Silent Sundays: Daily Doses, Conclusion–Evening Elixir

On this Silent Sunday, the third and final installment of the Daily Doses series offers a way to unwind, recalibrate, and settle down for the evening. As such, the following practice also is useful for a bout of insomnia. Additionally, the routine may be beneficial any time you feel emotionally wrought or physically fatigued: Deep breathing, energy- and mind-clearing movements, and a closing pranayama will return you to a place of peace and centeredness.

To begin, come into a supported Baby Pose. As always, the buttocks rest on the heels, and the torso rests on the thighs. (You may place a pillow between the bottom and feet for added comfort.) Now, instead of allowing the forehead to rest on the floor, place a yoga block, book, or firm pillow under the forehead: Keep the head in line with the spine. 

With the arms relaxed on the floor by your sides, begin Snake Breath. Inhale deeply through the nose; exhale through the teeth, using as much time as possible to release the breath. With the chest compressed, the inhale through the nose requires concerted effort, ensuring a full, steady breath; the hissing of the Snake Breath exhale provides a calming auditory focal point, which encourages slow, complete breathing. Continue for 3 minutes.

Now, slowly press up onto all fours, as if to do traditional Cat/Cow. Instead of alternating spinal flexion and extension, however, allow your torso, hips, and shoulders to move in any way that feels good. This is a true “unwinding” of tension that likely has accrued during the day: round, arch, bend the elbows, circle the hips, shift forward and back, side to side—let your body take the lead. As you move in this organic, intuitive manner, breathe deeply and fully. If you feel like emitting sound, do so. Continue for 3 minutes.

Next, lower onto the belly, forehead or chin on the floor. With the hands placed a few inches in front of the shoulders, inhale fully; exhale to raise up into a Cobra- or Sphinx-like posture, breathing forcefully out through the mouth, from the back of the throat, with the tongue extended down toward the chin. Allow any raspy or growling sounds to emerge with vehemence. Inhale as you lower down; exhale to rise up, and emit the detoxifying sound and breath. Complete 10 more times, for a total of 12.

From here, turn onto your back. If you are adept at Shoulder Stand, help yourself into the pose. If you prefer a modification, raise the legs to 90 degrees; you may slide your hands or a pillow under the hips for additional support. Whichever inversion you choose, begin to kick the buttocks with the heels, alternating left and right. Move as quickly and vigorously as you can, exhaling powerfully through the nose with each butt-kick. Inhale when a leg straightens, exhale as the other heel kicks its buttock. As you quickly alternate kicks, the breath becomes a near-Breath of Fire. Continue for 3 minutes.

Special note: If you begin in Shoulder Stand, and are unable to remain in this advanced and dynamic inversion for 3 minutes, feel free to lower down when you need to. Continue in the modified posture for the remaining time.

Next, release completely onto the back. Inhale, and draw the right knee in toward the body. As you exhale, use the left hand to slowly guide the knee across the body, toward the floor on the left. Let the right arm reach out to the right side at shoulder level or slightly below: The head may turn or not, as your comfort dictates. Inhale back to center; exhale to release the leg long onto the floor. 

Special note: If you find it difficult to get the knee all the way to the floor, simply bring the knee to where you nonetheless feel a gentle stretch through the right waist. With repetition, you likely will find that the body releases into a deeper stretch.

Repeat the cross-body stretch to the other side, bringing the left knee in as you inhale; exhale to help it across the body with the right hand; inhale back to center; exhale to release the leg. Alternate the stretch from side to side a total of 16 times, i.e., each side receives 8 twists.

When you have completed the twisting sequence, lie on your back. Give yourself a moment for a rapturous full-body stretch: With legs long, arms reaching onto the floor over the head. wriggle and stretch yourself as long as possible. Let yourself rock side to side; reach right arm and left leg away from each other, then left arm and right leg. Investigate any areas of tension, and breathe deeply as you move. Spend as much time as you like in this freeing move.

Now, help yourself into your favorite seated pose. When you feel properly aligned, rest the left hand on the left knee, palm down; bring the right thumb to the right nostril, and seal the opening. Inhale long and steady through the left nostril; close the left nostril with the ring finger finger of the right hand, and exhale through the right nostril. Close the right, inhale left; close the left, exhale right. Continue with left inhalation and right exhalation for 3 minutes.

