Silent Sundays: Spring Into Summer

On this first day of May, one feels the revitalization that sprouts with tiny croci, early-morning bird calls, and warming rays of sunshine. The sky adjusts its blue to one of permeating vibrancy and hopefulness; the clouds bear no ill will.

While this Silent Sunday resounds with the uplifting notes of Springtime, the day also marks a key time for thoughts of Summer. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the prime period to help the body and psycho-spiritual mind prepare for any season is roughly six weeks prior to the advent of that season.

Today’s practice will introduce the Fire element (that which is associated with Summer), while using Spring’s element, Wood, as a foundation. As one would lay kindling for a warming blaze, the routine helps to stoke the systems necessary to optimally enjoy Spring’s energy and seamlessly transition into Summer’s late-June entry.

Special note: For a fun challenge—and to reap the greatest benefit from this upbeat routine—practice every day from today until June 21. The commitment: 7 moves and a simple breath visualization for a total of 10 minutes, each day for six weeks.

First, a quick primer on the Wood and Fire elements: Wood is comprised of the Liver and Gall Bladder organ systems; Fire corresponds with Stomach and Heart energies. From an anatomical standpoint, Wood relates primarily to the inner and outer “seams” of the body. (Think side walls and inner thigh stretches.) Fire meridians run through the arms and front of the torso: Remember the phrase, “fire in the belly.”

With regard to the qualities associated with each element, Wood systems—just like Nature’s activity in Spring—awaken, refresh, and remind the body and mind of possibility. The Fire organs energize and supply the confidence to pursue and achieve goals. As such, Spring’s transitional time is conducive to purposeful contemplation and preparation; Summertime is ripe for activation and manifestation.

While each movement in today’s practice is designed to stimulate either the Wood or Fire element, maintain an awareness of the “unworked” system while focusing on one. For example, when imparting focused energy on the arms, stay attuned to the inherent reverberation through the belly, or the shifting through the legs. In this way, the practice succeeds in uniting the two elements for the greatest all-over benefit.

To begin, lie on the back, eyes closed, for a brief, centering visualization. With your mind’s eye, focus on the left pinky finger. Start your travels at the inner-side tip of the pinky: Inhale to draw the breath up the inside of the arm to just inside the shoulder on the chest. Exhale to the opposite side of the chest, and down the inner right arm to the inner-side tip of the right pinky.

Now, reverse the visualization: Inhale to begin at the right pinky, up the arm to the chest, and then down from the chest through the left arm, ending at the inner edge of the left pinky tip.

Repeat the breath with visualization—up left, down right; up right, down left—two more times.

Next, hug both knees into the torso. Inhale to open the arms onto the floor at shoulder level, as the legs shoot straight out to 45 degrees. Exhale to bring the arms and legs back into the hug. Inhale open, exhale close: Continue for 1 minute.

Still on the back, extend both legs straight into the air, and then let them fall open into a V shape. (The arms rest naturally on the ground by your sides.) Inhale: As you exhale through the nose, bring the legs back together, crossing them at the ankles; inhale to open into the V. Move as quickly as possible, switching the cross of the ankles each time you exhale. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, bend the knees to place the feet flat on the floor in preparation for Bridge Pose. Roll the spine off of the floor into Bridge: interlace the hands under the body, and stretch the arms straight. Press down into the feet, up through the hips, and open the belly as high to the sky as you can muster. Begin Breath of Fire through open, rounded lips. Breathe rapidly, equally, and fiercely through the mouth: The belly should pump powerfully with the breath. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, sit up. Extend the legs forward, and then open into a V on the floor. Extend the arms up and out from the shoulders at an angle of 60 degrees, palms facing each other. Curl the pinky fingers into the palms; hold them down with the thumb.

Begin to twist the torso left and right: Inhale to twist left, exhale to the right. Rise up and out of the spine, stabilizing through the wide-leg base. As the body releases, move a bit more quickly: Inhale left, exhale right for 1 minute.

Release the mudra from the hands, and let the left arm come down. Shift the right arm to extend it now straight up from the shoulder. Inhale, then exhale as you side-bend to the left: Inhale up, exhale stretch. (Use the left hand on the floor for support.)

Complete 8 stretches to the left, and then switch arms: With the left arm extended straight up, side-bend to the right 8 times.

When you are ready, ease back down onto the floor, and turn onto the belly. Let the legs be open wide behind you. Reach the arms forward on the ground, wider than shoulder width. This is the base of the “open Cobra” into which you will rise. 

Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the wide-open mouth, tongue extended down, to press up into the wide-leg, wide-arm Cobra. Inhale through the nose to lower, exhale through the mouth when you press up. Move as quickly as you can, aiming to create a pumping up and down of the upper body. Continue this stimulating, cleansing move for 1 minute.

Next, still on the belly, reach the hands back to grasp the feet (or ankles): Hold what you can; lift into Bow. Float the knees up and away from the floor, and rise up through the torso.

Now, begin to rock forward and back on the belly. This may be initially confounding for the body: Typically, it helps to inhale back, exhale forward. Muscle your way into the move, and then let breath and momentum carry you into the Rocking Bow for 1 minute.

When you have finished, shift back into wide-leg Baby Pose, toes together, knees apart. Let the arms stretch forward, palms down. Here, take some deep breaths while repeating the Heart meridian visualization: Inhale the mind’s eye from left pinky up the inner left arm, into the outer chest; exhale from right outer chest, down right inner arm, to inner edge of right pinky tip. Repeat up the right, down the left, and then one more full round.

 Then, release into Svasana on your back for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Not Staying Silent (About Constipation!) 

While the inability to eliminate may seem an unusual topic for Silent Sunday, the causes and consequences of constipation inarguably affect one’s physical and psycho-spiritual health. At some point, most of us have had to reckon with sluggish—or completely halted—digestion. I decided to address this issue when a friend informed me that she is currently “backed up.” She is a forthright woman: It is no surprise that she announced her condition as if she had stubbed her toe.

Her plight reminded me of several situations when others I know have had to wrangle with constipation. One instance involved a former boyfriend. He let his predicament go unattended for more than a week; one day, I came home to find him curled up on the floor in pain. He was so loathe to discuss “bind” that he became quite ill. Fortunately, a trip to the doctor and a simple prescription quickly helped him.

But why the embarrassment over a bodily function gone wrong? A stomach ache or intestinal flu is readily discussed; on the other hand, the act or product of elimination is a hush-hush subject. My sense is that when discomfort is imparted upon us—the force of impact or the invasion of bacteria—we do not feel responsible for the problem. But when the process of elimination goes awry, we wonder what we did wrong: dietary choices, activity levels, stress management, etc.

The digestive system is sensitive, though: Tied directly and powerfully to the nervous system, the organs connected to digestion and elimination pick up quickly on emotional changes. The systems respond well to calm and consistency; they do not abide upheaval.

And here I can add personal experience.

After our mother died a couple of months ago, my sister and I compared notes about our emotions. Less discussed was the physical impact: Perhaps we mentioned fatigue or fogginess, but little else. Then, one day, a couple of weeks after the passing, my sister commented that she was constipated. For her, the state is a common response to stress: travel, emotional upset, small shifts in dietary routine—they all tend to manifest in constipation.

I remember thinking in the moment how grateful I was for a gut that seemed to flow consistently, despite shifts in circumstance. I should have knocked on some wood: Within three days, my bowels staged a firm, unbudging protest to the deep-seated emotions that had been stirred.

It may be helpful to momentarily contemplate words related to “elimination.” When the stress of physical or emotional imbalance accumulates, we can not “process,” “digest,” or “let go.” There is little stigma surrounding a sense of feeling stuck personally or professionally; nor should there be any hesitation to address physical impediments.

What is required for the elimination of both bodily and mental waste is a concerted, yet tempered effort. The following suggestions and accompanying routine are exactly what I did to help my body resume its eliminative function.

Special note: Certainly, there are potentially serious conditions of which constipation is a symptom. The thoughts and suggestions here concern situational constipation: brief periods of irregularity that can be remedied with a little time, attention, and technique.

First, a quick nod to some simple and accessible aids in the process: Many teas, for example, purport to have qualities beneficial to digestion and elimination. I drink both ginger and fennel every day; others swear by simple lemon juice in warm water. (It may well be that the warmth of the concoction is as helpful as the main ingredient.) Further, dehydration is the nemesis of all the body’s systems: sluggish digestion and hampered elimination need plenty of simple fluids (especially water).

Also, certain foods can help the process along: Prunes are a typical—and potent—choice. Whatever easily digested fiber food you choose, start sparingly; give it some time, see how the body responds, and then choose further portions accordingly.

And now, we arrive at The Routine. There are numerous physical approaches that will help you address a bout of constipation; the same techniques and movements will help to keep you regular in the future. 

