Silent Sundays: Express Ticket (Plus Audio!)

On this Silent Sunday, I won’t be. (Silent, that is…)

To forsake a dedicated ritual for even one day is a little disorienting. It does, however, offer the opportunity to practice the aim of the Silent Sunday discipline: Let no earthly distraction detract from awareness of and connection to the divine realm.

Because this disruption of silence includes a busy morning (housecleaning, dog-walking, airport pick-up), I created a quick, yet comprehensive practice to open, then steady and pacify the inner sanctum. In less than 10 minutes of movement and focused breath meditation, you will be prepared to greet the day.

Perhaps best of all? Because I am not in silence on this day, I recorded the audio version of today’s routine. To practice along, head to: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

The Moves 

Tuck Balance

Stretch Balance

Wide-Leg Release: Alternating stretch, Sufi’s Grind

Spinal Flow in Bridge

Inverted Butt Kicks

Reclining Twist

The Peace

8-Breath Meditation

Intuited Yoni Mudra

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…

 

“Silent Sundays” Meets “Treasure Trove”

On this Silent Sunday, I offer a new entry into the Treasure Trove (TT) collection. For those who may have missed the introduction to Treasure Trove, it is a series of Everything Elsa practices converted to audio. Today’s TT is one of my first posts, from 2017, wherein I explain the origin and role of Silent Sundays in my life. Additionally, I include a short mudra meditation to aid the shift into silence.

You can practice today’s meditation by following the written version, linked at the end of this post. Or, if you prefer to be guided with the audio version, it will be available tomorrow (March 28) at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson. (There, the title will be: “On Silence, Plus…)

Special note: As a minor edit to the original piece, it has now been more than 20 years (not 15) that I have been practicing the discipline of silence on a weekly basis. Further, as regular readers know, the “meditation and pranayama” practices slated for each Silent Sunday have evolved, as well.

Upon reflection, I am more certain than ever that the weekly decision to not speak has fostered a spiritual fortitude that has helped me to make my way through multiple challenges. When all is well, on the other hand, the silent time opens the channels for awe and reverence.

Silent Sundays

Here’s to the exploration of Silence.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: How To Abide Duality

Yesterday, I attended an online 3HO (kundalini yoga) event for the March Equinox. Before one lecture, the speaker, Madhur-Nain, gave a brief introduction about how she came to blend her work as a therapist with her role as kundalini teacher. She described how for many years, she kept the two separate: She regarded those compartments of her life as a necessary duality.

Like most dualistic experiences and awarenesses, the situation was inherently incomplete: The separation of one from another intrinsically negates the chance for wholeness, for balance. Thus, she created a professional life for herself in which her two therapeutic backgrounds—yoga teacher and counselor—could inhabit the same space.

A few days before this, I had heard an interview with a singer, Michael Buble, who, when asked how he balances work and family, answered that ultimately, there is no balance: Family, for him, would always take precedence.

While these two situations may seem antithetical—one affirms that balance is possible, one states that one thing must always “weigh more”—they both relate to my personal and recent tussle with dualistic sensibilities and circumstances.

Certainly, it is no coincidence that this topic has leapt to the fore, given my mother’s recent death. What could create more of a sense of duality than the awareness that a loved one is no longer in the same dimension? But that is not the piece that has crept into my psyche the most: Instead, it is a conversation that I had with my sister soon after our mom’s passing.

Following her death, I began to feel a sense of emotional and mental discomfort with regard to a childhood situation that, for the the most part, was not mentioned in our family. As I talked about this with my sister, she commented that it was “not really in my life; it was its own separate thing.” I knew in that moment that, counter to my sister’s view, the situation had very much infiltrated my life; it had been with me—in me—ever since its occurrence.

Although I think my sister meant that I had compartmentalized it, her words struck me as false: The very nature of the childhood issue meant that there was no way it would not become part of my perceptions, views, and even my physicality. What her words revealed is that I had done a good job of living with it and of intellectualizing it.

