Silent Sundays: Prepare to Meditate, Part Two–The Way In

As alluded to in yesterday’s piece, the prospect of meditation may be daunting to some. Whether one’s hesitancy is rooted in the physical (“I can’t sit still”); mental (“I have too much on my mind”); or circumstantial realm (“I don’t have the time”), the following routine will assuage doubts, offer fundamental physical and mental techniques, and move seamlessly into a short meditation. 

Special note: I have encountered mis- or uninformed folks who wonder if meditation contradicts or threatens their religious practices. First, “meditation” is not one, abiding practice: Like yoga, there are many styles and aims. Each can serve as a complementary adjunct to other religious or spiritual practices. 

I have come to believe that this misunderstanding surrounding meditation stems from a confusion between prayer and meditation. Prayer assumes a belief in God or gods; meditation need not. (To be clear, my personal practice of meditation is rooted in my sense of God and the Universe; other approaches, however, may be aimed at improving productivity, instilling calm, or even reducing pain.) One way to explain the difference may be to suggest that prayer is an outwardly directed supplication to the divine; meditation is the inward-moving reception of whatever energy one intends to arouse.

Thus, the following routine will be beneficial for all. And it need not be used only in conjunction with meditation; any one or combination of the components will provide an efficient warm-up for activity, and help to establish clarity and focus.

Begin standing. This is the first of four spine-mobilization moves: It may be viewed as the start of a sequence, or, as with any of the others, may be done as a stand-alone exercise. From standing, bend the knees slightly, keeping them in line with the heels; bend forward to place the hands where they naturally fall on the thighs. Inhale to extend (arch) the spine as you draw the shoulders back to open the chest; exhale to flex (round) the spine. Move at a pace that feels comfortable, and that stimulates energy. Allow the neck and head to move as they naturally will upon flexion and extension of the spine. Continue for 30-60 seconds.

Next, come to the floor on all fours. Here, begin traditional Cat/Cow spinal movement: Inhale to arch; exhale to round. Breathe deeply, stay relaxed through the mouth and jaw, and extend/flex for 1 minute.

The third option for spinal work is to lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat and hip-width apart. This spinal activity requires deep attention to the breath and physical movement; it is a significant step toward uniting the two. The synergy of connecting breath to spinal articulation signals an aspect of the upcoming meditation. 

In your supine position, arms by the sides, inhale to tip the tail forward and down; this pelvic tilt is the “home base” of the following sequence. Exhale to bring the tail and pelvis in and up; you will rise to the top, rear rim of the pelvis. Inhale to roll the pelvis back down and directly into the “home base” forward tilt; exhale to roll up incrementally through the lower spine, to the lowest ribs. Inhale to roll down and into the forward pelvic tilt; exhale to roll up, sensing each vertebra lifting off the floor, to just below armpit-level. Inhale down, vertebra by vertebra, into “home base;” exhale all the way up to the tops of the shoulder blades, and stay.

Inhale to lift the arms up and over to rest on the floor over your head. Exhale to roll down, piece by piece; with the arms stretched long overhead, the lowering spine will created an intense stretch through the axilla (armpit). This may be astonishingly stiff for some, so move slowly and patiently; with repetition, the area will ease.

Repeat the entire sequence 4 more times, for a total of 5.

Now, with the body at rest and the knees still bent, feet on the floor, let the knees drop toward the left; move as if they are dominoes or windshield wipers—one leads, the other follows. Inhale back to center; exhale to the right. “Windshield Wipe” the legs back and forth up to 20 times; this will help release tension in the hips and lower back.

When centered again, draw the knees in toward you, just enough to hold behind the thighs. Use your grip to raise the head and shoulders off the ground; you will be in a little boat shape. Now, “rock the boat”: Inhale to rock yourself back, keeping the head up; exhale to rock forward toward the buttocks. Use momentum, and be aware of the activated abdominal muscles: This move provides a bit of a massage to the muscles along the spine, as it subtly strengthens the front body (a necessary ingredient for any sitting practice). Rock back and forth with corresponding breath 10-20 times.

