Silent Sundays: Help For A Bad Day

Special note: The audio follow-along version of today’s practice can be found at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

For me, recent “bad days” have emerged as a bleakness, a hollow in the belly, and a pervasive sense of foreboding. Despite the heaviness of the description, this current state should not be confused with chronic or clinical depression.

Decades ago, depression was with me for several years. The “bad days” of recent weeks feel similar; however, I can discern the ephemeral nature of this current spate. The past depression surrounded, infiltrated, and threatened my existence. These recent invasions are off-putting, but not life-threatening. 

No one, though, likes to feel blue, down, scared, hopeless—ever.

My personal first step in addressing such a situation is to run a checklist.

First, “big stressors”: finances; loss; living situation; work life.

Then, “physical stuff”: food, water, alcohol, sleep, exercise.

And finally, “psycho-spiritual” state: contemplation, prayer, meditation.

In reviewing the list, I can readily determine the cause of recent “bad days.” Perhaps simply and obviously, the “big stressor” list looms large: Each sub-category is in an uncertain, unsettled state. And although I am not overcome with sadness or a deep sense of loss, certainly my mother’s passing has unleashed a host of fears with regard to the basic needs of earthly life: money, dwelling, sense of purpose.

But a Bad Day may not arise from the Large List. Perhaps a new friend proves disappointing; maybe car or house repairs seem incessant; or possibly, spiritual connection has gone adrift. Even if the culprit behind a Bad Day or Tough Times is transient, the immediate need to roust the deflating feelings is powerful.

This Silent Sunday offers a salve for the bleak moments or hours. The slow, gentle movement sequence will usher in enough light and hope to persevere through the dark. The 3-part mudra meditation then shores up inner strength and faith in divine wisdom and guidance. The practice is one for “fixable” Bad Days, and equally effective for seemingly inexplicable bouts of gray.

Begin on your belly. Bend the knees, so that the lower legs are perpendicular to the floor. With your forehead on the ground, there will be space between the upper chest/throat and the floor: Bring your hands into gentle fists, and nestle them into that space; the elbows are bent and tucked in next to the body. In this position, eyes closed with no special focus, become aware of the breath.

At this point, there is no prescribed count or technique: Simply notice the quality of the inhale and exhale through the nose. Change nothing.

After about 1 minute, let the hands open softly, sliding one over the other, palms facing the body. Turn the head to one side. Continue conscious breathing for 1 more minute. Then, turn the head to the other side, and switch which hand is on top. (Both are still underneath the body, palms facing the body.) Again, breathe naturally for 1 minute.

Now, rest the forehead on the hands: palms down, left hand on top of right. Let the legs straighten out onto the floor.

Begin to bring a count to the breath: Inhale through the nose for 4 beats; exhale through parted lips for 6-8. Infuse the exhalation with the sound, “Hoooo.” Continue for 30-60 seconds; then, switch the hands—right hand over left, palms down, forehead on the hand stack—and breathe with the same count and sound for another 30-60 seconds.

Next, roll on to the right side. Use the right arm, bent or straight, as a pillow for the head. For support, you may bend the right leg a bit. Lift the long left (top) leg a couple of inches, so that it is parallel to the floor. Visualize a shelf upon which the leg can rest: Then, begin to slide the leg forward and back along the shelf; only move a few inches in either direction. 

Exert as little effort as possible. The intention is to sense support from the visualization… from the mind, from within. Continue for 30-60 seconds.

When you are ready, roll onto the left side. Repeat the movement with supportive visualization for another 30-60 seconds.

Now, return to the belly, and press slowly up into an easy Sphinx Pose: elbows under shoulders, forearms parallel to each other on the floor. Then, move the hands toward each other: Rest them on their pinky edges, and touch each fingertip to its partner on the other hand; let the palms be apart.

With eyes closed, begin tiny head circles to the right. Move slowly and with an awareness of the uppermost vertebra of the spine: Atlas and Axis. 

Special note: The skull perches atop Atlas, which is the vertebra that allows the head to nod “yes.” Axis, just below, offers the ability to shake “no.” What we perceive as head circles is the alternating of Atlas’ “yes,” and Axis’ “no.” With that in mind, you are more likely to keep the “circles” small and slow: rolling around atop two small structures.

Circle 10 times to the right, and then 10 to the left.

From Sphinx, press up as if to come onto all fours: However, come onto the knees and forearms. The elbows are directly underneath the shoulders. Bring the hands together as they were in Sphinx: on the pinky edges, fingertips touching, palms apart.

