Silent Sundays: Pockets of Change

As readers of Everything Elsa know, I have been writing frequently about arthritis: its trajectory, ramifications, and eventual surgical journey. From how to contend with pain, emotional depletion, and forced change of lifestyle, recent writings have given me and you an opportunity to confront challenge in ways that boost spirit and physical vitality. Now, with the second hip replacement performed two days ago, I am approaching this recovery slightly differently.

Almost from the moment of diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both hips, I was intrigued by the potentially esoteric underpinnings of the ailment. In somatic and yogic circles, hips are said to be the storehouse of old pain: emotional, physical, and psycho-spiritual. I wondered if the wearing away of cartilage in the joints could possibly be a boon: Perhaps this would be an opportunity to shed all remnants of past struggle and strife; perhaps the erosion of tissue and the resultant bone-to-bone situation meant I could create a new type of vessel in my hips.

Now, as I experience the clear distinctions of sensation between right and left side recovery, I begin to add another layer to this idea of establishing a clean start in the hips. Because the right side of the body is said to be “masculine,” and the left to be “feminine,” I am not entirely surprised by the remarkably different quality of discomfort in the recovering hips. 

The first replacement was on the right: The surgery itself was rougher, more damaging; the subsequent recovery seemed “loud” within my body. My energy, too, took on an “outgoing,” determined tenor. The left side, currently entering its healing time, feels initially more rickety and uncertain: It wants a tender, slower care. And psycho-energetically, I find myself more introverted and needing to retreat. If “masculine” connotes tough and forceful, and “feminine” aligns with softness and gentleness, then my hips are doing a superb job of demonstrating the right/left side qualities.

Special note: As mentioned in an earlier post, any reference here to masculine or feminine characteristics are aligned with ancient and nature-based thought. As feminine corresponds with yin in Traditional Chinese Medicine—i.e., cool, receptive, soft, dark—masculine corresponds with the heat and outward movement of yang energy. By no means are the words or connotations meant to subsume or elevate the traits of men and women. Simply, they are guides within a framework that gives context to this discussion.

With these ideas in mind, I am expanding my recent practices of physical cleansing and karma-clearing to allow input of fresh, consciously conjured energy. In a sense, this concept corresponds nicely with the need to balance prana and apana, the energies of taking in and elimination, respectively. Just as the body (in its optimal state) harmonizes intake with output, one can draw in fresh perspectives and values, and shed old habits and emotions.

The main difference between the physical body’s innate drive for balance between what comes in and what goes out, and one’s decision to discharge the past to make way for a different state moving forward, is just that: The body behaves without conscious thought; our choices necessitate contemplation and discernment.

In the case of addressing the hips, this means that one may think about lifelong patterns of thought and behavior: What habitual reactions, what snap judgements, what negative slants have infiltrated your life? Then, when contemplating the idea that these can be ejected and replaced, what would be the qualities you would choose to take in? Further, in my case, I have begun to recognize when negativity is taking hold; I have made a firm pact with myself that these thoughts or energies will not be allowed to settle in to my fledgling hips.

An image comes to mind: that of pants pocket (which happen often to lie on the hips). I think of pockets that seem empty or unencumbered: However, at their base lie tiny bits of grit or lint. As in the hips, these pockets may remain in this subtly sullied state without our awareness. And as with the hips, their clearing requires turning them inside out for a fresh start.

On this Silent Sunday, I suggest an emptying and refilling of those “pockets.” To do so, you will conduct a full exploration of your physical and mental state of being. The following visualization and meditation will help to create an inner environment conducive to restructuring your being, should you find that desirable or necessary.

To begin, lie down on your back, as if in Svasana. (Feel free to do this practice in bed.) First, bring your attention to the physical body: Sense where you are stiff, perhaps riding higher on one side than the other, or possibly have weakness. With regard to the hips, the pelvis may be tilted, or you may find it challenging to lie flat with both legs straight. Or, if your imbalance resides in the upper body, one shoulder may feel more in contact with the floor, or one side may feel heavier. Take this closed-eye time to travel through your entire physical being, giving yourself as much time as you like.

