Silent Sundays: Rejoice In It

Yesterday was a lovely day.

After more than a couple of years (years!) of ever-increasing and -isolating pain, I was able to host a get-together to thank my generous friends—my intrepid helpers during the most physically challenging and depleting phase of my life. 

What may seem simple and easy to most (and once did to me) was instead an unusually affirming experience, and one that tickled tears of gratitude as I went about preparing for the event: several trips to the grocery store (on my own!); a stop at the wine store (carried the bottles myself!); cleaning my apartment (washed the floor on hands and knees!); and finally, preparing food and trays (stood comfortably in one spot for an extended period!). 

By the time my friends arrived for the garden party, I was tired (and admittedly achy), but happy. As soon as I saw their faces and exchanged hugs (actual, physical hugs!), my energy returned. And as the afternoon went on, I watched, absorbed, and marveled at the open hearts spreading their energy amongst each other, most of whom were meeting for the first time.

When the day was over and I went back up to my apartment, I reveled in the quiet space, and also in the energies that had permeated the afternoon. I was acutely aware of God’s presence, both in that moment, and in all the moments of ferocious pain and despair that had driven the formation of this group of caring friends. As I slowly put away trays and food, and then showered and changed into sleep clothes, I offered my thanks to God and the Universe. 

Upon waking this morning, I recalled the abiding awe of peace and gratitude from yesterday. And I thought of my grandmother, Fanny, my mom’s mom, and a conversation we had had in her final years. One day when visiting, I found her in her favorite blue armchair, her beloved Bible nestled in her lap. When I asked about her daily devotions, she shared with me her favorite of the Old Testament Psalms: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).”

My grandmother emphasized the word “in”: “Rejoice in it…” I have come to believe that her reading reflected the way that she had lived much of her life: After her husband decided not to return from overseas after World War II, Grandma became a single mother. Like the war widows of her time, she kept her family afloat by what we would now describe as “living in the Now.” Then, it was a matter of keeping her head down, getting food on the table, and, for her, tethering her will to faith in God. Grandma Morse had lived in it—in the day, every day—as a sheer matter of necessity.

To endure those circumstances, however, was not a reason to bemoan her lot: Rather, it was an opportunity to double-down on fervent Faith. 

Additionally, I sensed that Grandma recognized that when one feels God’s presence (or, feels the energetic workings of the Universe), it is a renewed chance to inhabit God’s Love. It is a moment—it is the Day Created—in which to join with eternal wonders and Mysteries.

So often, I create movement and meditation practices designed to shift or alter a state of being. On this Silent Sunday, however, I offer a practice to exalt and expand—within and without—times of rejoicing. From grand events to moments of calm contentment, the following session will deepen your connection to the positive vibrations in and around you. With today’s routine, the goal is fuse with and integrate a state of profound awareness: “Rejoice in it.”

The Practice

Because the first movement sequence requires breath suspension and retention, begin with a warm-up to encourage full, steady breathing. From standing, bend the knees a bit, and lean forward about 30 degrees to place the hands on the thighs, just above the knees. In this stance,  begin spinal flexes: Inhale to arch (extend) the spine; exhale to round (flex). The semi-upright position may feel stiff or awkward at first: Use the depth of your breath and the ballast of the hands on the legs to encourage a fuller expression of the movement. Continue for 1 minute.

Slowly rise to stand upright. Here begins a sequence of arm and torso movements with focused breathing. Inhale to raise the arms up through the side space to an angle of 60 degrees with left and right arms: a big V with the arms. Keep the breath in as you gently arch back, letting the head tilt back and the Heart Center to open. Promote the sense of exalting your good feelings as you give thanks for them. 

When you need to, exhale, straighten up, and bring the palms together overhead. Continue to exhale as the Prayer Hands move down to rest on the Heart Center. Retain the empty breath for as long as you can, filling yourself with positively imbued Heart energy.

Inhale to extend the arms straight out in front of the Heart, palms up, pinky edges of the hands touching. Tilt the head back slightly as you focus your closed eyes on the Third Eye. With the breath in, the position creates a dual purpose: an offer of gratitude to God and the Universe, and an open vessel in which to receive their energies.

As you exhale, right the head, and open the arms out wide to the sides at shoulder level. With the palms facing forward, make light fists, thumbs extended straight up. The arms remain long and equidistant from each other as you begin to twist through the torso: Inhale as you twist left, exhale right; allow the head to turn with the arms. Alternate back and forth 12 times (6 twists to each side). 

Special note: Helicopter Arms clear the magnetic field around you, while stimulating upper-body meridians. The movement establishes an optimal environment in which to integrate an especially appreciated vibration.

Repeat the entire sequence—arms up to 60 degrees; down into Prayer at the chest; extended forward; open to the sides; and then “helicoptering”—5 more times.

Next, help yourself down to lie on the floor. Here, you will need a yoga block, similarly sized book, firm pillow, or thickly rolled blanket: Place the bolster under your sacrum; the shoulder blades should be on the ground, with no tension in the neck. Let the hands rest on the floor, palms up, in Gyan Mudra: index fingers and thumb tips touching on each hand. Eyes are closed, gazing at the Third Eye. This position encourages a full and peaceful opening to whatever energy you intend to consolidate. Remain here for 3-5 minutes.

