In our classes we work with the powerful and ancient metaphor or model of the five elements. This way of looking at the world is found in all cultures, and is a naturally arising, easily understood way of looking at reality that can help us to better understand ourselves and the world we live in.
This week we are working with water element, which relates to feeling, fluidity and balance in body and mind.
A key aspect of yoga practise is balance, the form of yoga that we practise, Hatha, means ‘balanced effort’. We seek to integrate and harmonise, to balance, the different parts of our being, as represented in the form of the five elements, fire, water, earth, air and space.
In the body water element relates to physical balance, our ability to maintain our physical being in a state of dynamic equilibrium. It is the nature of water to seek equilibrium, and evolution has harnessed this property to allow us to do the same, tiny fluid filled canals in our inner ears act as 3-dimensional spirit levels to let us know when we are in balance.
To be able to find and maintain our centre and our balance we need to know where our body is in space, this is a kind of sixth sense, and is called proprioception. Through practise we learn to feel into our body and develop this sense of ourselves as a 3 dimensional body moving in space and time.
To keep our balance we need to be able to be both strong and flexible, so that we are able to adjust to our changing environmental circumstances on a moment-to-moment basis, able to hold our ground when it is necessary, and to give ground when that is necessary. To do this we want our muscles to be strong but not rigid. We can work with our physical practise, to restore fluidity and ease to muscles that have become restricted through habituation or trauma. Also we can work to build balanced strength where muscles have become weak through lack of use or postural imbalance. There is an essential relationship between fluidity and balance, if we are not fluid we are less responsive and so less able to maintain equilibrium, and we if we are not balanced we cannot maintain fluidity and gracefulness in our actions.
Water element of course relates to the liquids of the body – the water, blood, interstitial fluid, synovial fluid and lymph – which work together to transport nourishment and information around the body systems, these always flowing oceans, rivers and streams of the inner body. Our physical practise helps these different fluids to do their work, by maintaining ‘good space’ or ‘sukha’ in our bodies, we can make sure that restrictions are not developing that block the flow of fluid. It is said that ‘motion is lotion’, the lymph fluid for instance does not move on its own accord, and needs our movement to help it move and flow, so that waste from the cells can be recycled in the body or removed through our waste systems.
The more we get to know our body and its systems, the greater appreciation we develop for this intricate and tremendously intelligent vehicle that we have been gifted by evolution. Our work is to establish a deeper conversation with and understanding of our body so that we are able to better harmonise with our internal systems to support them to support us. Imagine that these body systems are all working without rest for 24 hours every day so that we can do all the things we have to do, it is not so much to ask that we make some effort to understand their functions and give them some attention from time to time.
In the next part of this blog series we will look at how water element relates to our emotional world, and the relationship between our emotions and our physical being.