Inhale to rock the body forward toward the hands; exhale to shift back toward the heels. With each exhalation, push back far enough to feel a deep stretch from the hips, through the back, and into the shoulders and armpits. Move rhythmically forward and back, for 1 minute.

Then, press up into traditional all fours: hands and knees. Begin Cat/Cow spinal movement; however, work with “reversed” breathing. As you inhale, deeply round (flex) the spine; exhale to arch (extend) into Cow. Be focused: Muscle memory may try to return the breath to the more traditional version of the movement. Inhale to round, exhale to arch: 1 minute.

From all fours, slide the left leg back along the floor. Let the body move back as the leg does: Eventually, the right buttock will come be above the right heel. Rest down, so that the right buttock sits on the heel, left leg extended back, body resting on the forearms or floor. Remain here for 5-10 deep breaths through the nose.

Then, rise up and out of the posture, returning to all fours. Slide the right leg back, so that you can come into modified Pigeon on the other side. Take 5-10 full breaths.

Once again, come out of the posture, so that you can transition into your preferred seated position for meditation. 

Throughout the following sequence, the eyes are closed and gazing upward to the Third Eye.

The mantra for the meditation is: Sa Ta Na Ma, Ra Ma Da Sa, Sa Say So Hung. Chant each syllable at the rate of the second-hand tick of a clock: monotone, steady. 

Chant silently, in a whisper, or aloud. As the mudras shift throughout the meditation, feel free to alter how you chant. Use your inner wisdom to intuit the voice you give to the mantra. 

This is a chant for healing, and for invoking faith in the workings of the Universe. The mudras progressively infuse divine wisdom and healing into the subconscious and higher consciousness. 

As you are seated, wrap your arms around the torso: Let the palms rest on the side ribs in this tender self-hug. Begin to chant the mantra inwardly, as a whisper, our out loud. Continue for 1-2 minutes. Remember to chant somewhat slowly: methodically, like the tick of a clock.

Then, release the body mudra, and bring the hands up to rest against the chest, on the Heart Center. Begin as if in Prayer Mudra, but interlace the fingers, overlapping the thumbs, so that the hands become as one soft fist. Continue to chant the mantra for another 1-2 minutes.

Finally, shift the hands into the last, simple mudra: Place the hands in the lap, palms up, one hand resting in the palm of the other. Touch the thumb tips together, and stay with the mantra for  at least one minute, and up to 5. When you are ready, ease your way onto the back for Svasana: Rest in the soothing, affirming vibration you have created for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

 

New Audio Practice!

As a way to transition into the New Year, I offer a brief respite from whatever tension may have accrued from the holidays, or from the inevitable stress that accompanies the ongoing pandemic. If you would like to instill a sense of ease in the body and peace in the mind and heart, look for “Release Valve” at the following address:

anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

Once there, you can scroll down for additional practices. You can also choose to listen to any of the practices on Spotify. (The link is clear when you visit the anchor.fm site.)

May you be well and safe, and may we all find hope in the year to come…

Yet Again–The Path Already Taken (Or: How Not to Trip on the Same Stones)

Now, at 3:47 a.m., I have been up for 2 hours and 14 minutes. And so it begins (again)…

The last month has been another challenging period in our family’s interminable travels with Mom’s dementia. Around this time two years ago, we faced similar concerns: Mom was unhappy and frustrated with her living situation, especially as she had stopped driving. Back then, we, her adult children, scrambled and fumbled and whirled ourselves into a state of anxiety over how to address Mom’s issues: We had become certain that the only recourse was to move her out of Home, and move her into a “home.” 

When nothing seemed to be a good fit, or obstacles and uncertainties caused us to spin faster and more wildly, we finally realized that there must be an alternative to how we were thinking and what we were doing. Thank goodness for my sister, who managed to rally a neighbor of my mom’s to provide help: Long story short, “L” stepped in and up, and provided our family with care for our mom, and time for us to regroup.

So it has been two years of a deep breath for all of us. As of this moment, however, we have returned to the thought that Mom needs a different environment and a deeper level of care. (To be clear, this current state of thinking originated with our mother’s demand and declaration that she must, she will move “back Home.” She can not express exactly what that looks like, or where it is, but she has spent a month packing furiously and often waiting for a “ride home.” Over and over again, we have had to thwart her aim: She already lives in the one and only home/house she has.)

Finally, last week, all of us—including “L,” her intrepid caregiver—simultaneously agreed that the time has come: Mom must be moved. Ironically, that is the granting of her wish; however, it is a wish that she can not visualize or describe. Said “wish,” in its fulfillment, may be the very thing that brings her to her knees. 

