Silent Sundays: Moon Meld–A Short, Soothing Practice

On this Silent Sunday, we find ourselves feeling the energy of a Full Moon. As noted two weeks ago, this moon will balance the unsettling New Moon of August 8; today’s moon will provide unusually pleasant vibrations. Nonetheless, any Full Moon inherently brings the heightened stimuli of a month’s worth of lunar energy

As many yogis know, Full Moon Days suggest a pacifying practice: Movements should be gentle, rest ample, and breath slower and deeper. Today’s session commits to those principles, and adds another—perhaps lesser known—aspect to consider: release and expulsion. As the moon moved through its phases, we, too, gathered and likely stored energy: With the Full Moon comes a time to release unnecessary emotion or thought. Think of the end of a year—the energetic culmination of 12 months—when one anticipates a fresh start. Many practices at that time call for a “detoxifying” approach: Wring out and jettison unwanted energies, in order to make room for the new.

Lunar energy is a bit more specific: In general, moon characteristics are “feminine,” i.e., yin. In the Full Moon phase, however, the cumulative energy takes on a more yang vibration: up and out, versus down and in. The balancing act that is the foundation of today’s practice occurs through the Heart Center: This seat of inner peace, compassion, and equanimity can ease the pull and sway of vigorous Full Moon energies. Thus, the following session will focus on two intentions: Open the Heart, and root out extraneous, stagnant energy.

Special note: Because this Silent Sunday centers on gentle movement in the chest, shoulders, and upper back, it also would be an excellent way to improve posture and ease stiffness in those areas.

If you enjoy working with essential oils, I suggest a pre-practice anointment with lavender and/or geranium; bergamot or neroli, and/or lemon balm; and chamomile. I tend to respond well to the use of several oils, either blended or individually; you may prefer otherwise. For today’s session, I would dab 1-2 drops of bergamot on the low belly (an inch or two below the navel) and sacrum. Then, I would dot 1-2 drops of lavender on the Heart Center, and into the tiny depression at the center of the collar bones. Because this addition of essential oils into the practice is optional, follow your intuition: Choose oils that you find grounding (for the lower chakras) and calming (for the Heart Center and upper chest or neck).

Now, stand a few inches in front of a doorway to begin. Lean toward the open door space, and place your forearms on either side of the door frame, elbows several inches above shoulder level. Feel that the armpits are reaching up, as the shoulder blades move down. Allow your full body weight to fall forward; as the chest opens wide, think of bringing the bottom tips of the shoulder blades together. “Hang” here, breathing deeply through the nose, for 30 seconds.

Slowly move out of the door stretch, and come to your usual practice space. Still standing, bend the knees, lean forward to place the hands on the thighs, and begin standing Cat/Cow spinal flexes: Inhale to arch (extend); exhale to round (flex). Continue for 1 minute.

Then, with the knees still slightly bent for support, bring your torso parallel to the ground, and let the arms hang freely. Begin a back and forth swing with the arms: Inhale as the left arm swings forward and the right swings back; exhale as the right comes forward and the left swings back. Move rapidly, bringing the arms to the level of the torso as they reach the apex of the swing. Continue for 1 minute.

Next, help yourself to the floor and onto your right side. Bend the knees, so that the knees are stacked one atop the other, with the feet in line with the buttocks. The right arm reaches out onto the floor at shoulder level, and the left rests on top of it. As you inhale, retract the left arm by drawing back from the shoulder; the hand will slide along the right arm to about the right elbow. Exhale to slide the left arm forward; the hand will likely slide past the right hand and onto the floor. Continue this subtle back and forth roll for 1 minute.

From your side-lying position, open the left arm all the way to the floor on the left: You will be in a reclined twist. If you need to adjust your leg or arm position, do so. Breathe deeply here: Inhale for 4, exhale for 8. Breathe in this way 3-5 times. Then, repeat the entire sequence—upper-body slide-rolls, and reclined twist with deep breathing—on the other side.

Now come onto your back. Bend the knees, feet flat and hip-width apart: Extend both arms straight up and out from the shoulders, and bring the palms together. Inhale, then exhale as you roll the upper body to the left; inhale back to center, then exhale to the right. The arms remain straight; one shoulder will roll off the floor as you rock to the opposite side. 

Take a few rocks through the upper body only, and then add the lower body. Inhale: Then, as the arms move left with an exhale, drop both knees to the right. (They do not have to reach the floor.) Inhale arms and legs back to center, and immediately exhale to rock arms right and drop legs to the left. Continue this oppositional, alternating movement for 1 minute.

Finally, bring a soft pillow, or folded towel or blanket under your upper back: The head and neck rest easily on the floor. The bolster should be only thick enough to suggest a subtle opening to the Heart Center. With the legs long and arms resting palms-up on the floor, remain in this restorative rest for 1-3 minutes. Then, remove the prop, and settle into traditional Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: Head, Neck, Shoulders, Wrists… Routine for What Ails You

Today’s practice is born from the realization that almost everybody—at one time or another—grapples with headaches, neck and shoulder tension, or wrist and hand issues. For some, the cause is work (computer, phone); for others, a life of carrying loads of some kind—baby, laundry, groceries; for still others, perhaps a lot of driving. Or, you may have had an impact or repetitive stress injury whose effects linger.

