Silent Sundays: Spring Into Summer

On this first day of May, one feels the revitalization that sprouts with tiny croci, early-morning bird calls, and warming rays of sunshine. The sky adjusts its blue to one of permeating vibrancy and hopefulness; the clouds bear no ill will.

While this Silent Sunday resounds with the uplifting notes of Springtime, the day also marks a key time for thoughts of Summer. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the prime period to help the body and psycho-spiritual mind prepare for any season is roughly six weeks prior to the advent of that season.

Today’s practice will introduce the Fire element (that which is associated with Summer), while using Spring’s element, Wood, as a foundation. As one would lay kindling for a warming blaze, the routine helps to stoke the systems necessary to optimally enjoy Spring’s energy and seamlessly transition into Summer’s late-June entry.

Special note: For a fun challenge—and to reap the greatest benefit from this upbeat routine—practice every day from today until June 21. The commitment: 7 moves and a simple breath visualization for a total of 10 minutes, each day for six weeks.

First, a quick primer on the Wood and Fire elements: Wood is comprised of the Liver and Gall Bladder organ systems; Fire corresponds with Stomach and Heart energies. From an anatomical standpoint, Wood relates primarily to the inner and outer “seams” of the body. (Think side walls and inner thigh stretches.) Fire meridians run through the arms and front of the torso: Remember the phrase, “fire in the belly.”

With regard to the qualities associated with each element, Wood systems—just like Nature’s activity in Spring—awaken, refresh, and remind the body and mind of possibility. The Fire organs energize and supply the confidence to pursue and achieve goals. As such, Spring’s transitional time is conducive to purposeful contemplation and preparation; Summertime is ripe for activation and manifestation.

While each movement in today’s practice is designed to stimulate either the Wood or Fire element, maintain an awareness of the “unworked” system while focusing on one. For example, when imparting focused energy on the arms, stay attuned to the inherent reverberation through the belly, or the shifting through the legs. In this way, the practice succeeds in uniting the two elements for the greatest all-over benefit.

To begin, lie on the back, eyes closed, for a brief, centering visualization. With your mind’s eye, focus on the left pinky finger. Start your travels at the inner-side tip of the pinky: Inhale to draw the breath up the inside of the arm to just inside the shoulder on the chest. Exhale to the opposite side of the chest, and down the inner right arm to the inner-side tip of the right pinky.

Now, reverse the visualization: Inhale to begin at the right pinky, up the arm to the chest, and then down from the chest through the left arm, ending at the inner edge of the left pinky tip.

Repeat the breath with visualization—up left, down right; up right, down left—two more times.

Next, hug both knees into the torso. Inhale to open the arms onto the floor at shoulder level, as the legs shoot straight out to 45 degrees. Exhale to bring the arms and legs back into the hug. Inhale open, exhale close: Continue for 1 minute.

Still on the back, extend both legs straight into the air, and then let them fall open into a V shape. (The arms rest naturally on the ground by your sides.) Inhale: As you exhale through the nose, bring the legs back together, crossing them at the ankles; inhale to open into the V. Move as quickly as possible, switching the cross of the ankles each time you exhale. Continue for 1 minute.

Then, bend the knees to place the feet flat on the floor in preparation for Bridge Pose. Roll the spine off of the floor into Bridge: interlace the hands under the body, and stretch the arms straight. Press down into the feet, up through the hips, and open the belly as high to the sky as you can muster. Begin Breath of Fire through open, rounded lips. Breathe rapidly, equally, and fiercely through the mouth: The belly should pump powerfully with the breath. Continue for 1 minute.

Now, sit up. Extend the legs forward, and then open into a V on the floor. Extend the arms up and out from the shoulders at an angle of 60 degrees, palms facing each other. Curl the pinky fingers into the palms; hold them down with the thumb.

Begin to twist the torso left and right: Inhale to twist left, exhale to the right. Rise up and out of the spine, stabilizing through the wide-leg base. As the body releases, move a bit more quickly: Inhale left, exhale right for 1 minute.

