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 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…

Silent Sundays: Light Lift

Reminder: The audio version of “Grief: The Practice” is at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson. While created specifically for those moving through the grieving process, the routine also offers a sense of stability and comfort during any time of uncertainty or emotional vulnerability.

Despite the above Reminder, there is only so much Winter Weariness, Pandemic Fatigue, and Grueling Grief that anyone can take. Today’s Silent Sunday offers exactly the opposite: a practice culled from previous posts, all created to rejuvenate and uplift. If you feel the need for a reprieve from “serious” thoughts or circumstances, today’s session offers just that: a light-hearted treat for body, mind, and mood.

The first movement is a classic tai chi exercise: Bear Swing relieves physical tension, particularly in the low back. Additionally, the swinging arms gently stimulate the Liver and Gall Bladder, thereby helping to shed metabolic and emotional waste. 

Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder width, with the knees slightly bent and the pelvis in a neutral, relaxed position. Smoothly turn your torso to the right, allowing the arms to swing naturally by your sides; then twist to the left as the arms begin to feed into the back-and-forth swing. Adjust your breath, so that you consciously breathe in as you move through center, and out as you turn to one side or the other. Continue this grounded, yet breezy swing to the left and right for 1-3 minute: Move to the point where your arms feel weightless, your spine feels free, and your legs feel rooted and steady.

Still standing, bring your legs closer together, about hip-width apart. Inhale to rise onto the toes as the arms sweep up and overhead; exhale to drop the arms as you drop onto the heels. Inhale up, exhale down: Complete 12 Pranic Drops. This move acts as a total qi “cleanser”: The body releases stagnant energy that may prevent the intake and circulation of fresh, vibrant qi.

Now, prepare for Buttocks Bounce, which is an energizing, full-body alignment technique. Step your feet about a yard apart; the distance depends on your height and range of motion. Bend the knees as deeply as you can; bring the body forward and down; and reach your arms back between your legs, fingers facing behind. Set your position, so that the thighs and torso are about parallel to the ground: Keep the head in line with the spine. Begin to bounce in this posture, maintaining the overall shape of your legs and body, but with quick vibrational bounces. Stick your tongue out, and briskly “”pant” 11 times in time with 11 bounces. 

Inhale to stand. Exhale thoroughly, and then re-enter the posture. Again, Bounce and breathe through an open mouth, tongue extended, 11 times. Inhale to stand, exhale deeply and fully, and move into the position one last time. Complete the 11 bounces-with-breaths, and then slowly move your legs together: Hang in an easy, relaxed forward bend for a couple of breaths.

Next, lower yourself onto all fours for a few rounds of traditional Cat/Cow: Breathe in to arch (extend) the spine; exhale fully to round (flex). Then, come to neutral. Inhale as you reach the right arm forward, bringing it in line with the shoulder; simultaneously, extend the left leg back and up to hip level.

As you exhale, bend the left knee, and reach the right hand back to grasp the left foot or ankle. Inhale to arch the spine into extension while lifting the left foot and opening the right side of the chest. Exhale again to release the arm and leg back into the long cross-body line, and then all the way back down to the all-fours base.

Repeat the entire sequence on the other side: inhale to lift the left arm and right leg to shoulder and hip height, respectively. Exhale to reach the left hand back to hold the right foot or ankle, and so forth. Repeat two more times, alternating sides, for a total of 3 sequences for each side.

Remain on all fours for this next, somewhat challenging move: Mental focus and physical agility must rise to the fore. Keep the torso as still as possible as you quickly bring the hands away from the floor to clap underneath the Heart Center. Expect that you will have to “rehearse” a few times before you learn to stabilize the torso while clapping quickly. Once you find your way to steadiness, repeat 8 times.

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

Next, roll onto the back for an empowering movement that is nonetheless fluid and accessible. It To begin Water Wheel, extend both legs straight up into the air, perpendicular to the floor; the arms may rest by your sides, or feel free to slip the hands under the hips for additional support. Inhale, then exhale to lower the legs to about a 45-degree angle; at that point, draw both knees in toward your chest, then inhale to extend the legs back up to 90 degrees. Exhale to lower part way, bend and retract the knees; inhale to return to the starting position. 

Continue for 30-60 seconds, and then reverse the flow. In the starting position, inhale: Exhale as your bend the knees toward the chest, and then extend both legs out to 45 degrees; inhale as your raise the legs up to 90 degrees. Exhale as you bend and extend; inhale to lift. Again, continue for 30-60 seconds.

Now, help yourself into a seated position; feel free to bolster as needed. This “pranayama pump” builds focus, stamina, and self-control.

