Silent Sundays: Spring Into Summer

On this first day of May, one feels the revitalization that sprouts with tiny croci, early-morning bird calls, and warming rays of sunshine. The sky adjusts its blue to one of permeating vibrancy and hopefulness; the clouds bear no ill will.

While this Silent Sunday resounds with the uplifting notes of Springtime, the day also marks a key time for thoughts of Summer. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the prime period to help the body and psycho-spiritual mind prepare for any season is roughly six weeks prior to the advent of that season.

Today’s practice will introduce the Fire element (that which is associated with Summer), while using Spring’s element, Wood, as a foundation. As one would lay kindling for a warming blaze, the routine helps to stoke the systems necessary to optimally enjoy Spring’s energy and seamlessly transition into Summer’s late-June entry.

Special note: For a fun challenge—and to reap the greatest benefit from this upbeat routine—practice every day from today until June 21. The commitment: 7 moves and a simple breath visualization for a total of 10 minutes, each day for six weeks.

First, a quick primer on the Wood and Fire elements: Wood is comprised of the Liver and Gall Bladder organ systems; Fire corresponds with Stomach and Heart energies. From an anatomical standpoint, Wood relates primarily to the inner and outer “seams” of the body. (Think side walls and inner thigh stretches.) Fire meridians run through the arms and front of the torso: Remember the phrase, “fire in the belly.”

With regard to the qualities associated with each element, Wood systems—just like Nature’s activity in Spring—awaken, refresh, and remind the body and mind of possibility. The Fire organs energize and supply the confidence to pursue and achieve goals. As such, Spring’s transitional time is conducive to purposeful contemplation and preparation; Summertime is ripe for activation and manifestation.

While each movement in today’s practice is designed to stimulate either the Wood or Fire element, maintain an awareness of the “unworked” system while focusing on one. For example, when imparting focused energy on the arms, stay attuned to the inherent reverberation through the belly, or the shifting through the legs. In this way, the practice succeeds in uniting the two elements for the greatest all-over benefit.

To begin, lie on the back, eyes closed, for a brief, centering visualization. With your mind’s eye, focus on the left pinky finger. Start your travels at the inner-side tip of the pinky: Inhale to draw the breath up the inside of the arm to just inside the shoulder on the chest. Exhale to the opposite side of the chest, and down the inner right arm to the inner-side tip of the right pinky.

Now, reverse the visualization: Inhale to begin at the right pinky, up the arm to the chest, and then down from the chest through the left arm, ending at the inner edge of the left pinky tip.

Repeat the breath with visualization—up left, down right; up right, down left—two more times.

Next, hug both knees into the torso. Inhale to open the arms onto the floor at shoulder level, as the legs shoot straight out to 45 degrees. Exhale to bring the arms and legs back into the hug. Inhale open, exhale close: Continue for 1 minute.

Still on the back, extend both legs straight into the air, and then let them fall open into a V shape. (The arms rest naturally on the ground by your sides.) Inhale: As you exhale through the nose, bring the legs back together, crossing them at the ankles; inhale to open into the V. Move as quickly as possible, switching the cross of the ankles each time you exhale. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, bend the knees to place the feet flat on the floor in preparation for Bridge Pose. Roll the spine off of the floor into Bridge: interlace the hands under the body, and stretch the arms straight. Press down into the feet, up through the hips, and open the belly as high to the sky as you can muster. Begin Breath of Fire through open, rounded lips. Breathe rapidly, equally, and fiercely through the mouth: The belly should pump powerfully with the breath. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, sit up. Extend the legs forward, and then open into a V on the floor. Extend the arms up and out from the shoulders at an angle of 60 degrees, palms facing each other. Curl the pinky fingers into the palms; hold them down with the thumb.

Begin to twist the torso left and right: Inhale to twist left, exhale to the right. Rise up and out of the spine, stabilizing through the wide-leg base. As the body releases, move a bit more quickly: Inhale left, exhale right for 1 minute.

Release the mudra from the hands, and let the left arm come down. Shift the right arm to extend it now straight up from the shoulder. Inhale, then exhale as you side-bend to the left: Inhale up, exhale stretch. (Use the left hand on the floor for support.)

Complete 8 stretches to the left, and then switch arms: With the left arm extended straight up, side-bend to the right 8 times.

When you are ready, ease back down onto the floor, and turn onto the belly. Let the legs be open wide behind you. Reach the arms forward on the ground, wider than shoulder width. This is the base of the “open Cobra” into which you will rise. 

Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the wide-open mouth, tongue extended down, to press up into the wide-leg, wide-arm Cobra. Inhale through the nose to lower, exhale through the mouth when you press up. Move as quickly as you can, aiming to create a pumping up and down of the upper body. Continue this stimulating, cleansing move for 1 minute.

Next, still on the belly, reach the hands back to grasp the feet (or ankles): Hold what you can; lift into Bow. Float the knees up and away from the floor, and rise up through the torso.

Now, begin to rock forward and back on the belly. This may be initially confounding for the body: Typically, it helps to inhale back, exhale forward. Muscle your way into the move, and then let breath and momentum carry you into the Rocking Bow for 1 minute.

When you have finished, shift back into wide-leg Baby Pose, toes together, knees apart. Let the arms stretch forward, palms down. Here, take some deep breaths while repeating the Heart meridian visualization: Inhale the mind’s eye from left pinky up the inner left arm, into the outer chest; exhale from right outer chest, down right inner arm, to inner edge of right pinky tip. Repeat up the right, down the left, and then one more full round.

 Then, release into Svasana on your back for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Out Loud–Introducing the Everything Elsa Podcast

Irony of all ironies: On this Silent Sunday, I introduce the Everything Elsa podcast. You can find new episodes on Mondays and Thursdays: From time to time, bonus episodes will air on other days. Already recorded are several routines specifically for the podcast; eventually, you will hear audio versions of some of my previous pieces from the Everything Elsa blog.

You can find them all, beginning with the most recent, at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson.

One of the things that I have realized—with amused chagrin—is that I am an “umm”-er: Apparently, when speaking extemporaneously over the airwaves, my thought-gathering needs a verbal nudge: “um.” Certainly, I could write out an entire script; however, I find that a verbatim recitation results in a loss of vitality and personality. For this reason, when I record previously written pieces from the blog, the posts will serve as templates only—they will not be word-for-word transpositions. This will allow me to speak from a place of dedication and sharing, rather than one of obligation and reporting.

I regard “um” as a gift: It has alerted me to the difference between the transmission of written and spoken word. And this awareness has awakened a curiosity: How can I translate the ease and immersion I feel when writing—an “umm”-less terrain—to verbal expression? Upon further inquiry, I wonder why I seldom “um” when in profound conversation with others? The answer would seem to lie in the depth of connection. When connected through personal vibration, “um” is not needed; when vibrationally connected to creativity as in writing, “um” lies dormant.

To manifest creativity through human interaction—e.g., conversation—and writing follows the trajectories from the Second to Fourth (Heart Center) and Sixth (Third Eye) chakras, respectively. I am beginning to understand that to ease “um” out of the mix, the creative vibration needs to travel to and resonate through the Fifth, or Throat Chakra.

Thus, today’s practice focuses on the stimulation of the Second Chakra, i.e., the fount of creative energy; the elevation of this vibration to and within the Third Eye; and ultimately, to its resonance at the level of the Fourth and Fifth chakras. Personally, I would use the following routine to bring myself into a focused, yet intuitive state of mind for the purpose of creating and presenting an orated practice—without “um.”

This sequence of movement and mudras is, however, one that applies to any creative endeavor: Whether one is blocked; or has become aware of an unwanted habit of expression; or needs a shift of perspective, this practice will ignite that spark. 

The entire routine will be done seated: You may choose to sit anywhere and in any way that allows you to be relaxed, but with an aligned, neutral spine. To begin, place your hands lightly on the thighs. Begin a long, slow inhalation through the nose as the pelvis tips forward, gently arching the low back. With the mind’s eye, follow the breath as it moves up the spine.

As the inhalation continues, deepen the spinal extension. As the breath reaches the Heart Center and travels up through the Throat Chakra, first shrug the the shoulders up, then back and down, followed tipping the head to face up. This is the apex of both breath and movement.

Think of the following progression: active pelvic tilt; spine extension; first half of a shoulder circle; and head tilt back.

Exhale to reverse the above move: Drop the head forward, chin to chest; release the shoulders up, forward, and down; round—or flex—the spine; and tilt the pelvis back. Repeat the entire sequence, inhaling and exhaling slowly and completely, for a total of 10 times.

Having awakened and invigorated the entire chakra system, you are now ready to hone in specific sources of inspiration and means of expression. First, connect the Second Chakra to the Sixth: Place the left hand on the low belly; place the thumb on (or in) the navel, and rest the palm of the hand on the belly below.