After you have rocked yourself up to a seated position, extend the legs straight forward. Here is the final version of spinal warm-ups. Bring the hands to the shoulders, fingers in front, thumbs behind; the elbows are lifted, so that the upper arms are parallel to the floor. As you inhale, tip the pelvis forward, and draw the elbows behind as if to touch; the entire front body will open in this spinal extension. Simultaneously, bend the knees and flex the feet (bring the toes toward you), with the heels remaining on the ground.

As you exhale, rock the pelvis back, bring the elbows forward to touch each other, and let the head hang; the spine is now deeply rounded into flexion. Simultaneously, lengthen through the knees and extend (point) the feet. 

Continue this spinal flexion and extension, with corresponding “leg pumps” and breath, for 1 minute.

Now you are ready to sit. As always, support yourself in any way that contributes to an upright, aligned spine and relaxed hips and shoulders. A chair or mediation bench are other options. Here begins the next phase of moving into meditation: complete, steady breathing and mental focus. To begin, close your eyes. With your inner eye, guide the breath through the entire path of the spine you have just worked to awaken: Inhale at the Root, or perineum; draw the breath up the entire front cross-section of the spine, through the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical curves, all the way to the bridge of the nose. Exhale, and reverse the trajectory, traveling with the mind’s eye down the rear cross-section of the spine. Inhale up the front of the channel; exhale down the back. Continue for about a minute.

Next, allow this breath pathway to move on “automatic pilot.” Bring your visual focus to the Third Eye: Eyes are closed, and gazing up and in to the spot between the brows. You also will add sound to the breath, which creates an auditory focal point. Inhale deeply through the nose, long and steady, and exhale through rounded lips—“hooo”—until all the breath is gone. Repeat this inhale and exhale with Third Eye and sound focus 5-10 times.

The final aspect of focus is touch. With the hands on the knees, palms up, you will touch first the left index fingertip to thumb tip; then the middle tip to thumb; then the ring finger; and then the pinky  to thumb tip. (The right hand is quiet.) This move establishes a 4-count; repeat it to make 8. This is your inhale.

To exhale, shift your “counter” to the right hand: touch index, middle, ring, and pinky, then repeat to reach the 8-count. Work with your breath to help it effortlessly meld with the 8-count: Inhale for 8, counting with the left hand; exhale for 8, using the right-hand counter. Repeat 3-4 times.

Finally, with your preparations completed, move into a short meditation. The suggested mudra recalls the idea that meditation is an act of receiving; you have created an clear, open vessel into which energy may flow. Bring both hands in front of the Heart Center, just an inch or two away from the chest. Touch the edges of the pinkies together; connect the base of the palms; and bring the edges of the thumbs together. With this Lotus Mudra “cup,” simply sit and breathe, closed eyes gazing to the Third Eye. Inhale to draw divine or universal energy into the mudra; exhale to imbue it within your entire being. Continue for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Right and Rewrite

Into all lives comes tribulation; into all hearts and minds comes the need to respond. How one proceeds with each challenge marks the defining moments each of us will have; this process occurs daily, often subconsciously. Today’s practice addresses the “bigger stuff”—the circumstances that necessitate awareness, discernment, and ultimately, commitment.

This Silent Sunday arrives one day after I received a positive note regarding a previous post: https://everythingelsa.blog/2021/03/31/nobodys-fool-lessons-from-pain-rehab-and-beyond/.

As I typically do after receiving acknowledgement or commentary on what I have written, I reread the piece. With each paragraph, I became increasingly uncomfortable: I came face to face with disappointment… in myself.

This was not, however, the self-flagellation of yore, when I might have retaliated against my reaction with less-than-helpful thoughts or behaviors. Rather, I almost immediately shifted from “self-disappointment,” to “self-correction.” 

I thought of addicts, whose sober state is never a given. And I realized that none of us are impervious to “falling off the wagon,” be it a spiritual or physical endeavor: Whether the aim is to progress through the soul or body, Commitment is imperative. 

