Silent Sundays: A Walk in the Park

More than two decades ago, I attended kickboxing classes at a local gym. While I was—and am—always eager to try new physical activities, part of the draw to this particular class was the instructor. He had his share of wide-eyed lady groupies (and perhaps a few men): The combination of a soft voice, focused demeanor, and extraordinarily handsome features kept his classes full. 

In addition to “C’s” physical and vibrational allure, I equally recall his oft-uttered phrase: “Just a little walk in the park…” He would soothingly remind us that although we were kicking and punching, it was not necessary to grimace, tense, or “over-effort.” In order to stay fluid, maximize a move, and build stamina, we were advised to practice patterns with the energy conducive to “a walk in the park.”

I remembered this particular encouragement recently when a couple of weeks of high physicality rendered me stiff and sore. Although I am nearing the time when a cane is no longer necessary after two total hip replacements earlier this year, my body still is in recovery: At times, I may become over-zealous at the prospect of a long walk on a nice day; or, I may be so thrilled that I can lift multiple objects at once, that I forget that my muscles spent nearly three years in progressive atrophy.

When I realized that I needed to incorporate more gentleness into my current movement practices, I thought of C: “Just a little walk in the park…” 

Today’s Silent Sunday practice would be effective for anyone who feels stiff or achy as a result of a hard workout, illness, or too much desk time. The sequence is further inspired by the concept of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. This condition arises after the body endures rigorous and/or long bouts of movement: Instead of immediate fatigue or ache, the symptoms arise a couple of days later, i.e., they are “delayed.”

Further, this routine would be useful as a way to settle the body for meditation, or as a reverent honoring of your body’s abilities. And if you ever find yourself in need of some “tender, loving care,” present this practice to yourself as a gift of self-compassion. 

Begin on hands and knees, and then bring your forearms to rest on the floor. Bring the forearms together with the elbows directly under the center of the chest. Turn the palms to touch each other, as in Prayer Mudra: The pinky edges of the hands are on the ground. Extend the thumbs straight up, and cock the head back slightly, so that the gaze falls just in front of the hands.

In this position, inhale as you slide the body forward, bringing the chest over the hands. Exhale as you slide back, moving the hips toward the feet. Inhale forward, exhale back: This move can be done as slowly or quickly as feels right, as long as the breath remains deep and full in conjunction with the movement. Continue for 1 minute.

Immediately release into Baby Pose. Keep the Prayer Hands; release the thumbs down, so that you can rest your Third Eye on the thumb side of the joined hands. Give yourself any bolstering that you need, so that you can rest easily here for 3 minutes. Breathe in deeply through the nose; exhale fully through the nose. Allow yourself the option to breathe out powerfully through the mouth during your time here: Be aware of your sensations and breathing; give your body what it asks for.

Still in Baby Pose, interlace your fingers behind your back. Lengthen through the arms, and lift them up and away from the back as you roll onto the crown of the head. You may have to adjust your position, so that you are directly on the center-point of the skull, with the hips lifted away from the feet and the arms stretched up as high as possible. Breathe here for 1 minute.

Special note: The more you extend up through the arms, the less pressure you will have on the head and neck. This Yoga Mudra is an excellent tool for ousting negative energy and for increasing physical and mental vitality. 

Ease yourself out of Yoga Mudra, and back up onto all fours (arms long, hands under shoulders).  Extend the right leg straight back, keeping the foot on the floor. Curl the toes under, and begin to rock forward and back through the ball of the foot: You will move in and out of a flexed and nearly pointed foot. Inhale as you rock back through the foot; exhale to come forward. Repeat 12 times, then switch sides.

After rocking back and forth through the left foot, return to all fours. Again extend the left leg back, foot on the floor. Inhale as you reach the right arm forward from the shoulder. As you exhale, bend the left knee to bring the foot toward the buttock, as if to kick it; simultaneously, lower the right arm toward the floor, sweep it back, and then up to tap the inside of the left ankle as it approaches your bottom. Inhale the right arm back to its forward reach as the left foot lowers down; exhale to repeat the arm reach back to tap the inside of the now-raised left foot. Repeat this reach-and-tap move 12 times, then switch sides (left arm to right foot).

