Silent Sundays: Not Staying Silent (About Constipation!) 

While the inability to eliminate may seem an unusual topic for Silent Sunday, the causes and consequences of constipation inarguably affect one’s physical and psycho-spiritual health. At some point, most of us have had to reckon with sluggish—or completely halted—digestion. I decided to address this issue when a friend informed me that she is currently “backed up.” She is a forthright woman: It is no surprise that she announced her condition as if she had stubbed her toe.

Her plight reminded me of several situations when others I know have had to wrangle with constipation. One instance involved a former boyfriend. He let his predicament go unattended for more than a week; one day, I came home to find him curled up on the floor in pain. He was so loathe to discuss “bind” that he became quite ill. Fortunately, a trip to the doctor and a simple prescription quickly helped him.

But why the embarrassment over a bodily function gone wrong? A stomach ache or intestinal flu is readily discussed; on the other hand, the act or product of elimination is a hush-hush subject. My sense is that when discomfort is imparted upon us—the force of impact or the invasion of bacteria—we do not feel responsible for the problem. But when the process of elimination goes awry, we wonder what we did wrong: dietary choices, activity levels, stress management, etc.

The digestive system is sensitive, though: Tied directly and powerfully to the nervous system, the organs connected to digestion and elimination pick up quickly on emotional changes. The systems respond well to calm and consistency; they do not abide upheaval.

And here I can add personal experience.

After our mother died a couple of months ago, my sister and I compared notes about our emotions. Less discussed was the physical impact: Perhaps we mentioned fatigue or fogginess, but little else. Then, one day, a couple of weeks after the passing, my sister commented that she was constipated. For her, the state is a common response to stress: travel, emotional upset, small shifts in dietary routine—they all tend to manifest in constipation.

I remember thinking in the moment how grateful I was for a gut that seemed to flow consistently, despite shifts in circumstance. I should have knocked on some wood: Within three days, my bowels staged a firm, unbudging protest to the deep-seated emotions that had been stirred.

It may be helpful to momentarily contemplate words related to “elimination.” When the stress of physical or emotional imbalance accumulates, we can not “process,” “digest,” or “let go.” There is little stigma surrounding a sense of feeling stuck personally or professionally; nor should there be any hesitation to address physical impediments.

What is required for the elimination of both bodily and mental waste is a concerted, yet tempered effort. The following suggestions and accompanying routine are exactly what I did to help my body resume its eliminative function.

Special note: Certainly, there are potentially serious conditions of which constipation is a symptom. The thoughts and suggestions here concern situational constipation: brief periods of irregularity that can be remedied with a little time, attention, and technique.

First, a quick nod to some simple and accessible aids in the process: Many teas, for example, purport to have qualities beneficial to digestion and elimination. I drink both ginger and fennel every day; others swear by simple lemon juice in warm water. (It may well be that the warmth of the concoction is as helpful as the main ingredient.) Further, dehydration is the nemesis of all the body’s systems: sluggish digestion and hampered elimination need plenty of simple fluids (especially water).

Also, certain foods can help the process along: Prunes are a typical—and potent—choice. Whatever easily digested fiber food you choose, start sparingly; give it some time, see how the body responds, and then choose further portions accordingly.

And now, we arrive at The Routine. There are numerous physical approaches that will help you address a bout of constipation; the same techniques and movements will help to keep you regular in the future. 

First, find a small ball: a tennis ball will do. (If you do not have a ball, try a soup can or water bottle.) Place the roller (ball or otherwise) under your left arch: Lightly begin to roll the foot back and forth on the ball. Move up and down through the mid-foot; then, begin to roll down toward the heel. Ultimately, roll from just underneath the toes, through the width of the arch, and all the way to the heel.

Roll out the left foot for about 2 minutes; then, switch to the right foot. Localize the roll first in the arch; then, down through the heel; and finally, ball of foot, through arch to heel. Again, continue for 2 minutes.