And that is where I have tripped up in the past. I did not recognize that Commitment is not a blanket state of mind: It is an emphatic choice to address a specific situation. To be committed in one area does not suggest commitment to all. For example, one may readily commit to, say, a person, yet have trouble remaining committed to a project. Or a committed fitness plan may be second nature, whereas a commitment to balanced nutrition may falter.

As I read the post appreciated by a stranger, I remembered the feeling of commitment to my health that had spurred the piece. As I moved through the article, the sinking feeling that I have begun to wander back to taking my body for granted took me aback.

How close I had come to forsaking a chance to right my physical course and rewrite its future…

Enter Commitment.

One of the psycho-spiritual philosophies of Kundalini yoga is the framework called “Seven Steps to Happiness”: Commitment is Number One. From there arises Character; then Dignity, Divinity, Grace, and the Power to Sacrifice; and ultimately, Happiness.

Like Life, however, the trajectory of this developmental course is not consistently linear. Sometimes several traits permeate an individual’s state of being; at other times, one seems bereft of any. One may be of solid character, but harbor self-doubt; one may feel connected to the Divine, yet be stymied by earthly processes.

I believe that the “order” of evolution toward Happiness is fluid, as is the state itself. Thus, the attainment of any one step along the path inherently comes with the need to remain vigilant: Such is the nature of any spiritual discipline and of any earth-bound achievement. Rather than bemoan the withering of Commitment, for example, I took comfort in the moment when I recognized the need to revitalize its energy.

With that, I offer a short practice to re-establish a sense of self-compassion and unflappable Will. There are only three pieces to the session, each of which requires a commitment to persevere despite physical or mental discomfort. Upon completion of the set, you will have righted your course and cleared your mental and physical page for a rewrite.

Special note: As always, feel free to modify or pause any movement. Do, however, give yourself the opportunity to rise above inner naysaying; know that your mental fortitude can supersede bodily resistance.

To begin, lie on your back. With the arms on the floor, palms down, raise the legs 60 degrees into the air. Here is the first chance to become aware of and kind to your physical body: If the angle compromises your lower back, place a small pillow under your hips; you may also place one foot on the ground (knee bent) to practice with one leg a time. Regardless, close your eyes, and begin long, deep breathing. The posture stimulates the Lower Triangle of chakras—survival, generative spark, and will power. Remain here for 3 minutes (or: 90 seconds for each leg, if modifying).

Maintaining the leg position, prop yourself onto the elbows to complete the challenge: Begin Breath of Fire, and continue for 3 minutes. (Remember: Take a break or modify as needed, and then resume your commitment to the process.)

Next, with both knees bent and feet hip width apart, help yourself into a Half-Bridge: Lift the hips and spine away from the floor, and interlace the hands on the floor under the back, extending long through the arms. In this position, breathe fully and deeply for 1 minute. Then, lower and lift the hips at a comfortable pace 54 times.

Briefly release the position to take a breath, pulling the knees in toward the body for a squeeze. Then, resurrect the Bridge, and complete 54 more hip-lifts. Upon completion, repeat the back-easing knee squeeze, then roll up into the Bridge again. Here, breathe steadily and deeply again for 1 minute. 

Upon completion, draw the knees in, rock side to side, forward and back, and then help yourself up to sit in your preferred meditation posture. Extend each arm to the side at shoulder level. The left palm is down, the right up: On both hands, knit the index finger and middle finger together, with the ring and pinky fingers together; separate the two pairs, so that there is a V-shaped space between them. 

This mudra works to soften physical and mental discomfort, while simultaneously opening through the Heart Center and stimulating its meridians. With the empowering energy of the previous moves, this final activating meditation creates the optimal environment for your resumption of commitment to Self and your goals. When yoked to the Divine through the Heart, Commitment is renewed with spiritual vigor. 

Remain with the arms up, mudra intact, and closed eyes gazing to the Third Eye for 7 minutes. Breathe consciously and completely, and if you need to rest, do so: Then recommit to the kriya. When finished, move seamlessly into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Daily Doses–Part Two: Noon Nectar

Call on today’s practice when energy flags, and the mind clouds. Be it 12:00 on the dot, or 11 or 2, midday motivation often needs revivification. Further, if you have been busily tending to other people’s needs or attempting to address several of your own, mental focus may have run amok. The following routine will synchronize right and left brains, and steady a perhaps over-stimulated mind.

