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…

Ode To the Lobes–Part Two: Parietal and Temporal

Reminder: Over the course of the days to come, you can practice along with each part of this series in audio form. Visit: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

Today’s discussion and practice hone in on the parietal and temporal lobes of the brain. Further, the series begins to look at the anatomical brain’s relationship to other dimensions of physicality and consciousness: “organ systems” of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as well as subtle energies of the chakra system.

The temporal and parietal regions of the brain comprise the side zones: Remember that there also are the frontal and occipital lobes, which “bookend” the side areas. Roughly, the temporal lobe controls auditory function, plus emotions (emanating from the limbic structures), while the parietal region governs general physical sensation (somatosensory response).

To bring in some additional aspects, I first think of the temporal seat of hearing. In TCM, hearing (the ears) is associated with the Kidney and Bladder systems: In turn, the physical kidney and bladder lie in the realm of the Lower Triangle of chakras (First, Second, and Third). 

The above correlations represent human fundamentals of existence: physical survival and distinct, yet coordinated organ function. The TCM Kidneys house one’s life “essence,” or the primary spark of physical vitality. The Bladder meridians are linked to what is called the Life Nerve in kundalini yoga: the meridian that runs down the entire back body, eventually sharing space with the sciatic nerve’s path through the hamstrings and calves.

Thus, when we attune ourselves to the temporal region—even by visualizing that lobe and that part of the skull—we add a newfound depth to practices that harness the energy of the Lower Triangle.

Then, when one attunes to the physical sensations and potential emotional vibrations of the following practice, there now is an awareness of the participation of the parietal lobe. With intentional focus on the brain’s role in one’s experience of higher consciousness—that is, knowing when, where, and how it is happening—one’s connection to and communication with “other realms” is affirmed and enhanced.

In order to sample how this works, bring yourself into a supine position on the floor: Close the eyes. First, listen: Note the general sound quality or blend of sounds in your space. Then, start to differentiate what you hear. In my case, I heard a clock ticking; cars driving on damp, slick roads; a neighbor’s kitten meowing across the hall; plus an overall hum, which came with a visual of tiny dots, like star points, filling the darkness.

Then, once you have identified sounds, take your mind’s eye to the upper sides of the skull, just above the ears. As you breathe in and out through the nose, gaze internally at the wonder of the lobes at work. Allow the breath to slow and deepen as you hone in on temporal activity.

After a few minutes of this opening exercise, bend the knees: feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Begin to rock the pelvis forward and back: Inhale to tip the tail forward, toward the floor; exhale to rock it up and in toward you, as if preparing to roll up into a Bridge. Inhale to rock the pelvis forward; exhale to tip it back. Continue for about 1 minute.

Then, do roll all the way up into a Bridge, peeling the spine away from the floor, vertebra by vertebra. With the spine lifted, slowly dip the pelvis down to the floor: This will create a deep arch or extension in the lower and mid-spine. Lift the pelvis back up, recreating the Bridge, and then roll down through the spine, articulating through each vertebra.

From the beginning: Inhale to tip the grounded pelvis forward; exhale to roll the spine up into Bridge; inhale to tip and dip the pelvis toward the floor; exhale to lift it up, and roll back down. Repeat the entire sequence for a total of 12 times.

Now, draw the knees into the body, raise the head, and squeeze the bent legs together with the forearms. With the hands free, cover the ears: The head-hold will also help to support the lifted head. Breathe deeply here for 1-2 minutes, noting the depth of the sound within your head. Be aware that you continue to “hear,” despite the covered ears. Use this realization to deepen the quality of any contemplation or meditation: To “hear” universal and divine wisdom, tune in.

