Welcome to December. Winter is here and it's a time for slowing down and finding moments of stillness. In nature, this is a time some animals hibernate, the trees have lost their leaves and plants shrink back into the earth to protect themselves from the cold and conserve energy. Nature is a great teacher and as humans it's important for us to also find some type of hibernation so that we can replenish our reserves and restock the energy that we've used throughout the year.
Winter is ruled by the water element and there is a preciousness to the water element, without water there is no life, we need it for everything. All the elements need water to thrive. The water element stores our essence, it's like our reserve pack which is why rest is so important this time of year, over working and lack of sleep depletes water and our energy reserves.
Winter and water are naturally Yin in nature, Yin is quiet, dark, still and cold making it the perfect time of year for quiet reflection, it allows time to let everything land and gives us time to re-evaluate. Rest is vital for this time of year, it may look and feel as if we are doing nothing when we rest, however there is a lot of magic happening under the surface that we're not even aware off. Water has a desire for us to grow, to flourish and to age gracefully, but it can only do this if we are well rested, Winter provides this quiet downtime so when Spring arrives we have energy to pursue our goals feeling renewed and revitalized.
The three main qualities of the Water Element are Strength, Courage and Wisdom. It's often referred to as The Philosopher in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Water can take on the shape of it's container, whether that's a bottle, a kettle, a river or the ocean, it's wisdom is to flow and move effortlessly and in alignment with ones goals. The emotion associated with the Water element is fear, in the right amount fear is our survival mechanism however if Water comes out of balance the emotion of fear may become excessive and manifest as phobia and lack of courage.
Characteristics of Balanced Water Element:
Quiet until overwhelmed
Stamina and endurance
If there is an excess of Water you may become withdrawn and detached.
If there is a deficiency of water you can begin to lack self awareness and become an extrovert
When there's an imbalance of water you may find difficulty with:
Pain in lower back and knees
Hearing and memory loss
Growth/development, libido and reproductive system issues
Water becomes depleted and out of balance whenever we overdo anything such as working to much, over exercising, over indulging in alcohol or sexual activity.
A way to keep our water element balanced is to manage our energy wisely, notice how much energy we are putting out and how much energy we are taking back in. Similar to the fourth Yama Brahmacharya (Moderation), it asks us to do more of what energizes us and less of what drains us which is what the water element needs to thrive.
On a physical level the organs associated with the Water Element is the Kidneys (Yin Organ) and the Bladder (Yang Organ).
The Kidney Meridian Line runs from the baby toe through the centre of the ball of the foot, moves around the inner ankle, along the back inside side of the calf, through the inner knee to the medial hamstring, through the pelvic floor at the tailbone, lower back and to the abdomen, up through the mid-line in the ribs and collarbones ending at the root of the tongue.
The Bladder Meridian Line starts at the inner eyes, goes up the forehead across the crown of the head, runs down either side of the spine, through the sacrum down the centre of the hamstrings to the outer part of the knee and the lateral side of the calf and foot ending at the little toe.
The Water Element in Your Yoga Practice
If we look at the meridian lines of the kidneys and the bladder, poses that stretch and compress these areas helps us to decide what poses we can do to stimulate and support the water element in our practice. So most forward bends are great for the bladder meridian as they target the hamstrings and spine. Shoulder-stand and headstand are also wonderful poses for the bladder line but only if they are done in a calm, cooling and nourishing way, therefore it would be advised that you have a strong headstand practice before using it to support the Water element. Headstand would be a good pose to learn and practice in the summer when the fire element is in full swing. Poses that open the inner legs and hamstrings like upavistha konasana and butterfly are great for the kidney meridian as is poses that open up the sole of the feet like in broken toe pose.
While focusing on these physical points in the body we also want to bring in some qualities of water such as the ability to flow freely, if the kidney energy is weak or depleted we often lose the ability to complete tasks and we become stuck and because the natural tendency for water is to flow so we'll add flowing qualities into our practice, however the nature of water is also to be still like a lake on a beautiful calm day. If the kidneys and water element gets depleted with overdoing, rest is required to nourish and nurture this element so we will also include moments of stillness and rest within the sequence this month.
Pose Focus for the Water Element
Baddha Konasana with Forward Bend - Butterfly Pose Variation
Baddha - Bound
Kona - Angle
Asana - Pose
Baddha Konasana is a wonderful pose to stimulate the kidney meridian line as it flows along the inner legs and through the torso, as you move into the forward bend you begin to stimulate the bladder meridian line. This pose is an excellent way to energise the hips, lower back, pelvic floor and abdomen which are all areas that can be affected if the water element is depleted. The action of folding forward also enhances the ability of turning inward and quietening the mind as you replenish the essence of your reserve pack.
MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL BENEFITS
Energising but calming
Provides a gentle stretch to the inner thighs, groins and knees
Decompresses the spine
Relieve tension in shoulders and neck
Increases flexibility in the hips.
Eases stiffness in the lower back
Stimulates the reproductive system
Soothes menstrual discomfort
Can be helpful for flat feet
CAUTIONS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS
Avoid if you have groin or knee injury
Be mindful if you have a herniated disc or sciatia - Stay upright as the forward bend can aggravate the symptoms
If you have high blood pressure more into the position slowly
HINTS AND TIPS
If lower back is very stiff sit on a blanket or block
Support the knees by placing, cushions or block underneath the thighs, this can also hip to avoid over stretching the groin during pregnancy