The Direction of Fire
Water energy is inwards, wood rises up, the fire element goes in many directions. The fire element can warm the ‘cockles of your heart’, or it can scorch the earth, leaving desolation and destruction in its path.
Our gaze, when our fire element is working is up and out. Our favourite colour? Red. The season we love: Summer. The emotion we most like to experience: Joy. Our most used sense when we are a fire person: speech and our tongue.
We all love a fire person – the life of the party. The centre of attention telling a spell binding story. Do you have a busy social calendar? Are you popular? That is your fire element at work.
Our capacity for joy and love is so fundamental to all of us, that in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), there are 3 body parts, 1 body system and 4 meridians that govern it.
The Gifts of Fire
Joy is a major gift of fire. It can heal, but too much joy and exuberance can injure the heart. Like children at a birthday party with balloons, clowns and lots of sweets, when we become overexcited, we become volatile. Too much fire in us makes us susceptible to relationships that ‘burn baby burn’.
Going to the feeling place is what our fire element does well. We often call this intuition. When our fire element is in balance, our spirit rests peacefully within our body, we are gracious and magnanimous with our affection and time. We don’t think too much about the bad and the good, but simply process that which is good for us (the small intestine), passing the bad for immediate removal (the large intestine).
We have fun, not at the expense of others, we can roar like a lion, and play like a puppy.
The fire element also gives us the gift of balancing our very human need for separateness and connectedness. When we can bring the unconscious to the conscious, we can discover what blocks the flow of love in and out of our hearts.
The Chinese character for Fire is huo. It represents ascending flames, going out in all directions. It reminds me of a child stick figure, running with arms outstretched into the world.
The Fire element characteristics
Sense: Speech, Tongue
Meridians: Heart (yin), small intestine (yang), the Heart Protector and the Triple Heater
Organs: Heart, Small intestine, the Pericardium
Psychoemotional attributes of Fire – Joy
The Taoist sage, Chuang Tzu saw emotions as powerful winds, the breath of the universe, and human beings as trees. A sage recognises that winds will blow through our trees, making sounds, but they will always pass, and tree settles back unmarked.
Most of us want to be a fire person. But this is the one Constitutional element that, for most of us, is out of balance. The extreme yin in our fire element manifests when we feel loved, and un-loved. Feeling unloved is one of the most desolate sensations one can experience. Paradoxically, when we feel unloved, we wish to control over everything, leading to the personality of the uninspired bureaucrat, mired in the past, looking to authority for approval, and yet actively working against it.
The extreme yang in our fire element produces a quickening in our body. We push boundaries, often at the expense of the physical ‘us’, can be that ‘chatterbox’. At its very edge, our fire element can make us reckless, over ambitious, and quite dangerous to be around.
We are, at our heart, social beings. Even when we withdraw, we are servicing whatever contact of which we are capable. When we hang onto someone, we are expressing our most inner vulnerability. When we remember that we are all driven by the fire element to connect in whatever way we can, we can begin to find compassion for ourselves and others.
The Heart is the space in which resides the shen, that which is both spirit and mind.
It originates from the heart, emerges and spreads over the heart system, passes through the diaphragm to connect with the small intestine.
The exterior (surface) running part runs to the lung, then turns downward along the arm. It ends in the inner tip of the little finger.
Small Intestine (Yang)
Sorting the sheep from the goats, my great-grandmother would say, is the job of this meridian. The Small Intestine Meridian starts from the tip of the little finger and crosses the wrist. It runs upwards along the posterior side of the forearm until it reaches the back of shoulder where it ends at the uppermost part of the back (the bottom of the neck). At this position, it travels externally across the neck and cheek until it reaches the outer corner of the eye and then ends in the ear.
Our small intestine meridian give us the ability to discriminate in terms of food, friends, the person we choose as a life partner, how we spend our time, even how we arrange our surroundings. If you have read about the Gall Bladder’s role in my article on the wood element, you might ask how the Gall Bladder’s function of deciding, differs from the Small Intestine’s function of choosing.
The Gall Bladder gives us the courage to decide between known options, while the Small Intestine creates clarity of mind and awareness of what are the ‘real’ options available to us.
The Rest of the Meridians
THE HEART PROTECTOR – “Love is a Battlefield” Pat Benatar
This meridian begins in the middle of the chest, at the pericardium. A branch descends internally through the diaphragm to the upper, middle, and lower burners – Triple Warmer.From the starting point a branch of the main channel crosses the chest to emerge just outside the nipple. It then ascends on the surface around the front of the armpit and flows down the arm, through the biceps muscle.
The Pericardium Meridian is known as the Guardian of the Heart. Physically, the pericardium encases the heart, acting like a shock-absorber. It also anchors the heart in place. Emotionally, the Heart Protector acts like the drawbridge, allowing some people to be closer to us than others (eg., our friends are closer, and the local shopkeeper, who we might be friendly, we do not feel as close to). When this meridian is out of whack, this drawbridge is either permanently up, or always open.
