Silent Sundays: Make Peace with Mercury

Special note: The following practice was first presented in July 2019. With all that has transpired in the world since then, Mercury Retrograde may seem the least of our problems. Yet, because of the global challenges that we collectively face, daily frustrations can take on an added weight. 

To remedy the likelihood of irksome situations that Mercury likes to unleash when retrograde, I offer an updated version of the original routine: The Miracle Bend is an additional move that clears the auric field, while also warming the back body for a subsequent Yin Forward Bend. New, too, of course, is the date of the retrograde phase: Mercury began its “backward” movement on January 14, 2022, and will get back on course February 3. 

If you like, you may practice with the audio version at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

From today until July 31, the planet Mercury once again begins its backward-seeming movement through space. Although this retrograde phase occurs 3-4 times a year (in different months, thus in different astrological signs), each time typically manifests mix-ups and frustrations. The reverberations of Mercury’s rush past Earth affects all areas of communication: spoken, written, business, computer coding, etc. Additionally, the retrograde period precedes a shift in some area of your life; however, this fluctuation is unpredictable and will usually be felt only after Mercury returns to its normal orbit.

Today’s Silent Sunday suggests an unusual strategy for that scamp, Mercury: Instead of combatting the potential for skewed energy, the practice honors Mercury. As we can not yet know the change that Mercury will usher in; and because earthly miscommunication is likely at this time, intuition takes on a significant role in our ability to dance with Mercury. Certainly it is no mistake that the pinky finger, which channels intuitive energy, is called the Mercury finger.

To begin, come to stand with feet a comfortable distance apart. Touch the thumb tip of each hand to the fleshy mound at the base of its respective pinky; make a fist with the thumb inside. Now, with both arms at your sides, circle the arms outward, keeping the circles low and about 8-12 inches in diameter. Continue for 30-60 seconds.

Then, start to move the circles upward at a steady pace. Circle 8-10 times to bring the circling overhead. With your arms shoulder-width apart, continue the outward circles for 1 minute, breathing deeply and strongly as you do. When you have finished open the hands, and shake the arms as you bring them back down to your sides.

For the next movement, use each thumb to clamp its partner-pinky into the palm of the hand: The other three fingers are together and straight. Begin to seesaw the arms: Inhale as the left arm rises above the “horizon” about 45 degrees; exhale as it lowers and the right arm comes up. The palms of each hand face forward as you seesaw the arms up and down.

Next, still standing, begin what is called Miracle Bend in kundalini yoga. Inhale the arms up through the front space; exhale to bend forward to touch the ground. When in the standing position— with the arms overhead and shoulder-width apart—introduce a modest back bend into the spine. To modify, feel free to bend the knees for the forward bend; or, simply come down as best you can, and touch the hands to wherever you can on the legs. Further, if the standing spinal extension (arch) is not comfortable for your back, simply stand as tall as you can. Continue to inhale up, exhale down at a steady pace for 26 Miracle Bends.

Now, you may bring yourself to the ground for a yin-style forward bend. Yin yoga focuses less on perfecting alignment of a pose, and more on connecting deeply with the specific energetic quality of a posture. Forward bends access the back body, in which the Bladder meridian lies; the Life Nerve, which courses through the back of the entire leg, is also stimulated. As these energies are awakened, we deepen our ability to flow with the twists and turns of Life. 

If you like, prop yourself: perhaps a pillow or rolled blanket under the knees, or a bolster on your thighs to support your torso fully as you relax into the Forward Bend. Feet can be at ease: no forced arch is necessary. With your legs out in front of you, and your body resting on them, close your eyes and breathe consciously, but naturally. Focus your attention on the sensations and emotions that arise as you descend fully into the posture. If you need to adjust slightly as the muscles release, do so; then, return to the aware stillness. Remain with the pose for 3-5 minutes.

Now you are ready to close your practice. Lie on your back with feet flat on the ground, knees bent. Move your feet slightly wider than your hips, and angle the toes inward: Let the knees fall inward to rest against each other in this classic Constructive Rest position. Bring your arms about 12 inches away from the body, resting on the floor, palms up. On both hands, reconstruct the mudra of the thumb holding the pinky into the palm of the hand. Bring your closed eyes to focus on the Third Eye. As you inhale, draw communicative, intuitive energy from around and within to your Third Eye: upon exhalation, send the vibration deeply into your brain, and your Throat and Heart chakras. As you inhale to fill, and exhale to imbed your “ken” into this Upper Triangle, you allow the positive aspects of Mercury to ride along with the bounces that the planet’s retrograde phase can create. Continue this breath mediation for 3 minutes.

Finally, release yourself into Svasana. Acknowledge Mercury’s need to be “out of phase” for these few weeks; imbue yourself with the awareness and equanimity that a retrograde period can stifle. As you relax into the throes of the cosmos and allow yourself to greet the energy, rest assured that Mercury recognizes your efforts to make its acquaintance.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Integrity, Creativity, and Communication

I once had a therapist who told me: “Your integrity shines in the dark.”

At the time, her words landed with a wallop, for I felt anything but honest and of stalwart character. But somewhere inside, I recognized the truth of her observation: I was trying to be more emotionally balanced; I was trying to break bad habits; and I was trying to be more selfless while establishing boundaries.

By that point in my life, I had been an athlete, a scholar, a dancer, and a movement teacher. I knew the value of and practiced discipline; and I indeed was full of integrity when it came to acceptance of differences in others, and open-book emotional revelations in relationships. Where I faltered was in my demanding stance with Self: I had so much integrity that my Heart energy could barely keep up, much less fulfill my quest for perfection.