First, find a small ball: a tennis ball will do. (If you do not have a ball, try a soup can or water bottle.) Place the roller (ball or otherwise) under your left arch: Lightly begin to roll the foot back and forth on the ball. Move up and down through the mid-foot; then, begin to roll down toward the heel. Ultimately, roll from just underneath the toes, through the width of the arch, and all the way to the heel.

Roll out the left foot for about 2 minutes; then, switch to the right foot. Localize the roll first in the arch; then, down through the heel; and finally, ball of foot, through arch to heel. Again, continue for 2 minutes.

This technique is rooted in reflexology. As the foot houses acupressure points that correspond to the entire body (where the toes roughly align with the head; the mid-foot comprises the vital organs; and the heel contains the hips and adjacent organs), the ball-roll triggers the body to relax, as if it were having a traditional massage.

When giving an actual massage to assuage digestive issues, one would gently but purposefully stroke down the left side of the belly first: i.e., begin to unlock the end portion of the intestine. Once that area is free, the “earlier” parts of the system are addressed. Think of plumbing: The deepest part of the block needs to be addressed first; to dislodge the upper obstruction is pointless, unless there is a place for the blockage to be released.

Thus, left foot first; then the right.

After the foot-roll, spend a few minutes manually applying firm pressure throughout the mid- right foot. (Both sides have been relaxed and released by the ball-roll: Now, the idea is to remind the body of its natural direction of digestive flow—right to left.) Press with the thumb tip or a knuckle: Move along and around the arch, then down into the heel mound. Focus extra attention on any hard or tender areas. 

Continue for 1 minute. Then, switch to the left foot for 1 more minute.

Now, lie down on the belly. Make soft fists of each hand, and slide them to either side of the low belly, near or under the hip bones. Simply lie on the hands, breathing deeply through the nose, for 1 minute.

Then, press back into Baby Pose. If you like, take a couple of relaxing breaths before rising to sit on the heels.

Feel free to place a pillow between the bottom and feet for comfort. This Rock Pose is inherently beneficial to digestion. Today, add another profound technique: As you are seated, begin to lightly pummel all around the buttocks and hips with soft fists. Move rapidly and intentionally, pounding assertively, yet kindly through the area. Continue for 1-2 minutes.

Next, extend the legs straight forward, or assume a crossed-leg position. Begin Sufi Grinds. This kundalini yoga movement is one of the best exercises I know to signal both the body and mind of the need to release: The move helps to eliminate detritus of all kinds.

Circle the torso first to the right: Let the body undulate with the movement. Circle fully and deeply clockwise for 1 minute; then, reverse directions, circling to the left for another minute.

Finally, come into your favorite seated position, either on the floor or in a chair. With the thumb of the left hand, begin to massage firmly the fleshy mound and adjacent “triangle” between the right thumb and forefinger. Chances are that the area will be quite tender: Apply enough pressure to address the tension. These knots of constriction and discomfort tell the story of your constipation: When all is flowing smoothly, the area will be soft and at ease.

Spend as long as you like on the right hand (usually about 2 minutes); then, switch to the left hand.

After you have massaged both hands, hold them aloft. Inhale deeply: Suspend the breath as you shake the hands vigorously. When you need to exhale, float the arms back down. Repeat 2 more times: Inhale to raise the arms and shake the hands; exhale to lower.

Now, sit quietly, eyes closed, gazing to the Third Eye. Breathe slowly and deeply enough through the nose that you feel the belly expand and release upon inhale and exhale. Rest the hands on the thighs, palms down. Relax the tongue completely: Let it float easily in the mouth. Simply sit and breathe, knowing that you have begun the process of elimination. 

Repeat any or all of the above steps as needed. Eventually, you may consider including those to which your body responds most readily as part of your daily routine.

Happy Sunday…

New Audio Practice!

Look for the newest follow-along practice on anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

There, the episode is called, “A Little Oomph!” It is a wonderful routine for sluggish, unmotivated days. A gentle start leads to subtle, then overt energizing movements; the practice closes with a focus-building pranayama and mudra seqence.

Silent Sundays: That Which Is Meant For You…

In contemplating a topic for this Silent Sunday, I found myself in a position I often assume when summoning clarity or direction. (This is the body mudra that will accompany the closing meditation of the following practice.) As I began to be conscious of how my hands and inner gaze were affixed, two words came to mind: “intuition” and “yoke.”

The correlation between the two eluded me briefly: To associate what connotes to me a freeing, elucidating state of mind (intuition) with a physical harness (yoke) seemed oxymoronic. But then I recalled yesterday’s conversation with a friend.