But upon Mom’s death, I was faced with how something I had forced into a place of duality—then and now—was, in fact, ever-present. It happened, it infused my being, and it remains.

Duality comes in many different forms, many of which occupy the category of “inner vs. outer”: professional vs. personal self; private vs. public behaviors; honesty vs. secrets, and so on. 

And then there are the larger themes, such as earthly vs. divine realms; or reality vs. illusion. For me (and, I suspect, many others) that is perhaps a karmic task: to exist on this planet as a human being, despite the sense that this lifetime is one of an illusory nature.

How does one abide dualities large and small, emotional and physical, spiritual and intellectual?

First, I have come to believe that it does no good to ignore the inherent imbalance of duality. Rarely, if ever, do two discrete beliefs or circumstances or identities share equal importance to the person experiencing them. Duality is not a constant state of separate, but equal; rather, it is one of ongoing adjustment and adaptation.

Duality thus indicates the continual need to abide flux and dis-ease. To abide duality is to learn “how to live, despite….”

Now, to be perfectly frank, I am not happy about this realization. It does, however, offer a spiritual challenge, which is a context that I can, do, and will always accept, even welcome.

Contemplation and Meditation

So, on this Silent Sunday, I offer no “remedy,” nor even a singular way to approach Duality. Rather, I suggest contemplation of the dualities in your own life; how they affect seemingly unrelated areas of your life (e.g., patterns of behavior or cognition); and which “half” of the duality more often than not tips the scale.

After some quiet thinking time, bring your awarenesses to meditation. As a practice, the aim is to acknowledge any dissonance created by duality; calm it; and then release it into the universal realm, where it can be observed and accepted as a piece of your personal puzzle.

Mudras for Contemplation

As you sit and ponder the duality in your own life—impostor syndrome? mom or dad vs. professional power person? logic vs. emotion?—try one of the following mudras. Each will help to settle your thoughts, so that you can identify the nature and effect of the duality.

1) On each hand, hold the index finger down into the palm with the thumb. The other fingers remain straight. Then, place the hands on the knees or in the lap, palms up or down;

2)   Place one hand in the palm of the other, both palms up. Thumb tips touch;

3)   Touch the fingertips and thumb tips of one hand to the corresponding tips of the other. Palms are apart. Hold the mudra at any level in front of you; fingers are apart and point up.

Mudra for Meditation

In your seated position, touch the pinky sides of the hands together; turn the palms up. Let the hands be soft, so that they create a subtle bowl. Extend the arms out in front of the Heart Center; again, keep this relaxed—allow the elbows to be slightly bent. 

Consciously place your realizations from contemplation in the vessel of your hands. Let them be soft, but discernible, like dandelion fluff. 

Turn the closed eyes up to gaze at the Third Eye. Inhale deeply through the nose. Exhale through slightly open lips; direct the breath toward the hands, as if trying to blow the Duality “fluff” into the Universe. Continue for 3-5 minutes.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Personal Stories, Universal Truth

On this Silent Sunday, I find myself pondering Truth. Given the seeming complexity and elusiveness of the topic, I wonder why I feel compelled to wrangle with it: However, in questioning my yen to address Truth, I find a ready answer. What I refer to as complex and elusive is, essentially, fundamental and ever-present. So, to enter the fray with Truth is to seek Reality when the external environment feels surreal and inexplicable. 

Some of my thoughts were helped into a framework after I read an article in The Atlantic: “Our Brains Want the Story of the Pandemic to Be Something It Isn’t,” by Joe Pinsker. He describes the need that most of us have to “storify” our experiences. In doing so, we create an understandable through-line for events and feelings that could otherwise overwhelm us.

The notion of a narrative-based reality is, in itself, confounding. If events—their cause, their effect, their purpose, and sometimes even their existence—can be perceived and described so differently by so many different people, how can Truth be discerned?

While the the context of the article is the COVID-19 pandemic, the premise can be extended to address the current conflict in Ukraine…and more. Those in the midst of the bombings and attacks certainly feel the real pain and fear: However, those in Russia hear a different narrative, one that either denies the combat and resultant horrors, or one that rationalizes—even glorifies—the war. 

