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: Feeling the Full Moon? Power Up to Settle Down

This Silent Sunday falls the day before the Full Moon of April 26. As always, a Full Moon brings heightened energies: Sometimes, the feeling is one of adrenalin and sleeplessness; other times, the Universe seems to throw curve ball after curve ball; and most of the time, our nerves are easily frayed or taunted. According to Susan Miller’s analysis on astrologyzone.com, however, this Full Moon is super-charged with challenge: specifically, with regard to compromise.

When I hear (or read) the word, “compromise,” I infer that a conflict or power struggle is under way. Two or more people or groups fail to agree; or, one may be waging an inner war of indecision. The road forward, then, lies in the art of compromise. Agree to disagree; find a halfway point; give a little to get a little; perhaps brainstorm a brand new option—each possibility moves toward compromise, which in turn shifts the tenor and trajectory of the situation.

When compromise seems unattainable, emotions and perspectives stall: One becomes locked into a viewpoint; grudges and blame begin to form; and the heart goes into defensive mode, with no room for the head to mediate. As one who historically has avoided conflict, this Full Moon once could have triggered anxiety. Now, however, I prefer to take the caution of challenging days ahead as an opportunity to stand firm, while remaining open and fluid.

Thus, when the Full Moon—or any earthly circumstance—delivers daunting or distressing energies (typically,  planetary events can be felt plus-or-minus 4 days from their actual occurrence), shore up your inner strength and prepare to learn. As Susan Miller noted, “…[T]ake in what the full moon will reveal…. That full moon will work to give you the information you’ll need to protect yourself… [and] to make sound decisions.”

In honor of April 26’s Full Moon, today’s practice is designed to ground and stabilize, while allowing room to adapt and flow. By rooting, then moving freely, the mind and nerves are reminded that they can accommodate any conditions. And although this Silent Sunday focuses on coping with an exceptionally charged Full Moon, the following practice can be used in anticipation of or response to any situation or period of stress and uncertainty.

First, find two equally weighted objects. You may use gym-style free weights; you also may use cans of soup or vegetables; water bottles; or even yoga sand bags.  Choose a heaviness that you can bear, with movement, for 1-3 minutes.

Special note: These props will enhance the grounding effect of today’s moves; upon their release, a feeling of freedom and lightness will abound.

With one weight in each hand, stand tall, feet a natural width apart. Let the arms hang by your sides, and allow the weights to help root your stance. With this downward pull, reach the head, neck, and spine long, as if extending up and out of the standing posture. Tilt the head back slightly, and gaze at a spot on the ceiling: Focus intently, and breathe slowly and deeply here for 1 minute.

Next, widen your stance a bit. Bend the knees softly, and bring the weights up next to the shoulders: Elbows are tucked into the ribs, and the palms face forward. Here, begin a rapid, small bounce through the legs; move vigorously enough that the entire torso feels the reverberation. Continue this nervous system reset for 2 minutes.

Now, straighten up into a standing position again. Still holding the weights, bring the feet as close together as feels comfortable and stable. Bring the arms overhead, and then bend the elbows, lowering the hands behind the head: The backs of the hands or knuckles rest against each other. Inhale through the nose, and rise onto the toes; exhale powerfully through rounded lips as you lower onto the heels and extend the arms up by lengthening through the elbows. Inhale again onto tiptoes as the arms lower; exhale through the mouth to lengthen the arms and root into the feet. Repeat for a total of 26 lifts and lowers. (As always, begin with fewer repetitions, if needed.)

Then, resurrect the squat-bounce with weights static in front of the shoulders. Continue the tiny, quick bounces for 1-3 minutes.

You may now place your props safely to the side of your practice space. From standing, bend the knees a bit, and bring your torso as close to parallel with the floor as possible. (If your back is tender, lean forward only as far as feels right for you.) In this position, let the arms dangle straight down from the shoulders: Do nothing here but breathe fully and steadily through the nose for 1 minute.

Now, in the same semi-forward-bend, begin to swing the arms loosely: Inhale as they swing wide open to the sides; exhale as they criss-cross easily underneath your torso. Move swiftly and freely with these arm swings for 1 minute.

Remain in the posture, if possible; if you feel that you need a break, you may also do the next move in an upright standing position. Regardless, inhale as the left arm swings forward, and the right swings back; exhale to swing the right forward as the left goes back. (If bent to the full 90-degree angle with the torso, the forward arm would extend alongside the head; the rear arm would swing back as if reaching past the hip.) Again, move as quickly and fluidly as possible for 1 minute.

Next, stand up tall. Begin the same rapid bouncing that you did with weights; however, this time, let your body bounce and shake and move in any direction, at any level. Let the arms move as they want; engage the full body into the fast-paced vibrating for 1 minute.

Finally, again from standing, inhale through the nose to lengthen the arms straight overhead as you rise onto the toes. Make tight fists as you rise onto the toes and suspend the breath for as long as possible. When you need to exhale, release the fists as you drop the arms; drop firmly into the heels; and exhale with “bellow breath”—strong and short through an open mouth. Repeat 2 more times.

Now, make your way to the floor for Cat/Cow spinal flexes. As much as this is a traditional spinal warm-up, it also serves here as a grounded-yet-moving asana: Use the movement to further remind the body, mind, and nerves that they can feel rooted while in motion. Continue this move for 1 minute.

From all fours, shift back into Baby Pose. Reach the hands around to hold the feet, fingers firm against the soles. Keep the head on the floor (you may roll forward toward the crown) as you round the spine. The knees and feet and head remain grounded; the hips and spine try to lift up and away into Rabbit Pose. Breathe and move as deeply into the posture as possible for about 10 full breaths.

Then, slowly release into Baby Pose, where you will take a few natural-rhythm breaths. When you are ready, help yourself into Svasana to consolidate and integrate the steadying and grounding quantities of your practice.

Happy Sunday…