She and I were discussing the idea of aligning our choices with that which is truly intended for us during our earthly existence. We have touched on this topic in the past, as both of us—and most of all of us—have had the occasion to question decisions, motives, goals, etc. How does one know when a chosen path is the way forward? For my friend and me, Knowing is visceral: Our bodies convey a physical sensation when thought yields to intuited deference to that which is divinely decreed.

And that is the Yoke of today’s practice: not a mechanism of restraint or attachment to another’s aim or function, but an alliance born of Faith. When the Third Eye—Sixth Chakra, seat of intuition—is clear and receptive, the ability to yoke to divine Truth awakens.

The practice begins with a series of four movements designed to shift energy from the Lower Triangle of chakras to the Upper. Not only does this approach ultimately drive power to the Third Eye, it loosens and ejects stagnant or detrimental energies that may inhibit the flow of intuition.

First, sit on the floor with the legs extended straight forward: Feel free to perch on a bolster if this position is challenging. Extend the arms far enough down the thigh, so that the elbows are long. Slide the hands under the thighs to establish an anchoring hold. 

Begin spinal flexes: Inhale to push the chest and belly forward as the shoulders pull back; let the pelvis tip forward. Exhale to push into the back, curving the spine, and rocking the pelvis back.

Continue: Inhale to arch (or extend); exhale to round (flex). Breathe deeply with the movement for 1 minute.

Then, legs remaining long on the floor, place the hands by the hips. With flat palms or fisted hands, press down to lift the legs and bottom off of the floor; abruptly drop the body down. Inhale to lift; exhale to drop. Complete 16 Body Drops.

Be aware of your aim: to clear and move energy up to the Third Eye. The stimulation of the spine, along with slight shock of the Body Drops is shifting the energy upward.

To further motivate the vibrational ascension, come onto the back. If possible, move into Shoulder Stand. If this posture is not accessible for you, slide a pillow under the hips to gently elevate. Regardless, begin to kick the bottom, alternating sides with each kick. Exhale upon each rapid kick. Move as quickly and assertively as possible; again, remember that the move encourages the ousting of stagnancy and the energetic shift to the Third Eye. Continue to kick in the inverted position for 1 minute.

Now, roll onto the belly. Place the forehead on the floor, so that you can specifically sense the contact of the Third Eye—above the nose bridge, between the brows—with the ground. Should your facial structure limit your ability to feel the Third Eye against the floor, accentuate your closed eye focus to the area.

Then, bend the knees, and reach back to hold the feet or ankles. Raise the legs as if coming into Bow; however, keep the head and torso down. This is Half-Bow. With an intense closed-eye focus on the Third Eye, breathe deeply in and out through the nose for 3 minutes. If necessary, release the Half-Bow briefly, maintain breath and focus, and then resume the posture to complete the 3 minutes.

When you are ready, shift back into Baby Pose to ease the back muscles. Stay attuned to the Third Eye; at this point, your entire focus is on the seat of intuition.

Now, come into your preferred seated position. Bring the hands into Prayer Pose in front of the face. The forearms are stitched together, with the elbows at about the level of the Heart Center. Bring the base knuckles of the thumbs to rest on the Third Eye: The structure of your hands will allow them to nestle into the area in the position that is right for you.

Begin a breath with visualization. As you inhale through the nose, draw the breath up through the spinal corridor from Heart to Third Eye. As you exhale, press the tongue firmly up into the roof of the mouth: Expand intuitive energy from the Third Eye through the Crown Chakra. 

Inhale from Heart to Third Eye: exhale to further yoke intuition with Universal Wisdom.

Continue for 5-7 minutes. Then, ease into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Slow Start, Strong Finish

On this Silent Sunday, I am dog sitting in the country. After an invigorating visit from a friend yesterday (which included plenty of chatter and a sun-filled hike around the property), this morning ushered in a decidedly different vibration.

Along with an enveloping stillness has arrived unexpected snow, swirling quickly through cold, gray air. On a morning like this, the requisite dog walk requires an inner pep talk, as well as a warming wake-up for the body.

Thus, today’s practice will serve you well on those days when you must fulfill commitments, but would rather stay ensconced in quietude. After a slow, gentle start that becomes progressively energizing, you will close with pranayama and a mudra to thoroughly consolidate the physical and mental rejuvenation.

To begin, lie on your back. Place the feet flat on the floor, slightly wider than hip-width apart, knees bent. The arms rest on either side of the body, palms up. As you inhale, let the back arch softly off of the floor; simultaneously, the shoulders rotate open, expanding the chest.  The head will move in natural response. Let the knees fall open; you will notice that the feet roll to their outer edges.