Then, wherever you feel drawn, focus your inner eye and awareness to that spot or area. Select a cleansing color, texture, print, or image that represents “clean and clear” to you: Imbue each inhale from this point on with that quality. Breathe in deeply, guiding the breath to your area of concentration: Exhale through gently, slightly pursed lips. Breathe out as if you are blowing dandelion fuzz off of your hand, or across a table: softly, sweetly, completely. Continue for at least 3 minutes, and then as long as you like.

When you feel that you have cleared space, summon the qualities—mental, physical, spiritual—that you wish to undergird your motive for change. At this point, add a mudra to the mix: Adhomukha Mudra is one of transformation and self-healing: In conjunction with the self-reflection, physical visualization, and pranayama, the mudra channels your intention in the most beneficial and powerful way.

As you lie, with your sensations and conscious awareness flowing freely, bring the hands to hover a few inches above the Solar Plexus area, just beneath the Heart Center. Palms are down (facing the torso), and the backs of the fingertips and first knuckles rest against each other. Reach the thumb tips to touch each other. Now, with the mudra in place, use the inhale to draw in the state of mind, heart, and body that you wish to instill: You may take it in through the Third Eye, through the body region on which you have been focused, or perhaps you intuitively sense a new direction or spot for the breath to treat. Regardless, breathe in fully and deeply through the nose; exhale through the nose to settle and further integrate your aims. Continue for at least 5 minutes, and then as long as feels right.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Water, Water, Everywhere

When my best friend’s daughter was very young, she wrote a story that featured a character based on me: “Starly Robinson, the Water Droplet.”  Little did the child know that she had pinpointed my elemental and astrological essence. My sign is Cancer, a water sign; and I do tend toward “watery” traits—physical fluidity, emotional sensitivity, intuitiveness, etc. Additionally, I gravitate toward Nature’s water, and swimming soothes my soul. 

While these tendencies contribute to my overall ability to flow with Life, an imbalance in the system can result in decidedly challenging moods and outlooks. Recently, however, I have been wrangling with the clear and disconcerting result of surgery: edema. This fluid retention is the Water element run amok: The appearance and sensation of the swelling are yet another challenge for my psyche and physiology. 

Today’s practice hones in on Water and its inherent quality of flow. Whether you wish to address bloating or edema (or the opposite: dryness in the body); or a feeling of “stuckness” or disconnection (or, conversely, over-sensitivity), the following routine will help to restore balance to the emotional and physical fluid systems. Included will be the use of qigong, mudra, sound, pranayama and visualization. Below is the recording I used during the meditation:

The initial movement, based on Bear Swing in qigong, may be done standing or seated (floor or chair): If using a chair, be sure that it is armless. Moving from the waist,  arms hanging loosely, gently twist to the right; without a break, swing through center to the left. The arms will respond naturally to the weight shift and momentum: Allow them to flap lightly against the body, front and back, as you swing.

This move eases the lower back into a more supple state. Because the Bladder meridian flows through the entire back body, attention to the back is crucial when working with Water.

Special note: If twisting is contraindicated for you, you may proceed to the next move. Or, as I do, move slowly and gingerly: Hip replacement surgery precautions advise against twisting; however, I find that this gentle, flowing move releases tension and aids digestion. Be mindful of your stance, and keep the hips facing forward and still.

Next, attend more fully to the back. Remain in your chosen position (or change, if you need to): Begin an exaggerated, slow version of spinal flex; let the arms flow with the movement. Inhale to softly arch the entire spine as the arms drift behind you, palms facing forward; exhale to completely round the spine, drop the head, and float the arms forward, backs fo the hands moving toward each other at hip level. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, if you are not already seated, come to the floor (or bed or couch). Extend the legs straight in front of you. For this subtle, yet strong move, I have combined two physical therapy moves for post-hip replacement surgery, with the knowledge that one of them is a kundalini move for detoxification. The two movements—heel pumps (also the detox exercise) and thigh presses—help to move fluid from the feet and ankles; and stretch the hamstrings while activating the quadriceps, respectively.

