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…

Silent Sundays: Reset Your Sights

Today’s practice picks up where yesterday’s discussion about the changes so far wrought in 2020 left off. As noted in that piece, we as a country have entered a critical period: Not only do we need to remain cautious and smart with regard to COVID-19, the need to maintain a vigilant presence and demand action concerning race relations must persist. From an energetic standpoint, the circumstances require focus, clarity, and a calm determination. To that end, this Silent Sunday offers the opportunity to strengthen and balance the Liver: Associated with vision—figurative and literal—and anger (when out of balance), a healthy Liver system supplies the qualities needed to adapt to the powerful energy of 2020.

Special note: To prepare the body and mind for the practice, I suggest a cleansing and anointing ritual. First, gently bathe the eyes: If you have eye drops, take a moment to clear the eyes. Or, if you prefer, dampen a tissue with warm water; then, delicately clean the inner corners and dab around the lash lines of both eyes.

Follow the eye bath with an essential oil treatment to some Liver meridian points. A combination of lavender and chamomile works well; thyme and/or another floral may be used, too. In a carrier oil (e.g., jojoba), add a few drops of your preferred oil(s). Then, on both feet, massage the oil into the Big Toe, and into the long dip—including the web—between the first and second toes. If you do not have or do not want to use oil, still take the time to stimulate the points with massage.

Now you are ready to begin. The magic number for the practice is 6: Except for one, all moves will see 6 repetitions. To start, stand with feet together, eyes open, arms by the sides. As you inhale, step the right foot to the right about 18 inches; as you do so, rotate the arms to face the palms forward (still down by the thighs). Look directly to the right: Find a focal point upon which to direct a firm gaze. Exhale to return center, bringing the palms back to neutral; focus the eyes straight forward. Repeat to the left. Open to each side 6 times.

Next, cross the left leg in front of the right, knitting them closely together. If this topples your balance, place the left foot in front of the right, heel to toe. Inhale to stretch the left arm up by the left ear, palm facing out (i.e., to the left); exhale to stretch to the right. Inhale up, exhale back to start. Switch the position of the feet, and stretch to the left, high palm facing to the right. Repeat 6 times to each side.

From standing, ease your way into a gentle forward bend; you may bend your knees. With both hands, sweep up the inside of the legs as you inhale; as you exhale, move the hands from the inner groin to the outside of the hips, and sweep the palms down the outer thighs and legs. Repeat 6 sweeps up the inside as you inhale, and down the outside as you exhale. Think of this move as a clearing of any Liver stagnancy or blockages.

Now, squat down into a crouch. The legs and feet are hip width or slightly wider, with the knees angled out a bit. Reach both arms through the legs; extend them straight out. Interlace the fingers with the index fingers pointing straight ahead; align the hands with the eyes, and gaze fiercely at or beyond the extended fingers. Here, do Breath of Fire for 1 minute.

From the crouch, come onto your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Inhale to roll the spine up off of the floor; exhale to roll down, vertebra by vertebra. Repeat 5 more times for total of 6.

Next, tuck the knees in toward the body as closely as you can. Inhale: Exhale as you bring the knees to the floor on the right. Inhale to come back center; exhale to bring the knees down to the left. Repeat the twist 6 times to each side.

Finally, extend the legs out for rest. Before you enter full Svasana, take a moment to massage the base of each index finger. Rub and press all around the knuckle and into the webbing: This area is a reflexology point for the eyes. When you feel that you have sufficiently relaxed the point, ease into full Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday… 

2020: What We Thought It Would Bring; What Came Instead; And Where We Go From Here…

Toward the end of every year, my mother comments on the prospects for the coming year: According to her, odd-numbered years bode less well than even. Periodically during 2019, she would echo the refrain; 2020, in her opinion, promised better times than our family had in 2019.

We eagerly anticipated the clarity that seemed metaphorically inherent in a “Vision for 2020”: As a family, our 2019 saw uncertainty, tunnel vision, and an ongoing inability to make clear decisions. If only 2020 would make good on the promise of clear-sightedness and an easing of continual strain…

And then the Year of Clarity began. With it came the energy of a Four Year (2+0+2+0). Following is the introduction that I wrote in my New Year’s piece: 

“In numerology, 2020 is a Four Year. The number four signifies the concretization of whatever ideas, plans, or intentions have been in the works. The new year will be a time when we begin to see the material and spiritual culmination of all that we have been working toward; praying for; and meditating upon. … [Today’s] practice breaks any chains or blocks that may be holding you back from ‘solidifying’  goals or dreams.”

