Silent Sundays: Current State–The Electric Path to Meditation

In the year 2000, I began to study the Lessons of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). At the time, I was an ashtanga yoga teacher who also regularly practiced kundalini yoga. As my body became stronger and more centered, my emotions balanced and my mind opened, and I intuitively and consciously sought spiritual advancement. The Lessons introduced an idea of how and why such progressions occur, and provided a framework of understanding that resonated with me. 

There was, however, an early sticking point: the concept of electricity within the body, and how it relates to meditation. Upon first reading of this notion, I felt mildly disappointed: Because I craved esoteric insight, the idea that something as scientific and mundane as electricity may be behind feelings of spiritual connection was anticlimactic. I was looking for mysticism, and science pushed in.

I nonetheless completed the Lessons over the course of a year, and eventually became a Kriya member of SRF. This advancement required that I practice and become adept at the meditation techniques taught by Paramahansa. At the time, I kept my disappointment about electricity’s role in the process to myself: I devoted myself to the technique, and it remains part of my practice these 21 years later.

During this time, I was simultaneously practicing kundalini yoga. The practice felt natural and made perfect sense to my body and mind: The results of kundalini kriyas were immediate, and the benefits accrued exponentially over time. As I learned more about the basis of the practice’s body angles and their relationship to the meridian system, I harked back to the idea of electrical flow in the body. 

My “disappointment” began to fade as determined curiosity emerged. 

And then came massage school just a few years later. Perhaps no surprise, I was drawn swiftly and easily to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and its foundation in elements and their related systems and meridians. Textbook diagrams illustrated the flow of qi (“chee”) through clear pathways, or channels: I saw a similarity to the idea of electrical current, or Life Force (Prana) traveling through the body. 

Two years after massage school, I began to study qigong, which essentially taught me how to harness and direct the qi, or energy in the body to promote the health of myself and others. My hands always have been able to sense and guide energy; qigong enhanced their natural ability by providing specific techniques and explanations for their work.

Now, 15 years after those qigong classes and 20 years after delving into SRF techniques and kundalini yoga, I have embarked on an intensive course of meditation, in general. In the very first modules of reading are myriad articles about the nervous system and its “bioelectric” role in meditation. 

The idea of consciously “conducting electricity” through the body may be daunting, if not ridiculous to some. Recall my own disappointment that something as common and available as electrical impulse may be the route to spiritual evolution. But then I recognized the essence of the idea in ancient practices. Further, I found “proof” of its efficacy in the experience and practice of relaxing the body and controlling the breath, in order to access the mind and open to unseen realms.

On this Silent Sunday, I offer a practice to address your “current state,” your innate electric juice and the opportunities it offers. One component that links the idea of Life Force, body electricity, and chakra vortexes is the vagus nerve. This cranial nerve runs from the brain stem, through the neck, lungs, and digestive track. A strong vagus nerve (“high vagal tone”) supplies the ability to relax easily, and conversely, relaxation and meditation strengthen the nerve. 

In order to create the prime environment in which to access, harness, and direct energetic forces, it is necessary to clear your magnetic field. Come to stand, feet comfortably apart. With a slight bend in the knees, inhale as you raise both arms overhead, arching back gently; exhale to bring the arms and torso forward and down, only as far as feels safe for the lower back. Immediately inhale back up; exhale into your version of a forward bend. Continue this “miracle bend” for 2 minutes: Use the first minute or so to warm and ease stiff muscles, and then move more fluidly and fully for the second minute.

Having cleared the vertical field, begin an upper-body swing. With the arms out to the sides at shoulder level, palms down, inhale: Exhale, and rotate to the left; as you do so, the right elbow bends, bringing the hand toward the Heart Center. Inhale back to center, lengthening  though the right arm again; exhale to the right, bringing the left hand toward the Heart. Inhale back through center with both arms long, and continue to the left, through center, then right. Breathe deeply and fully as you twist at a good pace, being aware that you are clearing the horizontal plane. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, as you remain standing, again bring the arms out to the sides at shoulder level. With palms down, touch the thumb tips to the inner bases of the ring fingers (next to the middle finger): Keep this detoxifying mudra as you begin to see-saw the arms rapidly. Inhale as the left arm lifts and right arm lowers; exhale as the right comes up, and the left goes down. Continue powerfully for 1 minute.

