Silent Sundays: Keep It Simple, Part I–Calm And Cool

This Silent Sunday welcomes a new, three-part series: Keep It Simple. A great irony of a physical or spiritual discipline is that when one most needs to engage with the practice, is also the moment when it may be most challenging to do so. If tired, how to find the energy to revitalize? When despondent or frustrated, how to rise up and find perspective?

When you are short on time or motivation, turn to the routine that speaks to your particular need. Each practice uses only a few moves; however, their synergy will powerfully stimulate the quality of mental, physical, and/or spiritual energy that you intend to evoke. 

The themes of each practice roughly correspond with specific chakras. For example, in today’s “Calm and Cool” session, there is a strong emphasis on the Root (First Chakra) and Heart (Fourth Chakra). Grounding, stabilizing moves, plus those that ease Fire energy will leave you feeling steady, centered, and at peace.

To begin, you will need a foam or cork yoga block (or large paperback book, or firm pillow). Begin in Baby Pose. Settle the buttocks down onto the heels, and let the body rest on the thighs; adjust the position, so that your base is narrow, i.e., knees together, or very close. 

Rest your forehead on the block, brows on the near edge; eyes are closed. The arms rest on the ground alongside the legs, palms up. Inhale through the nose; extend the tongue out, and exhale through the open mouth. Complete 5 of these breaths.

Then, remove the head prop; forehead rests on the ground. Interlace the hands behind you, and raise the arms as high above the back as you can. Breathe in and out through the nose here for 1 minute.

Now, ease up to sitting on the heels, and come forward onto all fours. Curl the toes under, so that you can lift the hips, and move toward an easy Downward Dog. 

Let the position be relaxed, rather than a “perfected pose.” The heels are lifted, the knees are slightly bent, and the head hangs freely. Here, begin to “wag” the hips from side to side; let the knees and heels swivel, too, as you move your “tail” back and forth. Breathe deeply, and continue for 30 seconds, or so.

Bring the movement to a close; perhaps find a more traditional, fuller expression of Downward Dog for a few breaths. When you are ready, walk the feet toward the hands.

In this approximation of Standing Forward Bend, inhale: Exhale to bring the hips down into a crouch, i.e., buttocks drop to heels. Inhale to lengthen the legs, returning toward Forward Bend; exhale into the crouch.

Each time the hips come down to the heels, the torso becomes upright; each time the hips lift, the body inverts forward and down. Continue this inhale hips up, exhale hips down motion for 1 minute. Breathe powerfully through the nose.

Next, come into a seated position for Sufi Grinds. Circle the entire torso clockwise: Deeply “stir” the ribcage and organs to eliminate stagnancy and negativity. Circle to the right for 1 minute; reverse, circling counter-clockwise, for 1 more minute.

Now, still seated, extend the arms to the sides at shoulder level. Bend at the elbows to create “pitchfork” arms. With the arms aloft and bent to 90 degrees, curl the middle finger into the palm of each hand; use the respective thumb to hold it down. Palms face forward.

Begin to twist the upper body: Inhale left, exhale right. Breathe deeply through the nose. Start as slowly as you need to, and aim to pick up the pace as the body becomes comfortable with the movement. Eyes are closed, breath is strong, arms and mudra are up: Each exhale to the right releases overstimulated Fire energy, and eases the Heart into harmony. Continue for 1 minute.

Finally, prepare for Sitali pranayama. In your preferred seated position for meditation, curl the tongue into a tube, and extend the tip through the lips. If you cannot form this “straw,” simply extend the tongue tip through the barely parted lips.

Inhale through the tongue (or parted lips); exhale through the nose. (Slightly retract the tongue when you breathe out through the nose.) Eyes are closed, gazing to the Third Eye. Hands rest on the knees or thighs: left palm up, right palm down. Sitali breath cools the mind and body, and introduces gentleness and serenity to your system. Continue for 3 minutes, and then 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”