At the time, I viewed the liberation from “chains and blocks” as the freeing that our family had sorely been missing: We needed to smooth out the road ahead, to forge a clear direction, and to stay focused on a firm decision. What I now see—with stunning clarity—is that 2020 has presented the whole of humanity with an opportunity to dismantle sociocultural prisons of prejudicial patterns and perspectives. 

First, the COVID-19 pandemic knocked us to our knees, forcing each of us to recognize the most base and most enlightened aspects of ourselves. In the midst of disease and death, fear struck a deep chord; resilience and kindness, however, rose to the fore. Some flailed and refused to alter their ways; most, though, buckled down and gained strength by allowing vulnerability to be a unifying factor.

Then, George Floyd’s horrible killing by a police officer spurred fierce, yet mostly nonviolent and united protests over the tyranny of racism in America. The “concretization of intentions that have been in the works,” and that which “we have been working toward; praying for; and meditating upon”: When I wrote those words, I did not imagine that they would point to the centuries-old race wars in this country; I did not know that 2020 would so clearly highlight violence and discrimination against people of color, especially with regard to black Americans.

Perhaps it was only into the environment of resolve and compassion borne of the pandemic that the outrage and uprisings surrounding Floyd’s murder could have taken ahold with what seems to be a uniquely powerful force. For it is not as if America has never wrangled with racial inequality before: Even when all states were legally “emancipated,” racial discrimination and hate crimes continued. Despite Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, potent oratories and activism of decades ago, we as a nation settled into complacency: Racism festered as it always has. When brought into the spotlight–often in connection with police conduct– outcry would pour forth; then, within a week or two of news cycles, the voices of dissent were somehow muted and dismissed by non-black Americans.

But a virus forced all of us to recognize our shared vulnerability as physical beings. COVID-19 threw a net of humility and anxiety over our country. In order to come out from under, everyone needed to observe unsettling safeguards with intense discipline. Yet the restrictions unintentionally created the grounds for unity: Physical distancing, masking, and self-isolation applied to all; our behavior affected ourselves and everyone around us.

So, when George Floyd was killed, our psyches were already in a place of unprecedented awareness, compassion, and resolve. The time was–and is–ripe to respond with the same unrelenting discipline as we have to the virus: This war, however, is the Pandemic of Prejudice. In order to ensure its resolution in the form of deep, wide, and permanent change, our minds, hearts, and eyes need to remain open.

For tomorrow’s Silent Sunday: Now that we know what 2020 had in store for us all along, it seems prudent to offer a practice geared toward the Liver. With the organ system’s associated sense of sight, and its emotional tendency to anger when imbalanced, to stimulate and balance the Liver creates focused determination and calm perseverance. With these qualities flowing smoothly and strongly, we can work to “solidify the goal and dream” of less ignorance and cruelty, and a more just future.

Silent Sundays: The “Don’t Feel Like Practicing” Practice

With all that has happened in the United States over the course of the last several months, finding the discipline or motivation to engage body and mind in practice can be its own challenge. Like many (most) in this country, I am weary after months of quarantine; I also am feeling the itch of anticipation to resume a more active, purposeful daily routine. 

Coupled with the eagerness to “do my Life,” however, is the recent onslaught of energy associated with necessary uprisings over racism and police brutality. The two grave and urgent situations—quarantine and protest—demand attention, be it overtly active or inwardly mindful. Yet their co-occurrence places an extraordinary demand on our energy reserves.

 After a week full of distraction and strain, I remarked to my sister that in order for me to send positive, empowering energy out, I need the same within. As of yesterday, I knew what I needed: I did not, however, feel driven to do the work needed to achieve it. Today’s Silent Sunday suggests a “non-practice practice” that will help you to reconnect to your personal sense of meaning, purpose, and optimism. When you don’t exactly know what it is that you feel or need, this practice is the one. Each piece of the routine is only 30 seconds, so no deep commitment is needed.

To begin, stand tall, firmly rooted through the feet. With the arms by your sides, make strong fists of each hand; feel as if heavy weights are extending the fists, arms, and shoulders strongly toward the ground. With that powerful station, open and lift the chest toward the sky, and bend the neck slightly: With the face lifted upward, eyes open, find a spot on the ceiling and affix your gaze. Do Breath of Fire here for 30 seconds.