Now, from all fours, press up into and easy Downward Dog. Pedal the feet up and down several times as the head hangs loosely. Then, allow yourself to squirm and undulate in whatever way feels good. Feed your body this organic, free-flowing movement, in order to release tension and  open obstructed energy pathways. Continue for 1 minute, taking a break as needed.

From the Moving Dog, walk your feet toward your hands, letting the knees bend for comfort. Hang softly in this modified Forward Bend, taking 5 full, deep breaths. Then, bring the hands to the inner ankles (or wherever you can reach): Inhale as you sweep the open palms up the inside of the legs to the groin; exhale to swiftly move the hands out and away from the hips, as if  throwing stagnancy into the air behind you. Repeat, beginning at the feet and ending with the “throw,” 8 times.

After clearing the lower body, continue to roll up through the spine into a standing position. Here, begin a gentle sway through the upper body. Move without thought, guided only by your breath and your body’s current inner vibration. Take up space, change direction or level, emit sound: Follow your body’s lead for 2 minutes.

Then, stand in stillness, enjoying whatever energetic reverberations occur. Should you sense areas of mental or physical dis-ease or resistance, bring your full awareness there: Using the “sweep and throw” technique that you used on the legs, clear any region of old or blocked energy. 

Special note: Remember to inhale unwanted energy into the palm, and exhale forcefully as you jettison the stagnancy away and behind you or into the earth. Do this a minimum of 3 times on any spot that needs clearing. 

Next, bend forward again, so that the body is perpendicular to the legs, like a tabletop. In this position, swing the arms back and forth alternately: As the right arms swings forward, the left arm swing back; remember to keep the effort fluid and light, like “a walk in the park.” Continue for 1 minute.

Special note: This move helps to balance the Head and Heart, so that we think and behave from a place of rational compassion, toward ourselves and others.

From here, lower down onto all fours, and then all the way onto the belly. Turn the head to the left, resting on the right cheek. Bend the  left arm, so that the elbow is in line with the shoulder, and the left forearm is perpendicular to the upper arm: It is as if you have half-Scarecrow arms on the left side. The right arm rests alongside the body. 

As you inhale, slowly, barely lift the bent left arm and side-looking head as you simultaneously raise the right leg. Exhale down. This is move of very little effort and displacement: Lift the arm, head, and leg only an inch or two. Focus on the ease (or lack thereof); the coordination of breath and movement; and where other body parts tense to help fulfill the movement. Repeat the cross-body lower-and-lift 8 times. Then repeat on the other side (head looking to the right; right arm bent near the head; and left leg lifting and lowering in tandem).

Briefly press back into Baby Pose after completing both sides fo the above movement. Breathe deeply a few times, and then return to the repeat the above move; however, this time begin with the head resting on the left cheek (looking to the right); the right arm bent; and the left leg joining in the lift-and-lower. Again, repeat 8 times before switching sides.

Special note: This move fosters body awareness, which is crucial for maintaining physical and emotional balance. Further, the cross-body technique harmonizes the left and right sides of the brain, which inherently centers us in Neutral Body energy. In that state of being, we become less reactive, yet compassionately available to self and others.

Now, slowly and gently roll onto your back. Settle yourself into position for Svasana. Before entering deep rest, however, place your fingers into Gyan Mudra: thumb and index fingertips together, palms up, backs of the hands on the floor. With eyes closed, take your inner gaze to the soles of the feet, specifically to the center point of the balls of the feet (between the second and third toes): Inhale, and begin to draw breath in through the bottoms of the feet, guiding it with your mind’s eye all the way up the front of the lower legs, thighs, belly, chest and face, ending on the Crown Chakra.

Exhale slowly and deeply through the nose as you lead the breath down the spine, and then the buttocks, backs of thighs, calves, and out the bottom arches of the feet. Return the inner eye to the bottom center of the balls of the feet to inhale again, drawing the breath up; exhale to carry the breath down and out. Repeat one more time for a total of three Breath Treks.

Now, release Gyan Mudra, and float your way into Svasana 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:

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…