Next, help yourself to the ground for traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes. Inhale and exhale, arching and rounding the spine for 1 minute.

Special note: Those who regularly read Everything Elsa and/or Silent Sundays know that I include spinal work in almost every practice and meditation. This is a direct result of my involvement with SRF techniques and kundalini yoga: Both systems—and yoga, in general—acknowledge the spine as the central channel for conduction of all energy, be it neural or spiritual.

With the auric field clear and the spine warm, lower down onto the belly. Begin by raising up onto the forearms—as in Sphinx Pose—with an inhale; exhale to lower down. Repeat 26 times.

Next, bend the knees; reach back to hold the ankles or feet. Inhale to raise the thighs, head and chest up; exhale to lower down. Repeat 12 times.

Now, after the subtle stimulation of the physical regions associated with the vagus nerve, rise up into Full Bow (hands holding feet or ankles; body and legs raised off the floor). Inhale as you rock back; exhale to rock forward. It may take a few tries to find momentum and rhythm; stick with it—the eventual rock with actively stimulate the areas through which the vagus nerve runs. Continue for 1 minute.

Briefly, push back into Baby Pose or Downward Dog. Breathe here for a few deep breaths, and then bring yourself into a seated position. With the eyes closed, bring your attention to the anatomical domain of the vagus nerve: neck, thoracic spine, upper belly. As such, one can connect the nerve’s “areas of interest” to the Third, Fourth, and Fifth chakras.

With the Heart Center forming the crux of this energy system, we now want to guide the vibration of the vagus nerve through the channel of the Heart. Here is where kundalini’s angle specificity comes into play: Whenever the arms (the location of the Heart and Pericardium meridians) are held up at 30 degree angles, the flow of that energy is optimal.

So, seated comfortably and sensing the “electrical buzz” in the neck, chest, and abdomen, bring the arms up to 30 degrees on either side of the head. Essentially, you create a large V with your arms. With the palms facing each other, inhale for 6 counts to gather the ball of energy in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th chakras; exhale for 10 to send the energy out and up through the arms and into the center point of each palm. Repeat the visualization with conscious breath 5 more times.

Special note: The extended exhalation also helps to increase vagal tone, thereby contributing to the relaxation response and readying the mind for meditation.

Now, continue to breathe in and out through the nose, without counting or visualizing, and allow the breath to meld with the pathway. Turn the closed eyes up to gaze at the Third Eye; focus here as you continue to breathe. In this way, you have connected your body’s physical energy—its electricity—to your personal spiritual endeavor.  Bolstered by your human current, the mind can now make its way toward communication with divine and universal energy. 

Hold the arms aloft as you breathe and focus into the Third Eye for at least 3 minutes. Then, with the arms remaining up or hands placed—palms up—on the knees, continue to meditate for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Nobody’s Fool: Lessons from Pain, Rehab, and Beyond…

On this April Fool’s Day, I am nearly six weeks into post-operative (hip replacement) rehab. The more-than-3-year journey that led up to this point has taught me many things. When it comes to fitness and exercise, for example, I have learned that so much of what one considers a workout to preserve or bolster health is the fun, often advanced stuff. What is essential for resilience of body and mind, however, is fairly simple, yet nonetheless challenging, especially when one is compromised.

Special note: Although this piece reflects my experience with osteoarthritis and post-surgical rehab, the routine is an efficient, effective alternative practice for anyone short on time; needing a mental or physical boost; or looking for an “off-” or “sick-day” source of circulation and limbering.

Since my mid-40s (I am now 57), my favorite forms of physical activity have been swimming, walking, and kundalini yoga. I considered these to be “softened” versions of what I had done previously: biking, running, dance, and full-body cardio moves, often with weights. And throughout my 30s and early 40s, I was an avid ashtanga yogi: I taught, practiced, studied, and thrived on the power of the fast-paced, acrobatic, contortionist tradition. I will always revere what the form did for my stamina, mental stability, and fluid strength.