By noon, many of us have been sitting at a desk; or driving; or otherwise have been in a position that hampers optimal mobility and meridian flow. Alternatively, your work or commitments may require you to stand for long periods of time, or to lift heavy or multiple items. In that case, stiffness and incomplete breathing may set in. For any of the previous scenarios, the remedy is to stir circulation and mobilize the spine and joints.

To begin, stand with knees slightly, comfortably bent. Inhale the arms overhead as you take a long, deep breath in; as you exhale, bring the arms down in front of you. As the arms lower toward the legs, curl your way toward a forward bend: Let the head hang, then let the shoulders curve forward and down, and finally, move your way through the rest of the spine. When you arrive at an achy or stiff part of the back, remain there, hang, and breathe deeply. Then, roll a bit further down, if possible. Once you have reached your limit, slowly uncurl to return to standing.

This version of a “forward bend” highlights movement through the spine, rather than flexibility of the hips and hamstrings. Roll up and down through this dynamic stretch 3 times.

Now, still standing, inhale the arms straight overhead, and interlace the fingers, index fingers pointing straight up. Here, with the breath suspended, pump the stomach 12 times. As you exhale, lower the arms, and interlace the fingers behind the back, lengthening through the elbows. With the breath out, look up and pump the stomach 12 times. Repeat the breath retentions with stomach pumps 2 more times, for a total of 3 rounds.

Next, come onto all fours. Inhale, and exhale as you round the spine up into Cat flex: Remain here as you inhale and exhale, 3 full rounds. Then, on your fourth inhale, extend (arch) the spine into Cow. Exhale and inhale, 3 times, in the static posture: On your fourth exhale, shift into Downward Dog.

Here, allow your head to hang, and your knees to bend; the heels do not have to touch the floor. If you are adept at the posture, and it feels good to express the full position, feel free to do so. Otherwise, be relaxed and comfortable in the pose. Shake the head; “wag” the hips; walk the heels up and down—move in any way that feels energetically correct for you, in the moment. Breathe deeply as you do so, continuing for 1 minute.

Then, from your version of Downward Dog, walk the hands forward into Plank; if you need to, place the knees on the ground. Whatever you choose, keep the spine long, with the arms and abdominal muscles engaged. With the head in line with the spine, begin Breath of Fire: Pant like a dog through an open mouth for 30 seconds; then, close the mouth and continue Breath of Fire through the nose, still in Plank, for 1 minute.

Now, ease yourself down onto the belly for a few slow, deep breaths. Then, roll over onto your back, arms by the sides, legs long. As you inhale, reach the right arm up and over to the floor behind you; simultaneously, bend the left knee in toward the body. Exhale back to neutral. Inhale to repeat with the left arm and right knee-bend. Alternate back and forth, as if marching on your back, 26 times.

Next, help yourself into a seated posture, on the floor or on a chair. Roll the shoulders backward, luxuriating in the slow, full movement and release of tension. Complete 8 rolls back, then reverse to roll both shoulders forward 8 times.

Then, move the shoulders in opposite directions: As the left shoulder rolls back, the right shoulder rolls forward. Give your brain a few tries to adapt to this left/right hemisphere “reset” move, and then complete 8 oppositional rolls, moving fluidly.

Repeat the move, switching sides: Right shoulder rolls back, left rolls forward. Once you have established the rhythm, complete 8 opposing rolls.

Finally, remaining seated, bring the hands into Hakini Mudra, a gesture for focus and mental efficiency. Touch each fingertip on the right hand to its corresponding tip on the left: The palms remain apart. With the fingertips together, fingers long, and pointing straight up, bring the touching thumb tips to rest against the Third Eye. (The thumbs are extended straight.) 

With eyes closed and gazing to the Third Eye, focus on the sensation of each finger pairing: Inhale, and as you exhale, press the pinky tips together. Then, release, and move to the ring fingers: Inhale, and exhale to apply pressure into the tips. Release to move to the middle fingers. Continue this pattern through all fingertips. 

