Silent Sundays: Keep It Simple, Part I–Calm And Cool

This Silent Sunday welcomes a new, three-part series: Keep It Simple. A great irony of a physical or spiritual discipline is that when one most needs to engage with the practice, is also the moment when it may be most challenging to do so. If tired, how to find the energy to revitalize? When despondent or frustrated, how to rise up and find perspective?

When you are short on time or motivation, turn to the routine that speaks to your particular need. Each practice uses only a few moves; however, their synergy will powerfully stimulate the quality of mental, physical, and/or spiritual energy that you intend to evoke. 

The themes of each practice roughly correspond with specific chakras. For example, in today’s “Calm and Cool” session, there is a strong emphasis on the Root (First Chakra) and Heart (Fourth Chakra). Grounding, stabilizing moves, plus those that ease Fire energy will leave you feeling steady, centered, and at peace.

To begin, you will need a foam or cork yoga block (or large paperback book, or firm pillow). Begin in Baby Pose. Settle the buttocks down onto the heels, and let the body rest on the thighs; adjust the position, so that your base is narrow, i.e., knees together, or very close. 

Rest your forehead on the block, brows on the near edge; eyes are closed. The arms rest on the ground alongside the legs, palms up. Inhale through the nose; extend the tongue out, and exhale through the open mouth. Complete 5 of these breaths.

Then, remove the head prop; forehead rests on the ground. Interlace the hands behind you, and raise the arms as high above the back as you can. Breathe in and out through the nose here for 1 minute.

Now, ease up to sitting on the heels, and come forward onto all fours. Curl the toes under, so that you can lift the hips, and move toward an easy Downward Dog. 

Let the position be relaxed, rather than a “perfected pose.” The heels are lifted, the knees are slightly bent, and the head hangs freely. Here, begin to “wag” the hips from side to side; let the knees and heels swivel, too, as you move your “tail” back and forth. Breathe deeply, and continue for 30 seconds, or so.

Bring the movement to a close; perhaps find a more traditional, fuller expression of Downward Dog for a few breaths. When you are ready, walk the feet toward the hands.

In this approximation of Standing Forward Bend, inhale: Exhale to bring the hips down into a crouch, i.e., buttocks drop to heels. Inhale to lengthen the legs, returning toward Forward Bend; exhale into the crouch.

Each time the hips come down to the heels, the torso becomes upright; each time the hips lift, the body inverts forward and down. Continue this inhale hips up, exhale hips down motion for 1 minute. Breathe powerfully through the nose.

Next, come into a seated position for Sufi Grinds. Circle the entire torso clockwise: Deeply “stir” the ribcage and organs to eliminate stagnancy and negativity. Circle to the right for 1 minute; reverse, circling counter-clockwise, for 1 more minute.

Now, still seated, extend the arms to the sides at shoulder level. Bend at the elbows to create “pitchfork” arms. With the arms aloft and bent to 90 degrees, curl the middle finger into the palm of each hand; use the respective thumb to hold it down. Palms face forward.

Begin to twist the upper body: Inhale left, exhale right. Breathe deeply through the nose. Start as slowly as you need to, and aim to pick up the pace as the body becomes comfortable with the movement. Eyes are closed, breath is strong, arms and mudra are up: Each exhale to the right releases overstimulated Fire energy, and eases the Heart into harmony. Continue for 1 minute.

Finally, prepare for Sitali pranayama. In your preferred seated position for meditation, curl the tongue into a tube, and extend the tip through the lips. If you cannot form this “straw,” simply extend the tongue tip through the barely parted lips.

Inhale through the tongue (or parted lips); exhale through the nose. (Slightly retract the tongue when you breathe out through the nose.) Eyes are closed, gazing to the Third Eye. Hands rest on the knees or thighs: left palm up, right palm down. Sitali breath cools the mind and body, and introduces gentleness and serenity to your system. Continue for 3 minutes, and then ease into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Homestead–Conclusion: Solar-Powered and Heart-Centered

Last week, I began this series, “Homestead,” with a question: What is your psycho-spiritual, interpersonal, most balanced state of being? From where does that particular energy emanate? In sum, what is your Center of Operation, your Homestead?

In Part One, I offered what I perceive to be my personal set-point: Intuition, and its (for me, sometimes elusive) energetic harmonizer, Rootedness. The routine provided the means to connect the First and Sixth chakra, so that the base of the Lower Triangle could readily accommodate the near-tip of the Upper Triangle of chakras.

Then, a few days ago, I explored Creativity and its necessary colleague, Expression. In sum, the practice stimulated and joined the Second and Fifth chakras, so that one’s creative spark could find its way to manifestation.