Bring the heel of the right hand—the puffy part, or Thenar Mount, at the base of the thumb—to the Third Eye (between the brows at the root fo the nose). With the left hand gathering creative energy, use the right hand to vibrate the Third Eye, as if summoning that creativity. Eyes are closed and gazing to the Third Eye; this will compound the effect of the active vibration. Keep jostling and pulsating the forehead while maintaining awareness of the left hand on the Second Chakra for 1-3 minutes. Remember to breath steadily as you proceed.

Now, pause for a few breaths before moving to the final piece of the practice. When you are ready, engage a variation of Gyan Mudra on each hand: curl the index fingers inside their respective thumb; hold the finger down with its thumb. With the mudra, bring both hands to the Fourth Chakra. Join the backs of the hands, so that the palms face out, and the fingers point up; the pinky finger edges lie against the Heart Center.

In this position, begin to turn the head from left to right; this simple movement will help to stimulate and balance the Fifth, or Throat Chakra. Keep the eyes closed, still gazing to the Third Eye, as you turn the head: Inhale to the left, and exhale to the right. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, if you like, add the mantra “Sat Nam” to the head movement: Sat (“suht”) as the head turns to the left; Nam (“nahm”) as it goes right. Sat Nam signifies that “Truth is my identity”: further, that one’s identity is inextricable from the Divine. Thus, Sat Nam underscores that each of us is eternally connected to the Divine, Creative force; we, as humans here on Earth, embody this Universal energy, and thus can communicate from, with, and through it. 

If you feel that you need a break from the head movement, simply sit with the mudra, and chant the mantra silently, in a whisper, or aloud. Regardless, continue for 3-5 minutes. Then, feel free to settle into svasana for a bit before you embark on a creative adventure.

Happy Sunday…

Homestead Series–Part Two: Creativity and Its Expression (With a Nod to Dementia)

My mother, aka Old Mom: whole-hearted listener, warm hugger, cookie lover, art appreciator, helper of all helpers, poet.

My mother with dementia, aka New Mom: curious listener, warm hugger, cookie monster, mystified observer, determined participant, wordless warrior.

Two days ago, my mother with dementia became reacquainted with the original—New Mom met Old Mom.

Lest you wonder if I was adopted or have a step-mother, allow me to clarify: The two mothers I describe are the same woman—one body, one heart, one mind, one soul, one poet, one intrepid doer of Life. As are many whose loved one has for whatever reason shifted in their cognitive abilities and psychological states, I am bewildered by the changes in my mother: At this point in her nearly 10 years of waning, altered mental capacity, I think of this woman as New Mom. 

Old Mom was younger; New Mom is old. 

Old Mom could spar or speak without a beat; New Mom shrilly rants or goes silent, watching an invisible ticker tape of vocabulary rise up before her inner eye, then tangle, fade, and disappear.

Old Mom wrote poetry; New Mom reads her old poetry.

Which is what she did the other day.

During our daily phone call, she asked, “Do you have a minute?” She then proceeded to explain that she had written a book: Did I know that? When I assured her that yes, I knew all about the letters and memories of her father that she had compiled nearly 30 years ago, she seemed relieved, albeit somewhat surprised that I knew such a thing about her. She does not always know that this person with whom she speaks on the phone each morning is one of her two daughters. 

I do not mind. I used to, but that was when I thought Old Mom could or would rally and return. That was before New Mom stole my heart, and I became a more-than-willing accomplice to the theft.

And yesterday, when she was eager to share her writings with me, I listened with joy, with soft sadness, and with my head and heart silently thanking God as Mom spoke. I could hear the pride and pleasure in her voice as she read the deeply considered and impeccably chosen words that she had written. That she realized that they had come from her; that they sparked a connection between her remembered past and misty present; that she could discuss without frustration her Old Brain and New Brain… these wonders fed both of us with an abundance of peace and gratitude.

Ironically, the New Mom who no longer can hold a thought or find a word is the Mom who produces the greatest insight into what it means to think, to feel, and to create. New Mom’s “deficits” give Old Mom’s advantages a run for their money: With the loss of vocabulary and short-term memory comes the intriguingly pointed question, “What happens to Creativity when dementia enters the arena?”

That the ability to dream, to connect, and to usher in new modes of Creativity does not die with dementia is ferociously disarming: If one can not decide to create—motivate to create—how, then, does one engage creative energy?