When you reach the thumbs, inhale: Exhale, and as you press the tips together, also press the pair firmly into the Third Eye. 

Repeat the full sequence, moving through each set of fingers and the thumbs, two more times, to complete 3 rounds. Then, relax the hands onto the knees, left palm up, right palm down. With eyes closed and your natural breathing rhythm re-established, remain here for as long as you like.

Next time: Part Three—Evening Elixir

Silent Sundays: Homestead–Conclusion: Solar-Powered and Heart-Centered

Last week, I began this series, “Homestead,” with a question: What is your psycho-spiritual, interpersonal, most balanced state of being? From where does that particular energy emanate? In sum, what is your Center of Operation, your Homestead?

In Part One, I offered what I perceive to be my personal set-point: Intuition, and its (for me, sometimes elusive) energetic harmonizer, Rootedness. The routine provided the means to connect the First and Sixth chakra, so that the base of the Lower Triangle could readily accommodate the near-tip of the Upper Triangle of chakras.

Then, a few days ago, I explored Creativity and its necessary colleague, Expression. In sum, the practice stimulated and joined the Second and Fifth chakras, so that one’s creative spark could find its way to manifestation.

Today, in conclusion, I suggest what arguably could be the most essential Homestead pairing: the Third and Fourth chakras. Regardless of the energies that seem to come most easily for you, or those that you turn to when challenged, the vibrations that stir from the Solar Plexus and Heart Center are fail-proof for all. When in doubt, turn to your Heart; when beleaguered, delve into the Solar Plexus for confidence and perseverance.

With that in mind, today’s practice may be seen as The One to use as a catch-all boost or remedy. I, for example, who feel most at home in the Sixth Chakra (or Third Eye), often need to stimulate the Earth-based energy of the Root, or First Chakra. Because that vibration is not my strongest, I need Sun Energy to motivate me; and because I want to ensure that any practice resounds with Truth, I need to include the vibration of the Heart Center. Thus, no matter your Homestead—your comfort zone—its energies will be enhanced by this Solar-Powered, Heart-Centered practice.

To begin, lie on your belly. Place the arms in “pitchfork” or “scarecrow” position: upper arms at shoulder level, elbows bent to 90 degrees, with the forearms perpendicular to the upper arms. The palms face down; the head may lie on either cheek.

With eyes closed, begin long, deep breaths through the nose. Because you are prone, breathing requires more effort, as the belly, ribs, and chest must work against the floor. Use this sensed resistance to focus on the physical regions of the Third and Fourth Chakra: from the base of the ribs, to the sternum. With each inhale, consciously draw the intention of awakening energy to these areas; with each exhale, send the gathered vibrations out through the torso and limbs. Continue this opening breath and visualization for 3 minutes.

From lying, press back into Baby Pose. Interlace the hands behind the back, with the index fingers extended and together to form a pointer. Lift the arms as far up and away from the back as possible; extend long through the elbows. This stretch opens and charges the Heart and related meridians that run through the arms. Inhale in the raised-arm position; exhale to lower the arms down to the back. Move as rapidly as you can: inhale arms up, exhale down. Continue for 3 minutes, taking a break as needed.

From Baby Pose, roll up to sit on your heels, and then “stand” on the knees. (Use whatever bolsters or padding you need to make this possible.) With hands on the low back or bottom, inhale to curve back into a modified Camel; exhale back up to neutral. Continue this moving, modified Camel—inhale to arch back, exhale to re-align—for 1 minute.

Then, immediately come forward into a Plank Pose, as in the initial position for push-ups: if necessary, bring the knees to the floor as a modification. Hold this strong, long position, and begin Breath of Fire through the mouth: rapid, equal breaths, like a panting dog. Continue for about 30 seconds, and then close the mouth and continue Breath of Fire through the nose for another full minute.

