Joint Effort–Part II: A More-Than-Movement Practice

Special note: The follow-along audio version of this practice will be available soon at anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

In Part I of “Joint Effort,” I mentioned several alternative ways to think about anatomical joints. From the mamas of ayurveda, to metaphorical somatic meaning, to the elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine: All point to some of the esoteric underpinnings of this particular facet of the body’s structure.

In previous writings, I have addressed the brain’s relationship to Higher Consciousness. The significance of chakras and meridians also is oft-discussed here. And certainly, the spine as gateway to other realms is a central feature of many of the practices offered. 

The idea that the body holds profound potential to connect us to the Divine is not new. What is different in the following session, though, is the entry point through which that communication can occur.

A quick primer on joints: There are three basic kinds—fixed, partially movable, and movable. The skull plates are prime examples of fixed, or immovable joints. Slightly movable joints make up parts of the spine and pelvis. Finally, freely moving, or synovial joints are those that we most often think of as “joints”: wrists, knees, fingers, ankles, etc.

When one thinks back to the idea of joints as “junction between body and mind,” (from Ayurveda and Marma Therapy), the lesser contemplated structures—fixed and partially movable—quietly rise to the fore. That these nearly sealed or tightly sewn joints initially seem implacable and inaccessible suggests that behind or underneath them lie energies and information meant to be met with deep reverence.

Thus, the following practice aims to foster sensitive exploration and expanded perception. Should you currently have joint pain, know that this practice is not physical therapy; it may, however, temporarily soothe an aching joint and associated muscles. Further, the routine offers a potential psycho-spiritual salve that can go a long way toward assuaging the enervating component of pain.

As you move through the following practice, be acutely aware of even the smallest discomfort in any given joint or area of the body. Free yourself from time constraints, i.e., if a spot is tender, remain there; offer focus, intent, and healing vibration to yourself for as long as needed. Use your innate sensory “detectives” to hone in, harness, and tend to any imbalance.

To begin, sit in a way that allows you to reach each foot; you will be working first with the toes. By unlocking and loosening the toes, we create an exit point for stagnant qi, or meridian energy. 

The technique is related to the Chinese medicine modality of Tui Na (twee nah). Using the left thumb and index finger, begin at the base of the left pinky toe: Squeeze and quickly vibrate the toe while pulling slightly: It is as if you are providing pulsating traction. Work your way up each toe in “threes”: Squeeze, vibrate, and pull at the base; then in the middle, then at the tip.

When you have done the final vibrating traction on any given toe tip, pinch the toe tip firmly; quickly pull away and off, as if clipping off the end of the toe. This is the point at which the energy you have stirred through the joints is released, taking with it stagnancy and pain.

Move through each toe, left pinky to left big toe; then on to right big toe, ending with right pinky. (Use the right thumb and index finger to work on the right toes.)

Now, from your seated position, lean back or stand up. Set yourself in a way that allows you to vigorously shake each foot—first the left, then the right. Powerfully shake each for 30 seconds.

Next, seated again, use the thumb, index, and middle fingers of each hand to squeeze and release, up and down the Achilles tendon on each hand’s respective side. Breathe deeply as you do so; continue for 30 seconds, kneading and moving up and down both tendons.

The knees are next. Form cups of both hands: fingers together, each palm “domed.” Begin to slap firmly all around the left knee with both cupped hands—front, sides, back. Continue for 30 seconds on each side.

Now, take a moment to close the eyes and experience the physical sensations in your feet and legs. Breathe deeply, simply enjoying the circulatory “buzz” that you have created.

Continue to draw the work upward. Come onto all fours. Begin to “stir” the right hip to stimulate the energy within the joint: Lift the bent right leg up behind (knee comes straight behind the hip); externally rotate the hip (knee now is to the side at hip level); and then return the knee to the floor. Circle in this direction—back, side, and down—6 times.

Then, reverse the circle: knee lifts to the side (like a dog at a fire hydrant); then shifts behind (right lower leg points straight up); and then returns to home base. Repeat—side, back, and down—6 times.

Now, switch to the left side. Complete 6 circles in one direction, then 6 in the other.

When finished, still on all fours, bring the toes to touch and widen the knees. Shift back into Open Baby Pose. Remain here: Draw your inner eye to the realm within the hip joints. This is a primary storehouse of old emotional and physical distress; use your exhale to release any past discomforts that arise. Continue to breathe and visualize for at least 2 minutes.

From Baby Pose, ease down onto your back. Let the legs stretch long and free onto the floor. Extend both arms straight up from the the shoulders, perpendicular to the body. Beginning with the left arm, inhale to lift the shoulder up from the floor; exhale to drop it back down.

This is a small, fairly rapid movement: Shoulder Drops. As the adage suggests, we tend to carry the “weight of the world”—our concerns and possibly those of others—on and in our shoulders. These Drops allow for the release of unnecessary guilt and pressure.

Inhale to lift or pulse the shoulder up from the floor; exhale to release it quickly down. Continue for 30 seconds; repeat on the right.

Finish with 12 Shoulder Drops, left and right sides simultaneously: inhale up, exhale drop.

Now, help yourself to sit again. Here you will repeat the Tui Na technique through each finger. Begin with the left pinky. Using the right thumb and index fingers, squeeze the base of the left pinky: roll, vibrate, and pull for a few seconds.

Then, move up into the next portion of the finger: Divide each finger into 3, 4, or 5 “pieces,” depending on finger length. Do what feels right: Spend as little or as much time as each spot tells you.

After working on the top portion of any given finger, squeeze the tip firmly: Pull away and off, “snapping” off the tip.

Move methodically, but with keen sensory and energetic awareness: First is the left pinky, then left ring finger, through the left thumb. The left index and thumb then work on the right thumb, then index, through to the right pinky.

When you have completed the Tui Na on each finger of both hands, inhale both arms overhead: Shake the hands with the suspended inhale. When you need to exhale, float the arms down. Repeat two more times.

To complete the joint session, find your preferred seated position for meditation. Raise the hands above the head, palms down; interlace the fingers, and hover the hands over the Crown. Use your kinesthetic intuition—what “feels right”—to tell you how close to or far above the Crown the hands should be.

With eyes closed, inhale through the nose: Use the mind’s eye to draw the breath up from the Root, or perineum, through the front of the spine to the Third Eye.

As you exhale deeply through the nose, send the breath to the back of the skull and down through the back of the spine, returning to the perineum.

Continue for 1 minute.

Finally, release the hands to the knees or thighs, palms up. Turn the closed eyes up, through and beyond the Third Eye; visualize the auric field above the Crown. Inhale through the nose; as you exhale, press the tongue up into the roof of the mouth. 

This subtle move opens the Crown. Allow the Universe to deliver its wisdom and healing in through the “immovable” skull plates, or Crown. Use each inhale to receive it.

Continue to breathe in and out, opening the Crown with the tongue, for 3-7 minutes. When you feel ready, ease down into Svasana to settle and integrate the exalted energies. Remain here for as long as you like.