Then, as you inhale, sweep the arms straight up to touch the palms overhead as you bring the head back to neutral. At the top of the breath and sweep of the arms, eyes are closed: Suspend the breath for 5-10 seconds. Exhale to lower the arms down to the original fisted position. With the eyes slightly open, gaze at the tip of nose: Breath of Fire for 30 seconds.

Inhale: Sweep the arms overhead, close the eyes to gaze upward at the Third Eye. Suspend the breath for 5-10 seconds. Keep the eyes closed as you lower the arms to the standing fist pose; With eyes remaining closed and gazing at the Third Eye, engage Breath of Fire for 30 seconds. Then, take the final sweep overhead as you inhale: At the top of the breath and sweep, suspend the breath, and pump the stomach for as long as you can.

When you need to, exhale. As you breathe out slowly and deeply, move gently down into a forward bend. Stay here for a few breaths. Then, take one leg back into a lunge; the knee may on the floor, or the leg may be extended back long and straight. With eyes open, gaze at the Third Eye: Breath of Fire for 30 seconds.

Next, switch legs, and repeat the open-eyed, Third Eye gaze with Breath of Fire for 30 seconds.

Now, move into Downward Dog for a few deep breaths. Then, come down to pass through all- fours, and end sitting on your heels in Rock Pose. Rest your hands on the thights: Inhale in the upright seated position; exhale to bend forward, “bowing” the torso down toward the thighs. Aim to bring the forehead to the floor in from of the knees. Inhale to rise, exhale to lower; continue for 30 seconds.

Finally, come onto your back. Draw the knees into the chest, and extend the arms out to the sides at shoulder level. Inhale to extend the legs straight out at a 45-degree angle; exhale to draw them back in, hugging the knees with the arms. Inhale as the arms return out to the floor and the legs extend; exhale to tuck into the “hug package.” Continue for 30 seconds.

If you find that you feel energized or otherwise compelled to practice further, you may repeat the entire sequence: Either repeat 2 or 3 times with the shorter times; or, repeat once more, extending the 30-second times to 1-3 minutes. Regardless, come into Svasana for a few minutes when you feel that you have concluded your practice.

By dint of the powerful breath, and level and angle changes with the body, this routine will ferret through any confusion or lethargy that the highly stimulating and potentially enervating current societal circumstances may breed. As you move toward your personal center and instill clarity of mind, you are free to move in the direction that allows you to act and respond with utmost integrity.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: State of Unrest

Special note: A few nights ago, I watched a movie set in the late 1960s-‘70s. At one point, the storyline gave way to a musical montage. A longtime Marvin Gaye fan, I relished the reminder of one of my favorite songs of his. This morning, the musical flashback proved all too relevant: https://youtu.be/57Ykv1D0qEE

I have a distinct memory from my childhood in the late ‘60s. Living next door to what was at the time a primarily black-attended theological seminary, I remember waking up one night to the sound of my parents rushing up and down the stairs. I then recall my father talking to someone outside in the darkness; next, I heard him back inside on the telephone. What we learned the next day was that riots had broken out downtown during the night, and that the fervor had spread to the neighboring seminary. Those were the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., and frequent civil rights protests.

Today’s Silent Sunday follows a volatile Saturday here in Rochester, NY. As of 9:00 last night, the city had imposed a curfew, due to initially peaceful protests that turned to chaos and looting. That this local lockdown has occurred during the wider lockdown of the corona virus lends a sickening absurdity to the already horrific reason for the outcries. Last week, the stark, seemingly never-ending reality of racism reappeared in the death of George Floyd, an African-American, while detained and “subdued” by a white Minneapolis, MN, police officer. As a result, people of all colors and creeds have felt the need to express their outrage and despair. 

To awaken this morning to the depths of enforced citywide lockdown borne of civil unrest is at once saddening and enlightening. Humanity probably will forever be in a state of “unrest”: The nature of evolution inherently entails entropy and disruption. Yet in order to insure that change takes on as much beneficial energy as it can while enduring its inevitable process, rightful anger needs to be undergirded with hope and beneficence. 

In order to honor the dismay that underlies the rage of protest, this Silent Sunday calls upon a mantra to invoke Peace and promote Unity. The practice includes movement to connect the expansiveness of the Universe with the earthly realm, and concludes with focused meditation.  When chanted with mudra, the mantra empowers the energy of connection between all, and all with the Infinite.

