Grief: The Practice

Special note: The following practice was created to address the complex, often unexpected emotional and physical manifestations of Grief. As such, the routine can provide comfort and stability during any time of trepidation or uncertainty. The moves activate Root and Heart energy, thereby providing a sense of security and hopefulness.

If you find that to engage with the entire routine is too much on any given day, choose only that which resonates with and supports your immediate need. For example, if in a particularly raw state, perhaps you ease only into the bolstered Seated Forward Bend, and then directly to one or more parts of the closing meditation.  

You can find detailed instructions for the practice outlined below in the follow-along audio version, at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson.

Begin standing:

*Side bends with thoracic spine mobilization

This set of movements gradually eases the chest and upper back out of a closed or frozen state. The progressive nature of the sequence provides options: For example, one can choose to work only with the first or second move, rather than proceed to the full expression of the movement. In this way, one can identify and appropriately honor emotional and physical limitations throughout the grieving process.

*Half-stance Cat/Cow

*Crow Squat with Heart projection

Then:

*Baby Pose with moving Yoga Mudra arms

Seated:

*Body Drops

This move from kundalini yoga helps to loosen and eject any energy blocks in the First, or Root Chakra. Stuck energy in this area can exacerbate feelings of insecurity. The assertive movement strengthens the nerves that may feel frazzled by adrenalin, or numbed by uncertainty.

*Upper-body twisting

*Back-platform lifts

*Kundalini Lotus with Breath of Fire

*Supported Forward Bend

Three-part Mudra Meditation:

1) Eyes closed; no particular focus. Hands on low belly, left over right, with right thumb on navel point. Inhale; suspend; squeeze Root Lock; release and exhale; repeat. Continue for 1 minute.

2) Right palm remains on belly; bring the left to rest on the Heart Center. Natural and conscious breathing for 1 more minute.

3)  Bring right hand to cover left; interlock the thumbs; fingers spread and angle out toward shoulders. This is Garuda Mudra: Use judiciously to dispel emotional or physical exhaustion; or to steady shifting moods.

With the closed eyes turned up to gaze at the Third Eye, begin a simple version of a breath taught by Paramahansa Yogananda. Curl the tongue back, reaching the tip toward the rear roof of the mouth; inhale through slightly parted lips, deeply and steadily. Close the lips to exhale, slowly and completely, through the nose. Continue for 1-3 minutes.

To close, sit in simple stillness, or ease into Svasana to rest for as long as you like.

Silent Sundays: Top to Bottom, Part One–Shoulders

This Silent Sunday introduces a new series designed to address the areas of the body and realms of emotion most prone to stress and strife. As the year winds down and the holiday expectations amp up, three zones are easily strained: shoulders, low back, and knees/feet. The corresponding mental and emotional concerns are, respectively, irritability and guilt; fear and the “blues;” and earthly stability and spiritual progress.

In today’s Part One, I offer a short practice to unravel tension in the shoulders and upper spine. Also in this region lies, of course, the Heart Center: Inherently, today’s routine will free the flow of Heart Energy, thereby facilitating a calm approach toward self and others. Additionally, the Throat, or Fifth Chakra will be stimulated, thus allowing one to communicate personal needs and boundaries.

Ironically, I was motivated to create this series after considering a brief hiatus from posting pieces here. Whether it be from “perfectionism” or deep commitment, Guilt began to announce itself as soon as the thought of a break arose. For me, that feeling manifests as tension throughout the shoulder girdle.

So often, our body forms the crux of age-old aphorisms. In the case of Guilt and its effect on the shoulders, the phrase “weight of the world” comes to mind. When one insists on carrying a burden, be it presented from the outside or from within, the result is a physical weighing-down: On those shoulders the burden rests.

This may be a familiar feeling to many, especially around holiday time, when expectations and obligations are high.

Thus, on this Silent Sunday, I offer a quick routine to free the oxen yoke upon which many of us place so much unnecessary load.