Upon the exhale, “close in”: The back tries to round, pushing into the floor, as the shoulders internally rotate and the chin tips. The knees fall inward, perhaps even touching each other, and the feet, too, roll to their inner edges. 

Move back and forth between “opening” and “closing”: Inhale to arch and open; exhale to roll yourself inward. Complete 12 rounds.

Then, with the back neutral and the arms at rest, begin to sway the knees from side to side. Move back and forth at a steady space, breathing deeply. Inhale when the knees pass through center; exhale as they drop to either side.

Bring the Knee Drops to a close. Take a deep breath in; exhale to roll up into Bridge. Inhale to lift the right foot off the floor, and extend the leg straight up. Exhale to lower the straight right leg to the level of the left thigh. Inhale the leg back up; exhale to lower. Complete12 leg lifts.

Then, switch sides. If you need to roll down out of the bridge to rest for a moment, do so. When you are ready, return to Bridge. Inhale to extend the left leg straight up. Exhale to lower the leg to the level of the right thigh; inhale to lift: again, 12 repetitions.

Slowly roll down out of the Bridge, and draw both knees in to the body. Lift the head, as if to bring the nose between the knees. Hug yourself into a tight ball, and begin Breath of Fire (equal, rapid inhales and exhales through the nose): Continue for 30-60 seconds.

Now, bring yourself onto the belly, legs long, forehead on the floor. Rest the arms by the sides, palms down. Here, inhale to lift the mid-body (ribs, belly, thighs) off of the floor; exhale to drop it back down. Inhale up, exhale down: Move at a quick pace. These Body Drops are highly stimulating, and will also help to break up and release stagnant energy. Complete 16 Drops.

Next, press up onto all fours. Do a few traditional Cat/Cow spinal movements (inhale to arch; exhale to round), and then allow yourself to move the body in any way that feels good. Feel free to shift forward and back; circle or undulate; change levels by bending the elbows or lifting the knees off of the floor. Continue this freeing, flowing movement for 30-60 seconds.

When you feel ready to proceed, curl the toes under, lift the hips, and move into a “short” Downward Dog: Let the feet be closer to the hands than in a deep Down Dog. In this upside-down V, make the hands into fists, or come onto the fingertips. Begin to walk around your practice space in this all-fours inversion. Give yourself room to roam: turn in circles, move in zig-zags, wherever and however feels right to you in the moment. Continue for 1 minute, breathing consciously and deeply.

Pause: Move the legs wider than hip width. Shift the torso over to the left leg; hold the foot, ankle, or lower leg, stretching for 5 full breaths. Let the head hang freely. You may modify by bending the knees.

Then, walk the hands over to the right leg, bringing the torso as close to the leg as possible. Again, remain in the stretch for 5 full breaths.

Release the body back to center, and move the legs closer together. Bend the knees (if they are not already bent), and slowly roll up to stand.

Standing, move through the waist, circling the entire torso 8 times to the right, then 8 to the left. 

Then, move the hips in wide circles: 8 right, 8 left.

Still standing, feet hip-width apart, inhale up onto the balls of the feet as the arms extend up into a wide V overhead, palms and fingers stretched open. Exhale to lower onto the feet as you bend the knees and deeply round the spine: Let the arms swing down to cross under the body..

This is a standing version of the initial “open/close” movement. Inhale to rise and extend; exhale to lower and round in. Repeat 12 times.

Finally, come into your preferred seated position; feel free to sit in a chair. Bring the fingers of each hand into Surya Mudra: thumb tips to ring finger tips. Surya Mudra invokes Sun Energy, and brings vibrant energy to the mind and body.

Extend both arms to the sides at shoulder level, palms up. Inhale through the nose. As you exhale through open rounded lips, move the arms toward each other in front of the body; each arm extends straight forward from the shoulder.

Inhale, this time through the open rounded mouth, to return the arms to the original position: extended to the sides at shoulder level. Exhale through the nose to return the arms to the frontal-space position.

Continue the simple arm movement with the alternating breath. Inhale through the nose; exhale through the mouth; inhale mouth; exhale nose. Throughout the meditation, the eyes are closed and gazing to the Third Eye. Continue for 3 minutes.

When you have finished, help yourself into Svasana. Rest and integrate the practice for 5-10 minutes. Then, embark upon your next activity with renewed strength and vitality.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Help For A Bad Day

Special note: The audio follow-along version of today’s practice can be found at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

For me, recent “bad days” have emerged as a bleakness, a hollow in the belly, and a pervasive sense of foreboding. Despite the heaviness of the description, this current state should not be confused with chronic or clinical depression.