The mantra that will be chanted throughout the practice is: Ang Sang Wahe Guru (ahng sahng; both sound like “long,” and wah-hey goo-roo). The director of training at the Kundalini Research Institute, Gurucharan Singh, offered the following commentary on the mantra’s meaning and purpose: “…It reconnects every fragmented projection of the psyche, each separate part of the body, and synchronizes the finite sense of self [with] the Infinite Oneness. … Under attack, under war, under the presence of fear, this meditation keeps us together [and] conscious…. It brings the inner peacefulness that comes only from the touch and scope of Spirit.”

To begin, come onto all fours for 2 minutes of traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes. Use the first few rounds to find your rhythm and depth of movement. Then, add the mantra: As you extend the spine by lifting the tail and opening the chest, chant, “Ang Sang;” as you flex the spine by rounding the back, dropping the head, and tucking the tail, chant, “Wahe Guru.” Continue for the allotted time.

From all fours, sit back into a squat; it is okay if your heels can not fully descend, as you will be moving in and out of the deep squat pose. From the squat, lift the buttocks, extend the legs, and let the lower body come down toward a forward bend. Immediately reverse the movement: Bend the knees, drop the hips to the heels, and reset the torso and head to an upright position. For the first few, inhale as the buttocks lift and head goes down; exhale to return to the squat. When you are comfortable with the move, add the mantra: “Ang Sang” in the forward bend position; “Wahe Guru” in the squat. Continue for 2 minutes.

As you end the previous move in squat, push from there into Downward Dog. Move from the pose forward into plank. If possible, pass through plank directly into Upward Dog; you may need to stop at plank until your body feels ready to fulfill Up Dog. Again, use the first few rounds in and out of Down and Up Dog to acclimate the body: Inhale into Up Dog, exhale into Down. Then, when you are ready, add the mantra: “Ang Sang” in the Upward Dog position; “Wahe Guru” as you find Downward Dog. Continue for 2 minutes.

Now that the movement portion of the practice has rooted you through the First Chakra, and simultaneously shifted energy into the Upper Triangle of chakras, the optimal environment for meditation upon the mantra has been prepared. 

Come into your favorite seated posture. Bring the backs of the hands together in front of the Heart center; edges of index fingers pressing into the sternum; fingers point down; elbows to the sides. With your eyes “nine-tenths” open, gaze at the tip of the nose. Chant the mantra in a whisper for 3 minutes. 

Special note: If your eyes begin to ache or tire, take a moment to close them, circle them, or otherwise release the tension. Then, return to the slightly open downward gaze.

For the second and final piece of the meditation, turn the hands into traditional Namaste or Prayer mudra: palms together, fingers pointing up, edges of thumbs pressed into the sternal notch, and forearms parallel to the ground. The eyes are closed and turned upward to gaze at the Third Eye. The chant of the mantra becomes silent: Continue for 3-11 minutes.

With the peace and harmony that you have invoked and projected, come into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: (Re) Opening…

On this Silent Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend 2020, many regions of the country are taking their first baby-steps toward reducing social restrictions associated with the corona virus pandemic. Although the slightest fragrance of hope is in the air, many—including me—remain cautious and vigilant. As the quarantine has shuttered the external environment and limited physical proximity to one another, our bodies, too, may have curled inward: With the social concerns and stressors come the inevitable reverberations within ourselves. 

Today’s practice offers the opportunity to open wide in body and mind. Just as the reopening of society requires conscious, slow unfolding, many of us could use some gentle, yet pointed help to unwind, expand, and establish steadfast patience. To that end, the moves in the following routine focus on slowly, but deeply opening the side, front, and back body. The practice also works beautifully as a warm-up for any meditation.

To begin, lie on your back. Bend the knees, feet on the floor, hip width apart: You will be rolling up and down the spine, moving in and out of a modified back bend. As you begin your inhale, curl the pelvis off of the floor; continue to breathe in as you move incrementally up the spine. Visualize and sense the lift of each vertebra off of the floor as your roll up the spine, all the way to the shoulders. Then, reverse the spinal articulation through the thoracic, lumbar, and sacral sections as you exhale back to the start. Repeat 4 more roll-ups and -downs for a total of 5.

Now, repeat the spinal roll-up as you inhale. At the top of the roll, exhale as you dip the tail bone toward the floor; this will create a deep arch in your mid-back, releasing tension in the belly. Inhale to lift the pelvis back up, and exhale to roll the spine down, vertebra by vertebra. Repeat 4 times, for a total of 5.

