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…

How to Hang On–Day 9: Manage the Anger

Anger can erupt in many situations, for many different reasons, and in many different guises. Throughout my experience of arthritis, anger has not been a primary reaction or emotion: Mostly, I have been baffled, sad, worried, and ultimately brave and resilient. But I have noticed during the last few days that anger is beginning a slow boil beneath the surface of my determination and enforced positivity.

Frankly, I would have expected this “toil and trouble” to have reared its head when pain came on hard and fast; or when administrative hoops of insurance and surgical schedules demanded my less-than-agile jump-throughs. Perhaps it was because I was vigilant with regard to losing my self to anger that I was able to keep it in check: With any tinge of negativity, I pointedly redirected my thoughts and attitude.

Today, however, pain and misguided resentment got the best of me. Three trips up and down three flights of stairs to do laundry left my legs and hips quaking and aching. With one more errand to do, I forced a second wind into my body and set off. Upon return, two of my house friends were outside: One greeted me with an open hand, ready to help; and the other began what felt like a barrage of what I am sure was a well-meaning offer.

Unfortunately, my personal, alternative preference to what she suggested must have seemed like a decline of her help. I did my best to assure her that if I needed her technique, I would be open to it: However, her face and tone indicated that my “refusal” of her suggestion exasperated her. And I, in return, felt the bubble of anger begin its slow simmer.

Cut to several minutes later: I had returned into my apartment, body raging with pain, mind stewing over my increasing emotional sensitivity to needing help. Every step, every dropped tissue or cane or bottle top led me into anger’s trap: I cursed, growled, and silently sobbed. More pain led to more anger led to more weakness led to more anger, and on it went.

But anger is a state that has caused me much chagrin throughout my life; it is something that I have learned to address immediately upon its appearance. And today was no different. I reminded myself that anger is akin to fear, in that the origin of both is a felt or real loss of control. This despairing state is the Water element gone awry; anger’s Fire burns hot when it sees an opportunity.

To remedy that, first ascertain if the anger is founded or misguided. If righteous, work to replace it with a positive approach to the situation. If you have stumbled into inappropriate or misdirected anger, confront the feeling directly: cool it, calm it, and regain center.

I suggest exactly what I did for myself today. First, I gave in to the growls that emanated from my throat each time I tried to keep a sob at bay. Throat sounds often signal anger’s presence, and they are the way to respond to the threat of the fiery emotion: First, make exaggerated snoring sounds, in through the nose, then pushed out from the back of the throat. Continue this for up to 1 minute.

Then, standing or sitting, extend the arms to the sides, palms down. Extend the index fingers straight up, using the thumb to hold the other fingers down. This kundalini mudra opens the Heart meridians while connecting the nervous system to the wisdom of the Universe.

Now add Sitali Pranayama to the held mudra: Inhale through the curled tongue (like a straw), and exhale for twice the amount of time through the nose. (if you are unable to curl the tongue, breathe in through slightly parted lips.) Breathe this way with the mudra for 3-5 minutes. Concsiously reflect upon the origin and nature of the anger you had been feeling: Remind yourself that anger is human, but it need not offset your humanity.

’Til tomorrow…