Silent Sundays: Find Your Way–Pranayama Meditation

Yesterday, my sister and I were talking about our sense of life “post-Mom.” Countless other people who have experienced the passing of a loved one have probably had similar conversations: There was nothing especially remarkable about our sharing of thoughts and emotions. One bit of our talk has stuck with me, however, as it marked a distinct shift in my typical approach to uncertainty.

Heretofore, my first step when confronted with a challenge of any kind is to pray. For me, the “directional” sense of prayer is probably that of many others: upward, vertical. Similarly, my overall energy tends to “float above”: I find my comfort zone in higher consciousness and vibrations. 

Yet, as I described to my sister the way in which I was sussing out the new duality of void and possibility that our mother’s death had left behind, I found myself using the word, “wide.” In so doing, I stopped: Rarely, if ever had I kinesthetically felt or intuited anything through the horizontal plane. To process and connect through “widening” is a first for me: Up, up, and away has always been my path.

Such is the crux of this Silent Sunday’s practice: to hone in on your own typical trajectory through life, and to experiment with less-familiar routes.

Begin in Baby Pose, simply breathing in and out through the nose. As the breath deepens and lengthens, bring your attention to the rib cage. Often, one thinks of the “breath direction” as up and down, which is anatomically logical: Upon inhalation, the diaphragm moves down; upon exhalation, it moves back up. 

Now, however, consciously ensure that the ribs expand out to the sides as you breathe in; let them retract back toward center as you exhale. Breathe deeply in this position, with the intention of horizontal movement, for 1 minute.

Then, slowly roll up through the spine, so that you are sitting on your heels in Rock Pose. If this is an untenable position for you, place a pillow between your heels and buttocks for lift and support. Alternatively, find another seated posture that allows you to sit comfortably upright. 

With both hands on the low belly (one atop the other), lead your breath down a different path. As you inhale fully through the nose, feel the belly expand and push out, or forward. Through slightly parted and rounded lips, exhale through the mouth; feel the full retraction of the belly. Connect with the earthiness—the earthliness—of this forward and back movement throughout the Lower Triangle of chakras. Continue to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth for 1 minute.

Now, repeat the sideways “rib breathing” to bring the energy focus back up to the Heart Center. Instead of Baby Pose, however, sit with the legs open to a straddle (wide V). Add a subtle movement to the breath and rib work.

With the palms facing each other a few inches apart in front of the chest, allow them to separate a bit more as you inhale to expand the ribs to the sides. As you exhale and let the ribs return inward, the hands also move softly back toward each other. Continue for 1 minute, eyes closed, breathing in and out through the nose.

From the wide-leg seated position, draw the legs together, extended straight forward. Bring the arms overhead, shoulder width apart. Feel free to sit on the edge of a cushion, or to place a rolled blanket under the knees, if this position is hard to access.

Take your mind’s eye to the bony notch at the base of the throat: This is the starting point for the Upper Triangle breath. As you inhale through open, rounded lips, visualize the breath entering the Throat Chakra through that center point of the collarbone; draw it up, passing behind the Third Eye, to reach the top of the skull.

As you exhale deeply through the nose, slowly open the arms about 30 degrees to each side to form a narrow V. Simultaneously, imagine the Crown opening. As the breath moves up and out, it infuses the auric field, thereby strengthening aspects of higher consciousness that inhabit the Upper Triangle. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, ease your way onto the back: Hug the knees into the chest. Return to the Ribcage Breath in this position: Inhale through the nose to expand the ribs sideways; exhale through the nose to feel their gentle retraction. Continue for 1 minute.

To close the practice, roll yourself up to come into your favorite seated pose. The practice ends where so often it begins: with spinal flexes. Used at this point in the practice, the movements ensure that all portals and directions of breath, of possibility, and of divine connection are open and accessible.

Seated with hands on knees or thighs, inhale to arch (extend) the spine forward; exhale to round (flex) the spine back. This is the same movement as Cat/Cow on all fours, but transposed to a seated variation. Inhale to push the spine forward, shoulders back, chest open; exhale to round, shoulders forward, belly back and in. Let the movement flow from pelvis to shoulder girdle; the head and neck remain relatively neutral. Continue for 1 minute.

Finish with a round of Sufi Grinds. Circle the torso clockwise; undulate through the ribcage as if massaging the organs. Inhale as you circle through the front space; exhale as you pass through the back space. Continue for 1 minute, then reverse the circle; move counter-clockwise for 1 more minute.

Finally, still seated, bring the hands into Gyan Mudra. One of the most familiar mudras, it also is one of the most powerful when seeking guidance: Here, it harnesses universal, divine wisdom, and imparts it to the open, vibrating vessel of the body and mind that you have created. Touch the index finger tips to thumb tips on each hand; rest the hands upon the knees, palms up. With eyes closed and gazing to the Third Eye, breathe naturally, yet consciously for at least 3 minutes. 

Happy Sunday…

Ode To the Lobes–Part Two: Parietal and Temporal

Reminder: Over the course of the days to come, you can practice along with each part of this series in audio form. Visit: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

Today’s discussion and practice hone in on the parietal and temporal lobes of the brain. Further, the series begins to look at the anatomical brain’s relationship to other dimensions of physicality and consciousness: “organ systems” of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as well as subtle energies of the chakra system.

The temporal and parietal regions of the brain comprise the side zones: Remember that there also are the frontal and occipital lobes, which “bookend” the side areas. Roughly, the temporal lobe controls auditory function, plus emotions (emanating from the limbic structures), while the parietal region governs general physical sensation (somatosensory response).

To bring in some additional aspects, I first think of the temporal seat of hearing. In TCM, hearing (the ears) is associated with the Kidney and Bladder systems: In turn, the physical kidney and bladder lie in the realm of the Lower Triangle of chakras (First, Second, and Third). 