Bring your knees in toward your body to ease any tension in the low back or hips. Then, extend the legs straight up, knit them together, and use your hands to draw them in toward you: Essentially, transpose Seated Forward Bend into a reclined version. Send deep breaths into the back of the legs; this focus on the Bladder meridian helps to establish a sense of flow with circumstances, as challenging as they may be.

Next, still in your supine position and the feet off of the floor, draw the soles of the feet toward each other. As the knees open to the sides, allow the external hip rotation to feed a deep stretch into the inner thighs. As you draw the feet closer toward you, the stretch through the Kidney meridian deepens. This will help to flush any fear or anxiety that may have crept in during these uncertain times. After about a minute in this position, slowly bring the knees back together, extend the legs straight up, and shake them about.

Now. come onto the right side of the body—legs, hips, torso, head in one long line, legs stacked on top of each other. The right arm can reach out, continuing the long line of the body, or you may bend the arm on the floor, resting your head in the nest. Reach the left arm out at a diagonal (without moving the body or hips); extend the left leg back at a diagonal, creating a long line from left fingertips top left toes. The legs are parallel to the floor, at the level of the left hip. Inhale and exhale 5 times, slowly and deeply: With each inhale, stretch the left leg and arm away from each other; exhale to relax and feel the increased ease and openness.

After 5 deep breaths and stretches, turn to lie on the left side. Repeat the same breathe-and-stretch pattern through the diagonally arranged right arm and leg.

From the right side, come onto the belly. Draw the arms behind the back, and interlace the fingers. Inhale as you lengthen through the arms, pulling the hands back toward the feet to help lift the upper body off the floor. Exhale to release down. Repeat 4 more times for a total of 5.

Now, shift back into Baby Pose for a few deep breaths. Then, come onto all fours for a few rounds of Cat/Cow spinal flexes and extensions. When you are ready. bring the right leg up to hip level behind you; bend the knee, and reach the left hand back to hold the ankle or top of foot. Look straight ahead, and begin Breath of Fire through the mouth (i.e., tongue out, panting like a dog). Continue for 30 seconds, and then withdraw the tongue, close the mouth, and breathe through the nose. Continue this nasal Breath of Fire for another minute. Keep pressing the foot into the hand to help yourself stay lifted and open through the right shoulder and chest.

After the minute of Breath of Fire through the nose, release the left hand; stretch the arm straight out from the shoulder, and straighten the right leg out behind you. Inhale, exhale, and inhale again: Exhale as you bring the right knee and left hand down, back to all fours.

Repeat the entire sequence with the left leg up and bent, and the right hand reaching back to hold the foot or ankle. Again, eyes focus directly forward: Breath of Fire for 30 seconds through the open mouth, followed by 1 minute through the nose. Then, recreate the cross-lateral stretch with the right arm and left leg. Finish by returning to all fours, and rest in Baby Pose for a few deep breaths.

Now, come into your preferred seated posture for meditation. Create Shunya Mudra, with the thumb tip and middle fingertips touching on each hand. This gesture invokes patience and discernment, and I enjoy a slight variation, which connects these qualities to Heart energy: Doing so further embeds the accepting nature of unwavering patience. 

Begin by holding the mudra as described. Bend the arms, brining the elbows in to the waist: Palms face forward at about shoulder level. The free fingers are extended and apart. With ever-so-slightly open eyes, gaze down at the tip of the nose. Inhale through the nose, and exhale through the nose. Then, with lips barely parted, inhale and exhale through the mouth. Continue this pattern of alternate nose and mouth breathing for 2 minutes. 

Now, release the mudra and rest the hands briefly in your lap. Allow the eyes to close naturally, and give them a rest: Nose gazing can be daunting to the eyes muscles at first; allow them to reset. Then, on each hand, fold the middle finger into the center of the palm; this will draw them toward a potent qi point for the Heart. Hold the middle fingers down with their respective thumbs; the other fingers are extended and apart. Rest the back of the hands on the knees; turn your closed eyes up focus on the Third Eye. Breathe naturally, mudra engaged, for 5-11 minutes. As your breath and gaze help to interate the mudra’s energy,  your mind, heart, and body absorb the freedom that comes with release, expansion, and calm acceptance of whatever comes your way.

To finish, ease into Svasana for a few minutes.

Happy Sunday…