Silent Sundays: Foot Notes–Release and Invigorate

Today’s routine is the result of a spontaneous session that found its way into my morning practice yesterday. Although a licensed massage therapist who started her bodywork adventures with the study of reflexology, I nonetheless sometimes forget how immediate and profound the results of working with the feet can be. If this Silent Sunday finds you feeling out of sorts in any way, I recommend the following practice: These techniques will roust you from any lethargy or malaise, and promote a strong sense of vitality and centeredness.

Begin with a sequence designed to awaken breath and unfurl the feet and ankles. On all fours, lower your upper body to rest on the forearms (elbows under shoulders, palms flat, forearms parallel to each other): Hips remain directly over knees. Now, bring the forearms to touch each other, and slide the elbows in a bit, so that they are under the center of the chest. The palms are now together, head is slightly cocked up, and the thumbs extend straight up. In this position, begin a gentle rock back and forth: inhale as you shift forward, moving the chest over the hands; exhale to shift back, allowing the hips to move straight back. Maintain this inhale forward, exhale back rhythm for about 30 seconds.

Then, still moving fluidly, forward and back, extend the breaths: Inhale deeply for 8 counts—you will probably rock back and forth about 4-6 times; then exhale long and deep for 12, maintaining a steady back and forth movement, probably 6-8 rocks. Continue for 3 minutes.

From here, press up onto the hands, elbows slightly bent to protect the joint. If your wrists bother you here, fist the hands, or remain on the forearms (in the original forearms shoulder-width apart/palms flat position). Extend the right leg straight back along the ground, ball of the foot on the floor. Begin another forward and back rock, moving through the ankle joint and opening the sole of the foot. Inhale forward, exhale back 12 times (6 rocks in each direction). Bring the right leg in, extend the left leg back, and repeat the same move, pressing through the ball of the foot.

Now, lower onto your belly, knees bent, lower legs hovering and releasing toward the buttocks. If possible, keep the head down, resting on the forehead or chin. Reach back to lightly hold each ankle with its respective hand. (If you can not reach without strain, lift the head slightly, and keep the chin slightly tucked.) With the fingers on the fronts of the ankles, thumbs resting on the heel or Achilles tendon, begin to pulsate the fingers to vibrate the ankles: Continue until the entire foot responds and shakes loosely and easily. It may take up to a minute for the feet to release; once they do, continue the rapid vibrating and shaking for another minute.

From here, release the hands and feet, and shift up onto all fours, and immediately into Downward Dog. In this variation, forego any need to “perfect” the posture; mostly, you want the benefits of the inversion and long spine. In your version, begin to walk the heels up and down, alternating from right to left, for about 30 seconds. 

Then, help yourself lower to the floor, and lie on your back. With knees bent, feet flat and hip width apart, place the hands on the mid-thighs. Use the hands to keep the knees still, and begin to supinate and pronate the feet: Inhale as the feet roll to their inner edges; exhale to roll to the outer edges. The entire leg will try to join the back and forth movement; by keeping the knees quiet, the movement emphasizes ankle mobility. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, draw both knees in toward the body. Bring them in just enough, so that you can rest the right hand on the front of the right ankle, and place the left thumb to the right heel. (For some, the opposite hold may feel better: Use the left hand to steady the foot, and the right thumb to create movement.) Use the thumb to vibrate the ankle rapidly; the opposite hand acts a s a ballast to localize the vibration. Ultimately, the entire foot will shake free. Continue for 30-60 seconds, and repeat on the left side.

You may remain on your back for the next bit, or rise to sit: Whichever position you choose, you need to be able to reach the feet without strain.

Once you have a comfortable position, begin by massaging the right heel, fingers on one side, thumb on the other. Use firm, but not deep pressure: Move organically, allowing your innate energies to determine speed and direction of the stroke. Continue for 1 minute, right heel only.

Now, begin to pinch-and-release the right Achilles tendon with the right thumb and index finger: inhale to squeeze, exhale to release. If any tender area arises, pinch firmly with the inhale; hold as you also rub-and-roll with the thumb and finger; then exhale to release. Repeat until you feel a sense of relief.

Next, apply more specific pressure. Bring the thumb tip to the inner ankle bone: palpate around the edges of the roundish malleolus, noting top, bottom, and rims. Mentally divide the bone in half—front half of the circle, and back half: Think two half-moons. With the thumb, begin to exert pressure just behind (i.e., toward the Achilles) the top edge of the posterior (back) half-moon. Inhale to press, exhale to release. Repeat 4-6 times.

Then, move down a bit, still adjacent to the edge of the rear half-moon of the ankle bone. Repeat the pressure technique 4-6 times. Again move down, repeat; and finally, press on the fourth point at the base of the ankle bone.

Each of the above points stimulates Kidney energy. As such, a steady flow of qi (“Life Force”) is released through the meridian: This organ system settles fear and anxiety, and provides a deep sense of calm and connection to the Universe, while increasing physical vitality.

To complete the “trip” around the ankle bone for this practice, apply another round of pressure to Bladder 60 (or, Urinary Bladder–UB– 60). This point lies just behind the top rim of the lateral ankle bone, directly opposite the first point—Kidney 3—practiced above. Because Kidney and Bladder are each others Yin/Yang partners, respectively, the addition of a Bladder point to the primarily Kidney session promotes a profound sense of harmony. The application of pressure to Bladder 60 also can help with headaches and insomnia.

Repeat the entire pressure-point sequence on the left ankle bone. Then, simultaneously bring the middle finger tips to the soles of their respective feet. Press just beneath the center ball of each foot, in a line down from between the 2nd and 3rd toes. Inhale to press, exhale to release: Breathe purposefully, as the exhale will flush out stagnant qi, and make way for fresh energy to fill this “Bubbling Spring” point. It is said that this is the most crucial of all foot points: Life Force emanates from this point, and floods the system with beneficial Yin energy. Continue the pressure-point work until all tenderness and tension has dissipated.

Finally, lie on your back. Begin to flex and extend the feet: Note how these “ankle pumps” move more freely and fully now; you may even feel that the toes are further apart from each other, and more relaxed. Additionally, the foot movement creates a “flossing” of the sciatic nerve, which will help keep back and leg pain at bay. Flex and extend the feet, simultaneously or alternately, 8-12 times. Then release fully into Svasana, and allow the energetic nourishment to flow. Remain in rest for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: (And When They Are Not…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sunday…