Silent Sundays: Moon Meld–A Short, Soothing Practice

On this Silent Sunday, we find ourselves feeling the energy of a Full Moon. As noted two weeks ago, this moon will balance the unsettling New Moon of August 8; today’s moon will provide unusually pleasant vibrations. Nonetheless, any Full Moon inherently brings the heightened stimuli of a month’s worth of lunar energy

As many yogis know, Full Moon Days suggest a pacifying practice: Movements should be gentle, rest ample, and breath slower and deeper. Today’s session commits to those principles, and adds another—perhaps lesser known—aspect to consider: release and expulsion. As the moon moved through its phases, we, too, gathered and likely stored energy: With the Full Moon comes a time to release unnecessary emotion or thought. Think of the end of a year—the energetic culmination of 12 months—when one anticipates a fresh start. Many practices at that time call for a “detoxifying” approach: Wring out and jettison unwanted energies, in order to make room for the new.

Lunar energy is a bit more specific: In general, moon characteristics are “feminine,” i.e., yin. In the Full Moon phase, however, the cumulative energy takes on a more yang vibration: up and out, versus down and in. The balancing act that is the foundation of today’s practice occurs through the Heart Center: This seat of inner peace, compassion, and equanimity can ease the pull and sway of vigorous Full Moon energies. Thus, the following session will focus on two intentions: Open the Heart, and root out extraneous, stagnant energy.

Special note: Because this Silent Sunday centers on gentle movement in the chest, shoulders, and upper back, it also would be an excellent way to improve posture and ease stiffness in those areas.

If you enjoy working with essential oils, I suggest a pre-practice anointment with lavender and/or geranium; bergamot or neroli, and/or lemon balm; and chamomile. I tend to respond well to the use of several oils, either blended or individually; you may prefer otherwise. For today’s session, I would dab 1-2 drops of bergamot on the low belly (an inch or two below the navel) and sacrum. Then, I would dot 1-2 drops of lavender on the Heart Center, and into the tiny depression at the center of the collar bones. Because this addition of essential oils into the practice is optional, follow your intuition: Choose oils that you find grounding (for the lower chakras) and calming (for the Heart Center and upper chest or neck).

Now, stand a few inches in front of a doorway to begin. Lean toward the open door space, and place your forearms on either side of the door frame, elbows several inches above shoulder level. Feel that the armpits are reaching up, as the shoulder blades move down. Allow your full body weight to fall forward; as the chest opens wide, think of bringing the bottom tips of the shoulder blades together. “Hang” here, breathing deeply through the nose, for 30 seconds.

Slowly move out of the door stretch, and come to your usual practice space. Still standing, bend the knees, lean forward to place the hands on the thighs, and begin standing Cat/Cow spinal flexes: Inhale to arch (extend); exhale to round (flex). Continue for 1 minute.

Then, with the knees still slightly bent for support, bring your torso parallel to the ground, and let the arms hang freely. Begin a back and forth swing with the arms: Inhale as the left arm swings forward and the right swings back; exhale as the right comes forward and the left swings back. Move rapidly, bringing the arms to the level of the torso as they reach the apex of the swing. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, help yourself to the floor and onto your right side. Bend the knees, so that the knees are stacked one atop the other, with the feet in line with the buttocks. The right arm reaches out onto the floor at shoulder level, and the left rests on top of it. As you inhale, retract the left arm by drawing back from the shoulder; the hand will slide along the right arm to about the right elbow. Exhale to slide the left arm forward; the hand will likely slide past the right hand and onto the floor. Continue this subtle back and forth roll for 1 minute.

From your side-lying position, open the left arm all the way to the floor on the left: You will be in a reclined twist. If you need to adjust your leg or arm position, do so. Breathe deeply here: Inhale for 4, exhale for 8. Breathe in this way 3-5 times. Then, repeat the entire sequence—upper-body slide-rolls, and reclined twist with deep breathing—on the other side.

