Silent Sundays: Rewind To Move Forward

With the recent passing of a dear friend’s tiny furry family member, I once again feel compelled to address the transitional pain of Grief. In homage to my love for my friend and my love for her “Gracie,” this Silent Sunday revisits past posts—some quite recent, others less so—in which I addressed the upheaval of Heart energy that occurs with the often-bewildering process of grieving. Perhaps among the mix, you will find a piece or two to soothe, center or uplift your own heart, whatever its current state.

From: Grief—The Process

When Grief arrives, you may feel submerged in its torrent. Remember that you have inner resources and external outlets. Pray, if that feels right to you; be still and go quiet, perhaps outside; get down and dirty with ugly thoughts and feelings, and then make peace with yourself for doing so; and finally, watch yourself. Take a beat, step back, and observe yourself with the eyes and heart you would use with a dear friend. Handle yourself with the most tender, most loving care.

From: Befriend Your Heart

Because you are preparing yourself to work with the heart, you may want to add a simple bit of qigong. There is a qi point in the center of the palm, between the middle and ring finger metacarpals: With the thumb tip of the opposite hand, lightly press the point and rotate counter-clockwise in a tiny circle. To outside eyes, the movement would be imperceptible; it is as if you are guiding the circle with your mental intention as much as by physical movement. Continue for a minute or so, then repeat on the other hand. Breathe long and deep as you move the Heart qi.

From: Grief—The Practice

The [following] moves activate Root and Heart energy, thereby providing a sense of security and hopefulness.

In the post (also available as an audio practice at anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson), I suggested several movements and a meditation. The idea was to select that which resonates with your personal need at any given time in the grieving process. Two that may be helpful at any point along the way are: Body Drops, and a Supported Forward Bend.

To “drop the body,” I.e., dislodge and free stagnant Root energy, sit with the legs extended straight in front of you. With the hands by the hips—palms flat or in fists—inhale: Press down into the hands to lift the hips (and possibly legs) off of the ground. Exhale to suddenly drop the body down. Inhale up, exhale down 10-20 times.

Then, to soothe and secure the Heart, ease into a Supported Forward Bend. Still seated with legs straight ahead, slip a pillow or rolled blanket under the knees. Place another pillow or folded blanket on the thighs. Bring your body forward and down onto the covered legs. With eyes closed, breathe naturally, yet consciously. Simply attune to the physical seat of the Heart, guiding it into a soft, safe accord with the breath. Remain here for as long as you like.

From: Heavy Heart? Lighten The Load

I suggest the following meditation to honor and bolster your Heart, however it may be feeling.

The power of Prayer Mudra (Anjali Mudra) can not be overstated, nor can the value of your breath and focus. To that end, find a version of Prayer Mudra that resonates with your current Heart energy: traditional palms together at Heart Center; or, backs of hands together (Reverse Prayer), fingers pointed up or down.

Hold the mudra at Heart or Head or elsewhere. Allow this to be a choice guided by intuition: When we can surrender to a suggestion from the Universe, Truth responds to that reverence. As the Heart detects that devotion, its vibration strengthens.

Then, with eyes closed, gaze up to the Third Eye. Inhale through this spiritual portal; exhale into the Mudra. Take the next breath in through the mudra, and exhale out through the Third Eye and beyond. In this way, you begin a cycle of renewal and understanding with the Universe and its eternal Truth. Immerse yourself in the process for as long as you like.

From my Heart to yours:

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Find Your Way–Pranayama Meditation

Yesterday, my sister and I were talking about our sense of life “post-Mom.” Countless other people who have experienced the passing of a loved one have probably had similar conversations: There was nothing especially remarkable about our sharing of thoughts and emotions. One bit of our talk has stuck with me, however, as it marked a distinct shift in my typical approach to uncertainty.

Heretofore, my first step when confronted with a challenge of any kind is to pray. For me, the “directional” sense of prayer is probably that of many others: upward, vertical. Similarly, my overall energy tends to “float above”: I find my comfort zone in higher consciousness and vibrations. 

Yet, as I described to my sister the way in which I was sussing out the new duality of void and possibility that our mother’s death had left behind, I found myself using the word, “wide.” In so doing, I stopped: Rarely, if ever had I kinesthetically felt or intuited anything through the horizontal plane. To process and connect through “widening” is a first for me: Up, up, and away has always been my path.

Such is the crux of this Silent Sunday’s practice: to hone in on your own typical trajectory through life, and to experiment with less-familiar routes.

Begin in Baby Pose, simply breathing in and out through the nose. As the breath deepens and lengthens, bring your attention to the rib cage. Often, one thinks of the “breath direction” as up and down, which is anatomically logical: Upon inhalation, the diaphragm moves down; upon exhalation, it moves back up. 