And “out here,” in a country thousands of miles away, I read and listen to Western news sources. I take it for granted that I hear the truth of the events: I watch and hear the stories of Ukrainians who have left the remains of loved ones in the rubble of what was once a home. And from my own throat and lips, sounds and words emerge that point to one thing: anger.

This is not the kind of anger that stirs when personally affronted. It is however, the kind of angry frustration that occurs when blatant inhumanity reigns. I felt similarly during the racist events of 2020; I feel the same soul-tearing when I think of the Holocaust; and I feel the uneasy quakes when I realize how prejudice and persecution is interwoven into our lives here on earth from Day One.

Then, I circle back to the contemplation of Truth. Confronted with the infuriating, confusing events that are taking place now—and those that have and will—my recourse is two-fold: release the unsettled emotion, and restore calm, abiding Faith. For when Truth is disguised, or when Truth is blurred by or replaced with conflicting narratives, I return to the one and only constant that also always was and always will be: God.

For those who question or hold no belief in the powers of the Divine Universe, the following practice is nonetheless applicable. Simply wrap your mind around whatever your sense of the ultimate Truth is. If, indeed, it is the world and body that you inhabit, then hone in on the most positive vibrations that exist within those forms. 

Regardless, the practice works to bring one back to a centered state of being, and then expands to unite the human self with the eternal Truth. This is the Truth that knows no narrative; it can not be rewritten or reimagined, nor altered in any way. It is unto itself. 

To free yourself from the constraints of ingrained stories and perceptions, you will undertake a thorough clearing of the entire chakra system. To stimulate each energy center and bring each into its optimal state is the first step. Then, all are harmonized, which establishes the foundation for impartial clarity—the ability to discern and receive the Truth.

Begin seated. With the palms or fists on the ground, press down to lift the hips off of the ground. Quickly drop the body down. Inhale to lift, exhale to drop. Be sure to keep the spine lifted and long: ideally, you will feel a reverberative shock all the way up through the spine with each drop. Complete 16 Drops.

Then, move immediately into Sufi Grinds. With the hands on the knees, circle the torso clockwise; undulate powerfully through the waist and ribs as if to massage each organ as you circle. Inhale through the front portion of the circle; exhale as you circle through the back space. 

Continue for 1 minute, then reverse directions. Continue counter-clockwise for 1 more minute.

Then, still seated, place the feet on the floor, knees bent. With the hands slightly behind the body, press down through the arms to lift the hips into a modified Rear Platform, or Table Pose.

Tilt the head back slightly; if necessary, you may keep it in a neutral position. With eyes closed and focused on the Third Eye, begin Breath of Fire through the nose: Continue for 1 minute.

Next, lower down and “flip the Table” to come onto all fours. From here, lower yourself down to bring the crown of the head to the floor. Release the hands behind you, and interlace the fingers. Lengthen through the elbows to straighten the arms, and lift the arms away from the back.

Inhale: As you exhale, settle the hips down toward the heels, and lower the arms down to the back. You will roll from the crown to the forehead. Inhale to shift forward and up onto the crown as the arms lift; exhale to settle back and down. Continue this Moving Yoga Mudra for 12 rounds. (One round is inhale up/exhale down.)

Now, return to a seated posture. Bring the arms in next to the body, elbows bent, palms facing each other: Fingers are straight and together on each hand. Begin to alternately shoot the arms straight up, full lengthening each arm as it darts upward. Fully and quickly extend and retract each arm before moving the other. Alternate left and right as quickly as possible: inhale up, exhale down. Continue for 1 minute.

Sit quietly for a few deep breaths. Then, bring the hands behind the neck, interlacing the fingers: Open the elbows as wide as possible. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, inhale deeply through the nose: Use your mind’e eye to guide the breath from the Root Chakra, or base of spine, up the front of the spine, all the way to the Crown; exhale to send the breath down through corridor of energy vortexes, back to the Root. Complete 8 of these long, slow visualized breaths.

