Silent Sundays: Top to Bottom, Conclusion–Knees and Feet

… [A] ‘sacred physiology’… maps out the body according to subtle energy currents and power points. The body has its own special sacred points just as the Earth has its sacred sites and energy currents according to sacred geography. [One] must learn this sacred geography of [the] body in order to attune… to the Earth [and] to the greater cosmos.

                              —Frawley, Ranade, and Lele: Ayurveda and Marma Therapy, 2003.

On this Silent Sunday, the final part of the “Top to Bottom” series addresses what may be the most significant aspect of the head-to-toe practice. While my belief, experience, and practice always consider the energetic vibration associated with the physical body, some areas of the body seem to transmit a higher psycho-spiritual frequency than others. The feet certainly hold an abundance of such energy, as well as portals and points corresponding to the rest of the body. This idea is underscored in bodywork modalities: reflexology, acupuncture, and marma therapy.

Special note: Marma therapy may be thought of as the yogic equivalent of Chinese medicine’s acupuncture, or of the Western massage practice of reflexology. Marmas, however, are less fixed than pressure points: Their general location on the physical body becomes specific according to the individual’s constitution, history, and current state of being.

The knees, too, are a perhaps surprising source of subtle energy centers. While many meridians flow past the knees, and several acupuncture (or qigong pressure points) may be found at the site, the knee joints represent and house a profound, awe-worthy purpose: To steady oneself on Earth, in order to further spiritual development. (As Louise L. Hay points out in her book, You Can Heal Your Life, a helpful affirmation for any joint is: “My life is divinely guided, and I am always going in the best direction.”)

One of my earliest bodywork experiences as a client—and one that triggered my interest in “sacred physiology”—occurred when the massage therapist (working on my knees) said: “The knees relate to depression.”

At the time, I was in my mid-20s, reeling from post-college uncertainty, and in the midst of a soul- and self-crushing relationship: Depression had begun to set in. My knees did not bother me, nor had I complained of any tenderness. The bodyworker, however, had zeroed in on them; her statement was matter-of-fact, and she could not have known how deeply it resonated. But the correlation between “knees and depression” stuck with me.

Now, years later, having been steeped in the practice and study of yoga and various bodywork modalities—all bolstered by a “knowing” of their effect on and relationship to the spiritual body— the idea seems “normal.” Because Traditional Chinese Medicine introduced me to the organ systems, elements, meridians, and corresponding emotional and psychological states, the body as a vessel for spirit and emotion is a concept that comprises how I live in and see the world.

Such is the nature of today’s routine: To bring a reverent focus to the hidden spiritual bounty that can be found in the physical body.

To begin, round up an array of essential oils. You certainly may proceed and reap benefit from the following practice without them; however, to anoint the knees and feet will add a depth of devotion while simultaneously enhancing the physical intentions.

For the knees, try peppermint or wintergreen oil—a few drops in a carrier oil, e.g., almond or jojoba: Gently, but firmly apply all around the joint using circular, rhythmic movement. Use both hands for each knee. Then, dot one drop of lavender onto each kneecap, and rub it in with the index fingers: right finger for right knee, left for left. Finally, tap a drop of lavender onto one index fingertip, then press that into the other index tip: Take both tips to the back of their respective knee; inhale to press in firmly with the finger, exhale to release. Repeat two more times.

Next, for the feet, try frankincense, myrrh, or sandalwood for the toes and just below (i.e., into the balls and webbing of the feet). For the heels and ankles, grounding oils (patchouli, vetiver) support stability. For the mid-foot, try any of your favorites: geranium, bergamot, or sweet marjoram are lovely options.

