Silent Sundays: Make Peace with Mercury

Special note: The following practice was first presented in July 2019. With all that has transpired in the world since then, Mercury Retrograde may seem the least of our problems. Yet, because of the global challenges that we collectively face, daily frustrations can take on an added weight. 

To remedy the likelihood of irksome situations that Mercury likes to unleash when retrograde, I offer an updated version of the original routine: The Miracle Bend is an additional move that clears the auric field, while also warming the back body for a subsequent Yin Forward Bend. New, too, of course, is the date of the retrograde phase: Mercury began its “backward” movement on January 14, 2022, and will get back on course February 3. 

If you like, you may practice with the audio version at: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson

From today until July 31, the planet Mercury once again begins its backward-seeming movement through space. Although this retrograde phase occurs 3-4 times a year (in different months, thus in different astrological signs), each time typically manifests mix-ups and frustrations. The reverberations of Mercury’s rush past Earth affects all areas of communication: spoken, written, business, computer coding, etc. Additionally, the retrograde period precedes a shift in some area of your life; however, this fluctuation is unpredictable and will usually be felt only after Mercury returns to its normal orbit.

Today’s Silent Sunday suggests an unusual strategy for that scamp, Mercury: Instead of combatting the potential for skewed energy, the practice honors Mercury. As we can not yet know the change that Mercury will usher in; and because earthly miscommunication is likely at this time, intuition takes on a significant role in our ability to dance with Mercury. Certainly it is no mistake that the pinky finger, which channels intuitive energy, is called the Mercury finger.

To begin, come to stand with feet a comfortable distance apart. Touch the thumb tip of each hand to the fleshy mound at the base of its respective pinky; make a fist with the thumb inside. Now, with both arms at your sides, circle the arms outward, keeping the circles low and about 8-12 inches in diameter. Continue for 30-60 seconds.

Then, start to move the circles upward at a steady pace. Circle 8-10 times to bring the circling overhead. With your arms shoulder-width apart, continue the outward circles for 1 minute, breathing deeply and strongly as you do. When you have finished open the hands, and shake the arms as you bring them back down to your sides.

For the next movement, use each thumb to clamp its partner-pinky into the palm of the hand: The other three fingers are together and straight. Begin to seesaw the arms: Inhale as the left arm rises above the “horizon” about 45 degrees; exhale as it lowers and the right arm comes up. The palms of each hand face forward as you seesaw the arms up and down.

Next, still standing, begin what is called Miracle Bend in kundalini yoga. Inhale the arms up through the front space; exhale to bend forward to touch the ground. When in the standing position— with the arms overhead and shoulder-width apart—introduce a modest back bend into the spine. To modify, feel free to bend the knees for the forward bend; or, simply come down as best you can, and touch the hands to wherever you can on the legs. Further, if the standing spinal extension (arch) is not comfortable for your back, simply stand as tall as you can. Continue to inhale up, exhale down at a steady pace for 26 Miracle Bends.

Now, you may bring yourself to the ground for a yin-style forward bend. Yin yoga focuses less on perfecting alignment of a pose, and more on connecting deeply with the specific energetic quality of a posture. Forward bends access the back body, in which the Bladder meridian lies; the Life Nerve, which courses through the back of the entire leg, is also stimulated. As these energies are awakened, we deepen our ability to flow with the twists and turns of Life. 

If you like, prop yourself: perhaps a pillow or rolled blanket under the knees, or a bolster on your thighs to support your torso fully as you relax into the Forward Bend. Feet can be at ease: no forced arch is necessary. With your legs out in front of you, and your body resting on them, close your eyes and breathe consciously, but naturally. Focus your attention on the sensations and emotions that arise as you descend fully into the posture. If you need to adjust slightly as the muscles release, do so; then, return to the aware stillness. Remain with the pose for 3-5 minutes.

Now you are ready to close your practice. Lie on your back with feet flat on the ground, knees bent. Move your feet slightly wider than your hips, and angle the toes inward: Let the knees fall inward to rest against each other in this classic Constructive Rest position. Bring your arms about 12 inches away from the body, resting on the floor, palms up. On both hands, reconstruct the mudra of the thumb holding the pinky into the palm of the hand. Bring your closed eyes to focus on the Third Eye. As you inhale, draw communicative, intuitive energy from around and within to your Third Eye: upon exhalation, send the vibration deeply into your brain, and your Throat and Heart chakras. As you inhale to fill, and exhale to imbed your “ken” into this Upper Triangle, you allow the positive aspects of Mercury to ride along with the bounces that the planet’s retrograde phase can create. Continue this breath mediation for 3 minutes.