Anywhere we move her likely will not sate the feeling that she craves: peace and purpose.

So how do we accommodate her and our hopes? Where lies that accommodation? Here, I could launch into a diatribe about “peace within,” or the universal presence of a divine kingdom and its inner dwelling. In the distant, milky past, these are ideas that my mother and I would discuss for hours. But then the harshest of earthly realities strikes: My mother’s dementia does not allow her to grasp abstracts, or at least to retain them; and her cognitive challenges include decreased judgment and reasoning. Her mood swings are certain to occur, but we never know when or for how long.

To encourage that mind to look within, or to breathe deeply, or to be grateful for her lovely home and its nature-filled surroundings is a fool’s errand. She may understand the intention of such suggestions, but she will not remember them, nor would she be able to engage them.

Thus, here we are again. And here I am, watching my own mind try to retrace what we did in the previous version of this challenge two years ago, and how to do it differently. Thankfully, while Mom’s mind has shifted away from reasoned understanding, my own (by dint of sheer need) has acquired a greater ability to focus and direct intention. And as with distance healing for others’ physical concerns, one can stimulate and amplify a vibration of peace for others: So it shall be for my mother.

What I return to (which took me a while to access last time) is the mantra “Sat Kartar,” or, “God is the Doer and the Truth.” One could also say, “Let go, let God;” or, “What is meant to be, shall be.”

All such mantras reroute a wayward mind, one that attempts to juggle, analyze, or fix too much. When yoked to God’s will, one’s own will can ease up on the reins. When anchored in God’s wisdom, one’s own mind can discern and dismiss irrelevant or misguided choices. When one consciously breathes into the vast void that is paradoxically the eternal entirety and wholeness, one can temper the demands of this earthbound existence.

With the mantra—or whatever mantra “appears” on any given day—I also have returned to the most fundamental of breathing techniques: “in for 4; out for 8.” Typically, after a few rounds, the counts become closer to 6 and 12. And I find that I breathe in through the nose, and exhale through the nose, eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye. Sometimes a groan or sad sigh emerges: Whatever is imprisoned within is given the opportunity to escape. Usually, after 5 minutes, I begin to play with the calmed, deeper breath: whistle in, whistle out; or, in through pursed lips, and out through the mouth with tongue extended.

This is a case when the body knows more than the mind: Let the physical need guide the remedy. And such is the case of the spiritual need and remedy: God knows, the Universe knows—let them lead the way. 

Onward…

Silent Sundays: Daily Doses Series, Part One–Morning Medicine

This Silent Sunday begins a new, three-part series, Daily Doses, designed to provide what your body and mind need, at the specific time that they need it. Today, “Morning Medicine” gently guides you into the day. Whether you practice this routine on a day of silence is not crucial; however, do try to engage with this practice before speaking your first words of the day (with one minor exception). The oils, movements, and pranayama expel sleep’s subconscious thoughts and physical stiffness, and leave you clear and empowered for the day to come.

Upon first waking, perhaps even before the eyes open, greet the day: “Good morning,” in a sweet, kind voice meant for a small child or animal. Then, extend both legs into the air at a 90-degree angle to the body. Feel free to slide a pillow or rolled blanket under the hips to aid this, if your “morning back” feels reluctant. Interlace the fingers behind the neck, thumb tips touching, and open the elbows as wide as possible. Breathe deeply through the nose in this abdominal-awakening, lymph-flow-stimulating position for 1 minute.

Then, proceed to where you can lightly rinse your communicative cavities: eyes, mouth, ears. As you softly wipe away the debris of the night with cool water, you prepare yourself to receive Divine guidance. Use this ritual anytime you want to establish effective listening and conscious expression.

Next, collect essential oils and lotion (or carrier oil) to create a vibrationally conducive vessel (i.e., your body) for the practice. I suggest lung- and heart-opening oils for morning: for example, tea tree, eucalyptus, rosemary, or cypress. Combine any one of these with lavender or geranium to establish a calm, open-hearted foundation for breath and movement.

Once you have selected your oil(s), put a few drops into simple lotion or a carrier oil (e.g., jojoba or almond, even plain Vitamin E oil). Gently rub the “medicine” between, and into the tips and webbing of the toes; then, softly, rapidly stroke the top of the foot just below the toes, as well as the balls of the feet. When you have anointed yourself, cover the feet with socks for the next part of practice. 