But as with so much of what a younger body loves, there comes a time when a reprieve or retooling is necessary. With that admission, I grin a bit, sigh softly, and slightly roll my eyes as I imagine my late father’s satisfaction: Finally, he would be thinking, she has seen the light.

“Moderation in all things…”

That refrain, stated outright and continually, was my dad’s siren song. As an enthusiastic, curious, stubborn young ‘un (and even when not so young), I heard those words as a dampening, strangling threat to my own determination to try everything, and to do it with gusto.

But dang it if Dad was not on to something…

While I can not possibly regret the joy, emotional catharsis, strong muscles, or mood-balancing that extensive, intense workouts provided, I do question the near-obsessiveness that accompanied them. And when my hips tried to call a truce in 2018, I shrugged and assumed that they would be fine, that my ways would prevail, and that we—my hips and I—would find a way to continue on as always we had.

Cut to 2020, and my first desperate need for cortisone, shot straight into the withered, crying hip joints. Even then, I would not quit: Movement had always been my mental and physical sustenance, and pain seemed no reason to doubt that.

But by December 2020, when even the forgiving water of a compassionate pool could not assuage my pain, I knew that my approach had to change. Although it was too late to save my hips, I vowed to be kinder to my body once the hips were replaced. I had a new mission: Move for the mind, move for function, and move with the gratitude that only the threat of immobility can engender.

So, here I am, having stumbled through the first month of post-surgical recovery; recognizing progress, as I simultaneously contend with the ever-worsening pain and dysfunction of the other hip; and deeply considering how I will move forward, and what those moves will look like.

The following practice consists of the techniques and exercises that I have found to be invaluable to recovery. As such, I have realized their place in any day’s routine, for any body, at any age: For hard-core fitness folks, they may seem simplistic; however, to forget the basics is to forget one’s human-ness. Engage with the moves as if they are as vital to your health as a long run, heavy-weight session, or challenging yoga class: They are.

Start seated, on a chair, on the floor, or in bed. Close the eyes, and breathe: Inhale through the nose as you feel the chest rise, and the ribs expand; visualize the descent of the diaphragm and its gentle pressure onto the organs. As you exhale, be conscious of the belly’s retraction and contraction, and of the diaphragm’s slow, steady rise into its nest beneath the ribs. Take 3-5 of these deep, focused breaths.

With the abdominals, lungs, and attention awakened, shift your seat to ensure that you are perched atop the sit-bones: spine and head upright and aligned, shoulders and neck at ease. With the hands on the knees, begin Sufi Grinds: Circle the entire torso to the right, allowing the pelvis to partake of the motion. Inhale as the body circles through the front half of the circle, tipping the pelvis forward; exhale to circle through the back cross-section, tipping the pelvis back. Make 8-15 circles, then reverse directions, moving counter-clockwise, for 8-15 circles.

From there, bring yourself to stand. Taking a cue from qigong, place the hands next to the hips, palms up: Inhale, and arch the spine, pulling the elbows back. Exhale as you flip the hands, moving the backs of the hands forward as you round the spine deeply. When the hands nearly touch in front of the torso, inhale as you turn the palms up again, pull the elbows back, and arch the spine. Repeat for a total of 10 undulations.

Now, extend the arms straight forward from the shoulders, parallel to each other: left palm down, right palm up. Inhale: As you exhale, shift the weight into the heels as you do a slight squat, only enough to feel the bends at the ankle, knee, and groin; simultaneously, the left arm rises 30 degrees, as the right arm moves down 30 degrees. 

As you inhale, straighten the legs, and bring the arms back to neutral, left palm still down, right one facing up. Immediately exhale into the modified squat: This time, the right arm lifts 30 degrees, as the left lowers 30 degrees. Inhale back to neutral. Repeat the squats with alternating arms for a total of 10-15 times.