Immediately return to the Moving Camel position. Standing on the knees, hands placed on the low back or buttocks for support, inhale to arch back, exhale up to neutral. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, instead of Plank, help yourself onto your back. Immediately raise the legs—straight and together—1-2 feet off of the ground: The higher the lift, the less taxing it will be for the low back. Simultaneously, raise the head and shoulders up, reach the arms straight out, and gaze at the feet: Begin Breath of Fire through the nose; continue this Stretch Pose for 1 minute.

From this highly energizing posture, lower the legs. Bend the knees, and keep the feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Raise the hips into Half-Bridge; interlace the hands under the lifted body, and extend the arms toward the feet. Roll the shoulders open as much as possible, feeling the stretch across the chest. Breath fully and deeply, allowing the belly to rise and fall as you do so. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, lower down, and draw the knees in toward the chest. Make yourself into as small and tight of a ball as possible; begin rolling back and forth on the spine for about a minute. This movement helps to consolidate, and then spread the stimulated Solar Plexus and Heart Center energies throughout the system.

Special note: This Ball Roll (appropriately called “Roll Like A Ball” in Pilates, and ubiquitous as a transitional move in Kundalini Yoga) is an exceptionally centering and elucidating exercise on its own. Practice the Ball Roll for 1-3 minutes anytime you want to shed or neutralize unwanted energy, and replace it with calmness and confidence.

From Ball Roll, shift yourself into a seated posture. Place the left hand on the chest, so that the thumb tip and index finger tips reach up to touch the collar bone; the palm is splayed wide against the chest wall, with the other fingers together, relaxed, and pointing to the right.

Place the right hand beneath the left, against the Solar Plexus. The right thumb extends up to touch the lower (pinky-side) edge of the left hand, with the right fingers together, relaxed, and pointing to the left.

With eyes closed and the mudra in place, begin long, deep breathing through the nose. As you breathe, use your mind’s eye to draw an oval of circulation from the right palm into the left, and back into the right: Continue this visualized loop of breath for 3- 7 minutes. When you feel finished, ease into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Homestead Series Part 1: Intuition and Practicality

Today’s Silent Sunday introduces a series of practices designed to hone in on your natural instincts and comfort zones: your “Homestead.” 

Intuition typically guides my decision-making, creative sparks, and interpersonal interactions. It is my home base from which to deal with all things earthbound, and through which I communicate most effectively with God and the Universe. I began to wonder about the “homesteads” of others: What energetic quality or mental attribute functions as their reliable, familiar, and most powerful ally? When uprooted by circumstance or emotion, what inner sensibility draws them “home?” What is their “stead,” their core of stability?

The series thus opens with a practice inspired by intuition. To fly solo with intuition, however, can leave one without an energetic anchor or point of reference: Intuition needs its Root companion.

And just as the Third Eye is balanced and empowered by the First Chakra, the inverse is true: Those who operate mostly in accordance with earthly energies and mores may be grounded and stable. Without the insight and energetic supply of the Sixth Chakra, however, they can become overly concerned with material wealth and ambition—the survival instinct run amok.

Consequently, today’s routine establishes a communication and support system between intuition and practicality. The Third Eye and Root Chakra are activated, connected, and harmonized.

We begin with simple, incremental spinal flexes and chest openers. This warm-up also is useful as a meditation and/or pranayama preparatory practice: The stimulation of the flow of cerebrospinal fluid promotes focus and clarity; and the lung-opening provides the optimal environment for breath work.

Seated in your favorite aligned posture, either on a chair or on the floor, close the eyes: Turn your inner gaze upward to focus strongly on the Third Eye. Place both hands on the lower belly, one over the other. As you inhale, tilt the pelvis forward and down; exhale to gently tip it back and up. The movement will create a discernible, yet small arching and rounding in the lower spine. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, as you continue to rock the pelvis forward and back, arching and rounding, include more of the spine. Move the hands to the knees; this grip will help you move the spinal flex into the thoracic spine, thus including the ribcage. Deepen and lengthen the breath as you do so; continue for another minute.