First, with long legs in front, alternately flex and point the feet (“heel pumps”). The ankles will quickly respond, even if full of fluid. After 10-20 pumps, pause: Inhale, then exhale and engage the thighs by pressing the backs of the knees down into the ground. Hole the empty breath and muscle activation for 3 counts. Then release to repeat up to 10 times.

Now put both pieces together: Inhale to point the feet (simultaneously); exhale to flex the foot and press the backs of the knees down, pausing for 3 counts. Repeat 10 times.

The preceding warm-up prepares the Bladder and Kidney meridians—the Water element—to receive the benefits of the following meditation. To prepare, build an elevated support for your feet and legs; allow the lift to be about 1 foot high, and be sure to have some bolstering behind the knees.

Next, turn on the provided sound source. Settle into a supine position, legs and feet elevated, the sound resonating around you. On both hands, create Varun Mudra; it is a variation of Budhi Mudra. Whereas Budhi Mudra touches the pinky and thumb tips; Varun Mudra, holds the pinky down with the thumb. Budhi addresses low water levels in the body (and the corresponding psychological traits); Varun tends to fluid retention and “watery” characteristics.

Thus, with Varun Mudra engaged (pinky held into palm with thumb on each hand), rest pinky sides of the hands on their respective groin (the crevice where the belly meets the leg when lying down). Set the scene for the meditative visualization by conjuring a shade of black or blue (Water’s associated colors). With mudra placed, begin Ujjayi breathing: in and out through the nose with an open throat (tongue dropped down from roof of mouth); the breath’s sound should be steady and audible. As you breathe in, paint your selected color around your entire body; as you exhale, allow it to imbue within. Continue for 2 or 3 minutes

Now that you are swathed and immersed in a sea of blue (or black), focus on the area of your body where fluid has collected: Inhale to connect with spot; exhale to visualize the lowering level and drainage of the fluid. Be sure to continue deep, complete Ujjayi breath for another 2-3 minutes. 

Then, allow the breath to seek its natural rhythm. Breathe into the blueness, still holding the mudra. At some point, when it feels right to you, release the mudra and place the arms and hands on the ground, palms up, for Svasana. Maintain the elevated supports, and allow the breath to resume its natural flow. Remain here through the end of the musical sound.

Happy Sunday… 

Silent Sundays: Fill With What You Will

Two days after a total hip replacement, I enter today’s writing with one thing in mind: Where once my hip held unresolved emotion and pain, now it will be consciously refilled with only that which will aid and better myself and others. 

In kundalini yoga and studies of somatic and cellular memory, the hips are said to be the storage unit for emotional “baggage.” About midway through my experience with hip arthritis, it occurred to me that perhaps the deterioration and subsequent loss of the “hips I came in with” was a truly divine gift. I do recognize that so, so many of the emotional reactions I have had throughout my life thus far are a direct result of previous events and circumstances. If given a chance to clear the clutter of long-past, unnecessary feelings from the hips, why not?

Given that the first hip to be replaced is the right one (read into that what you will), I have begun to hone in on the more aggressive reactions and emotions that have heretofore been part of my life. The right side is said to be the masculine side—aggressive, hot, active. (Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a debate about gender roles or traits.) Certainly, despite my overall mental and emotional stability, I have retained the ability to flare, to roil, and to strike when stricken.

This is not to say that I will never again become angry or defensive or vehement: My aim, however, is to fill the new hip with a solid set-point of kindness, beneficent strength, and peace.

Today’s suggested practice involves self-contemplation; seated auric clearing; pranayama; and basic mudra. The contemplative aspect introduces your own ideas into the practice: What would you remove, and with what would you fill the space of unwanted thoughts and feelings? Who would you be, base level, with that which you will into your life?

Then, when you have integrated your motivation for meditation, begin to clear the auric field around you. I have offered several previous practices for energy clearing: Fundamentally, if one does large, vigorous, multi-directional moves with the arms, the magnetic field is cleared of stagnancy, blockages, and negativity. If you are physically capable, allow the torso to join the movements; if you need to stay somewhat stationary through the core, engage the arms more powerfully. Actively move and clear for 3-5 minutes.