Finally, place the left palm on the Heart Center. Bend the right arm, elbow against the waist, palm facing forward. Create Gyan Mudra: Touch the index and thumb tip together, other three fingers together and straight up.

With eyes closed and focused to the Third Eye, begin to silently chant: Aum Tat Sat (ohm taht suht). I suggest the inner chant of “Aum” on an inhale, and “Tat Sat” upon the exhale. The mantra acknowledges and exalts the eternal Truth of the Universe. Remain here, invoking and infusing that certainty within, for 3-11 minutes.

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…

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: Reminder Nuggets

Today, Silent Sunday provides an opportunity to revisit some foundational and demonstrably effective ways to attend to emotion, mind, and body. From spinal flex routines, to mighty mudras, to powerful pranayama, to essential oil elixirs, these techniques address myriad concerns and aims.

Special note: Depending on your personal need of the day, you could select one of the following techniques; or, experiment with them all to create a longer customized practice. I will offer an example of such a routine in closing.

First is an array of spinal flexes. These movements never fail to awaken the mind and body. Interestingly, although the flexions, extensions, and rotations are natural and vital for our body and nervous system, they are not typical daily movements in most contemporary cultures. But as a morning wake-up, nightly wind-down, pre-meditation warm-up, or midday attention booster, they are unparalleled.

You may do this combination seated on the floor or a chair, or even standing. Begin by inhaling to arch (extend) the spine forward; then exhale to round (flex) the spine back. Keep the hands in one place (knees or thighs, or on the hips if standing), and focus on moving the spine forward and backward through the frame of the shoulders. Continue for 1-3 minutes, giving yourself plenty of time to move from initial stiffness to fluid ease.

Then, begin Sufi Grinds. This adds side-space movement to the forward/back move: Inhale to move the spine forward and to the right; exhale as you move back, and around to the left, circling the entire torso and allowing the pelvis to move as well. Continue “grinding” clockwise for 1 minute, then reverse to circle to the left. Breathe deeply, and use the movement to massage the inner organs: This is an excellent way to aid digestion.

From here, come onto all fours: Cat/Cow essentially transposes the seated (and thus vertical) spine to a horizontal plane. Any time one shifts movement to another level or orientation, the brain receives a burst of alertness, while circulation improves and muscles are challenged. On your hands and knees, inhale to deeply arch the spine, open the chest, and look forward or slightly up; exhale to round, tuck the tail, and allow the head to hang. Continue for 1 minute: If you find a spot that feels stuck or stiff, remain in the position, breathing and wriggling into the area, and then resume the flex/extend movement.

The next infallible tool in this particular “kit” is Nadi Sodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing. I have found that this pranayama can resolve restlessness, anxiety, overthinking, worry, and even anger: As a balancing, centering technique, it comes to the rescue every time. 

Special note: An easy way to remember when to change fingers/nostrils in this breathing technique is to switch after each inhale. Using this method, the pattern quickly becomes second-nature. 

Sit in your favorite meditative position. Typically, one uses the right hand to guide the breath through the nose; if you are injured or unable to use the right hand, the left is fine. Simply make the necessary adjustment to the following instructions. I enjoy keeping the left hand in the lap, palm up, when practicing this pranayama. If you prefer a mudra, or to keep the palm down, feel free: You also may find that the resting hand wants to do something different each time your practice; follow your intuition and the need of the day.

Further, I tend to use the right thumb and ring finger, with the  flat space between the first and second knuckles of the index and middle fingers resting on the Third Eye. Again, though, if you are more comfortable with a different configuration, e.g., thumb and index as the “operators,” certainly do that. 

Regardless, begin by closing the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril; then, close the left with the ring (or index) finger, and exhale fully and steadily through the right nostril. Inhale through the right; close the right; and exhale through the left. Inhale left; close it; exhale right; inhale right; close; exhale left. Continue with this alternate-side breath for 3-7 minutes.