Decades ago, depression was with me for several years. The “bad days” of recent weeks feel similar; however, I can discern the ephemeral nature of this current spate. The past depression surrounded, infiltrated, and threatened my existence. These recent invasions are off-putting, but not life-threatening. 

No one, though, likes to feel blue, down, scared, hopeless—ever.

My personal first step in addressing such a situation is to run a checklist.

First, “big stressors”: finances; loss; living situation; work life.

Then, “physical stuff”: food, water, alcohol, sleep, exercise.

And finally, “psycho-spiritual” state: contemplation, prayer, meditation.

In reviewing the list, I can readily determine the cause of recent “bad days.” Perhaps simply and obviously, the “big stressor” list looms large: Each sub-category is in an uncertain, unsettled state. And although I am not overcome with sadness or a deep sense of loss, certainly my mother’s passing has unleashed a host of fears with regard to the basic needs of earthly life: money, dwelling, sense of purpose.

But a Bad Day may not arise from the Large List. Perhaps a new friend proves disappointing; maybe car or house repairs seem incessant; or possibly, spiritual connection has gone adrift. Even if the culprit behind a Bad Day or Tough Times is transient, the immediate need to roust the deflating feelings is powerful.

This Silent Sunday offers a salve for the bleak moments or hours. The slow, gentle movement sequence will usher in enough light and hope to persevere through the dark. The 3-part mudra meditation then shores up inner strength and faith in divine wisdom and guidance. The practice is one for “fixable” Bad Days, and equally effective for seemingly inexplicable bouts of gray.

Begin on your belly. Bend the knees, so that the lower legs are perpendicular to the floor. With your forehead on the ground, there will be space between the upper chest/throat and the floor: Bring your hands into gentle fists, and nestle them into that space; the elbows are bent and tucked in next to the body. In this position, eyes closed with no special focus, become aware of the breath.

At this point, there is no prescribed count or technique: Simply notice the quality of the inhale and exhale through the nose. Change nothing.

After about 1 minute, let the hands open softly, sliding one over the other, palms facing the body. Turn the head to one side. Continue conscious breathing for 1 more minute. Then, turn the head to the other side, and switch which hand is on top. (Both are still underneath the body, palms facing the body.) Again, breathe naturally for 1 minute.

Now, rest the forehead on the hands: palms down, left hand on top of right. Let the legs straighten out onto the floor.

Begin to bring a count to the breath: Inhale through the nose for 4 beats; exhale through parted lips for 6-8. Infuse the exhalation with the sound, “Hoooo.” Continue for 30-60 seconds; then, switch the hands—right hand over left, palms down, forehead on the hand stack—and breathe with the same count and sound for another 30-60 seconds.

Next, roll on to the right side. Use the right arm, bent or straight, as a pillow for the head. For support, you may bend the right leg a bit. Lift the long left (top) leg a couple of inches, so that it is parallel to the floor. Visualize a shelf upon which the leg can rest: Then, begin to slide the leg forward and back along the shelf; only move a few inches in either direction. 

Exert as little effort as possible. The intention is to sense support from the visualization… from the mind, from within. Continue for 30-60 seconds.

When you are ready, roll onto the left side. Repeat the movement with supportive visualization for another 30-60 seconds.

Now, return to the belly, and press slowly up into an easy Sphinx Pose: elbows under shoulders, forearms parallel to each other on the floor. Then, move the hands toward each other: Rest them on their pinky edges, and touch each fingertip to its partner on the other hand; let the palms be apart.

With eyes closed, begin tiny head circles to the right. Move slowly and with an awareness of the uppermost vertebra of the spine: Atlas and Axis. 

Special note: The skull perches atop Atlas, which is the vertebra that allows the head to nod “yes.” Axis, just below, offers the ability to shake “no.” What we perceive as head circles is the alternating of Atlas’ “yes,” and Axis’ “no.” With that in mind, you are more likely to keep the “circles” small and slow: rolling around atop two small structures.

Circle 10 times to the right, and then 10 to the left.

From Sphinx, press up as if to come onto all fours: However, come onto the knees and forearms. The elbows are directly underneath the shoulders. Bring the hands together as they were in Sphinx: on the pinky edges, fingertips touching, palms apart.