Now, however, consciously ensure that the ribs expand out to the sides as you breathe in; let them retract back toward center as you exhale. Breathe deeply in this position, with the intention of horizontal movement, for 1 minute.

Then, slowly roll up through the spine, so that you are sitting on your heels in Rock Pose. If this is an untenable position for you, place a pillow between your heels and buttocks for lift and support. Alternatively, find another seated posture that allows you to sit comfortably upright. 

With both hands on the low belly (one atop the other), lead your breath down a different path. As you inhale fully through the nose, feel the belly expand and push out, or forward. Through slightly parted and rounded lips, exhale through the mouth; feel the full retraction of the belly. Connect with the earthiness—the earthliness—of this forward and back movement throughout the Lower Triangle of chakras. Continue to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth for 1 minute.

Now, repeat the sideways “rib breathing” to bring the energy focus back up to the Heart Center. Instead of Baby Pose, however, sit with the legs open to a straddle (wide V). Add a subtle movement to the breath and rib work.

With the palms facing each other a few inches apart in front of the chest, allow them to separate a bit more as you inhale to expand the ribs to the sides. As you exhale and let the ribs return inward, the hands also move softly back toward each other. Continue for 1 minute, eyes closed, breathing in and out through the nose.

From the wide-leg seated position, draw the legs together, extended straight forward. Bring the arms overhead, shoulder width apart. Feel free to sit on the edge of a cushion, or to place a rolled blanket under the knees, if this position is hard to access.

Take your mind’s eye to the bony notch at the base of the throat: This is the starting point for the Upper Triangle breath. As you inhale through open, rounded lips, visualize the breath entering the Throat Chakra through that center point of the collarbone; draw it up, passing behind the Third Eye, to reach the top of the skull.

As you exhale deeply through the nose, slowly open the arms about 30 degrees to each side to form a narrow V. Simultaneously, imagine the Crown opening. As the breath moves up and out, it infuses the auric field, thereby strengthening aspects of higher consciousness that inhabit the Upper Triangle. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, ease your way onto the back: Hug the knees into the chest. Return to the Ribcage Breath in this position: Inhale through the nose to expand the ribs sideways; exhale through the nose to feel their gentle retraction. Continue for 1 minute.

To close the practice, roll yourself up to come into your favorite seated pose. The practice ends where so often it begins: with spinal flexes. Used at this point in the practice, the movements ensure that all portals and directions of breath, of possibility, and of divine connection are open and accessible.

Seated with hands on knees or thighs, inhale to arch (extend) the spine forward; exhale to round (flex) the spine back. This is the same movement as Cat/Cow on all fours, but transposed to a seated variation. Inhale to push the spine forward, shoulders back, chest open; exhale to round, shoulders forward, belly back and in. Let the movement flow from pelvis to shoulder girdle; the head and neck remain relatively neutral. Continue for 1 minute.

Finish with a round of Sufi Grinds. Circle the torso clockwise; undulate through the ribcage as if massaging the organs. Inhale as you circle through the front space; exhale as you pass through the back space. Continue for 1 minute, then reverse the circle; move counter-clockwise for 1 more minute.

Finally, still seated, bring the hands into Gyan Mudra. One of the most familiar mudras, it also is one of the most powerful when seeking guidance: Here, it harnesses universal, divine wisdom, and imparts it to the open, vibrating vessel of the body and mind that you have created. Touch the index finger tips to thumb tips on each hand; rest the hands upon the knees, palms up. With eyes closed and gazing to the Third Eye, breathe naturally, yet consciously for at least 3 minutes. 

Happy Sunday…

Nobody’s Fool: Lessons from Pain, Rehab, and Beyond…

On this April Fool’s Day, I am nearly six weeks into post-operative (hip replacement) rehab. The more-than-3-year journey that led up to this point has taught me many things. When it comes to fitness and exercise, for example, I have learned that so much of what one considers a workout to preserve or bolster health is the fun, often advanced stuff. What is essential for resilience of body and mind, however, is fairly simple, yet nonetheless challenging, especially when one is compromised.

Special note: Although this piece reflects my experience with osteoarthritis and post-surgical rehab, the routine is an efficient, effective alternative practice for anyone short on time; needing a mental or physical boost; or looking for an “off-” or “sick-day” source of circulation and limbering.

Since my mid-40s (I am now 57), my favorite forms of physical activity have been swimming, walking, and kundalini yoga. I considered these to be “softened” versions of what I had done previously: biking, running, dance, and full-body cardio moves, often with weights. And throughout my 30s and early 40s, I was an avid ashtanga yogi: I taught, practiced, studied, and thrived on the power of the fast-paced, acrobatic, contortionist tradition. I will always revere what the form did for my stamina, mental stability, and fluid strength.