This technique is rooted in reflexology. As the foot houses acupressure points that correspond to the entire body (where the toes roughly align with the head; the mid-foot comprises the vital organs; and the heel contains the hips and adjacent organs), the ball-roll triggers the body to relax, as if it were having a traditional massage.

When giving an actual massage to assuage digestive issues, one would gently but purposefully stroke down the left side of the belly first: i.e., begin to unlock the end portion of the intestine. Once that area is free, the “earlier” parts of the system are addressed. Think of plumbing: The deepest part of the block needs to be addressed first; to dislodge the upper obstruction is pointless, unless there is a place for the blockage to be released.

Thus, left foot first; then the right.

After the foot-roll, spend a few minutes manually applying firm pressure throughout the mid- right foot. (Both sides have been relaxed and released by the ball-roll: Now, the idea is to remind the body of its natural direction of digestive flow—right to left.) Press with the thumb tip or a knuckle: Move along and around the arch, then down into the heel mound. Focus extra attention on any hard or tender areas. 

Continue for 1 minute. Then, switch to the left foot for 1 more minute.

Now, lie down on the belly. Make soft fists of each hand, and slide them to either side of the low belly, near or under the hip bones. Simply lie on the hands, breathing deeply through the nose, for 1 minute.

Then, press back into Baby Pose. If you like, take a couple of relaxing breaths before rising to sit on the heels.

Feel free to place a pillow between the bottom and feet for comfort. This Rock Pose is inherently beneficial to digestion. Today, add another profound technique: As you are seated, begin to lightly pummel all around the buttocks and hips with soft fists. Move rapidly and intentionally, pounding assertively, yet kindly through the area. Continue for 1-2 minutes.

Next, extend the legs straight forward, or assume a crossed-leg position. Begin Sufi Grinds. This kundalini yoga movement is one of the best exercises I know to signal both the body and mind of the need to release: The move helps to eliminate detritus of all kinds.

Circle the torso first to the right: Let the body undulate with the movement. Circle fully and deeply clockwise for 1 minute; then, reverse directions, circling to the left for another minute.

Finally, come into your favorite seated position, either on the floor or in a chair. With the thumb of the left hand, begin to massage firmly the fleshy mound and adjacent “triangle” between the right thumb and forefinger. Chances are that the area will be quite tender: Apply enough pressure to address the tension. These knots of constriction and discomfort tell the story of your constipation: When all is flowing smoothly, the area will be soft and at ease.

Spend as long as you like on the right hand (usually about 2 minutes); then, switch to the left hand.

After you have massaged both hands, hold them aloft. Inhale deeply: Suspend the breath as you shake the hands vigorously. When you need to exhale, float the arms back down. Repeat 2 more times: Inhale to raise the arms and shake the hands; exhale to lower.

Now, sit quietly, eyes closed, gazing to the Third Eye. Breathe slowly and deeply enough through the nose that you feel the belly expand and release upon inhale and exhale. Rest the hands on the thighs, palms down. Relax the tongue completely: Let it float easily in the mouth. Simply sit and breathe, knowing that you have begun the process of elimination. 

Repeat any or all of the above steps as needed. Eventually, you may consider including those to which your body responds most readily as part of your daily routine.

Happy Sunday…

Top to Bottom–Part Two: Low Back and Belly

Special note: An audio version of this piece is available on the Everything Elsa podcast. Visit: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

In this second part of the series, “Top to Bottom,” I address two more areas prone to tension and dis-ease during times of stress. The back, in particular, may be vulnerable during the holiday season, as it also houses a large part of the Bladder meridian: As part of the Water element in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Bladder and Kidney organ systems correspond with Winter. When weak or obstructed, the Bladder meridian (which runs from the base of the skull, down both sides of the spine, and the back of each leg) contributes greatly to back pain and stiffness. Further, anxiety and control issues can arise with an unhappy Bladder meridian.

And, oh, that belly: It will be no surprise that the foods and emotions that often spring up at this time of year can wreak havoc on digestion. To steady this area will go a long way toward instilling peace into your holiday time; emotionally, a balanced belly keeps frustration and resentment at bay.