THE TRIPLE HEATER – “Love will keep us together”
The Triple Heaters are three ‘burning’ spaces in our body, responsible for receiving, transforming and distributing air and food. The upper heater is in the chest above the diaphragm, contains the Heart, Heart Protector and Lungs. The middle burner is in the upper abdomen and contains the Liver, Gall Bladder, Stomach and Spleen. The lower heater lies in the lower abdomen and contains the Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Bladder and Kidneys.
The Triple Heater has the crucial role of co-ordinating all the other Officials (read meridians and organs) so they work in harmony.
The Triple Warmer Meridian originates from the tip of the ring finger, by the outside corner of the nail, passes between the knuckles of the fourth and fifth fingers, on to the wrist.
From here it ascends between the two bones of the forearm (radius and ulna), through the tip of the elbow, and up the back of the arm to the shoulder.
It moves forward into the chest to connect with the pericardium, the upper burner, the abdomen and the middle and lower burners. Re-emerging from the chest at the collarbone, the meridian ascends the side of the neck and around the back of the ear.
There is nothing in Western Medicine that directly relates to this meridian.
Emotionally, the Triple Heater mediates our wider social interactions – those beyond our loved ones and our closest friends.
SUGGESTED FIRE MERIDIAN POINTS FOR YOGA PRACTICE:
All meridian points suggested for use in the WanderingYogi Yin for Yang are based on the following criteria:
- You can access them during your yoga practice, without too much effort (i.e., they are a natural extension of the pose)
- They are considered effective points within that meridian to balance your energy safely (i.e., without the help of an expert).
The Spirit Gate (Heart 7)
This point lies on the inner wrist crease, below the little finger. Feel for a hollow at the base of wrist.How do you mend a broken heart? This point calms the physical heart, is great for super stressful situations. It also helps moderate the tendency to ‘talk the leg off a chair’, my great-grandmother again.
Branch of the Upright (Small Intestine)
This point is also on the little finger side – on the forearm. Follow the side of your forearm with your fingers, until you feel a slight indentation a little less than half way down. This pressure point treats problems with the forearm, and elbow, painful fingers (cramping). It also reduces, fever, visual dizziness and blurred vision.
This one is particularly useful in sorting the sheep from the goats, if you are feeling confused in your heart.
Inner Frontier Gate (Heart Protector 6)
This point connects all the yin meridians in our body. Steadies, the heart, mind and emotions. Treats insomnia, being betrayed, loss of faith in people leading to joylessness. It is also a good first go to point for nausea – something we may feel when our heart has been jolted.
The point lies on the front of the forearm, below the wrist (about 3 fingers width), almost in a line with the middle finger.
THE WANDERINGYOGI YIN FOR YANG PRACTICE
Here is a suggested 45 minute practice for your fire element. Fire represents that which is capable of the greatest joy, the tissues affected are blood vessels, arteries, arterioles, capillaries, and veins. Many thanks to my teacher, Paulie Zink, for his inspiration in animals and nature, and his wise words on how to ‘do’ yoga.
THE WANDERINGYOGI APPROACH TO THE ZINK YIN
No yoga practice is complete without activating all five elements. Remember to balance your focus with its yielding (opposite) element. Always start your yoga practice with mother earth poses. Do poses at least twice. Don’t forget to do left and right sides! Take your time in the poses that challenge or give you the most joy. Smile and enjoy!
- Heaven and Earth pose – Left and Right foot, look down and up with the breath. Notice the reaction in your body to your gaze moving.
- Wide-legged toad, fingers spread on the mat in front, move from left to right, in short sharp movements
- Jump to frog and move left to right, hopping like a frog from pond pad to pad, like a frog looking for insects. Keep your gaze moving as if you are searching for those insects.
- Horse/Cow/Cat series – repeat 3 times – Horse – like peeing dog, but kick the legs in the air x 2, move to Cow – on all fours, sway back, chin up, look up, then move to Cat – arching the back, hissing, bring the claws up.
- Dog series – repeat 3 times Male dog, female dog, dog peeing on tree – left leg out to side holding foot with hand
- Phoenix series L&R – repeat 3 times – Standing Phoenix, opening wings to descending Phoenix, closing wings, place hands on the ground, jump back to plank, Chataranga, jump to front of your mat, land as a phoenix perched on a rock, come up to standing phoenix
- Genie Series – repeat 3 times, start in Standing Tree, sway slightly, eyes up, cross one foot in front of the other, come down to genie sitting, twist back up like a genie out of a bottle to standing tree, sway.
- Dragon series – repeat 2 times Lift one leg up in front lean forward, arms back behind, flap your wings, come to Warrior 1, arms back, tip your head as close to the ground as you can, land as Dragon on the Ground, move to Dragon (Warrior 1 with arms stretch back), swing into side angle pose, bind if you wish, reverse yourself back out.
- Cross legged Frog/Pigeon/Snake series L&R – Move to cross legged frog (shoelace), lean forward, garudasana arms if you wish, turn left move into pigeon pose, move to snake pose
- Playful Puppy/Seal poses
- Broken wing Dragon – Eka Buja Padmasana – One shoulder lotus pose L& R
- Bridge/Upside down Bow pose
- Chinese 5 star savasana.
Breathwork:. Breath retention in Horse/Cat/Cow and Dog series. Kapalahbati in Dragon series.