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…

New Audio Practice!

As a way to transition into the New Year, I offer a brief respite from whatever tension may have accrued from the holidays, or from the inevitable stress that accompanies the ongoing pandemic. If you would like to instill a sense of ease in the body and peace in the mind and heart, look for “Release Valve” at the following address:

anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

Once there, you can scroll down for additional practices. You can also choose to listen to any of the practices on Spotify. (The link is clear when you visit the anchor.fm site.)

May you be well and safe, and may we all find hope in the year to come…

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: Foot Notes–Release and Invigorate

Today’s routine is the result of a spontaneous session that found its way into my morning practice yesterday. Although a licensed massage therapist who started her bodywork adventures with the study of reflexology, I nonetheless sometimes forget how immediate and profound the results of working with the feet can be. If this Silent Sunday finds you feeling out of sorts in any way, I recommend the following practice: These techniques will roust you from any lethargy or malaise, and promote a strong sense of vitality and centeredness.

Begin with a sequence designed to awaken breath and unfurl the feet and ankles. On all fours, lower your upper body to rest on the forearms (elbows under shoulders, palms flat, forearms parallel to each other): Hips remain directly over knees. Now, bring the forearms to touch each other, and slide the elbows in a bit, so that they are under the center of the chest. The palms are now together, head is slightly cocked up, and the thumbs extend straight up. In this position, begin a gentle rock back and forth: inhale as you shift forward, moving the chest over the hands; exhale to shift back, allowing the hips to move straight back. Maintain this inhale forward, exhale back rhythm for about 30 seconds.

Then, still moving fluidly, forward and back, extend the breaths: Inhale deeply for 8 counts—you will probably rock back and forth about 4-6 times; then exhale long and deep for 12, maintaining a steady back and forth movement, probably 6-8 rocks. Continue for 3 minutes.

From here, press up onto the hands, elbows slightly bent to protect the joint. If your wrists bother you here, fist the hands, or remain on the forearms (in the original forearms shoulder-width apart/palms flat position). Extend the right leg straight back along the ground, ball of the foot on the floor. Begin another forward and back rock, moving through the ankle joint and opening the sole of the foot. Inhale forward, exhale back 12 times (6 rocks in each direction). Bring the right leg in, extend the left leg back, and repeat the same move, pressing through the ball of the foot.

Now, lower onto your belly, knees bent, lower legs hovering and releasing toward the buttocks. If possible, keep the head down, resting on the forehead or chin. Reach back to lightly hold each ankle with its respective hand. (If you can not reach without strain, lift the head slightly, and keep the chin slightly tucked.) With the fingers on the fronts of the ankles, thumbs resting on the heel or Achilles tendon, begin to pulsate the fingers to vibrate the ankles: Continue until the entire foot responds and shakes loosely and easily. It may take up to a minute for the feet to release; once they do, continue the rapid vibrating and shaking for another minute.

From here, release the hands and feet, and shift up onto all fours, and immediately into Downward Dog. In this variation, forego any need to “perfect” the posture; mostly, you want the benefits of the inversion and long spine. In your version, begin to walk the heels up and down, alternating from right to left, for about 30 seconds. 

Then, help yourself lower to the floor, and lie on your back. With knees bent, feet flat and hip width apart, place the hands on the mid-thighs. Use the hands to keep the knees still, and begin to supinate and pronate the feet: Inhale as the feet roll to their inner edges; exhale to roll to the outer edges. The entire leg will try to join the back and forth movement; by keeping the knees quiet, the movement emphasizes ankle mobility. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, draw both knees in toward the body. Bring them in just enough, so that you can rest the right hand on the front of the right ankle, and place the left thumb to the right heel. (For some, the opposite hold may feel better: Use the left hand to steady the foot, and the right thumb to create movement.) Use the thumb to vibrate the ankle rapidly; the opposite hand acts a s a ballast to localize the vibration. Ultimately, the entire foot will shake free. Continue for 30-60 seconds, and repeat on the left side.

You may remain on your back for the next bit, or rise to sit: Whichever position you choose, you need to be able to reach the feet without strain.

Once you have a comfortable position, begin by massaging the right heel, fingers on one side, thumb on the other. Use firm, but not deep pressure: Move organically, allowing your innate energies to determine speed and direction of the stroke. Continue for 1 minute, right heel only.

Now, begin to pinch-and-release the right Achilles tendon with the right thumb and index finger: inhale to squeeze, exhale to release. If any tender area arises, pinch firmly with the inhale; hold as you also rub-and-roll with the thumb and finger; then exhale to release. Repeat until you feel a sense of relief.

Next, apply more specific pressure. Bring the thumb tip to the inner ankle bone: palpate around the edges of the roundish malleolus, noting top, bottom, and rims. Mentally divide the bone in half—front half of the circle, and back half: Think two half-moons. With the thumb, begin to exert pressure just behind (i.e., toward the Achilles) the top edge of the posterior (back) half-moon. Inhale to press, exhale to release. Repeat 4-6 times.

Then, move down a bit, still adjacent to the edge of the rear half-moon of the ankle bone. Repeat the pressure technique 4-6 times. Again move down, repeat; and finally, press on the fourth point at the base of the ankle bone.

Each of the above points stimulates Kidney energy. As such, a steady flow of qi (“Life Force”) is released through the meridian: This organ system settles fear and anxiety, and provides a deep sense of calm and connection to the Universe, while increasing physical vitality.

To complete the “trip” around the ankle bone for this practice, apply another round of pressure to Bladder 60 (or, Urinary Bladder–UB– 60). This point lies just behind the top rim of the lateral ankle bone, directly opposite the first point—Kidney 3—practiced above. Because Kidney and Bladder are each others Yin/Yang partners, respectively, the addition of a Bladder point to the primarily Kidney session promotes a profound sense of harmony. The application of pressure to Bladder 60 also can help with headaches and insomnia.

Repeat the entire pressure-point sequence on the left ankle bone. Then, simultaneously bring the middle finger tips to the soles of their respective feet. Press just beneath the center ball of each foot, in a line down from between the 2nd and 3rd toes. Inhale to press, exhale to release: Breathe purposefully, as the exhale will flush out stagnant qi, and make way for fresh energy to fill this “Bubbling Spring” point. It is said that this is the most crucial of all foot points: Life Force emanates from this point, and floods the system with beneficial Yin energy. Continue the pressure-point work until all tenderness and tension has dissipated.

Finally, lie on your back. Begin to flex and extend the feet: Note how these “ankle pumps” move more freely and fully now; you may even feel that the toes are further apart from each other, and more relaxed. Additionally, the foot movement creates a “flossing” of the sciatic nerve, which will help keep back and leg pain at bay. Flex and extend the feet, simultaneously or alternately, 8-12 times. Then release fully into Svasana, and allow the energetic nourishment to flow. Remain in rest 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