Now, come onto the belly. With the forehead resting on the backs of the hands, bend the legs at the knees. Begin to sway the lower legs from side to side; the hips and pelvis should remain still. Move back and forth, and consciously deepen the breath as the legs move side to side. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, release the legs to the floor, letting them straighten out naturally. You may remain with the head on the hands; or, If you like, come up onto the forearms, as in Sphinx Pose. Begin to double-kick one foot in toward the buttock, and then the other: This is a quick, “beat-beat” rhythm. Two quick kicks toward the rear with the left foot; release it as the right foot “beat-beat’s” in toward its side. In this first round of swift, small double kicks, the foot is in flexion, i.e., the heel leads the way. Complete a total of 8 beat-beats (alternating, thus a total of 4 on each side).

Repeat the kick-kicks with pointed feet: again, 8 total.

To close the set, alternate the foot position each time you double kick: The first beat is a flexed foot; the second is pointed. Then, quickly switch to the other side: flex-point is the “beat-beat.” For this portion, complete 16 double-kicks, i.e, 8 each side, alternating.

Now, roll onto the back, and extend both legs straight up into the air. As you inhale, bend the knees, and flex the feet at the ankle joints. Exhale to press the legs straight up as you point through the feet (extending the ankle joint). Inhale to bend and flex; exhale to straighten and point. Repeat 12 times. 

Then, let the legs open into a wide straddle in the air. Repeat the same inhale/exhale with bend/flex and straighten/point; you will feel a deep stretch, perhaps a tightness, through the inner thigh and groin. Move gently and purposefully with steady breathing, and the tension will ease. Also do 12 bend-and-lengthen moves in this position.

Next, lengthen both legs onto the floor. Repeat the previous movement: Inhale to bend the knees as the feet flex; exhale to lengthen through the knees and point the feet. Again, do this 12 times.

Now, help yourself up into a seated position, legs straight in front of you. If this posture proves difficult, bring a bolster under the bottom to help pitch your pelvis forward a bit. Also, you may slide a cushion or rolled blanket under the knees. Move gently into Forward Bend; keep the spine long as you bend from the hips. Ideally, wrap the thumb and index finger around their respective big toe, and press firmly into the nail with the thumbs. Keep a determined gaze upon the big toes. (If you can not reach the toes, place the hands wherever you can along the leg; maintain a powerful visual focus on the big toes.) In the posture, as deep into the bend as you can go while holding the intense focus, begin Breath of Fire. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, release the Forward Bend, and sit in whatever way allows you to comfortably repeat the circular massage of the knees. Inhale deeply through the nose; exhale through the mouth as you rub this joint. Continue for as long as you like.

Then, one foot at a time, use both thumbs to press into either side of the Achilles tendon as the back of the ankle. Press in and move up and down a few times. Then, begin to use all the fingers of each hand to pinch the inner and outer edges of the feet; again, move up and down along the sides a few times, breathing deeply (inhale nose, exhale mouth).

When you are ready, hold the foot with its same-side hand, bending the knee if necessary. In a soft fist, use the opposite hand’s knuckles to knead the sole of the foot: first, the bottom of the heel; then the arch, and finally the ball of the foot. Follow that progression a few times.

Now, switch sides and repeat the  full sequence (beginning with the Achilles tendon) on the other foot. When you have completed the massage, return to the Forward Bend position, but in a relaxed manner: Allow the spine to round if it needs to, in order for you to reach the feet.

Beginning with the left pinky toe, “snap” the tip of the toe with the thumb and first two fingers of either hand. The sense is one of a quick pinch-and-pull, as if to clip off the end of the toe. Move quickly from toe to toe, moving left to right; when you arrive at the left big toe, “snap” it, then proceed directly the right big toe. Continue moving toward the right pinky toe, which will complete the process.

Finally, prepare for Svasana. In this supine rest pose, inhale deeply through the nose: As  you do, squeeze the anus and genitals (Mula Bandha) as you turn your closed eyes up to gaze at the Third Eye. Exhale to release, feeling that the breath—the Prana—is sailing through and out the backs of the knees and the soles of the feet. 

This breath pattern underscores the need to balance Root and Third Eye—the earthly and spiritual. It further ensures that this dynamic duality flows evenly and beneficially throughout your physical and subtle bodies. Complete at least 8 full rounds of the pranayama with visualization. Then, float into deep rest 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”