And that is where my own tune changes: Is To Create the same as Being Creative? Does Creation exist without Expression?

If a tree falls in the forest…

In the framework of Old Mom/New Mom, organized mind versus dementia, Creativity oddly leaps to the fore. New Mom’s creativity now manifests as imaginary friends and visitors; as vivid observances of color and shape; and of acute experience of emotion. In some ways, New Mom’s creative essence shines brighter—by megawatts—than Old Mom’s consciously arranged and edited creative productions. 

Creativity can be unconscious; To Create is not. One may be creative without words or forethought or analysis; to become Creation, though, requires a facilitator—Expression.

Creativity exists without thought, and therefore without our bidding. What one often regards as Creativity is, instead, Expression. Creativity thrives despite our conscious awareness of its activity; it becomes Creation when we attach our intention to its release.

For the purposes of this series of practices, then, Creativity must be linked to Expression, actively and consciously. In sum, the Second Chakra must align with the Fifth: Stoke the generative fires, and usher them through the expressive stacks.

The first phase of the practice energizes and coordinates the partnership of the Second and Fifth chakras. The sequence begins on your back, knees bent, feet flat and hip-width apart. Allow the arms to rest on the ground naturally. As you inhale, tip the pelvis forward, creating a slight arch in the lower spine. Simultaneously, let the chin move gently down toward the chest. Upon exhale, roll the pelvis toward you (thereby slightly rounding the low back), as you let the head tip back, opening the front of the neck. 

These movements require focus, as the tucked chin with inhale and pelvic tip forward initially may seem counter-intuitive (as may the curled tail and open throat upon exhale). Stick with it, repeating the inhale/exhale combinations 12 times.

Next, interlace the fingers behind the neck; bring the elbows as close to the floor as possible. Inhale deeply through the nose; exhale powerfully through the mouth, creating a sounded expulsion of air. As you exhale and cleanse the throat, pull the low belly in strongly. Repeat 12 times.

Now, extend both legs into the air, arms resting back down by the sides. Inhale through the nose; exhale to push the pointed feet straight up, lifting the hips slightly. This move thoroughly engages the low-belly muscles: Try not to let the legs swing toward you as the hips push up; rather, push the toes up, as if to pierce the air straight above. Repeat 12 times.

Repeat the entire 3-part sequence (each move with 12 repetitions) 2 more times, for a total of 3.

Then, help yourself into any comfortable seated position. Place both hands on the low belly, one atop the other: Let the thumb of the bottom hand rest in (or on) the navel. With your mind’s eye, trace the following line of the breath. As you inhale fully through the nose, imagine energy moving from the belly button downward into the palms on the belly; exhale slowly through the nose, and guide the breath down between the legs, to the perineum, and back up into the lower spine, behind the navel. 

Continue the long, steady exhale as the breath splits: Send it around to the left and right waists, and allow it to circle all the way back to the initial point of the navel. Inhale to begin again, drawing the breath into the Dan Tien (where the hands rest); exhale calmly and steadily to push this breath through its long journey back to start. Breathe this way 8 times.

Special note: This visualization and breath meditation also soothes moderate lower-back ache. 

Next, place the thumb and index finger of the right hand on the right and left sides of the throat, respectively. With a firm, slow motion, stroke down from the jaw to the collar bone. As the right hand reaches the collar bone, bring the left hand up to continue the downward stroke (left index finger on right side of throat; left thumb on left side). Move the hands in a seamless round, in order to create a continual stimulation of the Throat Chakra.

Finally, rest both hands in the lap, palms up, one nested inside the other, thumb tips touching. As you inhale deeply through the nose, allow the jaw to fall open; simultaneously visualize the breath coming in and down to the Second Chakra. The exhale becomes the mantra, “Aum.”

Special note: Often, this is written as “Om”: However, the threes letter of Aum convey the desired 3-part sounding—Ah/Oh/Mm.

As you exhale, chant, “Aum,” slowly dissecting the mantra into 3 parts. By the end of the third sound (“mm”), the mouth will be gently closed. Inhale to gently drop the jaw and send the breath into the Creative energy center of the Second Chakra; exhale to chant slowly and steadily, feeling the vibration through the expressive Throat Chakra as the mouth closes softly. Continue for 3 minutes. If you like, settle into Svasana for a few minutes of rest and integration of energy.

Next Time: Homestead—Part 3: Solar-Powered and Heart-Centered