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… 

And The Evolution Continues…

The following piece is specifically intended for my monthly contribution to the gym I attend (where I have not been since early December!). In response to a photo on the gym’s Facebook page, I realized that my intense struggle with hip arthritis and the current recovery from my first hip replacement have resulted in a significant change in my outlook on movement and health.

Special note: Because this post leans heavily to the side of personal observation and insight, I here include a previous practice that reflects the theme of today’s writing. Thus, a reader may choose to try the routine before, after, or instead of reading the entire following discussion.

Now, back to the aforementioned photo, which read: “Exercise is a celebration of what you can do, not a punishment for what you ate.” Because these words crossed my screen at a time when I am homebound and tethered to a walker on which I carry a “reacher;’ unable to bend forward past the waist; and enduring extreme swelling in leg and foot, I reacted with a visceral power that surprised me.

If one were to cut off the end of the quote (i.e., “… for what you ate”), the statement certainly has applied to me in the past. As much as I cherish and am elevated by the true joy of movement, I also know that I sometimes would beat myself into submission through physical activity: I ran, jumped, lifted, danced, and shook away frantic anxiety, anger, or fear. When at a loss for what to do or where to turn, exercise was a trusty battle partner—one that I would send in to destroy negativity, but ultimately would bring harm to my body.

For the past 15-20 years, I have been essentially free from that mindset. Yet, when COVID struck at just about this time last year (March 2020), I became very anxious—despairing, even—over the loss of access to a pool. At that time, however, I was still able to take long walks and, despite the pain after each outing, I committed myself to 45-minute walks almost every day. 

That turned out to be the precisely wrong thing for my already deteriorating hips.

Cut to September 2020: Increasing pain and lessening mobility reduced the walks to 15-20 minutes.

By November, they were officially off the activity list. December was the turning point of no return: Most movement that involved placing weight on my legs, save for errands, was eliminated; only Pilates and kundalini yoga remained accessible to my body.

And then: surgery on February 19, 2021.

The recent days of early recovery and rehab have been eye-opening. At first, I worried that my usual vitality would send me through the roof: How would I expend pent-up energy, both physical and psychological? But the extreme state of a body that has been hammered and sawed upon (and filled with drugs) inherently diminished my fervent need to bounce around.

What was crucial to me, however, was the need to maintain circulation (to help with swelling and digestion) and overall positivity. Additionally, I learned that both anesthesia and the prescribed oxycodone place significant strain on the lungs. Thus, I began to create short practices to address both: lots of seated upper-body movements (culled from kundalini kriyas) and pranayama sets. 

By revitalizing and strengthening the body in this way, my spirit has entered a wonderfully centered and open-hearted state. My past tendency to use exercise as a weapon against all that troubled me seems now an unfortunate, misguided approach to the wondrous miracle that is the physical body. Now, the innate ability of the body to heal from trauma (coupled with outside aid) colors my every choice: If I do x, will it set me back? If I do y, am I introducing kind, supportive energy, or am I unfairly frustrated with my body?

At the age of 57, I consider all of the above to be a clear message and exceptionally generous gift from God and the Universe.

Movement, mobility, health, positivity: These are wildly phenomenal treasures that deserve—need—to be celebrated. And by doing so—for example, through exercise—one bolsters their quality and increases their presence. When “what you can do” becomes limited, think not of loss; rather, find the challenge and opportunity in creating a path for change. When the body falters, it needs you and your mental and spiritual strength: Give it, live it, and share it.

Silent Sundays: Fill With What You Will

Two days after a total hip replacement, I enter today’s writing with one thing in mind: Where once my hip held unresolved emotion and pain, now it will be consciously refilled with only that which will aid and better myself and others. 

In kundalini yoga and studies of somatic and cellular memory, the hips are said to be the storage unit for emotional “baggage.” About midway through my experience with hip arthritis, it occurred to me that perhaps the deterioration and subsequent loss of the “hips I came in with” was a truly divine gift. I do recognize that so, so many of the emotional reactions I have had throughout my life thus far are a direct result of previous events and circumstances. If given a chance to clear the clutter of long-past, unnecessary feelings from the hips, why not?

Given that the first hip to be replaced is the right one (read into that what you will), I have begun to hone in on the more aggressive reactions and emotions that have heretofore been part of my life. The right side is said to be the masculine side—aggressive, hot, active. (Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a debate about gender roles or traits.) Certainly, despite my overall mental and emotional stability, I have retained the ability to flare, to roil, and to strike when stricken.

This is not to say that I will never again become angry or defensive or vehement: My aim, however, is to fill the new hip with a solid set-point of kindness, beneficent strength, and peace.

Today’s suggested practice involves self-contemplation; seated auric clearing; pranayama; and basic mudra. The contemplative aspect introduces your own ideas into the practice: What would you remove, and with what would you fill the space of unwanted thoughts and feelings? Who would you be, base level, with that which you will into your life?

Then, when you have integrated your motivation for meditation, begin to clear the auric field around you. I have offered several previous practices for energy clearing: Fundamentally, if one does large, vigorous, multi-directional moves with the arms, the magnetic field is cleared of stagnancy, blockages, and negativity. If you are physically capable, allow the torso to join the movements; if you need to stay somewhat stationary through the core, engage the arms more powerfully. Actively move and clear for 3-5 minutes.

Then, with the left hand resting palm up on the left knee and the right hand palm down on the right knee, begin deep breaths in through the nose, and slowly, deeply, and fully through rounded mouth. As you breathe, align your breath with your “willed fill”: As you inhale, draw your intention in through the left palm; upon the cleansing exhale, envision all that you wish to eliminate through the right palm. Stay with this meditation, eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, for 11 minutes.

When you are finished, simply sit and allow the breath to resume its normal quality, or feel free to enjoy Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…