To begin, bring the hands into Prayer Pose in front of the Heart Center: However, keep the hands a couple of inches away from the chest. Lengthen up through the neck, roll the shoulders back, draw the shoulder blades down, and tilt the head back slightly. Here, inhale fully: With the breath suspended, and the upper spine slightly arched, pump the stomach as quickly as you can, for as long as you can. 

When you need to, exhale as you realign the spine and head to neutral, and bring Prayer Pose to rest on the sternum. In this posture, with the breath out, pump the stomach rapidly and for as long as possible.

Inhale into the original hands-off, head-back pose: Suspend the breath, and pump. Exhale to find neutral spine with the hands against the chest; with empty breath, pump until you need to breathe in. Continue this pattern for 2 minutes.

Now, in your preferred seated posture, form Pran Mudra to further cultivate overall vitality. Touch the tips of the ring and pinky fingers to their respective thumb tips. Bring the arms to shoulder level, reaching straight out to the sides; the palms face up with the mudra intact. Here, with eyes open, inhale deeply through rounded lips, and then exhale powerfully with Lion’s Breath (tongue extended out and down, eyes rolled up). Repeat 5 more times.

Finally, in order to consolidate the fresh energy you have supplied to your physical, mental, and emotional bodies, lie on your back. In traditional Svasana pose, eyes closed, inhale deeply and fully: Use the exhale to create the sound, “Heeeee.” This is the sound associated with the Triple Warmer in Traditional Chinese Medicine; this organ system regulates the metabolism, and thus ensures optimal circulation of energy.

Imagine the long, soft sound as an internal shower or stream of water flowing from head to toes. Continue the vocalization, inhaling deeply before sounding upon exhale, for 1 minute. Then, allow yourself to drift into silent rest for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Ode To The Lobes–Conclusion

The past three posts—written and audio (at anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson)—contribute more than expected to today’s conclusion to the series, “Ode to the Lobes.” Part One revealed the wonders of a brain in perfect harmony, with an emphasis on the Frontal Lobe. Part Two noted the relationship between an anatomical understanding of the brain and aspects of higher consciousness, specifically through the Parietal and Temporal lobes. In between those two pieces, I offered a quick routine to cope with Mercury in Retrograde.

Cut to the day of the following piece. As I puttered about in my apartment at 4 a.m., summoning the “spark” necessary to delve into writing, the lights went out. A quick check told me that the entire house was powerless, as were nearby houses. No light, no landline, no supplemental heat source, no internet: in the dark, in every sense of the word.

Yet, as I lit favorite candles and clicked on the artificial ones, I, too, began to feel a “lightness.” After reporting the outage with my rarely used cell phone, I went to my meditation space. I used the time to center myself physically and mentally. As I moved into the soft dimness, a clear path toward Part Three came into view.

First, with regard to Part One’s whole-brain and frontal lobe attention, the need to remain on an even keel and to hone in on the bare necessities becomes readily apparent in the face of any challenge. Second, Part Two’s “ode” to the temporal and parietal lobes underscores sensory awareness as a means to navigate physical space. And finally, Mercury’s infamous games with all things electric and communicative were enthusiastically at play during the outage: The ability to adapt and move inward rises to the fore when pitched into darkness.

And for those first minutes before I found alternative light sources, my sense of balance was swiftly upset with the loss of visual function. Those functions—balance and eyesight—are controlled by the Occipital Lobe: the focus of today’s Conclusion.

It is not groundbreaking information that when one closes the eyes, balance is thrown off. In today’s session, however, we see how the brain provides alternative means to remain centered. The following practice stimulates those “second tier” abilities: The entire brain pitches in when a typically reliable player is benched.

Metaphorically, today’s routine highlights this comforting notion: No matter how deep in the dark, one can find a way through. More often than not, that means turning to means not typically considered, be they from within or without. The following practice will both strengthen the physical eyes and improve balance. In doing so, one will discover that the physical empowerment yields improved insight and confidence: vision and steadiness.

To begin the practice, stand in an unencumbered space: nothing to trip on or knock over. Establish a balance pose. It may be Tree Pose; it may be a knee held up at waist level; or it may be bringing foot-to-buttock, and holding the foot. Or, as you are getting your bearings, simply lift one foot slightly off of the floor. Note the body and mind’s first reaction to the removal of stability. 

In your selected pose, hone in on which muscles contract to maintain the posture; how the breath shifts; and where the energy flows. To be steady, the physical core—hips to chest, front and back—must be strong. A resilient calmness must prevail. And your overall vibration should emanate from your sense of a “center,” as it reverberates evenly and steadily throughout the subtle energy bodies.

Breathe consciously and evenly: Then, slowly close the eyes. If your body sways or shifts, notice any emotion or thought that arises.