Next, bring the hands to the shoulders: fingers in front, thumbs behind. Inhale as you draw the bottom tips of the shoulder blades toward each other; exhale as you round the upper back and try to touch the elbows together in front of you. Keep the upper arms parallel to the ground as you inhale to stretch the chest wall; exhale to spread the upper back. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, prepare to fire up the energetic reservoirs of the First and Sixth chakras. Place the hands next to the hips (on the chair or the floor). Inhale to press down into the hands and lift your bottom up a few inches; squeeze Root Lock (Mula Bandha) as you do so. 

Special note: This pranic “lock” is achieved in much the same way as a Kegel exercise. Here, though, squeeze the anus, sex organs, and navel point simultaneously.

Use the squeezing action as a pump to push Root energy up through the entire chakra system. With your mind’s eye, guide the collected energy up the spine and into the Third Eye throughout the long inhalation through the nose. Upon a powerful burst of an exhale through the open mouth, drop your tush back down with an assertive, but safe jolt. Repeat a total of 12 times.

Now that you have both isolated and connected the Root and Third Eye, you will ensure their harmonious partnership. Come to standing, feet comfortably apart. Bend the knees slightly to come into a moderate squatting position. Place the arms into Genie gesture: both arms bent at the elbows at chest level, one forearm resting atop the other.

Then, inhale to stand up straight, opening the arms to the sides at 60 degrees, as if opening the Heart Center to the Universe. Exhale back down into the squat with Genie Arms. If you like, add a silent, whispered, or fully vocalized mantra: Sat Nam, Wahe Guru [sut nahm, wah-hay goo-roo]. Begin grounded and centered with “Sat Nam;” rise up, tall and open-hearted with “Wahe Guru.” Complete 26 squat-to-stand moves with corresponding arms and optional mantra.

Finally, return to seated. With the thumb tips and pinky tips touching on each hand, close the eyes.The mudra enhances intuitive communication: Use its energy to imbue and balance the Root upon inhale; visualize the breath flowing into the First Chakra.

Then, shift the fingers to Rudra Mudra: thumb tips touch their respective first and third fingertips. As you configure this gesture, exhale with the gaze turning intently up to the Third Eye. This mudra will help you use intuition for practical, as well as spiritual purpose and benefit.

Move back and forth between the mudras and closed-eye focal points. Inhale with pinky and thumb tips, mind on the Root Chakra; exhale with Rudra Mudra, gazing into the the Third Eye. Continue for 3-5 minutes. Then, settle into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Still to Come in the Homestead Series: Part 2—“Create and Express;” and Part 3—“Solar-Powered and Heart-Centered”

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: In Pursuit of Purpose

Today’s Silent Sunday reflects upon Purpose, and those times when one’s sense of that oft-elusive concept has waned or become clouded. To be clear, Purpose-Big-P aligns with Destiny: purpose-little-p corresponds more closely with earthly obligations and decisions that may arise from circumstance. Many of us spend years, even full lifetimes, committed to a purpose: a job to sustain a family, or an ideal born of societal demand. These are valiant, valid pursuits for one’s time on Earth. For the growth and evolution of the Soul, however, Purpose signifies avowal to that which God and the Universe deem yours. 

The seeds of this contemplation first sprouted with the diagnosis of my hip osteoarthritis. My daily activities were curtailed; I wondered about the reality of holding a job when sitting, standing, and walking were seriously compromised. My purpose-little-p at the time was to make it to surgery before full collapse.

And then, the Pandemic: Nearly everyone I know or spoke with felt the stirrings of, “What will I do differently when this is over?” Most of these queries referred to purpose-little-p; some were fraught with the existential uncertainty that often points to the imminent arousal of Purpose-Big-P. But as human beings who adapt, we became accustomed to the ongoing protocols of the Pandemic; subsequently, the drive to ponder purpose or Purpose simmered to a slow, if at all, boil.

Cut to today. For anyone, perhaps illness, injury, family need, or travel has taken you out of your usual routine; perhaps grief or medication has pulled you away from a feeling of connection to the divine and the Universe. Or, as does happen from time to time, perhaps you have reached a personal or professional impasse: Possibilities have fogged over, and the ability to shine a light on a solution has dimmed.