Still standing, open the side body with focused lateral bends. Again, this variation stems from a qigong move for the Liver and Gall Bladder meridians: These energy channels are associated with the clearing, cleansing energy of Spring. Stand with the right hand a few inches above the left: right palm down, left palm up—imagine holding a ball between the hands in front of you. 

Inhale as you turn from the waist to the right. As you do, the left palm turns up as the left arm straightens up toward the sky; simultaneously, the right palm turns down as the right arm pushes down alongside the hip and thigh. The fingers of the raised, upturned left hand face the right; the fingers of the lowered, palm-down right hand face extend forward. Exhale here.

Inhale long and deep to return the hands to “hold the ball” mode as you turn slowly through center; this time, the left hand is on top (palm down) with the right hand below, palm facing up. Exhale to push the hands into their opposing stretch on the left side: right hand and arm up, fingers pointing to the right; left hand and arm pushing down, fingers pointing forward. Move fluidly back and forth with the breath and movement: Complete 5 stretches on each side.

Next, still standing, bend forward at the waist, so that the torso is perpendicular to the legs: Feel free to bend the knees. Inhale as the left arm swings forward alongside the ear, and the right swings back to the level of the hips; exhale as the right comes forward, and the left swings back. Continue vigorously with powerful breath for 1 minute.

Then, help yourself back to a seated position. If you choose to sit on a chair, sit sideways, so that you can lean back 30 degrees. With the torso at a 30-degree lean back, raise both legs 60 degrees. You may choose to support the legs with the hands; have the hands by the hips; or, for a more intense version, extend the arms straight forward or up alongside the ears. In your selected position, begin Breath of Fire: rapid, equal inhales and exhales through the nose, with enough vigor to pump the belly. Continue for 1 minute. 

Special note: If you can not raise both legs, do one at a time, Or, lift both legs, but let them bend at the knees. Either option will modify and ease the posture.

Now, gently resettle into seated mode, legs long and straight in front of you. If necessary, place a pillow or bolster underneath your bottom and/or knees. Interlace the hands behind your back, lengthen through the elbows to straighten the arms, and raise the arms up and away from the back. With the arms behind, fingers interlaced, and arms raised, ease into a forward bend: Keep the spine long; think of bringing the chest toward the feet, rather than the head toward the knees. Find your personal place of stretch, close the eyes, and breathe in and out through the nose: Complete 8 full breaths.

Finally, resume your favorite seated posture. Begin alternate nostril breathing: With the right thumb closing the right nostril, breathe in through the left nostril; block the left with whichever finger of the right hand feels natural, and exhale through the right. Then, inhale through right, close the right, and exhale through the left. Continue in this manner for 11 full rounds, finishing with an exhale through the left nostril.

Close your session in whatever way your energy dictates. Perhaps you feel inspired to move more: Do your thing! 

Or, if you feel pleasantly still and seek to deepen the state, sit quietly, hands on knees, palms up, eyes closed: Focus on the sound and sensation of your breath. Finally, if you prefer to enter Svasana, lie on your back, arms a few inches from your sides, palms up, and rest. Whether seated or supine, enjoy the peace for as long as you like.

Silent Sundays: Water, Water, Everywhere

When my best friend’s daughter was very young, she wrote a story that featured a character based on me: “Starly Robinson, the Water Droplet.”  Little did the child know that she had pinpointed my elemental and astrological essence. My sign is Cancer, a water sign; and I do tend toward “watery” traits—physical fluidity, emotional sensitivity, intuitiveness, etc. Additionally, I gravitate toward Nature’s water, and swimming soothes my soul. 

While these tendencies contribute to my overall ability to flow with Life, an imbalance in the system can result in decidedly challenging moods and outlooks. Recently, however, I have been wrangling with the clear and disconcerting result of surgery: edema. This fluid retention is the Water element run amok: The appearance and sensation of the swelling are yet another challenge for my psyche and physiology. 