In working with the lower spine and abdominal region, the Second and Third chakras will be awakened. These energy centers, when functioning optimally, ensure a sense of stability and confidence: With the powerhouses of esteem strong, one can proceed through any challenge with positivity.

The practice begins with pelvic tilts. On a chair or seated crossed-leg on the floor (with bolstering, if necessary), inhale to tilt the pelvis forward; exhale to gently tilt it back. If the low back is stiff, this movement may prove elusive at first. Stick with it: As your breath deepens, and the muscles warm, the pelvic rocks will become more fluid. Continue for 1-3 minutes.

Then, move into Sufi Grinds. This movement uses the pelvic tilts, plus a subtle lift of the pelvis to either side to create a perceived circling of the pelvis: Inhale to tilt he pelvis forward and then raise the right side of the pelvis; exhale to tilt the pelvis back as the right side lowers. The exhale continues as you roll through the now-rounded low spine to the left. Then, seamlessly begin to inhale as you “hike up” the left side of the pelvis, and then tilt the pelvis forward again; continue the inhale as you circle through the front space to begin the full “grind” again. 

Once you have the pelvic “circles” down, let the rest of the torso go along for the ride. You will begin to feel that the spine is naturally extending (arching) as you circle forward, and then rounds (flexes) as you circle through backspace. Continue for 1-3 minutes, then switch directions (circling to the left) for another 1-3 minutes. Always circle clockwise first, then left (counter-clockwise): This pattern mimics the progression of digestive processes.

Now, if on the floor, lie down, and prepare for a modified Bridge Pose (feet flat, knees bent). If in a chair, come to the front edge of the seat, and place the hands firmly next to the hips. Make sure the chair is stable, and that you have space in front of you. In either position, inhale to push the hips forward and up, opening the front body; exhale to lower down. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, draw the knees in, so that your body comes into a tight ball; try to tuck the nose between the knees. In this compressed position, begin Breath of Fire through the nose. Continue for 1 minute.

Open yourself up again, and resume the elevated portion of your previous Bridge Pose. This time, stay up (hips lifted). Repeat Breath of Fire, but through open, rounded lips. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, come to sit with the legs extended out and wide. (If in a chair, stay perched on the front edge: Feet can be on the floor, but allow the legs to spread as wide apart as possible.) Inhale to twist slightly toward the left leg; exhale to bend forward over the leg. Inhale to rise up and twist gently toward the right leg; exhale to forward bend over that leg. Continue alternating from one leg to another for 1 minute. Then, repeat the movement for 1 more minute, moving up and down into the space between the legs: Inhale up, exhale down, breathing through the nose.

And now, for the final series of movements, come to standing. Place the hands on the waist: Reach the thumbs in toward the lower spine. Bend slightly to one side, then the other. As you do so, let the thumbs find the tough, cable-like muscle that lies between the lowest rib and the top of the pelvis: This is the quadratus lumborum, or QL.

Special note: The QL is the culprit in many lower-back complaints. Interestingly, however, it is actually a deep abdominal muscle, lying at the rear of the abdominal wall. Thus, to work with the QL can soften tension through the abdominal region, thereby calming digestive issues while simultaneously soothing the low back.

As you lean slightly from side to side, hold the thumbs steady; let the tips press strongly into each side of the QL, by dint of the alternating side bends. Inhale as you come up and pass through center; exhale to either side. Continue for 1 minute, or until you feel an easing through the QL

Next, let the arms hang loosely. Take your attention to the rib cage: Begin a sliding, or shifting of the entire rib cage from side to side. Aim to inhale for a count of 4-6 as you steadily glide the ribs from left to right; then exhale for 6-8 beats as you continue to move the ribs from side to side. As you deepen the breath and find fluidity in the movement, tension will ease throughout the entire torso, and even into the hips and shoulders. Continue for 1 minute.

Close out this movement sequence with a round of full-spine flexion and extension. Standing, begin to round and arch the spine as you would in traditional Cat and Cow on all fours. As you inhale, the belly and chest open as the shoulders and tail move back; exhale to round deeply through the spine, allowing the head to hang and the arms to move into the front space. Continue this opening and closing for 1-3 minutes.