Now come onto your back. Bend the knees, feet flat and hip-width apart: Extend both arms straight up and out from the shoulders, and bring the palms together. Inhale, then exhale as you roll the upper body to the left; inhale back to center, then exhale to the right. The arms remain straight; one shoulder will roll off the floor as you rock to the opposite side. 

Take a few rocks through the upper body only, and then add the lower body. Inhale: Then, as the arms move left with an exhale, drop both knees to the right. (They do not have to reach the floor.) Inhale arms and legs back to center, and immediately exhale to rock arms right and drop legs to the left. Continue this oppositional, alternating movement for 1 minute.

Finally, bring a soft pillow, or folded towel or blanket under your upper back: The head and neck rest easily on the floor. The bolster should be only thick enough to suggest a subtle opening to the Heart Center. With the legs long and arms resting palms-up on the floor, remain in this restorative rest for 1-3 minutes. Then, remove the prop, and settle into traditional Svasana for as long as you like.

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 

Silent Sundays: Reminder Nuggets

Today, Silent Sunday provides an opportunity to revisit some foundational and demonstrably effective ways to attend to emotion, mind, and body. From spinal flex routines, to mighty mudras, to powerful pranayama, to essential oil elixirs, these techniques address myriad concerns and aims.

Special note: Depending on your personal need of the day, you could select one of the following techniques; or, experiment with them all to create a longer customized practice. I will offer an example of such a routine in closing.

First is an array of spinal flexes. These movements never fail to awaken the mind and body. Interestingly, although the flexions, extensions, and rotations are natural and vital for our body and nervous system, they are not typical daily movements in most contemporary cultures. But as a morning wake-up, nightly wind-down, pre-meditation warm-up, or midday attention booster, they are unparalleled.

You may do this combination seated on the floor or a chair, or even standing. Begin by inhaling to arch (extend) the spine forward; then exhale to round (flex) the spine back. Keep the hands in one place (knees or thighs, or on the hips if standing), and focus on moving the spine forward and backward through the frame of the shoulders. Continue for 1-3 minutes, giving yourself plenty of time to move from initial stiffness to fluid ease.

Then, begin Sufi Grinds. This adds side-space movement to the forward/back move: Inhale to move the spine forward and to the right; exhale as you move back, and around to the left, circling the entire torso and allowing the pelvis to move as well. Continue “grinding” clockwise for 1 minute, then reverse to circle to the left. Breathe deeply, and use the movement to massage the inner organs: This is an excellent way to aid digestion.

From here, come onto all fours: Cat/Cow essentially transposes the seated (and thus vertical) spine to a horizontal plane. Any time one shifts movement to another level or orientation, the brain receives a burst of alertness, while circulation improves and muscles are challenged. On your hands and knees, inhale to deeply arch the spine, open the chest, and look forward or slightly up; exhale to round, tuck the tail, and allow the head to hang. Continue for 1 minute: If you find a spot that feels stuck or stiff, remain in the position, breathing and wriggling into the area, and then resume the flex/extend movement.

The next infallible tool in this particular “kit” is Nadi Sodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing. I have found that this pranayama can resolve restlessness, anxiety, overthinking, worry, and even anger: As a balancing, centering technique, it comes to the rescue every time. 

Special note: An easy way to remember when to change fingers/nostrils in this breathing technique is to switch after each inhale. Using this method, the pattern quickly becomes second-nature. 

Sit in your favorite meditative position. Typically, one uses the right hand to guide the breath through the nose; if you are injured or unable to use the right hand, the left is fine. Simply make the necessary adjustment to the following instructions. I enjoy keeping the left hand in the lap, palm up, when practicing this pranayama. If you prefer a mudra, or to keep the palm down, feel free: You also may find that the resting hand wants to do something different each time your practice; follow your intuition and the need of the day.

Further, I tend to use the right thumb and ring finger, with the  flat space between the first and second knuckles of the index and middle fingers resting on the Third Eye. Again, though, if you are more comfortable with a different configuration, e.g., thumb and index as the “operators,” certainly do that. 