Release the mudra from the hands, and let the left arm come down. Shift the right arm to extend it now straight up from the shoulder. Inhale, then exhale as you side-bend to the left: Inhale up, exhale stretch. (Use the left hand on the floor for support.)

Complete 8 stretches to the left, and then switch arms: With the left arm extended straight up, side-bend to the right 8 times.

When you are ready, ease back down onto the floor, and turn onto the belly. Let the legs be open wide behind you. Reach the arms forward on the ground, wider than shoulder width. This is the base of the “open Cobra” into which you will rise. 

Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the wide-open mouth, tongue extended down, to press up into the wide-leg, wide-arm Cobra. Inhale through the nose to lower, exhale through the mouth when you press up. Move as quickly as you can, aiming to create a pumping up and down of the upper body. Continue this stimulating, cleansing move for 1 minute.

Next, still on the belly, reach the hands back to grasp the feet (or ankles): Hold what you can; lift into Bow. Float the knees up and away from the floor, and rise up through the torso.

Now, begin to rock forward and back on the belly. This may be initially confounding for the body: Typically, it helps to inhale back, exhale forward. Muscle your way into the move, and then let breath and momentum carry you into the Rocking Bow for 1 minute.

When you have finished, shift back into wide-leg Baby Pose, toes together, knees apart. Let the arms stretch forward, palms down. Here, take some deep breaths while repeating the Heart meridian visualization: Inhale the mind’s eye from left pinky up the inner left arm, into the outer chest; exhale from right outer chest, down right inner arm, to inner edge of right pinky tip. Repeat up the right, down the left, and then one more full round.

 Then, release into Svasana on your back for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: For Another

Today’s Silent Sunday offers a way to reach out to someone—anyone—that may need some help moving through a transition. 

The practice is a personal one, as I and my siblings wait: All signs point to the imminent death of our mother. She is an intrepid character—a trooper, a toughie, a hugger, an eternal optimist. Those invaluable traits now become anathema to her departure from this earthly realm. Long ago, and most notably within the past year, what made this dynamo of a woman “Mom” began to wane. She became, instead, a being pressing valiantly onward, despite her ever-diminishing mind. When her body—uncannily strong, vital, and capable, all 5 feet, 110 pounds of it—began to flag, the story changed again.

A woman who, well into her 80s, hiked gulleys; mowed her own lawn; hoisted heavy loads; and would burst into a jog without warning suddenly slowed. Yet, until about 1 month ago, she climbed the stairs each night to tuck into her bed for longer and longer sleeps. Now, barely moving and no longer eating, she is washed by her caregivers; her waking time is almost null; and her words are garbled murmurs.

Yet she endures.

My tears now reflect my prayer that she move into God’s Grace, into the realm of eternal divine Love. I no longer mourn “Mom.” To mourn who she was is not the undertaking: To support this woman’s transition out of this earthbound life is my dedication. To that end, today’s practice summons, deepens, and transmits the energy of release and renaissance.

Special note: My father factors into this Silent Sunday, as well. He passed almost exactly 15 years ago, on February 9, 2007. At that time, I did not delve into meditation on his behalf; I did however, hold the same beliefs and faith that I do today. Back then, I consulted my dad’s horoscope on the day of his passing. We included it on the handout for his service:

“The concept of surrender continues to be a theme. A key relationship is growing in power, practically absorbing you. It is safe to let go for a minute—see where this takes you if you don’t resist.”

To begin your help-from-a-distance practice, find a special space in which to sit: inside or outside, near a window or nestled deep into a comfy cave. With eyes closed, hands on knees or thighs, palms up, focus your thoughts on someone, somewhere to whom you would like to send support, peace, and love. Hone in on the need of which they may have spoken, or that you discern on their behalf. Remove your own worries or desires: Reframe any self-motivated perspective; create a mental space of clarity and detachment.

Be sure to breathe deeply and consciously. This preparation ensures the integrity and power of the following experience.