Then, with the left hand resting palm up on the left knee and the right hand palm down on the right knee, begin deep breaths in through the nose, and slowly, deeply, and fully through rounded mouth. As you breathe, align your breath with your “willed fill”: As you inhale, draw your intention in through the left palm; upon the cleansing exhale, envision all that you wish to eliminate through the right palm. Stay with this meditation, eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, for 11 minutes.

When you are finished, simply sit and allow the breath to resume its normal quality, or feel free to enjoy Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

How to Hang On–Day 30: This Moment

Today, I am immersed in duality.

Not wanting to move, but fidgeting incessantly; needing to complete multiple pre-surgery tasks, but tethered to online word games; nerves are kicking, but emotions are numb.

This dual nature is part and parcel of Life: in humans, in the environment, in politics, in socio-economics, in romance, in each and every one of us on many levels. Yet with duality comes dissatisfaction: One yearns to remain on one side or the other, to choose their comfortable spot. But as always, one must swing back and forth between states, which themselves are ever-changing.

And yet, my experience of this two-sided feeling somehow keeps me in the moment. As I wrangle with which way to turn, how to feel, and what to think, I can not bemoan or become nostalgic for what was; nor can I imagine or dream of what will be. I can stay only here and now, watching and waiting as my body and mind try to decipher their dueling nature—as I await a new experience, a new phase.

Whereas I have signed off from each day of the How to Hang On series with “’til tomorrow,” I won’t be doing that today. For tomorrow starts at dawn (or thereabouts), when I will be carted off to the surgical center by my best friend: The day will see me undergo my first surgery, my first anesthesia, and my first new hip. The eve will be a “girl’s night,” with my buddy enjoying wine, and me and my body trying to understand what is going on through a drug-induced haze.

One thing is clear, however: I am fortunate, and I am grateful.

’TIl next time… 

How to Hang On–Day 27: Stay Cool

Today was the final round of appointments before Friday’s surgery.

Yesterday, my low back decided to join the party: spasm deluxe.

I was concerned about driving, about walking, about standing, about waiting—would my back, hips, and legs keep me upright as I moved through this final, necessarily busy day?

For that has been my primary goal: walk into the surgical center upright, of my own accord (with the help of canes). To be so close, yet so far… that was the feeling with which I awoke today.

And yet: I managed. One foot in front of the other; one wobbly cane maneuver, then the next; one smile for the surgical nurse; and then another for the COVID test-taker. Each move along this baffling game board toward surgery demands, overall, one thing: Stay cool.

By “cool,” I mean centered–in mind, body, spirit: When body balks, move to mind; when mind meanders, shift to spirit. And when at all possible, engage all three—ultimate coolness.

Also, however, I am acutely cognizant that Cool abides vulnerability: I am learning how to accommodate that uncomfortable, unwanted state, all while staying connected to Cool.

’Til tomorrow…

How to Hang On–Day 11: Start to Say Goodbye…

When I first learned that I had arthritis in my hips, I invoked healing mantras and pointed visualizations to flood my joints with curative power. Then, when I fully accepted that the deterioration of my hips was a one-way street—i.e., nothing I could do would repair them to a healthy state—I began to focus on calming and stabilizing their energy of pain.

Aa of a few weeks ago, my conversations with my hip joints have become even more specific: With surgery in the near future, I am starting to say goodbye to the ball and socket with which I was born. I feel weepy upon writing this, as if the wear-and-tear of my highly physical life is something I need to apologize for, or acknowledge as a misguided path through life. And upon writing that, I recognize that I have done nothing wrong; rather, I made full, exuberant use of my original hips. They have served me well and continue to support me, despite their weakened, rickety state.

So now it is my turn to support them. Throughout each day, I applaud and thank them. Come morn, pre-dawn, upon first wake, I lay my hands on them and pray sweet gratitude into them as I bid a loving adieu. I am mourning their loss, marveling at their past bounty, and preparing the ground for their replacement. Out of their loss will come a fresh start, one that I will heed with newfound wisdom and awe. 

Cheers to what was, and what will be.

’Til tomorrow…