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…