Next, release the hands and arms: In a slightly looser “body ball,” hold behind the thighs, and rock back and forth a few times. This will further the connection to the Bladder meridian that you stimulated with the curling Bridge and blocked-ear moves. After a few rolls—inhale to rock back, exhale up—sit with the legs extended in front of you. Open the legs into a comfortable straddle, one that allows you to bend forward and maintain a fairly straight back: Hold some part of your leg (or feet/ankles, if you are highly flexible). Begin to move up and down with the torso: inhale up, exhale forward/down. This will activate the portion of the Kidney meridian that travels through the inner thighs.

As you do this, add a sounded “Aum.” To chant this “seed mantra,” divide the word into three parts: ahh/ohh/mmm. Inhale, then drop the jaw, opening the mouth wide: Use the time it takes to slowly chant, “a-u-m,” to bring the jaw up and gently touch the lips together. All the while, continue to move the body up and down between the open legs. Find a rhythm in which you complete 2-4 moving forward bends per each long Aum. Continue for 3 minutes.

When you have finished. sit quietly in your straddle posture, hands on the thighs, eyes remaining closed. Scan your body for physical sensation: toes, heels, backs of the knees, inner thighs, and so forth, up through the entire torso—front, back, sides—arms, neck, face. In doing so, you focus on the gifts of the parietal lobe: somatic information via sensation.

Now, help yourself to stand, feet wider than hip width; toes may turn out slightly. Begin to bend the knees, so that you can plant both hands on the floor, each alongside the inner edge of its respective foot. Bend the knees enough, so that the buttocks comes down to the level of the knees, or just above. The arms press into the the lower legs to support the posture; the torso should be as close to parallel with the floor as possible.

In this deep, wide squat, you align the entire chakra system with the earth beneath you, and all of your subtle energies vibrate on the same plane. This is a soothing, reassuring stance for the nervous system, and thus for conscious, as well as subconscious thoughts. Remain here for 10 full breaths.

Finally, bring yourself down onto all fours, simply as a transition into Baby Pose. Take a few breaths into this restful posture, and then roll up through the spine to sit. You may remain seated on your heels, or feel free to find another position. Regardless, create a simple mudra on both hands: Shunya Mudra. Bring the middle finger tips down to the fleshy mound of their respective thumbs: Hold the fingers down with the thumbs; rest the hands palm up on the knees. With eyes closed and now gazing toward the Third Eye, begin a deep inhalation through the nose: Through rounded, open lips, exhale slowly and steadily. Notice that you have simultaneously engaged three focal points: sound of “windy” exhalation; closed-eye gaze to Third Eye; and touch awareness of the mudra’s selected fingertips.

As the side lobes of the brain allow and process this information, the mudra helps to awaken and support the ears, hearing, and deeper resonances from the Universe. As such, Shunya Mudra is also valuable in the promotion of patience and discernment. 

Sit in meditation for 5-11 minutes. If you like, move into Svasana for deep rest.

Next time: Conclusion 

Silent Sundays: Ode To The Lobes–Series Introduction

As a curious creature who feels compelled to investigate almost anything that I do not understand—or about which I seek a greater understanding—it was only a matter of time before I set my mind to… the mind. But with a mother in the depths of dementia, the curiosity became a necessity: how to accept our family’s heart-rending reality by venturing further into the arena of the challenge—the brain. And for many, certainly those between 45-70 or so, the state of their own brain health grows increasingly important. Therein lies the crux of the series to come.

For example, this Silent Sunday leads off with a short routine designed to activate and support the harmony between all regions of the brain. Future practices will address regions individually: In so doing, one can begin to discern physical, emotional, or mental areas that could use additional attention. Think of the series as an investigative tool: While offering your body and mind a novel experience, the routines will unearth information for you to apply to your personal needs.

First, a brief refresher course may be in order. When most of us think of “the brain,” we mean the cerebrum: It is the wrinkly organ under the skull bone that regulates, controls, communicates, moves, feels, and processes. The cerebrum is then divided into four lobes that comprise two hemispheres. Behind and below the cerebrum lie the cerebellum, medulla oblongata, and pons (Lat. “bridge,” i.e., connects brain to spinal cord). Each of these major regions has further divisions, but the series will focus on the main areas.