Finally, return to your favorite seated position, either on the floor or in a chair. Place one hand on the Dan Tien, or low belly: Let the palm rest softly here, as the tip of the thumb comes to rest on the navel point; the other hand lies on top. With eyes closed, begin guide the breath through a soothing pathway. Take your attention to the belly-button: Inhale from there into the Dan Tien (the area covered by the hands). As you exhale, use your mind’s eye to send the breath down to the perineum, and then loop it upward to the back point, just behind and in line with the navel. Continue the exhalation as the breath splits: it travels to the left and right, around the waist, and returns to the navel point.

You will notice that the breath pathway must travel a distance on one exhalation. Once you are familiar with the trajectory, the extended exhale will be easier. Again, inhale to draw breath in to the navel point and down into the low belly (Dan Tien): Exhale to guide it visually down through the genital region, up into the low back, and around the waist to return to the belly-button. Continue this qigong breath visualization for at least 5 full cycles, allowing the breath’s pathway to infuse the area with balanced, restorative energy.

Next Time: Conclusion—Knees and Feet

Silent Sundays: S-U-F-I Grinds, Part Two–Clear and Correct

In yesterday’s preamble to today’s practice, I described the recent discovery that an emotional response pattern thought long-abandoned still lurked within. It can be disappointing to realize that despite disciplined introspection, contemplation, and spiritual devotion, human flaws and foibles remain in need of attention. Yet “disappointment” need not be the abiding feeling: Rather, if one regards the ongoing pursuit and expulsion of unwanted, unnecessary traits as an integral part of a spiritually conscious life, then each recognition of ‘work to be done” becomes a boon—an opportunity for personal growth. With this continual self-monitoring and reckoning comes spiritual stamina, neutral-minded perspective, and deepened insight.

To aid in your evolution, this Silent Sunday sets forth a movement and meditation routine to clear out emotional and psychological remnants that seem to trip you up repeatedly; and then actively draws in specified beneficial energies. The key ingredient for this practice is Sufi Grinds. This is a churning, cleansing action whose appearance in any kundalini kriya or related routine signals clearing and elimination: As such, Sufi Grinds also can come to the rescue of many digestive issues.

Special note: While one typically thinks of digestion as a physical process, it also connotes the ability to ponder and then assimilate or reject thoughts and feelings. The stomach is home to many nerves: Some yogis think of the stomach is the second brain. Thus, when tending to physical digestion via exercises such as Sufi Grinds, one also calms and stabilizes emotions.

The following practice unleashes optimal movement throughout the spine. Working in increments, the entire spine and its supportive muscles receive the nourishment of spinal fluid and warmth, respectively. This section-by-section approach lays the foundation for the most fulfilling, effective Sufi Grinds.

To begin, sit on a chair, or on the floor with legs crossed or extended straight together in front of you. Use whatever bolsters you need to ensure that the spine is long, upright, aligned, and at ease. Take a few long, slow breaths as you take stock: What is it that you wish to delete from your mind and heart; and what elusive positive quality would you like to integrate?

When you have a goal to which you may dedicate this practice, you are ready to move. Start by isolating the pelvis: Inhale to tip the pelvis forward (which will create a slight arch in the low back); exhale to rock it back (which gently rounds the lumbar region). 

Special note: If you have any difficulty honing in on this movement, place your fingers on the front of the pelvic rim, with the thumbs on the back of the rim (iliac crest). As you inhale, use the thumbs to press the pelvis forward, as the fingers direct it a bit downward. Then, upon exhale, press the fingers into the pelvic rim to tip it back, as the thumbs press in and down to tilt the pelvis back and down.

Once the fingers release from their initial aid of the move (if you found it necessary), rest the hands—palms down—on the thighs as you rock and roll, tilting the pelvis forward and back. Continue for 3 minutes, increasing the speed as you see fit. Make the breath deep and powerful, and sense the awakening of the entire low back and belly.