Regardless, begin by closing the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril; then, close the left with the ring (or index) finger, and exhale fully and steadily through the right nostril. Inhale through the right; close the right; and exhale through the left. Inhale left; close it; exhale right; inhale right; close; exhale left. Continue with this alternate-side breath for 3-7 minutes.

Now, it is mudra time. There are countless hand and finger configurations in different religions, cultures, and practices. To select even five favorites would be a true challenge for me: Instead, I offer three that find their way into my daily practice almost every time. Each is simple, soothing, and seems to open a portal for prayer and mediation. 

First is a Heart Center mudra. Almost always, I close a kriya, prayer, or meditation with some variation of hands-on-heart: The classic Prayer Mudra is a good example of such a gesture. One version that I use without thinking is to hold my gently fisted right hand with the left, and bring the package to rest on my chest.

As a fundamental hand position during pranayama or meditation, I enjoy placing the left hand in the right, both palms up with the thumb tips touching. Simply rest the hands in the lap or at the base of the belly.

And, of course, Gyan Mudra is a traditional and oft-seen and -used gesture. This classic configuration touches the thumb tip to index finger tip: One may also curl the index fully underneath the thumb, or partially, to about the level of the first knuckle. Gyan mudra is used to enhance communication and to invoke divine wisdom. 

More often than not, I use a different finger as a one-finger mudra. If needing patience and discernment, I’ll touch middle finger to the thumb tip. Or, to energize any thought, movement, or goal of a particular practice, use the ring finger and thumb. To align with subtle and Universal energies, touch pinky to thumb tip. These are all fundamental, powerful mudras; as such, they form the basis of more complex configurations. Use your kinesthetic and intuitive abilities to feel your way toward one that suits you at any given moment.

Finally, a frequently overlooked adjunct to any practice, and a highly therapeutic modality any time: essential oil blending. As with mudras, I find it difficult to choose “favorites,” as I use the oils for specific purposes: However, I do use the following oils most often, either in combination with others, or as their own elixir. Regardless, a carrier oil that harmonizes with your skin is also an important part of creating an oil mix.

Most often, I use jojoba oil as a base. I may blend it with Vitamin E oil, and/or almond oil. Others swear by avocado, apricot, or even olive oil; my skin and nose, however, prefer the more neutral carriers.

As for go-to essential oils: peppermint, lavender, geranium, and vetiver are among my personal staples. In different combinations, I may add eucalyptus or thyme; bergamot, orange, or neroli; or deeper, “woodier,” oils, e.g., patchouli. When selecting oils, sniff them as you would when choosing a fragrance: If it is unappealing, trust that your body will not respond easily to your desired therapeutic goal. If an oil “sparks” or “perks” your nose, it likely will serve as an excellent mood or energy boost. Conversely, an oil whose scent immediately soothes or quiets you will be an excellent start for a grounding blend or sleep aid.

To close, the following is an example of how one might combine the above power-players into a full practice. Begin by anointing yourself with an oil or blend: If you want a more meditative session, try lavender alone, or in combination with vetiver or frankincense. If you need energy or stimulation, peppermint or sweet orange oil are wonderful choices. Regardless, dab your selection onto the soles of the feet, wrists, and temples.

Then, spend a few minutes warming up the spine. If you prefer only the seated spinal flexes, or alternatively, only Cat/Cow, that is fine. Be sure, though, that you move deeply and long enough to expel stiffness from the muscles and distractions from the mind. A thorough stimulation of the spine will aid the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which in turn will enhance concentration and meditation.

With the body prepared, settle in for several minutes of Alternate Nostril Breathing. When you have finished, sit quietly with a selected mudra. Keep the eyes closed, gazing to the Third Eye, and allow the vibrations from movement, breath, and the imbuing oils to settle. If you like, you may further integrate the energies with a few minutes in Svasana.

Happy Sunday…