Silent Sundays: Joint Effort–Introduction

For a few months, I have been contemplating a piece about the joints. The first time that I addressed this perhaps undervalued component of the physical body was in 2018: “The Heat Is On “ provided a practice to cope with sweltering Summer temperatures and humidity’s effect on the joints. 

At the time, I was in the early throes of osteoarthritis, but did not know it. Because I was—and am—a very physically active person, I dismissed the sudden, sharp pain in my right hip to having “moved the wrong way.” When the acute phase passed into an intermittent, dull ache, my bodyworker self assumed that I could apply what I knew and remedy the situation over time.

I wrote that first post about joint pain five months after the first mysterious flare-up. Several months later—nearly a year in—the left hip began to display similar discomfort. When I finally sought chiropractic help, that practitioner recognized textbook symptoms of arthritis and suggested I see an orthopedic specialist.

After the official diagnosis, I endured another year-plus of increasingly debilitating pain. During this time, I had no choice but to reduce beloved movements, then those that were “functional”: To stand, bend, sit up or down, or turn over in bed became a dreaded effort.

This trip back through that challenging time leads to this Silent Sunday. Having experienced the rigors of osteoarthritis for nearly three years—and now rejoicing in the privilege of pain-free movement after a double hip replacement last year—I am more aware than ever that the body requires constant monitoring and maintenance. 

More significantly, I have developed a deep reverence for the esoteric underpinnings of anatomical structures.

When one is young and healthy—or older and without physical concern—the goal of movement tends to be one of having fun, pushing boundaries, and muscling through feats of endurance.

That there are unexplored realms within any given anatomical feature that factor into “what makes us go” may be rarely considered.

My own fascination with the wealth of information hidden within joints—specifically those of the hips—was expressed in the following piece that I wrote post-surgery. Included within the post is a visualization and meditation practice, should you want to more deeply explore the potential that lies within your joints:

Finally, it may be helpful to supply some learned background. For example, joints, according to Louise L. Hay in her book, “You Can Heal Your Life,” reflect the ability to change directions in Life. If stricken with arthritis, joints may reveal the presence of underlying resentment.

Further, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, joints align most closely with the Wood element. Wood, associated with the Liver and Gall Bladder organ systems, corresponds with movement, and is demonstrated by the qualities of a “pioneer”: 

Action compels the Pioneer. …The urge to get things moving, make things happen, and voyage onward typifies the Pioneer. … [When thwarted,] what was once a gratifying challenge can become an aggravating distress…

The above description (from Beinfield and Korngold’s “Between Heaven and Earth”) reinforces the notion of joints as agents of change. When one’s plans and anticipation of newness go unmet, resentment may build: thus, Hay’s note of arthritis as a reflection of that disappointment.

Another, not-well-known aspect of the joints—indeed, of the whole body’s hidden realms—is that of marmas. Marmas, according to Frawley, Ranande, and Lele in their book, “Ayurveda and Marma Therapy,” are sensitive pressure points that correspond with specific parts of the body; however, the reach and complexity of a marma surpasses any localized position. While marmas can be used to address a physical or psychosomatic condition, they also connect to the subtle nerves and energy centers of the body (nadis and chakras, respectively).

As stated in the book, “Marmas are classified by their dominant physical constituents as muscle, vessel, ligament, joint, or bone-based regions, [and as such], mark the junction of the body with the mind. … Treating them can release negative emotions and remove mental blockages, including those of a subconscious nature.”

With regard to the above information, one begins to understand how the joints are a significant representative of the often unplumbed depths of the physical body. When their function goes awry, it is not only mundane activity that is affected: unresolved emotions and conflicts, latent fears and dormant dreams—one’s history of being rises up and requires reckoning.

Next time: Joint Effort—A More-Than-Movement Practice

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Let It Slide

Recently, I have found myself doing a lot of what I think of as “sliding” movements. I have realized that without conscious intention, I have been working to ease a renewed sense of freedom and fluidity into my joints. Certainly, after several years of ultimately debilitating arthritis, it should come as no surprise that I would focus on the health of my joints. The interesting aspect, though, is that I began to do a series of movements that “appeared” in my body: I did not mindfully create them, and I did not intellectually know why I was doing them. They arrived unbidden, they felt good, and so I did them.

From time to time, you may notice that you have introduced a particular move or set of movements into your  daily routine. I have learned that it pays to inquire why they have become part of your practice: What is your body trying to tell you? This can be a highly beneficial practice that educates you about your physical and perhaps emotional needs; further, it can build overall discernment. When we engage with the body on a conscious level, with the specific intention to hear its messages, we begin to train our ability to ferret through distraction, and ultimately, on a metaphoric, perhaps even esoteric level, to sift through layers of meaning.