Because I am currently using two canes to move through each day, there has been an undue amount of pressure on my hands, wrists, and shoulders. I find that I am doing bits and pieces of the following routine multiple times throughout the day: What follows is a full set of the techniques that I have found to be particularly helpful. Pick and choose what works best for you, or integrate the entire practice into your own routine as a preventive measure.

The practice can be done in any position that you like: I tend to do the initial moves standing, and then shift into a seated pose. If standing or being on the floor is challenging, a chair will work for all but the arm circles. Regardless, a relaxed, yet upright and aligned spine heightens the benefits of the practice; as such, I recommend warming up with a few spinal exercises. For example, if you are at a desk, push your chair back, place the hands on the knees, and inhale to extend the spine forward; then, exhale to round back, allowing the chin to drop to the chest. Repeat several times to free tension from the spine and its associated muscles.

Open the practice with firm qi taps. This qi gong technique hones in on stagnant and blocked energy in the muscles and bones that inhabit specific meridians. For today’s purpose, the tapping tool of your own hand helps to break up tension along the torso portion of the Gall Bladder line, as well as the Lung, Large Intestine, and four Heart meridians in the arms.

Form a “beak” of the right hand by bringing the thumb and all fingertips together: This pointer will be the tapper. Starting on the left upper trapezius (thick muscle that runs from neck to shoulder), begin tapping quickly and powerfully: Move back and forth along the muscle, remaining longer on any area that feels particularly tight or needy. Then move the beak along the left clavicle and around the shoulder joint, down the outer arm, around the elbow, then the forearm, and around the wrist. 

Move up and down the arm as many times as feels necessary. When you are finished, make a beak of the left hand, and repeat the same progression on the right shoulder and arm. 

Then, with an open palm, swiftly and lightly slap along the same path that you tapped with the beak. After you have done both arms, inhale: Raise the arms overhead and shake vigorously; lower the arms when you need to exhale.

Now you are ready for shoulder drops. These are the opposite of shrugs, wherein the emphasis is on the lift and squeeze of the shoulders up toward the ears: Shoulder drops inversely unload energy away from the head and neck. Starting with the right side, inhale as the shoulder lifts up easily and minimally; exhale to strongly drop or push it toward the floor. Allow the head and torso to lean to the drop side if the force of the drop suggests. Continue at a fairly rapid clip for 12-20 drops. Then, repeat on the left side. 

Special note: Although I do not suggest specific breathing for the following circling sequence, you likely will discover a natural pattern. Remain conscious of the breath as you roll, and breathe deeply and completely throughout the movements.

Now, alternate backward shoulder rolls: Do a total of 20 rolls. Then, alternate circling the shoulders forward; keep the movement continuous, rather than distinctly rolling one, then the other. For an added mental challenge and focus booster, roll the right shoulder backward, as the left shoulder simultaneously circles forward. Give yourself the chance to work it out, and then aim for a total of 10 opposite and simultaneous rolls: Repeat, shifting the left shoulder to backward rolls, and the right side to forward circles.

Next, move on to large arm circles: Rotate the right arm backward, moving slowly at first, then faster and with momentum as the joint warms. Do 12-20 circles, and then switch to the left arm. After 12-20 circles on the left, return to the right: Circle the arm forward another 12-20 times; then, repeat on the left side. This movement not only helps to keep the shoulder joint healthy, it provides a boost to overall circulation: You will feel well invigorated after a dose of arm circles.

It is at this point that I typically move to a seated position. The next set of movements uses the fingers to reset the nervous system; the sequence also releases basic tension that accrues daily in the hands and fingers. First, extend the arms out to the sides at shoulder level, palms facing down. Inhale as the fingers move in to the palm, keeping them as straight as possible; exhale as you extend them back out. This move should be so quick that the breathing becomes almost a Breath of Fire in and out through the nose, with the belly pumping and jumping: I find it helpful to focus on the exhale during the “flick” of the fingers out; the inhale and inward-moving fingers will respond naturally. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, turn the palms to face up; repeat the quick flick and retraction of the fingers for 1 more minute. To continue, raise the arms 60 degrees to form a large V with your head and shoulders as the base of the V. With the palms facing each other, repeat the same finger movement with rapid inhales and exhales for 1 minute.

Now, re-extend the arms to the sides at shoulder level. Hold down the ring and pinky fingers with the thumbs; the index and middle fingers are straight and together, forming a pointer. Turn the palms to face down, and extend the pointer down as well. Remain here, and refocus on long, deep breaths, in and out through the nose. If you feel that you need to exhale through the mouth at some point, do so: This signals a further release of tension and blocked energy. Continue for 1 minute: Then, turn the palms up, shifting the pointer up as well. Breathe deeply in this position for another minute.

To end your practice, come into Baby Pose. As always, if you need a pillow under your knees or forehead, and/or between the buttocks and heels, feel free to add that support. In the posture, interlace the hands behind the back; lengthen through the elbows, and raise the arms as far up and away from the back as possible. Remain here in Yoga Mudra for 1 minute. Then, slowly lower the arms, and move gently into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…