Come into your usual practice space. Sit wherever and however feels most comfortable to you, ensuring that the spine is upright and aligned; use any necessary bolsters to aid this position. Here, invoke your first prayer or affirmation of the day: With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, inhale long and steady through the nose; as you exhale slowly and completely through gently pursed lips, mentally chant a mantra, prayer, or intentional words or phrases. Repeat as many times as feels right to you, in this moment, on this day.

Now, remove the socks or foot coverings to begin the standing moves. With feet hip-width apart, inhale to carry the arms out  to the sides and up overhead; as you do so, softly bend the knees. Exhale to lower the arms and lengthen through the legs. Next, inhale the arms straight forward and up as you bend the knees; sweep the arms down through the side space as you exhale and straighten the legs. 

Then, inhale to step the left foot wide to the left; bend the knee, toes pointing forward, into this side lunge. As you do so, bring the right arm up alongside the head; keep the torso upright, no lean. Exhale to return to neutral standing. Inhale to repeat the side lunge to the right, with the left arm reaching up; exhale back to center. 

Repeat the two opening arm moves with knee bends, followed by the side lunge couplet, three more times, for a total of 4 rounds. 

Special note: For an additional coordination and focus challenge, alternate which foot steps first in the side-lunge sequence. On the first and third rounds, step to the left first; on the second and fourth rounds, begin by lunging to the right.

Next, still standing, interlace the hands behind the back. Stretch the hands and arms down toward the heels, as you gently arch the spine and look up. Remain here for three full inhales and two exhales: On the third exhale, return up to neutral standing. Repeat this front-body opener two more times for a total of 3 standing back bends, each with 3 breaths.

Now, help yourself onto the all fours for traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes. You will be here for 3 minutes, so begin slowly. Hone in on the sensations in the shoulders, hips, and belly; as the body warms and releases, move more quickly and fluidly. The breath will naturally speed up as your movement accelerates; nonetheless, complete a full inhale and full exhale with each extension and flexion of the spine, respectively. 

Finally, come into Downward Dog. Select whatever version of this pose serves you on any given morning: heels down or up; heels alternating up and down; knees slightly bent; deep or shallow space between hands and feet. Regardless of how you need to accommodate this posture, commit to remaining calm and strong in the position for 2 minutes, with long, deep breathing. 

Then, slowly walk the feet toward the hands, and ease down to sit. Alternatively, you may move into a chair. When seated, place the hands palms up, on the knees. With eyes closed, gaze up to the Third Eye. Return to your opening mantra or prayer or thought: Inhale deeply, and suspend the breath; mentally chant your words of choice. Repeat the words as many times as possible before you need to exhale. Then, breathe out, and send the thoughts deeply throughout your mind and body. Repeat this breathing, silent chanting pattern at least two more times, or for however long you like.

Happy Sunday…

Next time: Part Two—Noon Nectar 

How to Hang On–Day 8: Mantra-making

For the past 10 or 15 years, I have been selecting an annual or bi-annual Sanskrit or Gurmukhi mantra to learn and recite daily. Once selected, I chant it 108 times; or for 11 minutes; or as a silent, rhythmic backdrop to daily activities. Some have been with me for many years; others occupy mind space for a limited period of time, often as a 40-day discipline. I find this practice to be calming, centering, and a fun way to placate my language-loving brain’s need for sustenance.

I have one particular Sanskrit mantra that I distinctly remember trying to learn and memorize: It was more than a decade ago, and I chose the full version as a challenge. Because I mostly worked with it during long walks around the neighborhood where I was petsitting at the time, the words began to attach themselves to the beat of my walk.

And that technique—linking a mantra to a physical rhythm—has stuck with me. Over the course of the last year, especially, I have sought mantras that invoke and instill wellness; that curb pain; and that keep fear and anxiety at bay. As the color or recent months took on an acute hue of struggle, I found that I would create mantras in English that directly addressed my specific needs and goals.

The two that now attend my every step—especially when out in public, where I am most determined to stay physically upright and mentally positive—are:

“Stong and steady, healthy and well; well and healthy, steady and strong.” I repeat this with each set of left/right steps, until I have reached my destination.

And, the most recent addition: “Soothe my muscles, bathe my bones in thine Divine Healing Power.” This particular helper stems from a mantra that is integral to the healing techniques of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship teachings.

So there you have it: If ancient mantras and unfamiliar sounds and languages do not resonate with you, feel free to intuit the words and rhythms of personal mantras that surge forth from within. When you find a way to incorporate them into daily life, their energy pervades your area of need. An extra benefit: To discern and create a mantra distracts the mind from perceived pain. This mental elixir thus joins the arsenal that one needs to build when trying to hang on.

’Til tomorrow…