Today’s practice thus may be used in a variety of ways: First, as a joint-friendly routine unto its own—one that provides a feeling of ease in the body, along with a sense of peaceful grounding. Or, turn to this routine when you want to see beyond typical or habitual outlooks: The  unusual, yet soothing movements will remind you that a shift in perspective can yield profound clarity and insight.

Finally, embark on the following practice with the idea of granting yourself permission to veer from its suggested trajectory. For example, you may begin, and quickly discover that your body is clamoring from within to be released from directive: On this Silent Sunday, quietly cede control to whatever vociferous demands arise from within. If, during the first movement, your felt energy craves something other than the next move, go with your personal, intuitive inner guide. To stray from the routine as prescribed may be the best outcome of all.

Special note: You will need a stretch of bare floor for part of this routine. If you prefer not to be directly on the floor, place a small towel underneath you. You  may also use this towel or wear socks for one set of movements.

To begin, come onto all fours. Instead of placing the hands in line under the shoulders—as if to do Cat/Cow—bring the hands several inches ahead of the shoulders. The tops of the feet should be flat on the floor, toes extended back. Keeping the right shin in contact with the ground (you may be on the mat or rug for this move), inhale to slide the knee straight forward, so that it moves between the hands (just next to the inside of the right hand).

Then, exhale to slide the leg straight back: Keep the shin down for as long as you can. At some point, the toes will naturally tuck under, and the knee will rise away from the floor as the leg straightens out behind you. The front of the ankle will rise away from the floor, as the heel pushes back, bringing the foot into flexion.

Inhale to draw the knee in, passing through all fours, and then straight forward again, sliding on the shin, with the toes pointed back. Repeat the move 12 times: inhale as the knee slides forward between the hands; exhale to slowly unfold the leg into its full length behind you. Then, switch to the other side for 12 repetitions.

After this freeing move for the hip, knee, and ankle joints, bring yourself prone onto the bare floor. On your belly, prop up on the forearms, as if in Sphinx or Cobra pose. Begin to slide, or drag yourself forward by alternately crawling with the forearms. As the right arm works, the entire lower body swings, or slides to the left; when the left arm works, the hips and legs swing to the right. This move takes a moment to accept ease: Once you have released into the rhythm, the feeling of free sliding will occur. Continue for as much space as you have, then turn around to travel back across the space.

Now, you will definitely need socks or a small towel under your feet. From the forearms and belly, press up onto all fours. With the towel under the feet or in socks, hover the knees a few inches off of the floor: This is the starting position. Then, slide the feet back, so that the legs are fully extended; you will be in Plank Pose.

From Plank, pike the hips up, as if moving into Downward Dog: As you do this, let the feet slide in toward the hands a bit, effectively narrowing the Down Dog position. Then, slide the feet all the way back, allowing the body to return to Plank.

Continue the reversal of this sliding vinyasa: From Plank, draw the knees in under you, so that you return to the starting position. Then, again, slide the feet straight out behind you into Plank: pike the hips up as the feet slide in a bit; slide the feet out, back to Plank; and draw the knees in to the original hover position.

Inhale to slide out to Plank; exhale to pike; inhale to slide out to Plank; exhale to draw the knees in. Repeat a total of 8 full rounds.

After the Plank Slides, rest for a few deep breaths in Baby Pose. Then, roll up to sit on the heels. Even if you can sit comfortably here in Rock Pose, I suggest the use of bolsters: The extra lift and support will allow for greater ease in the following movement.

Seated in supported Rock Pose (pillow or block under the buttocks), begin to slide the rib cage from side to side. If this movement is unfamiliar to you, think of a string threaded through the rib cage, from one side to the other: As you inhale, the line is pulled gently to the left, sliding the ribs that way; as you exhale, the string is pulled to the right, shifting the ribs to the right. The entire rib cage remains in the sagittal plane as it moves—no leaning or curving forward or back. Experiment for about a minute; as the muscles understand the request, and the breath deepens, the entire barrel of the rib cage will experience newfound freedom.

Now, extend the arms to the sides at shoulder level, palms down. Point all the fingers down, sending a deep stretch through the forearm extensors. Touch the thumb tips to the inner, base edge of their respective ring fingers: This mudra for release and elimination will heighten the freeing effect of the rib cage slides. With the arms and mudra in place, continue to move the ribs from side to side for 1 minute.

Next, keeping the arms extended to the sides at shoulder level, turn the palms up. Bring the hands into Gyan Mudra, and again, point the fingers down, including the mudra. (Upturned palms will shift to face out to the sides, significantly stretching the flexors in the forearm.). Now as the rib cage moves, the Third and Fourth chakra energy centers receive the healing wisdom of the Universe, via the activation of Gyan Mudra. Thus, with the movement and mudra, your personal sense of Self, along with your seat of compassion for others, becomes linked to the Truth of the Divine. As you continue to slide the ribs from left to right for 1 minute, your energies release into this eternal connection.

Finally, help yourself into Svasana. Remain in deep rest your as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…