But as with so much of what a younger body loves, there comes a time when a reprieve or retooling is necessary. With that admission, I grin a bit, sigh softly, and slightly roll my eyes as I imagine my late father’s satisfaction: Finally, he would be thinking, she has seen the light.

“Moderation in all things…”

That refrain, stated outright and continually, was my dad’s siren song. As an enthusiastic, curious, stubborn young ‘un (and even when not so young), I heard those words as a dampening, strangling threat to my own determination to try everything, and to do it with gusto.

But dang it if Dad was not on to something…

While I can not possibly regret the joy, emotional catharsis, strong muscles, or mood-balancing that extensive, intense workouts provided, I do question the near-obsessiveness that accompanied them. And when my hips tried to call a truce in 2018, I shrugged and assumed that they would be fine, that my ways would prevail, and that we—my hips and I—would find a way to continue on as always we had.

Cut to 2020, and my first desperate need for cortisone, shot straight into the withered, crying hip joints. Even then, I would not quit: Movement had always been my mental and physical sustenance, and pain seemed no reason to doubt that.

But by December 2020, when even the forgiving water of a compassionate pool could not assuage my pain, I knew that my approach had to change. Although it was too late to save my hips, I vowed to be kinder to my body once the hips were replaced. I had a new mission: Move for the mind, move for function, and move with the gratitude that only the threat of immobility can engender.

So, here I am, having stumbled through the first month of post-surgical recovery; recognizing progress, as I simultaneously contend with the ever-worsening pain and dysfunction of the other hip; and deeply considering how I will move forward, and what those moves will look like.

The following practice consists of the techniques and exercises that I have found to be invaluable to recovery. As such, I have realized their place in any day’s routine, for any body, at any age: For hard-core fitness folks, they may seem simplistic; however, to forget the basics is to forget one’s human-ness. Engage with the moves as if they are as vital to your health as a long run, heavy-weight session, or challenging yoga class: They are.

Start seated, on a chair, on the floor, or in bed. Close the eyes, and breathe: Inhale through the nose as you feel the chest rise, and the ribs expand; visualize the descent of the diaphragm and its gentle pressure onto the organs. As you exhale, be conscious of the belly’s retraction and contraction, and of the diaphragm’s slow, steady rise into its nest beneath the ribs. Take 3-5 of these deep, focused breaths.

With the abdominals, lungs, and attention awakened, shift your seat to ensure that you are perched atop the sit-bones: spine and head upright and aligned, shoulders and neck at ease. With the hands on the knees, begin Sufi Grinds: Circle the entire torso to the right, allowing the pelvis to partake of the motion. Inhale as the body circles through the front half of the circle, tipping the pelvis forward; exhale to circle through the back cross-section, tipping the pelvis back. Make 8-15 circles, then reverse directions, moving counter-clockwise, for 8-15 circles.

From there, bring yourself to stand. Taking a cue from qigong, place the hands next to the hips, palms up: Inhale, and arch the spine, pulling the elbows back. Exhale as you flip the hands, moving the backs of the hands forward as you round the spine deeply. When the hands nearly touch in front of the torso, inhale as you turn the palms up again, pull the elbows back, and arch the spine. Repeat for a total of 10 undulations.

Now, extend the arms straight forward from the shoulders, parallel to each other: left palm down, right palm up. Inhale: As you exhale, shift the weight into the heels as you do a slight squat, only enough to feel the bends at the ankle, knee, and groin; simultaneously, the left arm rises 30 degrees, as the right arm moves down 30 degrees. 

As you inhale, straighten the legs, and bring the arms back to neutral, left palm still down, right one facing up. Immediately exhale into the modified squat: This time, the right arm lifts 30 degrees, as the left lowers 30 degrees. Inhale back to neutral. Repeat the squats with alternating arms for a total of 10-15 times.

Still standing, open the side body with focused lateral bends. Again, this variation stems from a qigong move for the Liver and Gall Bladder meridians: These energy channels are associated with the clearing, cleansing energy of Spring. Stand with the right hand a few inches above the left: right palm down, left palm up—imagine holding a ball between the hands in front of you. 

Inhale as you turn from the waist to the right. As you do, the left palm turns up as the left arm straightens up toward the sky; simultaneously, the right palm turns down as the right arm pushes down alongside the hip and thigh. The fingers of the raised, upturned left hand face the right; the fingers of the lowered, palm-down right hand face extend forward. Exhale here.

Inhale long and deep to return the hands to “hold the ball” mode as you turn slowly through center; this time, the left hand is on top (palm down) with the right hand below, palm facing up. Exhale to push the hands into their opposing stretch on the left side: right hand and arm up, fingers pointing to the right; left hand and arm pushing down, fingers pointing forward. Move fluidly back and forth with the breath and movement: Complete 5 stretches on each side.

