The Direction of Water
Water energy is inwards. The most yin of our elements, water will find the lowest point and come to rest there. 70% of the earth is covered in water, and we are about 60% water. It is the only natural substance that can be found in all three physical states – liquid, solid and gas. The way water can change from ice to steam and back again, and take on the shape of that which surrounds it, illustrates the idea of limitless possibilities, inherent in every human being.
The Gifts of Water
There is an ebb and flow in life, not always harmonious, but is inevitable. If you have ever been ‘dumped’ by the ocean waves, or jumped into a still lake, watched the ripples you make as you surface, you will observe difference in the power of water. We are not a lake or an ocean, we are both. Water teaches us to live with this duality.
Water is a complex mystery. It can change colour, it can be deep and shallow, it can be still and powerful.
In our water element, we realise our own and others potential. But this potential cannot be forced. It is not like learning how to juggle, or to swim or ride a horse. Our potential means we need to understand the concept of possibility and exercise patience. A seed will not spring to life just because you know it will. You can water and water it, put it in the sun, but it will only become a plant, when the time is right.
Knowing and Wisdom
When our water element is in balance, we know certainty is an illusion. We have the beginner’s mind when we view life, marvelling at the unfolding of our own lives. True knowing is not something that can be written down or studied. It is not a direct activity of the mind.
Lao Tze in the Tao Te Ching taught that all manifestation arises out of nothingness. All knowing is grounding in this ‘not knowing’.
The deepest place of knowing in our body is the belly centre, known in various traditions as the hara, lower dantien or k’ath. In the western world, we call it our ‘gut instinct’. This deep knowing serves us when we listen, in what to do, when to act.
Water element characteristics
Spirit: Zhi (will)
Meridians: Bladder (yang)/Kidney(yin)
The Chinese character for Water is shui. The central stroke represents the main flow of a river while the other four strokes are the whirls, eddies and back currents of the river.
Psycho-emotional attributes of water – Fear
All emotions live within us, in our body. Not on the internet, not in the brain. Fear is the most primal of our emotions, connected as it is to our survival. Coming from our animal nature, fear prompts us to take action NOW.
Learning to manage our fear reaction is part of a balanced kidney chi, the yin meridian for water.
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.
Fear is not a problem unless we start to see life only through this lens, allowing it to lodge in our body.
“Learning to feel fear and let it ‘blow itself’out is a critical life skill” – Lee Carsley, WanderingYogi
When our water element is out of balance, we begin to assume the worst of the world and others, we lose presence, and a basic trust in ourselves and others.
When fear gets the best of us, it is like a giant waterfall, pouring over and through us, making us a unsteady on our feet. We can become paranoid, or the other extreme, over-trusting and co-dependent.
Often we will get busy, the fear sensation is so overwhelming. This ‘busyness’ requires extra effort emotionally, as we plan for the future (which never seems to arrive), or we live in the past (which we know is awful). Worse, this busyness requires extra effort emotionally as our natural being wants to be present, and so we use coffee, alcohol, cigarettes and even drugs to keep us going. Our adrenal system becomes overtaxed, and we become sick often for no apparent reason.
Our kidney chi is being used up and without time in the now, it becomes thin and straggly, shortening our life span.
In Western medicine, the bladder function is to store the steady drip of urine from the kidneys, through tubes known as ureters into a pear shaped pouch which can hold about 750 ml. When it gets close to full, our brain is alerted to empty. We can override it but the involuntary reflex will at some point win out (note ‘peeing your pants in fright’). In TCM, the bladder not only does this, but it is also involved in the transformation of fluids. It does this with the help of other organ qi. The small intestine separates the pure from the impure, giving the clear fluids to the bladder. The Heart qi descends to assist in the excretion of the urine. And the Triple Heater also ensure that the lower burner (the 2nddan tien) is open to transform and excrete fluids. The liver channel flows around the end of the urethre, so a free flow of this Qi is essential for smooth urination. Finally Lunq Qi descends to assist transformation, its failure to do so causes urine retention, a common problem with ageing.
No wonder this meridian is seen as one of the most complex in our body.
The kidneys are two reddish coloured organs which resemble the shape of a kidney bean, lying towards the back of the body above the level of the waist and partly protected by lower ribs. We can live without one, but if both fail, the body can no longer eliminate the toxic wastes of metabolism. The primary function of the kidney is to filter our blood for excess water or minerals (which then go to the bladder), and to manage our blood pressure. It is also a major activator of Vitamin D. The adrenals sit on top of each kidney.