Then, slowly remove the prop. Still on your back, extend both arms and both legs straight up to 90 degrees: Dead Bug pose. In this nerve-stabilizing position, inhale as you flex the ankle, curl and clench the toes, and make tight fists of the hands (palms face each other). Exhale to extend through the ankle, release the toes, and press through the balls of the feet; simultaneously open the fingers wide to stretch through the now slightly angled-up palms. Continue this clench-and-open pattern through the hands and feet, moving rapidly with the breath, for 1 minute.

Finally, lower the arms and legs to move into Svasana. Once again revisit the sensibility with which you want to infuse your being. Welcome it as you inhale; guide it deep within as you exhale. Then, allow yourself to dwell fully in your sanctum: Rejoice in it.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: In the Yin

Last week, I offered an active clearing ritual to usher in a new year— one that was particularly welcome after a bewilderingly unsettling 2020. The practice involved movement and plenty of props and objects: It was decidedly meant to shift external energy. On this Silent Sunday, I suggest a practice at the opposite end of the spectrum. Today’s offering turns fully inward; the experience of doing so can bring surprising realizations.

As 2020 forced most of us to contend with discomfort—be it mental, physical or spiritual—lessons in endurance ensued. Sometimes, the best recourse seemed to be distraction: Pick up a new hobby; tech your way into Zoom calls and parties; begin a workout regime, etc. On the other hand, some moments paralyzed any effort to put on a happy face; those times called for complete retreat.

Today, I suggest a way to abide the dis-ease, to dwell in short-term discomfort. With no objects or sounds to distract, yin yoga requires one to enter a complete, minimalist inhabitation of posture. Time spent in each pose can seem an eternity… until the inevitable shift of muscle, mind, and breath occurs. At that moment, discomfort yields to allowance; a deeply satisfying peace descends, made all the more profound by the challenge involved in achieving it.

There are only three positions in the following practice. Before you begin, understand that yin yoga carries an inherent degree of “hardness,” despite its name: The mind rises up to rebel at the duration of each pose; the muscles resist release; and emotions can be stirred unexpectedly. Yet, the result is one of infinite reward: calm, vibrant energy, in a revitalized body.

Each of the three postures has a short warm-up movement to prepare for the task to come. For the first yin pose, come onto all fours for traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes. Spend about a minute with the inhales leading into deeply extended arch (like a back bend); and the exhales rounding the spine into exaggerated flexion (full rounding of the spine, like a “scaredy cat”). Then, when the back muscles feel warm and loosened, lower down onto the belly for Sphinx Pose: propped on the forearms, shoulder blades drawn down, outer shoulders rolled back. Legs may be extended straight behind; during the time in the pose, lift the lower legs (bend the knees) for a deeper stretch. Remain here, eyes closed, breathing normally, yet consciously, for 3-5 minutes.

When you are ready to transition to the next pose, ever-so-slowly press back into Baby Pose for up to 1 minute. You may be surprised to feel a deep stiffness as you leave yin Sphinx: This is normal; with the time spent in deep yin, the muscles need equal time to rebound into their natural state of contract/release. 

From Baby Pose, roll up, and then help yourself to lie on your back. Extend the legs into the air: Begin to flex and point the feet as you bend and straighten the knees, respectively. This inversion will aid circulation, while the warm-up movements will help the legs  ease into the next yin posture.

Now, using your hands to help “hoist,” if necessary, bring both legs back over the head for Plow Pose. If the feel do not touch down on the floor behind you, that is okay: Slide a pillow under your hips to help support the backward roll of the spine; then, allow the legs to hang, knees bent if needed. During the time in the posture, you may well note the release that allows the feet to come all the way to the floor over your head, behind you. Work your way into this pose for another 3-5 minutes.

Finally, roll gently down from Plow: Let both knees fall in toward the chest, easing your way out of the pose. Extend the legs straight up into the air again, and give them brief shake or rub. Then, bend the knees, bringing the feet to the floor. From here, tip both knees to the right, and then to the left: inhale in the upright center position, exhale as the legs “windshield wiper” to each side. Let the lower spine acclimate to this moving twist for 1 minute. Then, slowly extend the legs straight out onto the floor. 

Now you are ready for Spinal Twist. Bring the right knee in toward you; guide it to the left side of the body, using your left hand to help. The right arm may rest by your side, or out to the side at shoulder level; allow the head to turn or stay centered, as feels right to you. Remain in this gentle twist for 3-5 minutes. When you are ready to switch sides, do so with care: If you need to rest briefly on your back with both legs straight for a few breaths, feel free. Then, bend the left knee in toward you, and guide it over to the right to move into the twist. Again, spend another 3-5 minutes breathing deeply, noting any discomfort, and allowing time and gravity to ease your way into peace.

When you have completed the twist on both sides, lie on your back, covered with a blanket, for a consolidating Svasana. Rest here for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…