Then, pause briefly, and open the eyes. Take stock: Did you release a breath that you may have held for most of the previous move? Do you feel a sense of relief, or realize that there was a diffuse sense of “threat” as you worked for balance? Simply make an inventory, and then proceed to the next move.

Still standing, create your balance posture on the other side: From the first thought of doing so—on what you may perceive as your “bad” side—the brain already is gearing up for greater effort. Yet, you have the same resources and abilities to achieve balance on both sides, regardless of your preconception. Take the time to observe your physical and mental reactions, just as you did on the first side.

Now, take a break. Move into a seated position, either on the floor or on a chair. Here, you will revisit some moves from a previous podcast about the eyes.The exercises ease eye strain and introduce a feeling of “fresh eyes.” The mental focus necessary to play with visual focus ushers in an initial sense of disorientation, and then finds its home as you adapt. When “in the dark,” or presented with a confounding situation, new strategies and perspective are the way through.

First, turn your head slowly from side to side: Look to the left, using the eyes to track and focus; then, look to the right. Go back and forth a few times, inhaling left, exhaling right; be aware of the how the eyes travel with the movement. 

Then, when the head is turned to the left, maintain the left-facing eye focus as the head turns to the right. When the head is turned, bring the eyes to join it on the right. Then, keep looking to the right as the head goes left. Again, repeat the move until you achieve ease, still inhaling left, exhaling right. Once you feel comfortable, repeat 4 more full rounds of the alternating turns with oppositional focus.

Next, bring the head to center. Tilt the head to look up, then down—inhale up, exhale down: Again, bring the eyes along for the ride. After a few of these moves, prepare to engage the opposing eye gaze: As the head tilts back, look down toward the nose; when the hid tips forward, look up to toward the forehead. Repeat until you find fluidity, and then repeat 4 more full rounds.

When you have finished working the eyes, close them. Breathe deeply for a few moments. Then, come onto all fours. Place your body into Bird Dog position: left arm extends forward from the shoulder, right leg extends back, raised to hip level. Keep the eyes closed: Let the core help you establish steadiness in this balancing, conditioning move. Breathe deeply and consciously for 3 full breaths, then switch sides. 

After 3 breaths on the second side, switch again: take 2 full breaths before changing arm and leg. Repeat one more time, using one deep breath before switching. When finished, shift back into Baby Pose for a brief, centering rest.

When you are ready, help yourself to stand. Once again, find your initial balance pose. This time, configure it first on what was previously the “unnatural” side. Slowly close the eyes. Let the mind and body’s now-balanced eye function; stimulated core; and steadied vibration supersede any uneasiness. Take a couple of deep breaths, then open the eyes. 

Now, balance on the first—your “good”—side. Again, close the eyes. Remain here until the brain and body find stability: Breathe consciously and deeply. With all that you have done to harness the brain’s power, note the likely greater ease with which you can inhabit an inherently “precarious” situation. Call upon this potential whenever darkness descends

To close, return to a seated position for a grounding, yet elevating mediation. These seemingly opposed qualities are the same ones that must function in harmony when one is “in the dark.”

Bring the left hand over the head, palm down: Use your kinesthetic intuition—what somehow “feels right”—to tell you how far overhead the hand should be. It may be but 2-3 inches; it may hover aloft as high as you can reach. 

On the right hand, create Rudra Mudra: Touch the thumb tip to the index and ring finger tips. Although this centering hand gesture is typically associated with the Third Chakra—solar plexus—use it today to ground to your very foundation. Place the pinky-side edge of the hand on the low belly, a couple of inches beneath the navel point, just above the pubic bone: Palm is up.

With the eyes closed, gaze up to the Third Eye. Breathe in and out through the nose: Exhale for at least 2 more beats, or counts, than the inhale. (For example, inhale for 4, exhale for at least 6.) As you breathe in this stabilizing, calming way, maintain the closed-eye Third Eye focus; all the while, be aware of the hand on the belly, the mudra on the hand. Simultaneously, sensitize to the air and space around the raised, down-turned hand: The field in which it floats is the aura. Note the feeling of uplifted steadiness that you now abide. Continue for at least 3 minutes.

When you are ready, move into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Homestead–Conclusion: Solar-Powered and Heart-Centered

Last week, I began this series, “Homestead,” with a question: What is your psycho-spiritual, interpersonal, most balanced state of being? From where does that particular energy emanate? In sum, what is your Center of Operation, your Homestead?

In Part One, I offered what I perceive to be my personal set-point: Intuition, and its (for me, sometimes elusive) energetic harmonizer, Rootedness. The routine provided the means to connect the First and Sixth chakra, so that the base of the Lower Triangle could readily accommodate the near-tip of the Upper Triangle of chakras.

Then, a few days ago, I explored Creativity and its necessary colleague, Expression. In sum, the practice stimulated and joined the Second and Fifth chakras, so that one’s creative spark could find its way to manifestation.