The above correlations represent human fundamentals of existence: physical survival and distinct, yet coordinated organ function. The TCM Kidneys house one’s life “essence,” or the primary spark of physical vitality. The Bladder meridians are linked to what is called the Life Nerve in kundalini yoga: the meridian that runs down the entire back body, eventually sharing space with the sciatic nerve’s path through the hamstrings and calves.

Thus, when we attune ourselves to the temporal region—even by visualizing that lobe and that part of the skull—we add a newfound depth to practices that harness the energy of the Lower Triangle.

Then, when one attunes to the physical sensations and potential emotional vibrations of the following practice, there now is an awareness of the participation of the parietal lobe. With intentional focus on the brain’s role in one’s experience of higher consciousness—that is, knowing when, where, and how it is happening—one’s connection to and communication with “other realms” is affirmed and enhanced.

In order to sample how this works, bring yourself into a supine position on the floor: Close the eyes. First, listen: Note the general sound quality or blend of sounds in your space. Then, start to differentiate what you hear. In my case, I heard a clock ticking; cars driving on damp, slick roads; a neighbor’s kitten meowing across the hall; plus an overall hum, which came with a visual of tiny dots, like star points, filling the darkness.

Then, once you have identified sounds, take your mind’s eye to the upper sides of the skull, just above the ears. As you breathe in and out through the nose, gaze internally at the wonder of the lobes at work. Allow the breath to slow and deepen as you hone in on temporal activity.

After a few minutes of this opening exercise, bend the knees: feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Begin to rock the pelvis forward and back: Inhale to tip the tail forward, toward the floor; exhale to rock it up and in toward you, as if preparing to roll up into a Bridge. Inhale to rock the pelvis forward; exhale to tip it back. Continue for about 1 minute.

Then, do roll all the way up into a Bridge, peeling the spine away from the floor, vertebra by vertebra. With the spine lifted, slowly dip the pelvis down to the floor: This will create a deep arch or extension in the lower and mid-spine. Lift the pelvis back up, recreating the Bridge, and then roll down through the spine, articulating through each vertebra.

From the beginning: Inhale to tip the grounded pelvis forward; exhale to roll the spine up into Bridge; inhale to tip and dip the pelvis toward the floor; exhale to lift it up, and roll back down. Repeat the entire sequence for a total of 12 times.

Now, draw the knees into the body, raise the head, and squeeze the bent legs together with the forearms. With the hands free, cover the ears: The head-hold will also help to support the lifted head. Breathe deeply here for 1-2 minutes, noting the depth of the sound within your head. Be aware that you continue to “hear,” despite the covered ears. Use this realization to deepen the quality of any contemplation or meditation: To “hear” universal and divine wisdom, tune in.

Next, release the hands and arms: In a slightly looser “body ball,” hold behind the thighs, and rock back and forth a few times. This will further the connection to the Bladder meridian that you stimulated with the curling Bridge and blocked-ear moves. After a few rolls—inhale to rock back, exhale up—sit with the legs extended in front of you. Open the legs into a comfortable straddle, one that allows you to bend forward and maintain a fairly straight back: Hold some part of your leg (or feet/ankles, if you are highly flexible). Begin to move up and down with the torso: inhale up, exhale forward/down. This will activate the portion of the Kidney meridian that travels through the inner thighs.

As you do this, add a sounded “Aum.” To chant this “seed mantra,” divide the word into three parts: ahh/ohh/mmm. Inhale, then drop the jaw, opening the mouth wide: Use the time it takes to slowly chant, “a-u-m,” to bring the jaw up and gently touch the lips together. All the while, continue to move the body up and down between the open legs. Find a rhythm in which you complete 2-4 moving forward bends per each long Aum. Continue for 3 minutes.

When you have finished. sit quietly in your straddle posture, hands on the thighs, eyes remaining closed. Scan your body for physical sensation: toes, heels, backs of the knees, inner thighs, and so forth, up through the entire torso—front, back, sides—arms, neck, face. In doing so, you focus on the gifts of the parietal lobe: somatic information via sensation.

Now, help yourself to stand, feet wider than hip width; toes may turn out slightly. Begin to bend the knees, so that you can plant both hands on the floor, each alongside the inner edge of its respective foot. Bend the knees enough, so that the buttocks comes down to the level of the knees, or just above. The arms press into the the lower legs to support the posture; the torso should be as close to parallel with the floor as possible.

In this deep, wide squat, you align the entire chakra system with the earth beneath you, and all of your subtle energies vibrate on the same plane. This is a soothing, reassuring stance for the nervous system, and thus for conscious, as well as subconscious thoughts. Remain here for 10 full breaths.

Finally, bring yourself down onto all fours, simply as a transition into Baby Pose. Take a few breaths into this restful posture, and then roll up through the spine to sit. You may remain seated on your heels, or feel free to find another position. Regardless, create a simple mudra on both hands: Shunya Mudra. Bring the middle finger tips down to the fleshy mound of their respective thumbs: Hold the fingers down with the thumbs; rest the hands palm up on the knees. With eyes closed and now gazing toward the Third Eye, begin a deep inhalation through the nose: Through rounded, open lips, exhale slowly and steadily. Notice that you have simultaneously engaged three focal points: sound of “windy” exhalation; closed-eye gaze to Third Eye; and touch awareness of the mudra’s selected fingertips.

As the side lobes of the brain allow and process this information, the mudra helps to awaken and support the ears, hearing, and deeper resonances from the Universe. As such, Shunya Mudra is also valuable in the promotion of patience and discernment. 

Sit in meditation for 5-11 minutes. If you like, move into Svasana for deep rest.

Next time: Conclusion