Finally, ease yourself into Svasana, allowing full, deep breathing to return through both nostrils. Rest quietly for at least 5 minutes, allowing your entire system to integrate the ease, openness, and peace that you have created.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Daily Doses Series, Part One–Morning Medicine

This Silent Sunday begins a new, three-part series, Daily Doses, designed to provide what your body and mind need, at the specific time that they need it. Today, “Morning Medicine” gently guides you into the day. Whether you practice this routine on a day of silence is not crucial; however, do try to engage with this practice before speaking your first words of the day (with one minor exception). The oils, movements, and pranayama expel sleep’s subconscious thoughts and physical stiffness, and leave you clear and empowered for the day to come.

Upon first waking, perhaps even before the eyes open, greet the day: “Good morning,” in a sweet, kind voice meant for a small child or animal. Then, extend both legs into the air at a 90-degree angle to the body. Feel free to slide a pillow or rolled blanket under the hips to aid this, if your “morning back” feels reluctant. Interlace the fingers behind the neck, thumb tips touching, and open the elbows as wide as possible. Breathe deeply through the nose in this abdominal-awakening, lymph-flow-stimulating position for 1 minute.

Then, proceed to where you can lightly rinse your communicative cavities: eyes, mouth, ears. As you softly wipe away the debris of the night with cool water, you prepare yourself to receive Divine guidance. Use this ritual anytime you want to establish effective listening and conscious expression.

Next, collect essential oils and lotion (or carrier oil) to create a vibrationally conducive vessel (i.e., your body) for the practice. I suggest lung- and heart-opening oils for morning: for example, tea tree, eucalyptus, rosemary, or cypress. Combine any one of these with lavender or geranium to establish a calm, open-hearted foundation for breath and movement.

Once you have selected your oil(s), put a few drops into simple lotion or a carrier oil (e.g., jojoba or almond, even plain Vitamin E oil). Gently rub the “medicine” between, and into the tips and webbing of the toes; then, softly, rapidly stroke the top of the foot just below the toes, as well as the balls of the feet. When you have anointed yourself, cover the feet with socks for the next part of practice. 

Come into your usual practice space. Sit wherever and however feels most comfortable to you, ensuring that the spine is upright and aligned; use any necessary bolsters to aid this position. Here, invoke your first prayer or affirmation of the day: With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, inhale long and steady through the nose; as you exhale slowly and completely through gently pursed lips, mentally chant a mantra, prayer, or intentional words or phrases. Repeat as many times as feels right to you, in this moment, on this day.

Now, remove the socks or foot coverings to begin the standing moves. With feet hip-width apart, inhale to carry the arms out  to the sides and up overhead; as you do so, softly bend the knees. Exhale to lower the arms and lengthen through the legs. Next, inhale the arms straight forward and up as you bend the knees; sweep the arms down through the side space as you exhale and straighten the legs. 

Then, inhale to step the left foot wide to the left; bend the knee, toes pointing forward, into this side lunge. As you do so, bring the right arm up alongside the head; keep the torso upright, no lean. Exhale to return to neutral standing. Inhale to repeat the side lunge to the right, with the left arm reaching up; exhale back to center. 

Repeat the two opening arm moves with knee bends, followed by the side lunge couplet, three more times, for a total of 4 rounds. 

Special note: For an additional coordination and focus challenge, alternate which foot steps first in the side-lunge sequence. On the first and third rounds, step to the left first; on the second and fourth rounds, begin by lunging to the right.

Next, still standing, interlace the hands behind the back. Stretch the hands and arms down toward the heels, as you gently arch the spine and look up. Remain here for three full inhales and two exhales: On the third exhale, return up to neutral standing. Repeat this front-body opener two more times for a total of 3 standing back bends, each with 3 breaths.

Now, help yourself onto the all fours for traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes. You will be here for 3 minutes, so begin slowly. Hone in on the sensations in the shoulders, hips, and belly; as the body warms and releases, move more quickly and fluidly. The breath will naturally speed up as your movement accelerates; nonetheless, complete a full inhale and full exhale with each extension and flexion of the spine, respectively. 

Finally, come into Downward Dog. Select whatever version of this pose serves you on any given morning: heels down or up; heels alternating up and down; knees slightly bent; deep or shallow space between hands and feet. Regardless of how you need to accommodate this posture, commit to remaining calm and strong in the position for 2 minutes, with long, deep breathing. 

Then, slowly walk the feet toward the hands, and ease down to sit. Alternatively, you may move into a chair. When seated, place the hands palms up, on the knees. With eyes closed, gaze up to the Third Eye. Return to your opening mantra or prayer or thought: Inhale deeply, and suspend the breath; mentally chant your words of choice. Repeat the words as many times as possible before you need to exhale. Then, breathe out, and send the thoughts deeply throughout your mind and body. Repeat this breathing, silent chanting pattern at least two more times, or for however long you like.

Happy Sunday…

Next time: Part Two—Noon Nectar