Anyone remember the groundhog’s prediction? On 02-02-2020 (a palindrome), Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his den at 7:25 a.m. to predict an early spring as the marmot did not see his shadow. This 134th prediction came on the same day as the presidential proclamation on suspension of persons posing a risk of transmitting the virus COVID-19 went into effect, banning entry of immigrants and nonimmigrants who were physically present within the People’s Republic of China during the 14-day period preceding their entry into the U.S.
In the midst of this pandemic we missed the first day of spring (spring or vernal equinox) in the Northern Hemisphere which fell on Thursday, March 19. The word equinox – “equal night” – comes from two Latin words; aequus (equal) and nox (night). On the equinox, the length of day and night is nearly equal in all parts of the world. What does this mean for you and me? Savoring the increasing sunlight hours, with earlier dawns and later sunsets. Spring is in the air!
A more serious question. Will the warming spring temperatures slow down and hopefully destroy the coronavirus outbreak? I’ve always welcomed spring – self-imprisoned due to allergies, looking enviously at family, friends and neighbors relishing their newly found sunlight and the birthing of Mother Nature. This year I have lots of (unhappy) company. Everyone is welcoming spring – sick, quarantined or as a prisoner in their homes, glued to the news as dictated by this miniscule virus.
Nevertheless, we must go about readying the body to accept the change of season and hence yóga practices must go on.
You may have heard about the yógic cleansing practice of Jala Néti, Nasal Wash.
It is imperative you begin this practice as soon as possible, even if you do not have any allergies. Daily practice prevents congestion in the sinuses and makes you less susceptible to common colds and other respiratory infections. In fact, it will keep the nasal passages clean and healthy, and most importantly it will help your immune system fight off this virus. This practice is essential if you want your Prāṇāyāma, breathing practices to succeed.
If you are unfamiliar with this practice, please find the instructions here.
Once your nostrils are clean, the next step, which is also crucial for Prāṇāyāma, and often neglected is called Pādadhirāsana, the breath equalizing pose. This step makes you aware how the pressure points in your armpits relate to your nostrils and help you become sensitive to the breath balancing process.
A bit of anatomy and physiology pertaining to this pose. The armpit called the axilla, (not known only for its popularity to have a high concentration of hair follicles and sweat glands) is the home for the blood and lymph vessels (more than twenty lymph nodes) that help fight infection. The pressure points under the armpits that is stimulated by this pose influences the activities of the sympathetic (right) and parasympathetic (left) nervous systems, opening the two nostrils and inducing a state of spontaneous balance. In other words, the fight or flight response is tempered and eased into a relaxation response, preparing the mind for higher yógic practices.
Instructions for Pādadhirāsana
- Sit in a comfortable āsana, seat. Comfort is paramount. If you are not comfortable, your mind will be fixated on the part of the body that is in pain or in discomfort.
- With Ahimsā, non-harming as your intention, please support your body with one of these yóga props – blocks or blankets. Sometimes, if you have low back pain or a knee injury like I do right now, chair maybe your best option.
- Make sure your spine is straight and shoulders relaxed. Check the position of your head and neck making sure the chin is not extending forward.
- Cross the arms in front of the chest and place the hands under the opposite armpits. Meaning the pressure under the right armpit opens the left nostril and vice versa.
- The thumbs are pointing upward. The point between the thumb and the first (index) finger should be firmly pressed. You may press the other fingers into the space as well.
- Close the eyes and become aware of the breath. Keep the breath slow and rhythmical, practicing until the flow of breath in both nostrils becomes equalized.
- In the beginning it may take longer (5-7 minutes) depending on factors such as consistency of cleansing practices, getting over a recent cold, having eaten a heavy meal before the practice or the night before.
- Maintain the pressure for a minute or two, although with daily practice the changes may sometimes occur within a few seconds. (Svāmi Satyānanda Sarasvati)
- Be aware of the breath rising and falling equally up and down the nostrils.
- Practice for up to five minutes in preparation for prānāyāma or extended periods of time for spiritual purposes of deepening concentration.
This absolutely works. Of course, do not take my word. Practice and see the effects for yourself. The more regular my practice became the quicker the nostrils opened and there was ease in the flow of breath. You will also be amazed at the sense of calm that envelops you in Pādadhirāsana. Fortunately, there are no side effects and no restrictions of how often in the day you can practice this pose .
If you have a daily practice of Prāṇāyāma, you can ease into it whenever you feel your nostrils are open. If you do not have a Prāṇāyāma practice you can explore the sun meditation described below. It is an energizing and reverential way to begin your day.
Since you cannot go outside onto your deck or enjoy your usual spot on a bench in the park, your next best option is to find a window in your home where the sun is the brightest. Grab a comfy chair and sit facing the sun.
Close your eyes and let the spring sun cape your whole body. Feel the light and warmth on your skin. Allow the golden rays of the sun surround you, starting near you and then spreading in concentric circles to encircle your loved ones near and far, and finally the whole world.
Meditate on sun’s energy, visualizing the rays of light entering your physical body for healing and renewal. If it pleases you, say a heartfelt prayer for the health of everyone, especially those who are suffering right now and those who are on the frontlines fighting this virus that has caused such havoc around the world.
Let your heart be open with gratitude, especially if you are in a safe place. Let your negative thoughts be transformed into loving, kind, generous, forgiving thoughts. Stay with the rhythm of your breath and sit for as long as it feels right. You can learn and chant the Divine Light Prayer below if you like.
Divine Light Prayer by Swami Sivananda Radha
Breathe deeply and affirm:
I am created by Divine Light
I am sustained by Divine Light
I am protected by Divine Light
I am surrounded by Divine Light
I am ever growing into Divine Light
Exhale slowly and relax. Feel the warm glow of Divine Light flood your entire body, inside and outside. Acknowledge silently to yourself:
“Every cell of my physical body is filled with Divine Light;
Every level of my consciousness is illumined with Divine Light.
The Divine Light penetrates every single cell of my being,
Every level of consciousness.
I have become a channel of pure Light.
I am One with the Light.”
Repeat the prayer as many times as you like. You can replace “I am” with the name(s) of those whom you know are suffering from the coronavirus or replace it with “Everyone is”, which could include every single member in the community who are working tirelessly to help those in need and those who are doing their part by serving or socially distancing. Sit for as long as your heart wants.
When you are done, take a deep breath and slowly open your eyes. Starting with a downward gaze allow the eyes to slowly roam. See the world around you that has been drunk by the sun – as if you are discovering it for the first time. Try to hold on to the effects of this meditation as you go about your day.
Take good care and Be well. This too shall pass.