On this Silent Sunday, the first practice addresses whole-brain synchronization. Subsequent routines will focus on how specific brain areas and their associated functions can be stimulated. Along the way, I will offer insight about how these anatomical regions relate to movement and meditation, as well as to esoteric aspects of energy and consciousness. The intention is to add a new level of interest to the practices that I create and that you can enjoy.

To begin the exploration, find your way to the floor. As you do so, notice how, for the most part, you do not have to consciously conduct the movement: After countless trips down to the ground, your brain knows how to navigate the descent, which hand goes where, what needs support, etc. This “muscle memory” comes from the cerebellum. 

Once down, lie on your back, legs long, arms by the sides. Bring your attention to the breath. As you are, the medulla is in charge: breath rate, heart beat, blood pressure. The cerebrum can join the practice; it is responsible for the decision to alter the natural breath, to choose a pattern, and to control the technique. Here, begin to inhale deeply and steadily through the nose. Exhale long and slow for twice the amount of time as your inhalation. Repeat 4 more times.

Next, inhale to draw the right knee in toward the body. As you do so, lift the right arm up and over to rest on the floor behind you: Exhale to return the arm and leg to their original position. Inhale to draw the left knee in and the arm up and over; exhale to release. Alternate the unilateral arm and leg movement a total of 16 times (8 on each side). Remember that the right hemisphere of the brain controls the movement of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right.

Now, extend the legs and arms straight up into the air. Inhale: As you exhale, lower the left leg and right arm to the floor (arm next to the body). Inhale them both up; exhale to lower the right leg and left arm. Repeat for a total of 12 alternations.

Special note: Feel free to modify this move by bending the legs to 90 degrees at the knee. As the opposite arm lowers, touch the toes to the floor, maintaining the angle of the bent leg. 

This type of cross-lateral movement requires both sides of the brain to work in harmony. If you find it challenging to create the move and to make it fluid, it may be beneficial to introduce more oppositional movement into your daily routine.

On that note: Once you have completed the above exercise, help yourself up to sit. Here, begin backward shoulder rolls, both at the same time, for 8 repetitions. Next, roll them forward 8 times. Now, begin to roll only the left shoulder back; repeat 6 times. Then, roll only the right shoulder back 6 times. Finish this portion with 4 shoulder rolls forward on the left, then the right.

Now, your brain will have to work: Inherently, your focus must increase, which is an initial portal into meditation. As you roll the left shoulder back, roll the right forward: Take as much time as you need to achieve ease with this move; once the movement is fluid, roll in opposition 4 times. Repeat the process as the left shoulder rolls forward and the right back.

After you have finished the “brain teaser,” sit quietly to resume natural breathing. Then, shift onto all fours for a breathing variation of Cat/Cow. (This move was introduced in the previous post, “Where You Are.”) Here—and anytime breath and movement synergizes intentionally—the move harnesses the functions of the hindbrain (motor control with autonomic nervous system); simultaneously, both hemispheres of the cerebrum are engaged with the creativity and organization of the movement.

Begin with a few rounds of traditional Cat/Cow: Inhale to extend (arch) the spine, exhale to flex (round). Pause for a moment, breathing in and out completely. Then, inhale to round the back; exhale to arch. Again, you may need a few rounds before the move flows seamlessly with the new breath pattern: Inhale to round, exhale to arch. Once you find a sense of flow, complete 6 rounds of the atypical movement.

Then, shift into Baby Pose for a few rounds of natural, but deep breathing through the nose. When you are ready, sit up, and come into your favorite seated posture for meditation. With the eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, bring the fingertips of each hand to touch their match on the opposite hand: The fingers are straight and apart from each other, and palms do not touch. Bring this Hakini Mudra just above the level of the Heart Center, a few inches in front of the body. This gesture coordinates and focuses the mind. Breathe into its centering power for 3 minutes. Then, if you like, find your way into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…