Emulating the Qualities of Water
Water can take on many forms. It’s a powerful force that exhibits its strength in ocean tides, rapids, and waterfalls. Sometimes it’s totally still; so undisturbed that its surface perfectly mirrors the world above it. It flows into crevasses, pours into canyons, and drips into caverns. It’s dark and mysterious, reaching to depths we cannot go. Water occupies over 70% of the earth’s surface area and accounts for over 60% of your body’s weight. It's one of the five elements in Traditional Chinese Medicine. From a TCM perspective, water is the root of life. This idea is reflected in nature and in our bodies. Water governs birth, development, and maturation. It's is the most yin of all the elements, and there is great wisdom entrenched in it – wisdom in observing, reflecting, and drawing inward. This powerful, life-giving element is one that we can look to emulate each time we practice yoga.
Stress, habitual posture, injury, illness, the aging process, and inflexibility in our beliefs and ideas can potentially create tension within our bodies. We all know what it feels like to carry tension, because it presents itself in many ways. Constriction in the shoulders, pressure in the temples, knotted sensations that lie beneath the surface – these are all symptoms that can occur when we hold. Like plaque, tension build-up causes the body to harden over time. Recent research around the fascia suggests that what we once thought of as muscular tension may actually occur within the fascia. Biologically, fascia is what holds us together. It's an interconnected sensory system - a liquid, slippery mesh that covers the muscles and viscera and allows for gliding and movement. There are layers upon layers of fascia beneath the skin. When those slippery surfaces between the muscles become gummy or tethered, due to unhealthy patterns, injury, age, etc, movement is restricted. The more restrictions there are in the body, the harder we become. Metaphorically speaking, we turn from water to wood.
Through yoga we directly influence the fascia. Manipulation of the tissues through movement (vinyasa flow) and static poses (Yin yoga) promotes hydration. These modalities offer a chance to cultivate a more fluid environment where the muscles can glide freely, and the joints can move through their full range of motion. Feeling good is one of the wonderful side effects of yoga. When we break up the fuzziness between the layers of fascia we become less restricted and more fluid. Better range of motion promotes healthy movement and a feeling of connectedness that allows us to flow through life with ease.
On an emotional and spiritual level, when we are in the flow the sense of struggle subsides and we feel at harmony in our bodies and in the world. We’re more creative, we see things clearly, and we connect on a deeper plane to people and to our environments. When we’re in the flow boundaries and limitations dissipate. We become a continuation of the space around us. We are clear seeing, fearless, spacious, perfect. We are better listeners, givers, and lovers.
“Stay in the center of the circle and let all things take their course.” Lao-Tzu
How can we emulate water? The yoga practice is a great place to start. Our bodies contain infinite wisdom. When we make practice a priority we can tap into that wisdom and become aware of our habits and tendencies. Yoga teaches us to notice. When we practice we shine a light on holding patterns. We can see where we’re dense or rigid and work to cultivate space through simple awareness, breath, and movement. "Stay in the center of the circle and let all things take their course". Follow this practice to create a sense of flow:
Begin sitting on a pillow or folded blanket. Lengthen the spine without becoming too rigid. Visualize your bones – pelvis, spine, and skull – see the curves in the structure. Soften the hinges of the jaw, the corners of the mouth, and the throat. Relax your shoulders and arms. Rest the hands on the legs and turn the palms up as a gesture for receiving. Become aware of your thoughts. Notice the layers – recurrent thoughts that skim the surface, heavy ones that carry emotion, charged thoughts that demand your attention. Watch the tendencies of your mind without judgment. Breathe in: I am open to receive. Breath out: I let go of old patterns.
Warm-Up: Cat/Cow – standing forward fold – mountain pose – locust pose – sun salutation A
Standing Sequence: Low lunge flossing (twist and reach back) – crescent lunge – warrior 3 – standing splits – revolved half moon – revolved triangle – pyramid pose – 3 limb down dog – pistol pose – seated forward fold – reverse table top – vinyasasa – repeat second side
Baddha Konasana – sit on a folded blanket and tip the bowl of the pelvis slightly forward. Fold from the hips and notice where you meet resistance. Soften into it. Visualize your spine from the neck down to the tailbone and allow for roundness. Allow the seat to be broad and heavy. The head can act like a weight, creating space between each vertebra. If the neck is uncomfortable, either keep the head neutral or place a block beneath the forehead. Stay here for 5 minutes. Come up slowly, one vertebra at a time. Pause at the top for several breaths.
Happy Baby Pose – Lie down on your back and float both feet to the ceiling. Bend the knees and let them widen around the ribs. Keep the soles of the feet pointing up to the ceiling. Rather than pulling the legs down, allow them first to get heavy and notice the head of each femur in the hip sockets. There’s a tendency to go too deep here. If you choose to hold the legs or the feet, try to stay within 60%-70% of your natural range of motion. Laying deep in the joints can potentially be damaging when holding for long periods of time. Gently rock side to side. If the hip joints become uncomfortable here try bringing the feet toward each other, keeping the knees wide. Allow the rocking to become more subtle and then pause in stillness. Rock for 1-2 minutes. Stay still within the pose for 2-3 minutes. Release gently and place the feet as wide as your mat. Let the inner knees fall inward.
Allow this to be a space to feel the effects of your practice. Give freedom for lingering sensation and emotions to rise to the surface. Imagine free flowing rivers and tributaries beneath the skin.