Today’s practice hones in on Water and its inherent quality of flow. Whether you wish to address bloating or edema (or the opposite: dryness in the body); or a feeling of “stuckness” or disconnection (or, conversely, over-sensitivity), the following routine will help to restore balance to the emotional and physical fluid systems. Included will be the use of qigong, mudra, sound, pranayama and visualization. Below is the recording I used during the meditation:

The initial movement, based on Bear Swing in qigong, may be done standing or seated (floor or chair): If using a chair, be sure that it is armless. Moving from the waist,  arms hanging loosely, gently twist to the right; without a break, swing through center to the left. The arms will respond naturally to the weight shift and momentum: Allow them to flap lightly against the body, front and back, as you swing.

This move eases the lower back into a more supple state. Because the Bladder meridian flows through the entire back body, attention to the back is crucial when working with Water.

Special note: If twisting is contraindicated for you, you may proceed to the next move. Or, as I do, move slowly and gingerly: Hip replacement surgery precautions advise against twisting; however, I find that this gentle, flowing move releases tension and aids digestion. Be mindful of your stance, and keep the hips facing forward and still.

Next, attend more fully to the back. Remain in your chosen position (or change, if you need to): Begin an exaggerated, slow version of spinal flex; let the arms flow with the movement. Inhale to softly arch the entire spine as the arms drift behind you, palms facing forward; exhale to completely round the spine, drop the head, and float the arms forward, backs fo the hands moving toward each other at hip level. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, if you are not already seated, come to the floor (or bed or couch). Extend the legs straight in front of you. For this subtle, yet strong move, I have combined two physical therapy moves for post-hip replacement surgery, with the knowledge that one of them is a kundalini move for detoxification. The two movements—heel pumps (also the detox exercise) and thigh presses—help to move fluid from the feet and ankles; and stretch the hamstrings while activating the quadriceps, respectively.

First, with long legs in front, alternately flex and point the feet (“heel pumps”). The ankles will quickly respond, even if full of fluid. After 10-20 pumps, pause: Inhale, then exhale and engage the thighs by pressing the backs of the knees down into the ground. Hole the empty breath and muscle activation for 3 counts. Then release to repeat up to 10 times.

Now put both pieces together: Inhale to point the feet (simultaneously); exhale to flex the foot and press the backs of the knees down, pausing for 3 counts. Repeat 10 times.

The preceding warm-up prepares the Bladder and Kidney meridians—the Water element—to receive the benefits of the following meditation. To prepare, build an elevated support for your feet and legs; allow the lift to be about 1 foot high, and be sure to have some bolstering behind the knees.

Next, turn on the provided sound source. Settle into a supine position, legs and feet elevated, the sound resonating around you. On both hands, create Varun Mudra; it is a variation of Budhi Mudra. Whereas Budhi Mudra touches the pinky and thumb tips; Varun Mudra, holds the pinky down with the thumb. Budhi addresses low water levels in the body (and the corresponding psychological traits); Varun tends to fluid retention and “watery” characteristics.

Thus, with Varun Mudra engaged (pinky held into palm with thumb on each hand), rest pinky sides of the hands on their respective groin (the crevice where the belly meets the leg when lying down). Set the scene for the meditative visualization by conjuring a shade of black or blue (Water’s associated colors). With mudra placed, begin Ujjayi breathing: in and out through the nose with an open throat (tongue dropped down from roof of mouth); the breath’s sound should be steady and audible. As you breathe in, paint your selected color around your entire body; as you exhale, allow it to imbue within. Continue for 2 or 3 minutes

Now that you are swathed and immersed in a sea of blue (or black), focus on the area of your body where fluid has collected: Inhale to connect with spot; exhale to visualize the lowering level and drainage of the fluid. Be sure to continue deep, complete Ujjayi breath for another 2-3 minutes. 

Then, allow the breath to seek its natural rhythm. Breathe into the blueness, still holding the mudra. At some point, when it feels right to you, release the mudra and place the arms and hands on the ground, palms up, for Svasana. Maintain the elevated supports, and allow the breath to resume its natural flow. Remain here through the end of the musical sound.

Happy Sunday…