Today, in conclusion, I suggest what arguably could be the most essential Homestead pairing: the Third and Fourth chakras. Regardless of the energies that seem to come most easily for you, or those that you turn to when challenged, the vibrations that stir from the Solar Plexus and Heart Center are fail-proof for all. When in doubt, turn to your Heart; when beleaguered, delve into the Solar Plexus for confidence and perseverance.

With that in mind, today’s practice may be seen as The One to use as a catch-all boost or remedy. I, for example, who feel most at home in the Sixth Chakra (or Third Eye), often need to stimulate the Earth-based energy of the Root, or First Chakra. Because that vibration is not my strongest, I need Sun Energy to motivate me; and because I want to ensure that any practice resounds with Truth, I need to include the vibration of the Heart Center. Thus, no matter your Homestead—your comfort zone—its energies will be enhanced by this Solar-Powered, Heart-Centered practice.

To begin, lie on your belly. Place the arms in “pitchfork” or “scarecrow” position: upper arms at shoulder level, elbows bent to 90 degrees, with the forearms perpendicular to the upper arms. The palms face down; the head may lie on either cheek.

With eyes closed, begin long, deep breaths through the nose. Because you are prone, breathing requires more effort, as the belly, ribs, and chest must work against the floor. Use this sensed resistance to focus on the physical regions of the Third and Fourth Chakra: from the base of the ribs, to the sternum. With each inhale, consciously draw the intention of awakening energy to these areas; with each exhale, send the gathered vibrations out through the torso and limbs. Continue this opening breath and visualization for 3 minutes.

From lying, press back into Baby Pose. Interlace the hands behind the back, with the index fingers extended and together to form a pointer. Lift the arms as far up and away from the back as possible; extend long through the elbows. This stretch opens and charges the Heart and related meridians that run through the arms. Inhale in the raised-arm position; exhale to lower the arms down to the back. Move as rapidly as you can: inhale arms up, exhale down. Continue for 3 minutes, taking a break as needed.

From Baby Pose, roll up to sit on your heels, and then “stand” on the knees. (Use whatever bolsters or padding you need to make this possible.) With hands on the low back or bottom, inhale to curve back into a modified Camel; exhale back up to neutral. Continue this moving, modified Camel—inhale to arch back, exhale to re-align—for 1 minute.

Then, immediately come forward into a Plank Pose, as in the initial position for push-ups: if necessary, bring the knees to the floor as a modification. Hold this strong, long position, and begin Breath of Fire through the mouth: rapid, equal breaths, like a panting dog. Continue for about 30 seconds, and then close the mouth and continue Breath of Fire through the nose for another full minute.

Immediately return to the Moving Camel position. Standing on the knees, hands placed on the low back or buttocks for support, inhale to arch back, exhale up to neutral. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, instead of Plank, help yourself onto your back. Immediately raise the legs—straight and together—1-2 feet off of the ground: The higher the lift, the less taxing it will be for the low back. Simultaneously, raise the head and shoulders up, reach the arms straight out, and gaze at the feet: Begin Breath of Fire through the nose; continue this Stretch Pose for 1 minute.

From this highly energizing posture, lower the legs. Bend the knees, and keep the feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Raise the hips into Half-Bridge; interlace the hands under the lifted body, and extend the arms toward the feet. Roll the shoulders open as much as possible, feeling the stretch across the chest. Breath fully and deeply, allowing the belly to rise and fall as you do so. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, lower down, and draw the knees in toward the chest. Make yourself into as small and tight of a ball as possible; begin rolling back and forth on the spine for about a minute. This movement helps to consolidate, and then spread the stimulated Solar Plexus and Heart Center energies throughout the system.

Special note: This Ball Roll (appropriately called “Roll Like A Ball” in Pilates, and ubiquitous as a transitional move in Kundalini Yoga) is an exceptionally centering and elucidating exercise on its own. Practice the Ball Roll for 1-3 minutes anytime you want to shed or neutralize unwanted energy, and replace it with calmness and confidence.

From Ball Roll, shift yourself into a seated posture. Place the left hand on the chest, so that the thumb tip and index finger tips reach up to touch the collar bone; the palm is splayed wide against the chest wall, with the other fingers together, relaxed, and pointing to the right.

Place the right hand beneath the left, against the Solar Plexus. The right thumb extends up to touch the lower (pinky-side) edge of the left hand, with the right fingers together, relaxed, and pointing to the left.

With eyes closed and the mudra in place, begin long, deep breathing through the nose. As you breathe, use your mind’s eye to draw an oval of circulation from the right palm into the left, and back into the right: Continue this visualized loop of breath for 3- 7 minutes. When you feel finished, ease into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…