Inhale to rock the body forward toward the hands; exhale to shift back toward the heels. With each exhalation, push back far enough to feel a deep stretch from the hips, through the back, and into the shoulders and armpits. Move rhythmically forward and back, for 1 minute.

Then, press up into traditional all fours: hands and knees. Begin Cat/Cow spinal movement; however, work with “reversed” breathing. As you inhale, deeply round (flex) the spine; exhale to arch (extend) into Cow. Be focused: Muscle memory may try to return the breath to the more traditional version of the movement. Inhale to round, exhale to arch: 1 minute.

From all fours, slide the left leg back along the floor. Let the body move back as the leg does: Eventually, the right buttock will come be above the right heel. Rest down, so that the right buttock sits on the heel, left leg extended back, body resting on the forearms or floor. Remain here for 5-10 deep breaths through the nose.

Then, rise up and out of the posture, returning to all fours. Slide the right leg back, so that you can come into modified Pigeon on the other side. Take 5-10 full breaths.

Once again, come out of the posture, so that you can transition into your preferred seated position for meditation. 

Throughout the following sequence, the eyes are closed and gazing upward to the Third Eye.

The mantra for the meditation is: Sa Ta Na Ma, Ra Ma Da Sa, Sa Say So Hung. Chant each syllable at the rate of the second-hand tick of a clock: monotone, steady. 

Chant silently, in a whisper, or aloud. As the mudras shift throughout the meditation, feel free to alter how you chant. Use your inner wisdom to intuit the voice you give to the mantra. 

This is a chant for healing, and for invoking faith in the workings of the Universe. The mudras progressively infuse divine wisdom and healing into the subconscious and higher consciousness. 

As you are seated, wrap your arms around the torso: Let the palms rest on the side ribs in this tender self-hug. Begin to chant the mantra inwardly, as a whisper, our out loud. Continue for 1-2 minutes. Remember to chant somewhat slowly: methodically, like the tick of a clock.

Then, release the body mudra, and bring the hands up to rest against the chest, on the Heart Center. Begin as if in Prayer Mudra, but interlace the fingers, overlapping the thumbs, so that the hands become as one soft fist. Continue to chant the mantra for another 1-2 minutes.

Finally, shift the hands into the last, simple mudra: Place the hands in the lap, palms up, one hand resting in the palm of the other. Touch the thumb tips together, and stay with the mantra for  at least one minute, and up to 5. When you are ready, ease your way onto the back for Svasana: Rest in the soothing, affirming vibration you have created for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

 

Another Gem for “Treasure Trove!”

A new audio practice is available at anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson.

Inspired by a 2018 Everything Elsa piece called, “Sacred Secrets at the Gym,” the routine demonstrates the hidden depths of basic fitness moves. The practice can serve as an antidote for anyone bored by their usual workout; or as an inroad for those curious about Eastern-influenced disciplines and their psycho-spiritual benefits.

“Silent Sundays” Meets “Treasure Trove”

On this Silent Sunday, I offer a new entry into the Treasure Trove (TT) collection. For those who may have missed the introduction to Treasure Trove, it is a series of Everything Elsa practices converted to audio. Today’s TT is one of my first posts, from 2017, wherein I explain the origin and role of Silent Sundays in my life. Additionally, I include a short mudra meditation to aid the shift into silence.

You can practice today’s meditation by following the written version, linked at the end of this post. Or, if you prefer to be guided with the audio version, it will be available tomorrow (March 28) at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson. (There, the title will be: “On Silence, Plus…)

Special note: As a minor edit to the original piece, it has now been more than 20 years (not 15) that I have been practicing the discipline of silence on a weekly basis. Further, as regular readers know, the “meditation and pranayama” practices slated for each Silent Sunday have evolved, as well.

Upon reflection, I am more certain than ever that the weekly decision to not speak has fostered a spiritual fortitude that has helped me to make my way through multiple challenges. When all is well, on the other hand, the silent time opens the channels for awe and reverence.

Silent Sundays

Here’s to the exploration of Silence.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: How To Abide Duality

Yesterday, I attended an online 3HO (kundalini yoga) event for the March Equinox. Before one lecture, the speaker, Madhur-Nain, gave a brief introduction about how she came to blend her work as a therapist with her role as kundalini teacher. She described how for many years, she kept the two separate: She regarded those compartments of her life as a necessary duality.

Like most dualistic experiences and awarenesses, the situation was inherently incomplete: The separation of one from another intrinsically negates the chance for wholeness, for balance. Thus, she created a professional life for herself in which her two therapeutic backgrounds—yoga teacher and counselor—could inhabit the same space.