Now, come to standing. Moving from the pelvis into the waist, begin large torso circles. For the purpose of today’s practice, these standing circles serve as a circulatory exercise: However, I also include them to highlight the difference between circling the torso and eventual Sufi grinding. As you circle the entire upper body (hands on hips), the pelvis remains fairly stationary: The focus of the torso circles is to warm up throughout the entire waist circumference, while encouraging deep breathing and blood flow. Circle clockwise for 1 minute, then reverse the circles for another minute.

Still standing, use your arms to clear the auric space (magnetic field) around you. By doing so, the path is cleared for both the removal and intake of old and new energies, respectively. Standing strong, inhale, and criss-cross the arms in front of you, moving upward from about the waist to directly overhead. Complete this rise in 4 crosses of the arms. 

Then, without stopping, touch each thumb to the palm-side base of its pinky finger: Curl the other fingers around the thumb to form a fist on each hand. Exhale to circle the arms with fisted hands out and down to the sides: Circle 4 times to lower the arms all the way, making circles of about 4-6 inches. Both arms make outward circles, i.e, the right arm circles clockwise as the left circles counter-clockwise. Continue the crosses up and the circles down for 1 minute.

Now, return to the floor, and come to all fours. Here, take 1 minute to engage fully with Cat/Cow spinal flexes. The lower spine and upper body have been warmed up, so move deeply and at a good clip as you inhale to extend (arch) the spine, and exhale to flex (round). 

Next, find your way into a seated crossed-leg position. (Although you may sit on a chair or with legs extended straight, the full benefit of Sufi Grind is experienced most easily in Easy Pose.) Place the hands on the knees: You will use your hands to help encourage and direct the rotational movement of Sufi Grinds. Keeping the arms actively engaged, inhale to tilt the pelvis forward and allow the spine to arch naturally, opening the front body. As the breath continues to flow in, circle the body to the right: Use the right hand on the knee to pull you to the right, as the left hand pushes against the left knee to further aid the movement.

Then, as you exhale to circle into the back space, tilt the pelvis back and under; the spine will respond naturally into a flexed (rounded) shape. Continue to exhale as you circle around to the left: The left hand pulls, as the right hand pushes. As you approach the front space and your start position, the exhale completes. You are thus ready to inhale and begin the clockwise “grind” again. To reap the deep-cleaning and eliminative benefit of Sufi Grinding, accentuate each part of the movement: However, do so seamlessly; the move should feel luxuriously thorough and fluid.

Circle clockwise for 2 minutes, then reverse, and circle to the left for an additional 2 minutes. Move at a pace that allows complete breaths and total fulfillment of each phase of the move, and that also actively creates warmth. You may speed up as you grow more comfortable with the movement.

When finished, sit quietly for a few breaths, allowing the body’s natural rhythms to return. Then, remind yourself of whatever quality or habit you wish to eject from your being. With that in mind, create a cross of both hands in Ardachandra Mudra: Each hand is palm-open, fingers together and straight, with the thumb reaching out to the side. Place the right hand in front of the Heart Center, palm facing out, fingers pointing up. The left palm, facing toward you, covers the right; left fingers point right. 

Special note: As stated in Mudras of India (Carroll, Carroll, p. 68), “This mudra represents destruction of one’s ignorance and realization of one’s true nature.”

With eyes closed and focused on the Third Eye, inhale through the nose; exhale forcefully and quickly through a wide-open mouth, tongue extended out and down. Feel free to make any sounds than naturally want to accompany the purifying exhale. Breathe in and out in this manner 10 times.

Finally, focus on the perspective or behavior with which you wish to fortify your inner adjustment. To support this commitment to change, place the left hand on the Heart Center. The right arm is bent at the elbow, resting against your side, as if taking an oath. Form a gentle fist of the right hand, palm forward, with the index finger extending straight up. The right hand of the gesture forms an antenna through which the wisdom of the Universe enters and meets your intention; the left hand ensures that your Heart and its inherent wisdom oversee the new energy. Breathe through the nose, deeply and slowly, with eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye. Continue for 3-11 minutes, and then release into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…