Finally, release yourself into Svasana. Acknowledge Mercury’s need to be “out of phase” for these few weeks; imbue yourself with the awareness and equanimity that a retrograde period can stifle. As you relax into the throes of the cosmos and allow yourself to greet the energy, rest assured that Mercury recognizes your efforts to make its acquaintance.

Happy Sunday…

Silent Sundays: In the Yin

Last week, I offered an active clearing ritual to usher in a new year— one that was particularly welcome after a bewilderingly unsettling 2020. The practice involved movement and plenty of props and objects: It was decidedly meant to shift external energy. On this Silent Sunday, I suggest a practice at the opposite end of the spectrum. Today’s offering turns fully inward; the experience of doing so can bring surprising realizations.

As 2020 forced most of us to contend with discomfort—be it mental, physical or spiritual—lessons in endurance ensued. Sometimes, the best recourse seemed to be distraction: Pick up a new hobby; tech your way into Zoom calls and parties; begin a workout regime, etc. On the other hand, some moments paralyzed any effort to put on a happy face; those times called for complete retreat.

Today, I suggest a way to abide the dis-ease, to dwell in short-term discomfort. With no objects or sounds to distract, yin yoga requires one to enter a complete, minimalist inhabitation of posture. Time spent in each pose can seem an eternity… until the inevitable shift of muscle, mind, and breath occurs. At that moment, discomfort yields to allowance; a deeply satisfying peace descends, made all the more profound by the challenge involved in achieving it.

There are only three positions in the following practice. Before you begin, understand that yin yoga carries an inherent degree of “hardness,” despite its name: The mind rises up to rebel at the duration of each pose; the muscles resist release; and emotions can be stirred unexpectedly. Yet, the result is one of infinite reward: calm, vibrant energy, in a revitalized body.

Each of the three postures has a short warm-up movement to prepare for the task to come. For the first yin pose, come onto all fours for traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes. Spend about a minute with the inhales leading into deeply extended arch (like a back bend); and the exhales rounding the spine into exaggerated flexion (full rounding of the spine, like a “scaredy cat”). Then, when the back muscles feel warm and loosened, lower down onto the belly for Sphinx Pose: propped on the forearms, shoulder blades drawn down, outer shoulders rolled back. Legs may be extended straight behind; during the time in the pose, lift the lower legs (bend the knees) for a deeper stretch. Remain here, eyes closed, breathing normally, yet consciously, for 3-5 minutes.

When you are ready to transition to the next pose, ever-so-slowly press back into Baby Pose for up to 1 minute. You may be surprised to feel a deep stiffness as you leave yin Sphinx: This is normal; with the time spent in deep yin, the muscles need equal time to rebound into their natural state of contract/release. 

From Baby Pose, roll up, and then help yourself to lie on your back. Extend the legs into the air: Begin to flex and point the feet as you bend and straighten the knees, respectively. This inversion will aid circulation, while the warm-up movements will help the legs  ease into the next yin posture.

Now, using your hands to help “hoist,” if necessary, bring both legs back over the head for Plow Pose. If the feel do not touch down on the floor behind you, that is okay: Slide a pillow under your hips to help support the backward roll of the spine; then, allow the legs to hang, knees bent if needed. During the time in the posture, you may well note the release that allows the feet to come all the way to the floor over your head, behind you. Work your way into this pose for another 3-5 minutes.

Finally, roll gently down from Plow: Let both knees fall in toward the chest, easing your way out of the pose. Extend the legs straight up into the air again, and give them brief shake or rub. Then, bend the knees, bringing the feet to the floor. From here, tip both knees to the right, and then to the left: inhale in the upright center position, exhale as the legs “windshield wiper” to each side. Let the lower spine acclimate to this moving twist for 1 minute. Then, slowly extend the legs straight out onto the floor. 

Now you are ready for Spinal Twist. Bring the right knee in toward you; guide it to the left side of the body, using your left hand to help. The right arm may rest by your side, or out to the side at shoulder level; allow the head to turn or stay centered, as feels right to you. Remain in this gentle twist for 3-5 minutes. When you are ready to switch sides, do so with care: If you need to rest briefly on your back with both legs straight for a few breaths, feel free. Then, bend the left knee in toward you, and guide it over to the right to move into the twist. Again, spend another 3-5 minutes breathing deeply, noting any discomfort, and allowing time and gravity to ease your way into peace.

When you have completed the twist on both sides, lie on your back, covered with a blanket, for a consolidating Svasana. Rest here for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…