Now, it is mudra time. There are countless hand and finger configurations in different religions, cultures, and practices. To select even five favorites would be a true challenge for me: Instead, I offer three that find their way into my daily practice almost every time. Each is simple, soothing, and seems to open a portal for prayer and mediation. 

First is a Heart Center mudra. Almost always, I close a kriya, prayer, or meditation with some variation of hands-on-heart: The classic Prayer Mudra is a good example of such a gesture. One version that I use without thinking is to hold my gently fisted right hand with the left, and bring the package to rest on my chest.

As a fundamental hand position during pranayama or meditation, I enjoy placing the left hand in the right, both palms up with the thumb tips touching. Simply rest the hands in the lap or at the base of the belly.

And, of course, Gyan Mudra is a traditional and oft-seen and -used gesture. This classic configuration touches the thumb tip to index finger tip: One may also curl the index fully underneath the thumb, or partially, to about the level of the first knuckle. Gyan mudra is used to enhance communication and to invoke divine wisdom. 

More often than not, I use a different finger as a one-finger mudra. If needing patience and discernment, I’ll touch middle finger to the thumb tip. Or, to energize any thought, movement, or goal of a particular practice, use the ring finger and thumb. To align with subtle and Universal energies, touch pinky to thumb tip. These are all fundamental, powerful mudras; as such, they form the basis of more complex configurations. Use your kinesthetic and intuitive abilities to feel your way toward one that suits you at any given moment.

Finally, a frequently overlooked adjunct to any practice, and a highly therapeutic modality any time: essential oil blending. As with mudras, I find it difficult to choose “favorites,” as I use the oils for specific purposes: However, I do use the following oils most often, either in combination with others, or as their own elixir. Regardless, a carrier oil that harmonizes with your skin is also an important part of creating an oil mix.

Most often, I use jojoba oil as a base. I may blend it with Vitamin E oil, and/or almond oil. Others swear by avocado, apricot, or even olive oil; my skin and nose, however, prefer the more neutral carriers.

As for go-to essential oils: peppermint, lavender, geranium, and vetiver are among my personal staples. In different combinations, I may add eucalyptus or thyme; bergamot, orange, or neroli; or deeper, “woodier,” oils, e.g., patchouli. When selecting oils, sniff them as you would when choosing a fragrance: If it is unappealing, trust that your body will not respond easily to your desired therapeutic goal. If an oil “sparks” or “perks” your nose, it likely will serve as an excellent mood or energy boost. Conversely, an oil whose scent immediately soothes or quiets you will be an excellent start for a grounding blend or sleep aid.

To close, the following is an example of how one might combine the above power-players into a full practice. Begin by anointing yourself with an oil or blend: If you want a more meditative session, try lavender alone, or in combination with vetiver or frankincense. If you need energy or stimulation, peppermint or sweet orange oil are wonderful choices. Regardless, dab your selection onto the soles of the feet, wrists, and temples.

Then, spend a few minutes warming up the spine. If you prefer only the seated spinal flexes, or alternatively, only Cat/Cow, that is fine. Be sure, though, that you move deeply and long enough to expel stiffness from the muscles and distractions from the mind. A thorough stimulation of the spine will aid the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which in turn will enhance concentration and meditation.

With the body prepared, settle in for several minutes of Alternate Nostril Breathing. When you have finished, sit quietly with a selected mudra. Keep the eyes closed, gazing to the Third Eye, and allow the vibrations from movement, breath, and the imbuing oils to settle. If you like, you may further integrate the energies with a few minutes in Svasana.

Happy Sunday…

Purpose–An Afterword (with Mudra Meditation)

In the previous Silent Sunday piece (“In Pursuit of Purpose”), I discussed the idea of Purpose, versus purpose. In sum, Big P Purpose alludes to one’s destined role with regard to the whole of a lifetime; little p purpose can—and usually does—arise multiple times, in different guises, throughout ones life (e.g., as a job, goal, or relationship).

