For someone who does not know how to swim, I love the beach. I grew up by the beach. I have spent countless hours collecting shells, building sand castles, jumping waves. Why don't I know how to swim, I don't know, it just didn’t happen. But this post is about Water. So different from Earth, it is fluid, it moves, it hugs everything and it spills everywhere.
I love water routines because it forces me out of my element, pun intended :) I am used to order and following rules and so water routines help me break free of the mold I have forced myself into. I suspect most yogis feel the same way.
Water is the only element that defies gravity. In our bodies, it moves up with our blood, in plants it helps the seedling grow up away from the earth, away from gravity. And so, water seems a perfect complement to earth. Water seems to hug the earth, moving in streams, rivers, ponds, washing away dust with the rain, it smoothes its way upstream, downstream, it takes up the shape of any vessel and just like that it is shapeless. Water seems so graceful, endless, deep and is a part of us.
What is it about the ocean that makes us go silent? There is something in the rhythm of the waves, the unending horizon and the world that lives just beneath the surface. It’s coming, going, cold, warm, skimming, crashing, starting, ending...just like our breath, just like Vinyasa.
Water governs the pelvis, its source - the ball of the foot, its medium the bones, and its control the joints. Twists are a great way to detox your kidneys, intestines and liver. Apply pressure on the line following the big toe to help stimulate your kidneys.
What can we learn from water?
Water is Patient and Persistent - Water finds the path of least resistance. And if it has to force its way, it smoothes everything along its path. The Grand Canyon is a shining example of how water slowly chiseled away to form one of the greatest natural wonders of our time. A true lesson in patience.
Water Stays True to Itself - Water always comes back to being water, no matter how or what changes it. Water is unique in that it is the only natural substance that is found in all three physical states—liquid, solid, and gas Water to steam to water. Water to ice to water. water is always water. We should always come back to our true self, our center, our truth, no matter what changes we go through.
Water is Flexible - Water takes the shape of any vessel yet it is shapeless. This soft, transparent and yielding quality allows for outside things to show themselves. Empty your mind of thoughts, empty yourself of feelings, be formless yet whole, be fearless yet soft.
Water is Still - It’s what we inherently crave. Every profound moment has come from one moment of complete stillness, one moment of complete clarity. In absolute stillness, you can't see what’s under the surface; instead you see your reflection.
Water can be Dynamic - Ask any surfer. It’s all about breaking out of routine, every wave is different, you don’t know what is coming but you ride it the best way you can, just like life. Water can also fall hard to generate electricity or softly lap at your feet, kissing the beach.
"The idea is that flowing water never goes stale, so just keep on flowing" - Bruce Lee
Water can Co-Exist - Water and Earth do more than co-exist. They seem to bring out the best in each other. However, water can be made to live with air. Look at a soda can, the liquid is mixed with water but it’s under pressure, pour it into a glass and they separate, increase the pressure and it explodes. We know what water does to fire. But besides extinguishing fire, water changes form and becomes steam.
Water is Expressive - It shows its anger in the stormy seas and in the waves of emotions you feel. It shows its tenderness in the soft rain and in your tears. Anonymous said it best "May your joys be as deep as the ocean, your sorrows as light as its foam."
“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
We may not see it but water is everywhere. It might be deep in the ground, high up in the sky, its in the ladybird buzzing around you, and it’s in every breath you take. Water might be the one thing that connects us all. Venomous reptiles, plants, your annoying neighbor, the people living in the desert, and the people living in the mountains. We are all connected.
- Start in Hero's Pose. Bring your hands to Om Mudra palms face down. Float your hands up in Om Mudra, reach your hands up, palms face out inhaling. Keeping your hands in the mudra for as long as you can, exhale your hands down and past your hips. Do this a few times, finding a rhythm to your breath. After a few times, as you exhale, lift your hips as your arms go back and then sitting back into hero's as your arms reach up with the Om Mudra. (Courtesy: Namaste Yoga)
-Come into a runners lunge with your right foot forward. You can modify bringing your left knee to the floor. Bring your left palm to the floor on the inside of your right foot. Inhale your right arm up, exhale it down reaching under your right thigh. As you do this a few times, you can reach further back with your right arm to help open up your shoulders.
-Cat Dance - Start in table top. Lean forward and then take your hips to the right, sit back into your hips and take your hips to the left. The best way to do this is to imagine that you are making circles with your back. Do it a few times on each side.
-Start in mountain. Lace your fingers behind you, Inhale, lift your chest, and exhale into rhinoceros. On your next exhale, release your fingers, bend your knees, lift your chest and sweep your arms up into chair. Inhale. On your next exhale, bring your hands behind you to lace your fingers. As you do this, you are straightening out your legs (keeping a slight bend if you like) and coming into rhinoceros. Flow through this a few times.
- When doing a water sequence you want to think about lubricating your joints, smoothing out rough edges. Come into down dog. Point your left leg up, bend your knee, and stack your hips. Breathe. Now, taking your time, and keeping that knee bent, make circles with your knee, 2 or 3 in one direction and then switch. Once you have done that, straighten out your left leg, and point it to the left, your leg is at 90 degrees. Hold for a breath. Bend that knee and stack your hips one last time. On your next exhale, bring that knee through to pigeon. After a few breaths, curl your right toes and press all the way back to down dog. Repeat on the right side.
- Laying down, come into a shoulder stand. If you are in the mood, go into plough. Staying in control, release and sit all the way up coming into cross legged position or bound angle. Lean forward on an exhale to help open your hips. Stay here for a complete inhale and exhale. Inhale your chest back up, lay down bringing your knees to your chest going into shoulder stand or plough. Go through this flow at least 3 times.
You can do a visual meditation where you let your students imagine they are at a beach. They can hear the waves, taste the salty air, feel the sand underneath them. They hear a wave coming, it caresses their foot and ankles, as it returns to the ocean, it takes away some of the tension and pain. Keep doing this, slowly going up the body until you reach the shoulders.
Word of caution: I had an instructor do this and I did not enjoy it because I don’t know how to swim. Imagining water ‘claiming’ me was not pleasant. Be sure to ask your students if they have issues with water before you proceed with visual meditations.
"Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, be shapeless - like water. Water is fearless. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle; you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow, drip, creep or crash. Be water, my friend.”