How to connect with the water element in yoga

The five elements of Ayurveda (India’s system of holistic mind-body medicine) are earth, water, fire, air and space. Keeping them in balance, or connecting to the qualities of an element you feel you are lacking in, can help to keep you healthy, in both body and mind.

The water element is associated with the second chakra, svadhisthana, approximately located at the sacrum, which is associated with creative and sexual energy. An imbalance in this chakra or energy centre can lead to feeling stuck, resistant to change, sexual dysfunction and depression. To reset the balance, you need a fluid, playful practice – lots of sun salutations and flowing movements whilst in the poses.

Asana (physical postures)

Keep things moving when you would normally hold a pose, for example in utthita trikonasana rather than holding the top arm straight up, bring it down on the exhale and back up on the inhale.

In prasarita padottonasana, with both hands on the floor beneath the shoulders, inhale one arm up, twisting the torso, exhale it down, then repeat with the other arm.

Flowing through a series of poses such as the dancing warrior series, building up to one breath per pose.

Pranayama (breath control)

Three part breathing: deeply inhale through the nostrils first into the upper chest, then feeling the ribs flare out, then feel the breath moving deep down into the lower abdomen. Reverse this on the exhalation.

Meditation

Call to mind the water element within the body by thinking of all the liquids, such as the saliva, mucus, the blood, sweat.

Then move the attention to imagining other fluids in the body – fluid in the joints and the spine, all of the liquid that surrounds the cells of the body.

Then move on to think about the water element outside ourselves – the rain, streams, rivers and seas.

Have a sense that all of the water within the body, which we tend to think of as ‘ours’ is simply borrowed from the outside world. There is only one water element, both within and without. We are all made of the same stuff.

How to connect with the earth element in yoga

BLOG Earth Header

The five elements of Ayurveda (India’s system of holistic mind-body medicine) are earth, water, fire, air and space. Keeping them in balance, or connecting to the qualities of an element you feel you are lacking in, can help to keep you healthy, in both body and mind.

The earth element is associated with the root chakra (energy centre) – muladhara. When this element is out of balance, you might feel scattered, anxious, or lacking in focus. You need a slower, grounding practice (with fewer or no vinyasas – think slow flow) with a long shavasana (final relaxation).

Asana (physical postures)

By focusing on a strong foundation in each pose – the feet, the hands, the sitting bones – we create a sense of feeling grounded, anchored, and stable. Starting the practice in tadasana the mountain pose can help with this as we feel the whole of the sole of the foot having contact with the mat. In adho mukha svanasana downward-facing dog pose, focus on the contact between the hands and feet and the mat, pressing the whole hand into the floor.

Balancing poses like tree pose or eagle pose can help you improve stability, in both body and mind.

Towards the end of the practice, instead of shoulderstand, headstand and other inversions, doing viparita karani or legs up the wall pose is a nice way to ground the body, whilst still getting all the benefits of an inverted posture.

A longer shavasana (final relaxation) is needed, 10 minutes or longer. Focus initially on all the points of contact between the body and the mat, and then releasing the weight of the body into the earth below.

Pranayama (breath control)

Using a deep ujjayi breath throughout the practice, focusing on an equal length of inhalation and exhalation (sama vritti pranayama) can help with feeling stable and grounded.

To end the practice, the brahmari or humming bee breath – using the thumbs in the ears to block out sounds, and the fingers over the eyes, inhale and then on the out breath, make a humming sound. Feel the sound resonating throughout the bones of the head. repeat this five times, and sit for a few minutes after the practice to notice the effects. The humming bee breath is a great way to achieve sense withdrawal (pratyahara), one of the eight limbs of yoga.

Meditation

We can connect with the earth element in meditation, through firstly contemplating that element within our physical body – our bones, teeth, organs, etc. Then think about the earth element outside the body, starting with the floor beneath us, the walls around us, the building we are in, the structures beyond.

Having the realization that these two are no different – the earth element within us and outside ourselves is one and the same, ever-changing parts of a greater whole.

Utthita Trikonasana

Trikonasana or triangle pose is one of the more common standing poses, and everyone from complete beginners to advanced yogis will practice it (“Utthita” just means extended).

To get into the pose:

With the feet apart, turn the right foot out, and the left foot in about 45 degrees. Inhale to float the arms to the sides, and then exhale to reach forward with the right armpit, then lowering the right hand on to the right shin, knee or holding the big toe.

Spiral the torso open to the sky, extending the left arm up. Stay for at least 5 breaths, inhaling to come up and then repeat on the other side.

Benefits:

* the spinal twist makes this a good pose for backache (be sure to engage the abdominals)

* tones and stretches the leg, hip and ankle muscles

* the twist simulates the abdominal organs, aiding digestion

To modify:

Have the hand resting on the shin or even the thigh (not on the knee). The top hand could rest on the hip if there are any shoulder issues. Keep the gaze down or forwards if there are any problems with the neck.