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…

Silent Sundays: Integrity, Creativity, and Communication

I once had a therapist who told me: “Your integrity shines in the dark.”

At the time, her words landed with a wallop, for I felt anything but honest and of stalwart character. But somewhere inside, I recognized the truth of her observation: I was trying to be more emotionally balanced; I was trying to break bad habits; and I was trying to be more selfless while establishing boundaries.

By that point in my life, I had been an athlete, a scholar, a dancer, and a movement teacher. I knew the value of and practiced discipline; and I indeed was full of integrity when it came to acceptance of differences in others, and open-book emotional revelations in relationships. Where I faltered was in my demanding stance with Self: I had so much integrity that my Heart energy could barely keep up, much less fulfill my quest for perfection.

Over time—decades—yoga and its attendant philosophies (specifically, for me, through the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, as well as the practice and study of kundalini yoga) guided me through the need to be “perfect” (whatever that means). A deepened faith in the Eternal Divine and Universal Energies carried me to a land abundant with alternative perspectives, insight, and infinite possibilities of “how to Be…”

These thoughts occur today, as a result of my unsatisfying first draft of a practice for this Silent Sunday. Full of surface observations about the current state of COVID-related masking in our communities; and a forced correlation with the dis-harmonizing energies of Mercury retrograde (as it is now), the piece lacked what I think of as creative integrity. Just as in those therapy sessions with my 20s self, I was “trying”: Sometimes, though, trying becomes trying—overly effortful, exhausting, and ultimately self-defeating.

So, I stepped away from my planned piece, lay on the couch, closed my eyes, and breathed intuitively. Almost instantly, I realized that what felt like an absence of creativity was, in essence, stymied intuition and stifled insight. In the “trying,” I had squelched my ability to communicate with integrity.

The result of all of the above is today’s suggested practice: warm-up, pranayama, and mudra.

The routine will help you break through creative blocks; interpersonal stalemates; and blinders on your spiritual progress. Although I do suggest times for each part, feel free to extend the movement and breath sequences, as well as the meditation, for as long as you like.

Begin standing. Gently shake your body. It may be helpful to start with one hand, then whole arm, then the other hand and arm, and naturally expanding the bouncy, wiggly shaking throughout the body. Do this for about 1 minute, then come to stillness in standing.

Widen your base: Let the legs be about 3 feet apart. Inhale, then exhale as you slide the right hand down the outer right thigh as the left arm lifts high. Inhale back up through center, and exhale to reach down to the left as the right arm rises. Continue this alternating lateral bend for 1 minute.

Return to stand, closing the feet to about 12 inches apart, i.e., a natural stance. Inhale to lift the arms to the sides at shoulder level, and exhale as the right foot steps forward into an easy lunge. Inhale to turn to the right, offering a gentle twist through the upper body and torso. Exhale back into forward-facing lunge; inhale back to stand, and exhale the arms down. 

Repeat to the other side: Inhale arms up to the sides at shoulder level; exhale to step the left foot forward into soft lunge. Inhale to twist left; exhale back to basic lunge; inhale to return to standing, exhale, arms down.

Repeat this alternating sequence 7 more times to each side.

Special note: Lateral and twisting movements open the side body, i.e., the horizontal flow of energy, which corresponds with open, clear communication.

Now, bring yourself into your favorite seated position for pranayama and meditation. Allow the hands to rest where they naturally fall: knees, thighs, lap, palms up, palms down, next to or atop one another—let kinesthetic intuition guide the placement.

Once settled, begin the first phase of today’s breath work. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, inhale slowly and steadily to your personal count of 6. Exhale through the mouth, tongue softly extended, to a 2-count of short/long: If sounded, it might be, “huh, huuuuuuh.” Without a pause, continue the exhale for 4 more even counts. Close the mouth, inhale through the nose again for 6; exhale for 6, beginning with the short/long burst. Continue for 1-2 minutes.

Before entering the second phase of pranayama, sit quietly for a moment; allow your natural breath rhythm to return. Then, when you are ready, begin Sitali breath: Curl the tongue into a straw, and extend it out through the lips. (If a curled tongue is not available to you, simply part the lips slightly.) Inhale long and deep through the opening of the tongue “straw” or separated lips fo a count of 8. Then, draw the tongue in to press it against the roof of the mouth (lips closed), and exhale for 8 counts. Continue the pattern for 2-3 minutes.

Special note: To deepen the sense of whole-body “integrity,” connect the upper-palate tongue press to the rise of the diaphragm upon exhalation. These “domes” can also be visualized and sensed in the arches of the feet and crown of the head.

To conclude your pranayama, do this variation of alternate-nostril breathing: With the thumb of the right hand, close the right nostril; breath in and out through the left nostril 2 times. Inhale for the third time through the left nostril; close the left nostril with the middle or ring finger of the right hand, and exhale through the right nostril.

Keep the left nostril closed as your breath in and out through the right nostril 2 times. After the third inhalation, close the right nostril with the right thumb, and exhale through the left. Inhale left; close the left; exhale right. Inhale right; close the right; exhale left. Repeat: Inhale left; close left; exhale right; inhale right; close right; exhale left.

As you sit, allow the breath to regain its natural flow. Then, form a version of Vishuddha Mudra: This hand configuration opens and stimulates the Throat Chakra, which is the energetic center of communication with self and others. Although some depictions of the gesture show the second, third and fourth fingers tucked in, I prefer the following set-up: On the right and left hand, touch the index fingertips to thumb tips (Gyan Mudra); then, interlock the two circles, like a chain link. Extend the other fingers straight up, and touch each fingertip on the left to its respective partner on the right. Hold the interlocked Gyan Mudra circles a few inches in front of the throat; feel the connection between the tips of the extended fingers and the Third Eye. With eyes closed, gazing toward the Third Eye, breathe fully and deeply with the mudra for 3-11 minutes.

Finally, ease your way into Svasana. Arms lie several inches away from the sides of the body, palms up, fingers relaxed. Let the tongue float softly in the mouth; ease open through the jaw, neck, and shoulders; and feel the rise and fall of the abdomen and chest, and the contraction and expansion of the ribs as you breathe. Relax the buttocks, release through the backs of the knees, and allow the feet to fall open as the toes softly separate. Rest for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…