In TCM, the kidneys store our life essence (or jing), and as such, are seen as the root of life itself. This life essence is made up of some we were born with, some we will get through diet and air (30% through air, 70% through food). The kidneys also house our zhi, the ‘will that can’t be willed’. Ever met a person who seems to move forward without seeming to move? It is said when our personal will is aligned with that of the will of the universe, then we truly manifest our greater destiny, our maximum zhi.
SUGGESTED MERIDIAN POINTS FOR YOGA PRACTICE:
All points in the WanderingYogi Yin for Yang are suggested 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).
You hold the meridian points gently keeping the energy inside yourself calm. Feel the energy arising from the point first before deciding to either massage it or keep pressure still.
The Supreme Stream (Kidney 3) Taixi
There are 4 kidney points quite close to each at the back of our foot near the ankle. You may accidentally touch one and not the other, but all have an immediate effect in our kidney chi.
The Supreme Stream (KD3) is the source point of the kidney meridian is located behind the inner ankle. It has a calming effect upon emotions, especially fear, and if you are also touching KD4 you are also helping renew essential organ chi.
A source point means that it can be used for tonifying and balancing the functioning of the kidneys. At a structural level it helps reduce lumbar pain and stiffness. This point can also benefit the ears and sense of hearing.
Kunlun Mountain Bladder 60
This distal point of the bladder meridian harmonises the Fire and Water element (shen and zhi), the true yin/yang balance of the body. The ‘mountain’ is the outer ankle bone. The point lies in the hollow midway between the tip of outer ankle bone and the back of the Achilles tendon
Great for relieving chronic back pain in the lumbar region, Kunlun pulls yang down from the upper body –effective for head, neck and shoulder discomfort particularly around the occipital area at the back of the head.
Combining BL60 and K3 is a powerful way to enhance our jing.
NB: Kunlun is forbidden during pregnancy.
THE WANDERINGYOGI YIN FOR YANG PRACTICE
Here is a suggested practice for balancing your water element. As water represents our deepest yin, the bones are the tissues which are most affected. 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
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. In flow you can be unbalanced or balanced (i.e., do only one side or both). Smile and enjoy!
- The Zink Yin Starter Kit – exploration of the feeling of the 5 elements.
- Heaven and Earth pose – Left and Right foot, look to the outer ankle bone – Kunlun B60, press lightly
- Toe pose with Garudasana arms, left and right arms
- Tree Sequence – Seated twisted root, come up to standing twisted root, untwist, Swaying tree, Standing half tree – left leg out to side holding foot with hand, shake the leg and then straighten (shaking the fear) L&R
- Genie Sequence – down into twisted root, spiral to standing, arms flying into the air
- Phoenix series L&R (Water/Fire) – Standing Phoenix to descending Phoenix, Descending Phoenix place hands on the ground, jump back to plank, Side Plank, side plank with tree pose, or star fish, or going fishing, changing sides every 3 breaths
- Perched Phoenix – hold for 1 minute
- Water Frog/Fire Pigeon series L&R – Wide-legged frog, Half-leg frog – one leg straight to side, foot facing down onto ground, Pigeon pose, switch sides
- Cross-legged frog – hold for 2 minutes (earth & metal)
- Reclining twisted root & Water beetle
- Genie your way back up to standing tree
- Forward fold – traditional vinyasa 5 times
- Sphinx/Seal pose – Wood and Water
- Locust pose series L&R – Metal and Fire
- Sphinx/Seal pose – Earth and Air
- Bow Pose
- Eka Buja Padmasana – One shoulder lotus pose
- Moving Bridge series
- Chinese 5 star savasana.
Breathwork: Bhastrika Pranayama to begin practice. Kapalahbati in planks and side planks.
And some meditation for your water element
Take a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Take deep, cleansing breaths before beginning the meditation.
Visualize a body of water— an ocean, a lake, or a pool— take some time to build the picture of the water you are looking at. What temperature it might be, its colour, the surroundings. Shallow, or deep, could be both? Walk towards the water, as you are going to dive in to it. Perhaps you dive in straight away, or you take your time, walking slowly going into your waist, getting used to its current and flow. Take that final plunge into the water. Notice how the water feels on your face, on your body. Warm or cold. Refreshing.
Begin to swim in the water, and as you move through, observe the temperature and any sensations you may feel.
You begin to dive more and more, deeper and deeper. Each time taking longer and longer to come to the surface. You notice you can hold your breath for a long time. Watch yourself dive deeper and deeper and deeper. Oberve how it feels, how the colour might change what it may look like to look up to the surface of the water.
When you feel like you are running out of air, come up to the surface, take a deep breath of air, then dive back in. Each time you dive, observe how you feel, how the water feels.
When you feel you have finished diving, start your swim back to land. Leisurely, the water assists you, no effort is really required.