Over time—decades—yoga and its attendant philosophies (specifically, for me, through the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, as well as the practice and study of kundalini yoga) guided me through the need to be “perfect” (whatever that means). A deepened faith in the Eternal Divine and Universal Energies carried me to a land abundant with alternative perspectives, insight, and infinite possibilities of “how to Be…”

These thoughts occur today, as a result of my unsatisfying first draft of a practice for this Silent Sunday. Full of surface observations about the current state of COVID-related masking in our communities; and a forced correlation with the dis-harmonizing energies of Mercury retrograde (as it is now), the piece lacked what I think of as creative integrity. Just as in those therapy sessions with my 20s self, I was “trying”: Sometimes, though, trying becomes trying—overly effortful, exhausting, and ultimately self-defeating.

So, I stepped away from my planned piece, lay on the couch, closed my eyes, and breathed intuitively. Almost instantly, I realized that what felt like an absence of creativity was, in essence, stymied intuition and stifled insight. In the “trying,” I had squelched my ability to communicate with integrity.

The result of all of the above is today’s suggested practice: warm-up, pranayama, and mudra.

The routine will help you break through creative blocks; interpersonal stalemates; and blinders on your spiritual progress. Although I do suggest times for each part, feel free to extend the movement and breath sequences, as well as the meditation, for as long as you like.

Begin standing. Gently shake your body. It may be helpful to start with one hand, then whole arm, then the other hand and arm, and naturally expanding the bouncy, wiggly shaking throughout the body. Do this for about 1 minute, then come to stillness in standing.

Widen your base: Let the legs be about 3 feet apart. Inhale, then exhale as you slide the right hand down the outer right thigh as the left arm lifts high. Inhale back up through center, and exhale to reach down to the left as the right arm rises. Continue this alternating lateral bend for 1 minute.

Return to stand, closing the feet to about 12 inches apart, i.e., a natural stance. Inhale to lift the arms to the sides at shoulder level, and exhale as the right foot steps forward into an easy lunge. Inhale to turn to the right, offering a gentle twist through the upper body and torso. Exhale back into forward-facing lunge; inhale back to stand, and exhale the arms down. 

Repeat to the other side: Inhale arms up to the sides at shoulder level; exhale to step the left foot forward into soft lunge. Inhale to twist left; exhale back to basic lunge; inhale to return to standing, exhale, arms down.

Repeat this alternating sequence 7 more times to each side.

Special note: Lateral and twisting movements open the side body, i.e., the horizontal flow of energy, which corresponds with open, clear communication.

Now, bring yourself into your favorite seated position for pranayama and meditation. Allow the hands to rest where they naturally fall: knees, thighs, lap, palms up, palms down, next to or atop one another—let kinesthetic intuition guide the placement.

Once settled, begin the first phase of today’s breath work. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, inhale slowly and steadily to your personal count of 6. Exhale through the mouth, tongue softly extended, to a 2-count of short/long: If sounded, it might be, “huh, huuuuuuh.” Without a pause, continue the exhale for 4 more even counts. Close the mouth, inhale through the nose again for 6; exhale for 6, beginning with the short/long burst. Continue for 1-2 minutes.

Before entering the second phase of pranayama, sit quietly for a moment; allow your natural breath rhythm to return. Then, when you are ready, begin Sitali breath: Curl the tongue into a straw, and extend it out through the lips. (If a curled tongue is not available to you, simply part the lips slightly.) Inhale long and deep through the opening of the tongue “straw” or separated lips fo a count of 8. Then, draw the tongue in to press it against the roof of the mouth (lips closed), and exhale for 8 counts. Continue the pattern for 2-3 minutes.

Special note: To deepen the sense of whole-body “integrity,” connect the upper-palate tongue press to the rise of the diaphragm upon exhalation. These “domes” can also be visualized and sensed in the arches of the feet and crown of the head.

To conclude your pranayama, do this variation of alternate-nostril breathing: With the thumb of the right hand, close the right nostril; breath in and out through the left nostril 2 times. Inhale for the third time through the left nostril; close the left nostril with the middle or ring finger of the right hand, and exhale through the right nostril.

Keep the left nostril closed as your breath in and out through the right nostril 2 times. After the third inhalation, close the right nostril with the right thumb, and exhale through the left. Inhale left; close the left; exhale right. Inhale right; close the right; exhale left. Repeat: Inhale left; close left; exhale right; inhale right; close right; exhale left.

As you sit, allow the breath to regain its natural flow. Then, form a version of Vishuddha Mudra: This hand configuration opens and stimulates the Throat Chakra, which is the energetic center of communication with self and others. Although some depictions of the gesture show the second, third and fourth fingers tucked in, I prefer the following set-up: On the right and left hand, touch the index fingertips to thumb tips (Gyan Mudra); then, interlock the two circles, like a chain link. Extend the other fingers straight up, and touch each fingertip on the left to its respective partner on the right. Hold the interlocked Gyan Mudra circles a few inches in front of the throat; feel the connection between the tips of the extended fingers and the Third Eye. With eyes closed, gazing toward the Third Eye, breathe fully and deeply with the mudra for 3-11 minutes.

Finally, ease your way into Svasana. Arms lie several inches away from the sides of the body, palms up, fingers relaxed. Let the tongue float softly in the mouth; ease open through the jaw, neck, and shoulders; and feel the rise and fall of the abdomen and chest, and the contraction and expansion of the ribs as you breathe. Relax the buttocks, release through the backs of the knees, and allow the feet to fall open as the toes softly separate. Rest for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…