Next, still standing, bend forward at the waist, so that the torso is perpendicular to the legs: Feel free to bend the knees. Inhale as the left arm swings forward alongside the ear, and the right swings back to the level of the hips; exhale as the right comes forward, and the left swings back. Continue vigorously with powerful breath for 1 minute.

Then, help yourself back to a seated position. If you choose to sit on a chair, sit sideways, so that you can lean back 30 degrees. With the torso at a 30-degree lean back, raise both legs 60 degrees. You may choose to support the legs with the hands; have the hands by the hips; or, for a more intense version, extend the arms straight forward or up alongside the ears. In your selected position, begin Breath of Fire: rapid, equal inhales and exhales through the nose, with enough vigor to pump the belly. Continue for 1 minute. 

Special note: If you can not raise both legs, do one at a time, Or, lift both legs, but let them bend at the knees. Either option will modify and ease the posture.

Now, gently resettle into seated mode, legs long and straight in front of you. If necessary, place a pillow or bolster underneath your bottom and/or knees. Interlace the hands behind your back, lengthen through the elbows to straighten the arms, and raise the arms up and away from the back. With the arms behind, fingers interlaced, and arms raised, ease into a forward bend: Keep the spine long; think of bringing the chest toward the feet, rather than the head toward the knees. Find your personal place of stretch, close the eyes, and breathe in and out through the nose: Complete 8 full breaths.

Finally, resume your favorite seated posture. Begin alternate nostril breathing: With the right thumb closing the right nostril, breathe in through the left nostril; block the left with whichever finger of the right hand feels natural, and exhale through the right. Then, inhale through right, close the right, and exhale through the left. Continue in this manner for 11 full rounds, finishing with an exhale through the left nostril.

Close your session in whatever way your energy dictates. Perhaps you feel inspired to move more: Do your thing! 

Or, if you feel pleasantly still and seek to deepen the state, sit quietly, hands on knees, palms up, eyes closed: Focus on the sound and sensation of your breath. Finally, if you prefer to enter Svasana, lie on your back, arms a few inches from your sides, palms up, and rest. Whether seated or supine, enjoy the peace for as long as you like.

How to Hang On–Day 28: Breathe, Please

Now, more than ever, as the anticipated day draws ever closer, conscious breathing needs to be front and center. Even low-key excitement can shorten and abate the breath; when the mind gets hold of anticipation, the body reads “fight or flight.” In those moments, one must remind oneself to regard complete, calming breaths as a decision. 

As I marveled this morning about how still and even-keeled I felt inside, I suddenly realized that part of the stillness was the very little movement through my belly, ribs, and chest. When I scanned a bit further, I found that my breaths were far from full and far from deep.

Ironically, when I met with the surgical nurse yesterday as part of pre-surgery protocol, she mentioned the importance of breath in pain management. I assured her that breath work is familiar to me and part of my daily practice. So, when I discovered this morning that my breath had taken a back seat to thoughts of Surgery Day, I inwardly chuckled and lightly chided myself for the lack of my supposed discipline.

So, my light movement practice this morning gave way to a focus on pranayama. One of the simplest, most effective combinations I enjoy is the following:

Begin with chest openers: spinal flexes, arm swings (criss-cross in front), arm circles, and modified back bend or Camel Pose.

Sitting, place on palm on the belly just beneath the navel, with the other hand resting on top. Inhale into the cradle of the palms for a count of 4; exhale for 4 (breathing through the nose).

Repeat 4 times.

Continuing to breathe through the nose, increase both counts to 6; repeat 6 times.

Now, release the hands to the knees, left palm up, right palm down: Breathe in through the nose for 6; pause for 2; exhale long and steady through rounded lips for 8. Repeat 8 times. (The hand position and breath change represent taking in and letting go; this is a particularly beneficial breath when coping with anxiety or distracting thoughts.)

Close with a trio of breaths that alternate nostrils. Using the right thumb to close the right nostril, place the left palm on the knee, palm up, index finger and thumb touching. Breathe in and out through the left nostril, very slowly, for 3 rounds (no count). Change hands—left thumb closes left nostril; right hand lies palm up with Gyan Mudra on right knee—and repeat through the right nostril.

Then, using the right thumb to operate the right nostril, right ring finger to open and close the left, place the left hand on the knee, palm down, no mudra. Close the right nostril to breathe in through the left; close the left to breathe out through the right; then in through the right, out through the left. Repeat the entire round 5 times.

Finally, sit quietly, left hand resting in the palm of the right, with the hands in the lap. Touch the thumb tips together, send your closed-eye gaze up to the Third Eye, and breathe in and out through the nose. Stay here for as long as you like, allowing the body and mind to integrate the calming benefits of the pranayama.

’Til tomorrow…