Standing, begin with shoulder bounces. A “shrug” emphasizes the upward pull of the shoulder; a “bounce” emphatically, rapidly pulses the shoulder down. First bounce the right shoulder 8 times, then the left; then bounce each 4 times; then 2, alternating twice.

Next, circle the left shoulder back 8 times (only the left); then the right by itself 8 times. Then, again, 4 backward rolls for each; then 2, twice. Then, single alternating rolls 8 times.

Now, alternating left and right forward rolls, incorporate a roll-down through the torso. As the shoulders circle forward, let them bring the body along for the ride: You will roll down through the spine until the spine looks like a candy cane. This is not a traditional Forward Bend; instead, allow the spine to curve—round—naturally as you roll down, allowing the forward shoulder rolls to take you there.

After the first roll-down via forward shoulder circles, roll back up through the spine, allowing the shoulders to rest. Then, repeat the roll-down with shoulder circles two more times.

Now, help yourself to the floor, and lie on your back. With knees bent and feet flat, hip-width apart, allow the knees to fall inward; this is a restful posture for the entire back. Extend both arms straight up toward the ceiling for Shoulder Drops. Imagine that someone is pulling your hand up, lifting the shoulder off the floor slightly, and then dropping the arm. Find a fairly quick rhythm, alternating left and right for 1 minute.

Then, rest the arms on the floor by the sides of the body. Now imagine that someone is tugging one arm down toward the feet: Let the body and head respond; they will shift and roll slightly to the tugged side. Tug one arm 8-12 times, then the other. Then rest briefly, enjoying a few deep, slow breaths.

Next, again extend both arms straight up toward the ceiling, directly above the shoulders. Let the bent knees open, so that they are in line with the feet and hips. Bring the palms together. Now, drop both knees to the left as the arms move to the right. Inhale to bring all parts back to center, then exhale: knees drop to the right as arms move left. Repeat this oppositional movement for 1 minute. Allow the head to move of its own accord; it may or may not choose to participate.

Now, roll onto the belly, forehead resting on the floor. Bring each hand to either side of its shoulder; the placement is not exact, and you may need to adjust as you begin to move. Now, lift the head a bit. Pressing through the left palm, lift and roll the left shoulder away from the floor; let the head turn slightly to the left, as will be its natural inclination. Immediately press through the right hand to roll the shoulder up and way from the floor, turning the head toward the right. Alternate back and forth, left and right, and find a fluid twist through the upper spine and shoulders; the neck will enjoy a subtle release into freedom. Continue for 1-3 minutes, or as long as feels right.

When you are ready, press back into Baby Pose. Interlace the fingers behind the back, and extend the arms straight. Inhale to raise them as far up and away from the back as you can, then exhale to lower. Inhale up, exhale down; continue for 1 minute.

Next, sit up to enter your favorite seated pose. With the hands on the shoulders (fingers in front, thumbs behind), and the elbows at shoulder level, begin to flex and extend through the upper spine and shoulders. Inhale to draw the elbows back, as if to touch one another; exhale to bring them to meet in front of you at chest level. Inhale to open the chest, exhale to widen and round the upper back. Continue for 1 minute.

Finally, release the hands into the lap. With eyes closed, gazing to the Third Eye, inhale slowly and deeply through the nose; exhale fully and steadily through open, rounded lips. With each exhale, feel that the shoulders release down as the neck extends freely upward. Continue for 3 minutes. If so moved, ease your way into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Heavy Heart? Lighten the Load

Special note: Today’s meditation may be especially useful for those with a loved one struggling with a progressive or chronic condition. The practice is calming and centering: In that space, some light may shine…

On this post-Thanksgiving, pre-Winter-and-all-of-its-holidays Silent Sunday, I find myself somewhat encumbered: A heavy heart is slowing my stride, draining my reserves, and beckoning misguided thoughts.

About a week ago, after my daily morning conversation with my deep-dementia mother, I called my sister to, as I told her, “talk with someone whose voice I recognized.” As soon as I said it, I burst into tears.

