Back on Day 20 of the “How to Hang On” series, I made an error in counting–or so I thought. Consequently, there are two entries for Day 20, which means that every day after that is behind by one. Thus, today is Day 26 (although previous posts would suggest that it is Day 25). With that correction comes the topic of this Silent Sunday’s practice. When physical abilities become limited, one has to modify, i.e., correct for circumstance.

Yesterday, a friend was asking about cautionary protocols after surgery and during rehab. She ventured: “… And you won’t be able to do yoga.”

This is a common misconception: Many Western yogis view active vinyasa, “hot yoga,” or advanced Iyengar postures as the crux of yoga. As a former teacher and student of ashtanga (aka the original “power yoga”), I , too, was of that mind for several years. Because I was an active, athletic person overall, the quick pace and heat of ashtanga appealed to my energetic tendencies.

During this time, however, I also began studying Kundalini yoga. The mental and spiritual insight that I gleaned from the tradition was enlightening: Ever since, no matter my physical ability or mental state, kundalini has been a part of my practice. About 5 years ago, it became the core; when hip arthritis struck, it became my savior.

So, in answer to my friend, I was able to say that I never stopped practicing “yoga”: I, did, however “correct for” my increasing physical limitations. And, in so doing, I have realized that kundalini will continue to anchor my post-surgical rehab. Spinal exercises, pranayama, and upper body kriyas provide an energizing, clearing, and stabilizing foundation for my body, mind, and overall attitude. When pain subsides enough to allow, I add in movements to strengthen and soothe the lower body, i.e, the Lower Triangle of chakras.

With all of that in mind, today’s Silent Sunday offering is a sample of what I do and have done every day for the past couple of years: Even as my hips deteriorated to bone-on-bone status, I was–and continue to be–able to feed the following energetic nutrition to my body and spirit. This is the most recent iteration of the practice, which means that most people with upper-body mobility and the ability to sit and/or kneel can partake of the routine.

Always, every day, first thing in the morning–sometimes before donning clothes–I awaken my spine. Depending on what my body tells me, I begin on my back or kneeling: On the back, knees are bent, feet hip with apart; I then rock my pelvis forward and back, slowly and gently. Simultaneously, I consciously engage with the breath: inhale to tip the pelvis forward, exhale to retract it back toward me. Allow 1-2 minutes of this focused, warming move.

(If on all fours, similarly flex and extend the lower spine only, attempting to isolate the pelvis: inhale to lightly extend the lumbar spine; exhale to softly round.)

Then, I engage the full spine. On my back, I inhale to tip the pelvis forward; then, I exhale to begin rolling it up and away from the floor, incrementally continuing up the entire spine until I am in a modified Bridge. Then, inhale to lift the arms up and overhead to the floor; exhale to bring them back down, followed by the articulated roll-down through the spine–all on the same exhale. Repeat about 10 times.

(If on all fours, this would become a full Cat/Cow, flexing and extending through the entire spine. After about a minute, this would be followed by “Bird Dog”: extend the left arm straight ahead from the shoulder, while extending and lifting the right leg straight back from the hip. Take a full inhale and exhale, lower, and switch sides: Repeat 3-5 times on each side.)

At this point, I come to a seated posture. Typically these days (as crossed-leg pose is no longer comfortably accessible to me), I begin with legs extended straight out in front: When I need to, which is at about the 3-5 minute mark, I come into Rock Pose (or Hero Pose); I bolster by sitting on a block, feet pulled back to rest outside of my hips, tops of the feet on the ground.

Here begins another round of spinal flexes. At this point, having warmed up, the spine can begin to move more quickly and fluidly. Use this opportunity to ramp up the flow of blood and cerebrospinal fluid, both of which foster mental clarity. Inhale to open the front body with a deep arch through the entire spine; exhale to round and open the back body. Continue for 3-5 minutes.

Next, Sufi Grinds: Roll the entire torso to the right, making sure that the movement includes the pelvis. Inhale to press the spine and pelvis forward, then circle to the right; exhale as you round, tipping the pelvis back, and continuing the clockwise circle into the left side of the circle. Continue in this direction for 1-3 minutes, breathing deeply, and moving seamlessly; then, switch to roll counter-clockwise for another 1-3 minutes.

Now, I begin to engage the arms: Often, I have done so during spinal flexes; for the purpose of today’s practice, however, focus on each piece individually. Begin by clearing the magnetic field around you: Inhale to shoot the right arm straight up, fingers pressed together, palm up, facing left; exhale to quickly withdraw the elbow down to the side. Repeat quickly with the left arm: inhale up, exhale down. Continue rapidly, with powerful nose breath, for 1 minute.

Without a break, alternate the arms up and out to the sides at a 60-degree angle; both palms face inward, toward each other. Same speed, same breath: Continue for 1 minute.

Again, continue immediately: alternate arms up and out in front of you at 60 degrees. This time, the palms face downward. Move vigorously for 1 more minute.

From here, slowly slide out of your seated posture, and come onto the belly. With legs straight or bent at the knees, prop up onto the forearms. Breathe here in Spinx Pose, in through the nose, out through the mouth for 1 minute. Eyes may be closed, focused on the Third Eye.

Then, place the hands under the shoulders, but not onto the floor: Your upper body strength supports the lift. Inhale through the nose, then exhale to rock to the right, rolling the left shoulder and chest further away from the floor. Inhale back through center, hands and upper body remaining off the floor; exhale to tip to the left, rolling the right should and chest open and away from the floor. Continue back and forth for 1 minute.

Now, help yourself onto your back. Extend both legs straight up and together: Inhale through the nose to lower them both a few inches; quickly exhale through the nose to retract them back to 90 degrees. The approximate count is 3 to lower, 1 quick beat to lift. Repeat 10-20 times.

Next, life the upper body and support yourself on the forearms; elbows are under or slightly ahead of the shoulders. Stay lifted and open through the chest, shoulders rolled back: Extend the legs out at 60 degrees, and begin Breath of Fire. Continue for 1 minute; bend the knees slightly to modify; alternatively, do one leg at a time, each for about 30-45 seconds.

You may remain supported by your forearms, or, if feeling strong, extend the arms out along the floor while keeping the upper-body lift. In this position, “bicycle” the legs out at an angle of 30-45 degrees. Continue the full-leg, alternating peddling action for 1 minute: Then, reverse (as if cycling backward) for another minute.

Finally, lower onto the back. If your hips and low back allow, bring the knees in toward you. Inhale, then exhale to bring the legs down to the left; inhale up to center, exhale to the right. Alternate for 5-10 rounds, then lengthen the legs out (perhaps with a bolster under the knees), and settle into Svasana for 5-10 minutes.

Happy Sunday…