With the elbows resting next to the waist, bring the hands to about the level of the low-mid ribs: palms face in, toward each other. As you breathe in deeply through the nose, let the forearms and hands respond to the expansion of the ribs by moving slowly, perhaps imperceptibly apart. As you exhale long and deep, let the arms and hands return toward center. Continue for about 2 minutes; allow a feeling of weightlessness to imbue the subtle movement.

Next, slightly extend the left arm out in front of you: Keep the elbow slightly bent, and let the hand, palm up, form a soft cup. The sense is that of waiting to catch a drifting, falling leaf. The right elbow is bent with the right forearm next to the body, and the hand at about the level of the shoulder. With the left palm facing forward, make Gyan Mudra—thumb tip to index finger tip. This arm position with mudra establishes your willingness to receive divine wisdom, and your vow to channel it to your dedicated recipient.

Again, with eyes closed—now gazing up toward the Third Eye—breathe slowly and steadily. If at some point you feel compelled to breath out through the mouth, do so: Then resume the deep, steady breaths through the nose. Continue for 2-3 minutes.

Now, begin a gathering-sending sequence. With all your heart, tap into the intention of the practice: to soothe, encourage, and free another from whatever ails or limits. Extend each arm to the side, roughly at shoulder level, with palms up; the elbows remain easy, not locked. Inhale deeply through the nose as you circle the arms forward at the level of the chest/shoulders, until the hands nearly touch. Continue the inhale as the hands draw in toward the Heart Center, eventually coming into Prayer Mudra in front of the Heart.

With a long exhale through the open mouth, burst the hands up and away from each other, extending the arms up at about a 60-degree angle, forming a large V. The feeling is one of a bird freed from a cage, moving into full, glorious flight. Let the exhale move through the burst up and out, and all the way through the arms moving back to the original position: extended to the sides at shoulder level, palms up.

As you repeat the sequence over and over, let your head move naturally in accordance with the movements. For example, you may tilt the head back as the arms soar upward; you may tilt the head down as the hands draw in to the Heart. Let the movement carry you into the aim and vibration of the practice. Continue for at least 3 minutes, but do not limit yourself. As this is a devotion to the Heart and Soul of another, guided by divine and universal energy, the practice ends only when it signals its completion to you. That signal will be personal, and thus not prescriptive.

When the movement completes. sit quietly. Let your thoughts and emotions flow in whatever way they do; again, no preconception, analysis, or judgment. When ready, find your way into Svasana, or simply sit in stillness for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: In Pursuit of Purpose

Today’s Silent Sunday reflects upon Purpose, and those times when one’s sense of that oft-elusive concept has waned or become clouded. To be clear, Purpose-Big-P aligns with Destiny: purpose-little-p corresponds more closely with earthly obligations and decisions that may arise from circumstance. Many of us spend years, even full lifetimes, committed to a purpose: a job to sustain a family, or an ideal born of societal demand. These are valiant, valid pursuits for one’s time on Earth. For the growth and evolution of the Soul, however, Purpose signifies avowal to that which God and the Universe deem yours. 

The seeds of this contemplation first sprouted with the diagnosis of my hip osteoarthritis. My daily activities were curtailed; I wondered about the reality of holding a job when sitting, standing, and walking were seriously compromised. My purpose-little-p at the time was to make it to surgery before full collapse.

And then, the Pandemic: Nearly everyone I know or spoke with felt the stirrings of, “What will I do differently when this is over?” Most of these queries referred to purpose-little-p; some were fraught with the existential uncertainty that often points to the imminent arousal of Purpose-Big-P. But as human beings who adapt, we became accustomed to the ongoing protocols of the Pandemic; subsequently, the drive to ponder purpose or Purpose simmered to a slow, if at all, boil.

Cut to today. For anyone, perhaps illness, injury, family need, or travel has taken you out of your usual routine; perhaps grief or medication has pulled you away from a feeling of connection to the divine and the Universe. Or, as does happen from time to time, perhaps you have reached a personal or professional impasse: Possibilities have fogged over, and the ability to shine a light on a solution has dimmed.

