Silent Sundays: Daily Doses, Conclusion–Evening Elixir

On this Silent Sunday, the third and final installment of the Daily Doses series offers a way to unwind, recalibrate, and settle down for the evening. As such, the following practice also is useful for a bout of insomnia. Additionally, the routine may be beneficial any time you feel emotionally wrought or physically fatigued: Deep breathing, energy- and mind-clearing movements, and a closing pranayama will return you to a place of peace and centeredness.

To begin, come into a supported Baby Pose. As always, the buttocks rest on the heels, and the torso rests on the thighs. (You may place a pillow between the bottom and feet for added comfort.) Now, instead of allowing the forehead to rest on the floor, place a yoga block, book, or firm pillow under the forehead: Keep the head in line with the spine. 

With the arms relaxed on the floor by your sides, begin Snake Breath. Inhale deeply through the nose; exhale through the teeth, using as much time as possible to release the breath. With the chest compressed, the inhale through the nose requires concerted effort, ensuring a full, steady breath; the hissing of the Snake Breath exhale provides a calming auditory focal point, which encourages slow, complete breathing. Continue for 3 minutes.

Now, slowly press up onto all fours, as if to do traditional Cat/Cow. Instead of alternating spinal flexion and extension, however, allow your torso, hips, and shoulders to move in any way that feels good. This is a true “unwinding” of tension that likely has accrued during the day: round, arch, bend the elbows, circle the hips, shift forward and back, side to side—let your body take the lead. As you move in this organic, intuitive manner, breathe deeply and fully. If you feel like emitting sound, do so. Continue for 3 minutes.

Next, lower onto the belly, forehead or chin on the floor. With the hands placed a few inches in front of the shoulders, inhale fully; exhale to raise up into a Cobra- or Sphinx-like posture, breathing forcefully out through the mouth, from the back of the throat, with the tongue extended down toward the chin. Allow any raspy or growling sounds to emerge with vehemence. Inhale as you lower down; exhale to rise up, and emit the detoxifying sound and breath. Complete 10 more times, for a total of 12.

From here, turn onto your back. If you are adept at Shoulder Stand, help yourself into the pose. If you prefer a modification, raise the legs to 90 degrees; you may slide your hands or a pillow under the hips for additional support. Whichever inversion you choose, begin to kick the buttocks with the heels, alternating left and right. Move as quickly and vigorously as you can, exhaling powerfully through the nose with each butt-kick. Inhale when a leg straightens, exhale as the other heel kicks its buttock. As you quickly alternate kicks, the breath becomes a near-Breath of Fire. Continue for 3 minutes.

Special note: If you begin in Shoulder Stand, and are unable to remain in this advanced and dynamic inversion for 3 minutes, feel free to lower down when you need to. Continue in the modified posture for the remaining time.

Next, release completely onto the back. Inhale, and draw the right knee in toward the body. As you exhale, use the left hand to slowly guide the knee across the body, toward the floor on the left. Let the right arm reach out to the right side at shoulder level or slightly below: The head may turn or not, as your comfort dictates. Inhale back to center; exhale to release the leg long onto the floor. 

Special note: If you find it difficult to get the knee all the way to the floor, simply bring the knee to where you nonetheless feel a gentle stretch through the right waist. With repetition, you likely will find that the body releases into a deeper stretch.

Repeat the cross-body stretch to the other side, bringing the left knee in as you inhale; exhale to help it across the body with the right hand; inhale back to center; exhale to release the leg. Alternate the stretch from side to side a total of 16 times, i.e., each side receives 8 twists.

When you have completed the twisting sequence, lie on your back. Give yourself a moment for a rapturous full-body stretch: With legs long, arms reaching onto the floor over the head. wriggle and stretch yourself as long as possible. Let yourself rock side to side; reach right arm and left leg away from each other, then left arm and right leg. Investigate any areas of tension, and breathe deeply as you move. Spend as much time as you like in this freeing move.

Now, help yourself into your favorite seated pose. When you feel properly aligned, rest the left hand on the left knee, palm down; bring the right thumb to the right nostril, and seal the opening. Inhale long and steady through the left nostril; close the left nostril with the ring finger finger of the right hand, and exhale through the right nostril. Close the right, inhale left; close the left, exhale right. Continue with left inhalation and right exhalation for 3 minutes.

Finally, ease yourself into Svasana, allowing full, deep breathing to return through both nostrils. Rest quietly for at least 5 minutes, allowing your entire system to integrate the ease, openness, and peace that you have created.

Happy Sunday…