A few days later, in response to a genuine “how are you” from a trusted friend, I again started to cry.

And just last night, while watching a not-especially-emotional program, the tears began to build.

In an effort to understand my leaden heart, I considered: Holiday blues? Nope, not a typical culprit for me. Loneliness? Recent loss or disappointment? No, to both. Response to less sunlight? I generally prefer the shorter days.

So, what could be the source of this weeping heart?

What I have discerned is that what I thought was a No to “Recent loss or disappointment?” is more of a Yes. The loss, however, is not recent, nor is it past; perhaps the ongoingness, itself, is the very weight hanging on my heart. 

And in writing that, I realize that that is true.

For as I think this and now write it, I know that the steady disappearance of my mother is an energy shift that reverberates profoundly throughout my Heart Center. Always close, perhaps to a detrimental degree at times, my mother and I made great strides over the past 15-20 years to establish “healthy boundaries.” I exalted in the times when I could stand my ground, or when she did not exert her will over my choices. I respected her past and path, and learned to separate my decisions from her desires. We had evolved, and in so doing, could enjoy a new relationship born of a deeper understanding.

Now, after about 5 years of wrangling with her dementia (and thinking that I had come to terms with New Mom), my Heart energy is sounding the alarm: I remain in grief over the loss of Old Mom. This is not a cut-and-dry end, however: I still talk to the woman—a Woman—every day. She remains in her house, has a daily routine, forms strong opinions, enjoys conversation, makes observations, and is in overall sound health. So where did Old Mom go?

When my sister and I discuss this issue, we typically land on: Deal with the Woman in front of us; honor the essence of the Mom we knew; and allow the sadness we feel.

Such has been our mantra, increasing in volume, over the course of the past several years. So why now am I experiencing a resurgence of grief?

It can be no coincidence that I recently heard an actor (Andrew Garfield) describe his grief over the passing of his mother. In speaking of it, he made the unusual pronouncement that he valued the feeling of grief: He regards it as “unexpressed love.” 

And for me, that is the key to the unexpected depth of my sadness. Psychologically, it makes sense that I would grieve the “loss” of my mom, the one who raised me, the one to whom I was so close, and the one from whom I healthily distanced. But that grief is ongoing, as she has yet to pass from this earth. Thus, each day is a reminder of the disappearance, and each day is a reminder that the Woman to whom I express my love does not necessarily know who I am.

So, if grief is “unexpressed love,” I am in a state of constant grief: Whatever love I express falls on ears that acknowledge the sweetness of my words or tone, but can not fathom its depth. This is a state of “incomplete grief.”

How to make whole a thing that most people avoid? How to “complete” grief when the source of it is actually present? How to lighten the load of a heavy heart when the weight must be born each and every day?

This is the type of spiritual pain and effort that, ironically, fuels me. When I am able to identify the challenge, the load already is lessened. To that end, I suggest the following meditation to honor and bolster your Heart, however it may be feeling.

The power of Prayer Mudra (Anjali Mudra) can not be overstated, nor can the value of your breath and focus. To that end, find a version of Prayer Mudra that resonates with your current Heart energy: traditional palms together at Heart Center; backs of hands together (Reverse Prayer); fingers pointed up or down; mudra at Heart or Head or elsewhere. Allow this to be a choice guided by intuition: When we can surrender to a suggestion from the Universe, Truth responds to that reverence. As the Heart detects that devotion, its vibration strengthens.

Then, with eyes closed, gaze up to the Third Eye. This focus ushers in a vibration of Truth. Use your deep, steady inhale through the nose to guide the pulse of this energy deep within; exhale to send it back out for more. Inhale through the Third Eye; exhale into the Mudra, whatever variation you chose and wherever it lies. Then, take a breath in through the mudra, and exhale out through the Third Eye and beyond. In this way, you begin a cycle of renewal and understanding with the Universe and its eternal Truth. Immerse yourself in the process for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…