For me, over the course of the past few weeks, I have realized with a powerful punch my tiny place in the grand universal scheme. The pain-filled road to surgery; the weeks of self-focus during rehab; and the unanchored feeling that has accompanied my emergence from surgical pain and meds—all have ushered me to a seat that feels entirely unfamiliar.

More than that: I am left with the sense that I have left my “old life” behind. It would stand to reason, then, that I am embarking on a “new life.” Certainly, most of us can divide our lives into chapters or phases—their delineations are clear, be it in the form of a job, a person, or an impassioned pursuit. Yet, my current condition feels more like a second volume; the previous tome contained particular lessons, growing pains, and emotionally fraught chapters. These new pages seem pre-written with invisible ink: It is the energy of my active participation that will allow their intention to be revealed.

I am feeling the early stages of nervous anticipation: However, with Faith, nerves settle, and anticipation becomes imbued with curiosity and a promise to open to and uphold that which the Universe and the Divine decree for me: my Purpose.

How to trust in that which one has not met, has yet to experience, and initially inspires trepidation? How to feel strong and sure when all that is to come is as yet unrevealed? 

It seems to me to be yet another adventure with Faith. Wherever you have arrived in Life, whatever is going right or terribly wrong: Faith that you are in the place you are meant to be, and Faith that circumstances are exactly as they should be—this is the mindset and Heart-hold that will carry you through, unto the next.

Thus, when you recognize a change in your very vibration—and are uncertain of its significance or outcome—that is the time to double-down on whatever version of Faith has brought you to this point. While you may need to reframe thoughts; shift perspective; adjust the construct or nature of your practices; or—often most challenging—subsume plans or desires to the vast Unknown, you nevertheless continue to have choice. 

Choose courage over crumbling; choose open eyes over head in the sand; choose promise over despair; and, as ever, choose to look to the Universe and the Divine for strength and guidance. Regardless of when or where your path diverges or darkens, Faith in the wisdom present throughout eternity will grace your process.

As such, today’s practice calls for a “dig deep” commitment. Let today be the day that you fully immerse into each moment, throughout the times suggested: Tasks can wait, and mental chatter will dissipate as you spend more time within the folds of the process.

To begin, lie on your back. In order to spark the gritty determination and confidence needed to evolve, stimulate the Third Chakra, or Solar Plexus. As its name implies, this energy center corrals the Sun Energy, radiating power throughout the body and mind. The full posture, Stretch Pose, requires legs and feet 6-12 inches off the floor, with upper body raised to allow the eyes to be at the same level as the feet. Arms are stretched long by the sides, palms up, and Breath of Fire begins. 

If, as you move through this 3-minute challenge, you need a break, lower the head. Or, place one foot on the floor, and lift one leg; switch sides halfway through. After a break, perhaps you will be able to resume the full posture.

After the previous “Stretch Pose,” place both feet on the floor, knees bent, hip width apart. With the arms on the floor, lift the hips and torso up as you inhale; lower down as you exhale. Continue as rapidly as possible for 26 lifts. This move will stabilize the energy stirred in the first exercise, and root you into the goal of discovering Purpose.

Now, help yourself into a seated posture. Extend both arms to the sides, and pull them slightly behind the line of the body, thus opening and stretching the chest and fronts of shoulders. Palms face up as cups, fingers long and together: The thumbs extend up way from the hands. Again, do Breath of Fire with this arm and hand mudra for 3 minutes.

Next, relax and shake out the arms for a moment. Renew your focus on Purpose and your lot in Life. On each hand, curl the index finger into the thumb; the other fingers are together and straight. Bring the left hand in front of the Heart Center (not touching the body), palm down; place the right hand underneath a few inches, palm up. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, breathe deeply and steadily with this mudra for 7 minutes.

For the final mudra and breath portion, bring the hands in front of the Heart: The backs of the hands touch, fingers pointing down, with palms open to the sides. Rest the hands against the sternum, and close the eyes to gaze at the Third Eye. Remain here, breathing fully and slowly, for another 7 minutes.

When you are done, sit quietly, hands resting (palms down) on the knees. Or, release into Svasana for as long as you like. 

Happy Sunday…