For me, over the course of the past few weeks, I have realized with a powerful punch my tiny place in the grand universal scheme. The pain-filled road to surgery; the weeks of self-focus during rehab; and the unanchored feeling that has accompanied my emergence from surgical pain and meds—all have ushered me to a seat that feels entirely unfamiliar.

More than that: I am left with the sense that I have left my “old life” behind. It would stand to reason, then, that I am embarking on a “new life.” Certainly, most of us can divide our lives into chapters or phases—their delineations are clear, be it in the form of a job, a person, or an impassioned pursuit. Yet, my current condition feels more like a second volume; the previous tome contained particular lessons, growing pains, and emotionally fraught chapters. These new pages seem pre-written with invisible ink: It is the energy of my active participation that will allow their intention to be revealed.

I am feeling the early stages of nervous anticipation: However, with Faith, nerves settle, and anticipation becomes imbued with curiosity and a promise to open to and uphold that which the Universe and the Divine decree for me: my Purpose.

How to trust in that which one has not met, has yet to experience, and initially inspires trepidation? How to feel strong and sure when all that is to come is as yet unrevealed? 

It seems to me to be yet another adventure with Faith. Wherever you have arrived in Life, whatever is going right or terribly wrong: Faith that you are in the place you are meant to be, and Faith that circumstances are exactly as they should be—this is the mindset and Heart-hold that will carry you through, unto the next.

Thus, when you recognize a change in your very vibration—and are uncertain of its significance or outcome—that is the time to double-down on whatever version of Faith has brought you to this point. While you may need to reframe thoughts; shift perspective; adjust the construct or nature of your practices; or—often most challenging—subsume plans or desires to the vast Unknown, you nevertheless continue to have choice. 

Choose courage over crumbling; choose open eyes over head in the sand; choose promise over despair; and, as ever, choose to look to the Universe and the Divine for strength and guidance. Regardless of when or where your path diverges or darkens, Faith in the wisdom present throughout eternity will grace your process.

As such, today’s practice calls for a “dig deep” commitment. Let today be the day that you fully immerse into each moment, throughout the times suggested: Tasks can wait, and mental chatter will dissipate as you spend more time within the folds of the process.

To begin, lie on your back. In order to spark the gritty determination and confidence needed to evolve, stimulate the Third Chakra, or Solar Plexus. As its name implies, this energy center corrals the Sun Energy, radiating power throughout the body and mind. The full posture, Stretch Pose, requires legs and feet 6-12 inches off the floor, with upper body raised to allow the eyes to be at the same level as the feet. Arms are stretched long by the sides, palms up, and Breath of Fire begins. 

If, as you move through this 3-minute challenge, you need a break, lower the head. Or, place one foot on the floor, and lift one leg; switch sides halfway through. After a break, perhaps you will be able to resume the full posture.

After the previous “Stretch Pose,” place both feet on the floor, knees bent, hip width apart. With the arms on the floor, lift the hips and torso up as you inhale; lower down as you exhale. Continue as rapidly as possible for 26 lifts. This move will stabilize the energy stirred in the first exercise, and root you into the goal of discovering Purpose.

Now, help yourself into a seated posture. Extend both arms to the sides, and pull them slightly behind the line of the body, thus opening and stretching the chest and fronts of shoulders. Palms face up as cups, fingers long and together: The thumbs extend up way from the hands. Again, do Breath of Fire with this arm and hand mudra for 3 minutes.

Next, relax and shake out the arms for a moment. Renew your focus on Purpose and your lot in Life. On each hand, curl the index finger into the thumb; the other fingers are together and straight. Bring the left hand in front of the Heart Center (not touching the body), palm down; place the right hand underneath a few inches, palm up. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, breathe deeply and steadily with this mudra for 7 minutes.

For the final mudra and breath portion, bring the hands in front of the Heart: The backs of the hands touch, fingers pointing down, with palms open to the sides. Rest the hands against the sternum, and close the eyes to gaze at the Third Eye. Remain here, breathing fully and slowly, for another 7 minutes.

When you are done, sit quietly, hands resting (palms down) on the knees. Or, release into Svasana for as long as you like. 

Happy Sunday…