Since that time, I have found myself reconsidering and expanding some of my initial thoughts. First, I began to wonder: What if Big and little p are not distinct, nor mutually exclusive? What if the accrual of circumstantial purposes all along are the route to—or even the manifestation of—Purpose?

Alongside these queries, I also thought about the concept of a Calling, i.e, “being called” to/from the place of Knowing. I thought of young people who arrive in this world with great gifts or talents: Were they called before arrival, or is it up to them to heed the call, and thus move through this earth-life as a vehicle to display their gift?

Or, what of folks whose gifts go unattended or squelched by circumstance or lack of guidance? Does that mean that their Purpose goes unfulfilled, or does it mean that their Purpose is to unleash and exalt their talent?

With this continued pondering, I circled back around to my own distinction between purpose and Purpose. Could it be that little-p is a necessary, inherent subset of Big P? Could it be that similar activities and vocations (e.g., in my case, movement and bodywork) are the manifestations of one unifying, umbrella theme?

Perhaps, then, each of us already and always are heeding our Purpose, even if we do not recognize it as such. If Purpose is the through-line of Destiny, then each breath, thought, and action motors along that trajectory: The fervent desire to identify Purpose thus signals its existence within us; the urgency to locate and uphold it is a beacon toward its conscious discovery. 

To direct that light and to feel aligned with one’s individual Purpose may be the task of Life, the universal Purpose of humankind. For some, the means of connection is mental or spiritual; for others, the doing—dharma—is the way. 

Regardless of how one pursues the acquaintance of Purpose, discernment and patience will be powerful companions in the quest. And if one has met and become connected with Purpose, the qualities of awareness and intuition ease into the equation: In order to maintain the sense of Knowing Purpose, one must remain attentive and adaptable. Purpose may change its guise, but its essence will remain. It is to that eternal seed that one must offer consistent and nurturing attention.

MUDRA MEDITATION

As a technique to summon and discern Purpose, I have created a mudra practice to harmonize with Purpose-related vibrations from the divine and the Universe. Rooted in the classic hand gestures of Shunya and Bhudi mudras, the meditation is comprised of three parts: traditional mudras; moving mudras; and pointedly placed mudras.

To begin, sit in your favorite position for meditation. Place the hands on the knees, resting them on their pinky-side edges: Palms thus face each other. Use the thumbs to hold down the middle fingers into the palms. With closed eyes gazing to the Third Eye, breathe normally, but consciously; ensure that each inhale and exhale are fulfilled. Enter into this opening portion with the intent to shift from ego and earthly aims, to a state of welcoming and accepting that which is meant for you. Continue for about 5 minutes.

Next, turn the hands to rest palms up on the knees. Release the mudra to create another: Touch the thumb tips to the pinky fingertips. In this gesture of openness to that which the Universe has to communicate, we align our intuition with divine wisdom. Breathe here for another 5 minutes.

With patience, discernment, and intuition activated, instinctively select one of the previous mudras. It may well be that you choose the middle finger gesture on one hand, with the pinky mudra on the other: Whatever combination resonates with your current energy vibration is the optimal selection.

Now, with the palms up and holding whichever mudra(s) feel right to you, begin circling the hands and forearms: The upper arms rest in by the body. Treat the movement as a round, i.e., the right side begins its outward (clockwise) circle; about 1/3-halfway through that circle, the left side kicks in (also moving outward, or counter-clockwise). Moving in this way will begin to create a sense of a Figure 8 moving through your magnetic field. Continue fluidly for 3 minutes.

Finally, bring the hands in front of the Heart Center, palms facing each other. Bring the tips of both thumbs, both pinkies, and both middle fingers together: All 6 tips are connected with each other. Extend the index and ring fingers as straight upward as possible. This mudra aims to invoke and energize divine guidance (via the “antennas” of the first and third fingers), and to channel it into your heightened and awaiting intuitive power. Breathe steadily and deeply here for 5 minutes. When finished, place the hands, palms down, on the knees, and allow the energies of the practice to consolidate and settle: Remain here for as long as you like.

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…