The Element of Water
Water is amazing as it has the ability to flow through stone reaching deep into the earth’s inner core as well as transform into vapour dancing with the atoms in the air. Water is everywhere. Water is a heavy and dense element yet light and fluid. Often connected to a sense of fluidity, flow, cleansing and purifying. It is associated with emotions, the aspect of consolidation and also the feminine (yin) aspects of ourselves.
Surely, therefore, it is not a coincidence that both the earth and humans are composed of 70% water. This suggests how important water and fluids are for us to stay healthy. You may have noticed when you move more, or choose to move consciously with fluidity and ease how much better you feel in mind, body and spirit.
In nature, like our lives water can be seen as a cycle – the hydrological cycle. Evaporation draws the moisture up from the earth into the atmosphere where it is stored in the clouds until it is released as rain, hail, sleet, or snow replenishing lakes, rivers, oceans and groundwater before once again cycling round. A continuous cycle of movement, fluidity and flow. Indeed, all of life on earth depends on water – 71% of the earth is water of this the oceans make up 96.5% with the rest beginning frozen on ice caps and glaciers, or in groundwater or freshwater in lakes, rivers, bogs, fens and other groundwater ecosystems.
We too are like mini ecosystems within larger ecosystems cycling and intertwined with nature – microcosm within macrocosms. Just as water moves through a chain of transformations circling around on its self so too do the rhythms of nature. Winter gives way to spring with a burst of growth and summer segues into falling leaves of autumn. Again, and again this beautiful natural rhythm repeats itself with infinite variations yet remaining true to the cycle.
In Yoga, winter is the season aligned with water. And the practice of yoga encourages us to explore our own true or Buddha nature one of lightness and love, one of flow and fluidity with all that it is changing constantly around and in us. Yoga helps us to see we are nature not separate.
As humans, we are a balance of both masculine (yang) and feminine (yin). Water is the opposite to fire; water is extreme yin. Yin aspects of nature and ourselves are for balancing the yang aspects. While water is a yin element, water is powerful, water is the strongest element. Water can put out fire, break through rock (over time) and change the atmosphere/air during a weather event such as a storm or a cyclone. Also closely related to the element of water is the moon for as we know it is the moon that moves the tides in their continuous flow and ebb. The power of the full moon to be able to draw high tides across oceans is truly something to marvel at.
Celebrate Fluidity: fascia and the flow of fluids in Yin yoga
Yin yoga is the perfect illustration of the water element in flow. It is restful, cooling, meditative and releases tension from the physical, mental and emotional bodies.
Lengthening, elongating, releasing and unblocking connective tissue (fascia) promotes the flow of energy (prana or chi) through the body replenishing and rejuvenating cells and tissues. Prana or chi as it is called by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners is our life force energy and moves through the nadi channels. Nadi channels are known as meridians in TCM. Much of the theory and knowledge behind the application of yin yoga in the modern world is infused and informed by the pratices of TCM. The idea behind releasing blocked prana or energy is to cleans, detoxify and stimulate a healthy flow of prana/chi through the body. If the chi is flowing too strongly (yang) or too weakly (yin ) this can cause illness or dis ease in the body on all levels physical, emotional, mental and energetic.
In yin yoga, poses are held for 3 minutes or longer as this is how a deep release, a deep letting go is achieved. In yin, we are passive no muscular activity simply the shape we make, the weight or our own bodies and nature’s gravity works the magic. When practiced in a meditative way without aggression or pushing the fascia slowly unravels, unsticks and allows fluid to flow throughout the entire fascial matrix system in the body. Science shows us that fascia is like a web encases the entire body – bones, nerves, muscles, organs everything and further blend and intertwines with muscles and organs nothing it seems is separate; you are connected throughout.
Embody WATER with Yin yoga poses
Yoga connects the water element to winter and thus works from a more organ based approach looking at massaging and stimulating the kidneys and urinary bladder organs and their respective energy channels. The element of autumn in the TCM system is metal and is connected to the lung and large intestine meridians. In the TCM system, the lungs govern the distribution of chi energy, disseminate and regulate water in the body. The large intestines, of course, removes waste but before doing so extracts any remaining nutrients and water from the food. Both traditions seem to have water as a strong element yet take different though complementary approaches to balancing our inner landscape.
The practice I have created is drawn from the world of TCM. These yin postures relate to our water organs; kidney and urinary bladder and their respective meridian lines and includes poses to target lungs and large intestine meridian lines.
If you are feeling stressed, tired, muscle fatigued, tense or simply needing to bring feminine balance or being (yin) to your full lifestyle (doing or yang) , a WATER practice is ideal.
Consider as you move through the practice:
Is there anywhere in my body I can soften, relax and let go a little more?
Where do I hold tension?
Am I striving or pushing to “achieve” a pose? Surrender
Try holding the poses for 3 minutes. If you are a beginner it is fine to come out early – do your best. If you have been practicing for a while feel free to stay for longer say 5 or even 10 minutes. Listen to your body and allow time for your mind to settle. Remember these are not dynamic Hatha poses with active movement they are yin – passive and more about making a shape rather than about alignment.
Caterpillar – When we fold forward, we are draw awareness inwards. We become more aware of our internal landscape and move away from the busy external world. Find stillness. Forward bends lengthen the fascia through the whole back body massaging and stimulating the the urinary bladder meridian running along the back body. Soften.
Sphinx/Seal – This stimulates the kidney organs and adrenals in the lower back. It also opens up through the front body. On release, fresh energy and blood flows through this area of the body. Be.
Dragon fly – This is a posture of deep surrender along the inner seam of the leg. It can also help relieve tension in the hips, upper back and spine. Relax.
Melting heart– A deep surrender in this pose stretches the kidney meridian and stimulates the kidney organs in the back. When a stretch is experienced through the inner arms lung, heart and pericardium energy lines are stimulated. It is also a deep heart opening softens the heart – a yin organ and aspect of our human nature. Listen
Shoulder knot – Releases long held tension in the upper back, shoulders and arms massaging the large intestine meridian. Melt.
Savasana (Corpse pose) – Without a doubt, the most important pose in yoga. Allow your body to deeply rest, restore and integrate the benefits of deep release. Subtle energetic sensations can be felt when we still. Feel.
More to come so stay tuned!