Today, in conclusion, I suggest what arguably could be the most essential Homestead pairing: the Third and Fourth chakras. Regardless of the energies that seem to come most easily for you, or those that you turn to when challenged, the vibrations that stir from the Solar Plexus and Heart Center are fail-proof for all. When in doubt, turn to your Heart; when beleaguered, delve into the Solar Plexus for confidence and perseverance.

With that in mind, today’s practice may be seen as The One to use as a catch-all boost or remedy. I, for example, who feel most at home in the Sixth Chakra (or Third Eye), often need to stimulate the Earth-based energy of the Root, or First Chakra. Because that vibration is not my strongest, I need Sun Energy to motivate me; and because I want to ensure that any practice resounds with Truth, I need to include the vibration of the Heart Center. Thus, no matter your Homestead—your comfort zone—its energies will be enhanced by this Solar-Powered, Heart-Centered practice.

To begin, lie on your belly. Place the arms in “pitchfork” or “scarecrow” position: upper arms at shoulder level, elbows bent to 90 degrees, with the forearms perpendicular to the upper arms. The palms face down; the head may lie on either cheek.

With eyes closed, begin long, deep breaths through the nose. Because you are prone, breathing requires more effort, as the belly, ribs, and chest must work against the floor. Use this sensed resistance to focus on the physical regions of the Third and Fourth Chakra: from the base of the ribs, to the sternum. With each inhale, consciously draw the intention of awakening energy to these areas; with each exhale, send the gathered vibrations out through the torso and limbs. Continue this opening breath and visualization for 3 minutes.

From lying, press back into Baby Pose. Interlace the hands behind the back, with the index fingers extended and together to form a pointer. Lift the arms as far up and away from the back as possible; extend long through the elbows. This stretch opens and charges the Heart and related meridians that run through the arms. Inhale in the raised-arm position; exhale to lower the arms down to the back. Move as rapidly as you can: inhale arms up, exhale down. Continue for 3 minutes, taking a break as needed.

From Baby Pose, roll up to sit on your heels, and then “stand” on the knees. (Use whatever bolsters or padding you need to make this possible.) With hands on the low back or bottom, inhale to curve back into a modified Camel; exhale back up to neutral. Continue this moving, modified Camel—inhale to arch back, exhale to re-align—for 1 minute.

Then, immediately come forward into a Plank Pose, as in the initial position for push-ups: if necessary, bring the knees to the floor as a modification. Hold this strong, long position, and begin Breath of Fire through the mouth: rapid, equal breaths, like a panting dog. Continue for about 30 seconds, and then close the mouth and continue Breath of Fire through the nose for another full minute.

Immediately return to the Moving Camel position. Standing on the knees, hands placed on the low back or buttocks for support, inhale to arch back, exhale up to neutral. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, instead of Plank, help yourself onto your back. Immediately raise the legs—straight and together—1-2 feet off of the ground: The higher the lift, the less taxing it will be for the low back. Simultaneously, raise the head and shoulders up, reach the arms straight out, and gaze at the feet: Begin Breath of Fire through the nose; continue this Stretch Pose for 1 minute.

From this highly energizing posture, lower the legs. Bend the knees, and keep the feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Raise the hips into Half-Bridge; interlace the hands under the lifted body, and extend the arms toward the feet. Roll the shoulders open as much as possible, feeling the stretch across the chest. Breath fully and deeply, allowing the belly to rise and fall as you do so. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, lower down, and draw the knees in toward the chest. Make yourself into as small and tight of a ball as possible; begin rolling back and forth on the spine for about a minute. This movement helps to consolidate, and then spread the stimulated Solar Plexus and Heart Center energies throughout the system.

Special note: This Ball Roll (appropriately called “Roll Like A Ball” in Pilates, and ubiquitous as a transitional move in Kundalini Yoga) is an exceptionally centering and elucidating exercise on its own. Practice the Ball Roll for 1-3 minutes anytime you want to shed or neutralize unwanted energy, and replace it with calmness and confidence.

From Ball Roll, shift yourself into a seated posture. Place the left hand on the chest, so that the thumb tip and index finger tips reach up to touch the collar bone; the palm is splayed wide against the chest wall, with the other fingers together, relaxed, and pointing to the right.

Place the right hand beneath the left, against the Solar Plexus. The right thumb extends up to touch the lower (pinky-side) edge of the left hand, with the right fingers together, relaxed, and pointing to the left.

With eyes closed and the mudra in place, begin long, deep breathing through the nose. As you breathe, use your mind’s eye to draw an oval of circulation from the right palm into the left, and back into the right: Continue this visualized loop of breath for 3- 7 minutes. When you feel finished, ease into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…