A few days before this, I had heard an interview with a singer, Michael Buble, who, when asked how he balances work and family, answered that ultimately, there is no balance: Family, for him, would always take precedence.

While these two situations may seem antithetical—one affirms that balance is possible, one states that one thing must always “weigh more”—they both relate to my personal and recent tussle with dualistic sensibilities and circumstances.

Certainly, it is no coincidence that this topic has leapt to the fore, given my mother’s recent death. What could create more of a sense of duality than the awareness that a loved one is no longer in the same dimension? But that is not the piece that has crept into my psyche the most: Instead, it is a conversation that I had with my sister soon after our mom’s passing.

Following her death, I began to feel a sense of emotional and mental discomfort with regard to a childhood situation that, for the the most part, was not mentioned in our family. As I talked about this with my sister, she commented that it was “not really in your [i.e., my] life; it was its own separate thing.” I knew in that moment that, counter to my sister’s view, the situation had very much infiltrated my life; it had been with me—in me—ever since its occurrence.

Although I think my sister meant that I had compartmentalized it, her words struck me as false: The very nature of the childhood issue meant that there was no way it would not become part of my perceptions, views, and even my physicality. What her words revealed is that I had done a good job of living with it and of intellectualizing it.

But upon Mom’s death, I was faced with how something I had forced into a place of duality—then and now—was, in fact, ever-present. It happened, it infused my being, and it remains.

Duality comes in many different forms, many of which occupy the category of “inner vs. outer”: professional vs. personal self; private vs. public behaviors; honesty vs. secrets, and so on. 

And then there are the larger themes, such as earthly vs. divine realms; or reality vs. illusion. For me (and, I suspect, many others) that is perhaps a karmic task: to exist on this planet as a human being, despite the sense that this lifetime is one of an illusory nature.

How does one abide dualities large and small, emotional and physical, spiritual and intellectual?

First, I have come to believe that it does no good to ignore the inherent imbalance of duality. Rarely, if ever, do two discrete beliefs or circumstances or identities share equal importance to the person experiencing them. Duality is not a constant state of separate, but equal; rather, it is one of ongoing adjustment and adaptation.

Duality thus indicates the continual need to abide flux and dis-ease. To abide duality is to learn “how to live, despite….”

Now, to be perfectly frank, I am not happy about this realization. It does, however, offer a spiritual challenge, which is a context that I can, do, and will always accept, even welcome.

Contemplation and Meditation

So, on this Silent Sunday, I offer no “remedy,” nor even a singular way to approach Duality. Rather, I suggest contemplation of the dualities in your own life; how they affect seemingly unrelated areas of your life (e.g., patterns of behavior or cognition); and which “half” of the duality more often than not tips the scale.

After some quiet thinking time, bring your awarenesses to meditation. As a practice, the aim is to acknowledge any dissonance created by duality; calm it; and then release it into the universal realm, where it can be observed and accepted as a piece of your personal puzzle.

Mudras for Contemplation

As you sit and ponder the duality in your own life—impostor syndrome? mom or dad vs. professional power person? logic vs. emotion?—try one of the following mudras. Each will help to settle your thoughts, so that you can identify the nature and effect of the duality.

1) On each hand, hold the index finger down into the palm with the thumb. The other fingers remain straight. Then, place the hands on the knees or in the lap, palms up or down;

2)   Place one hand in the palm of the other, both palms up. Thumb tips touch;

3)   Touch the fingertips and thumb tips of one hand to the corresponding tips of the other. Palms are apart. Hold the mudra at any level in front of you; fingers are apart and point up.

Mudra for Meditation

In your seated position, touch the pinky sides of the hands together; turn the palms up. Let the hands be soft, so that they create a subtle bowl. Extend the arms out in front of the Heart Center; again, keep this relaxed—allow the elbows to be slightly bent. 

Consciously place your realizations from contemplation in the vessel of your hands. Let them be soft, but discernible, like dandelion fluff. 

Turn the closed eyes up to gaze at the Third Eye. Inhale deeply through the nose. Exhale through slightly open lips; direct the breath toward the hands, as if trying to blow the Duality “fluff” into the Universe. Continue for 3-5 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

New Audio Follow-Along: Evening Elixir

Part of the “Treasure Trove” series, “Evening Elixir” provides a way to unwind after a busy day, or to help you settle down if hit with a bout of insomnia. And there is no need to save the practice for evening: Any time you feel emotionally wrought or physically exhausted, turn to this tension-relieving, peace-inducing routine.

The full practice is up and running at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson