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

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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.

How to start (and maintain) a home yoga practice

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So you’ve been going to a weekly yoga class for a while, you love that straight-outta-shavasana feeling, but aren’t sure how to get started at home. This article is for you! I’ll outline the basic equipment you might need, how to make sure you actually get on the mat, and what to do when you get there. Plus a few bonus pointers to mix things up and keep it interesting. I’ll focus on vinyasa flow yoga, as that’s what I teach. If you prefer yin or Iyengar yoga, you might want to invest in more props.

What equipment do I need?

Not a lot, to be honest. Whilst a yoga mat is not essential (unless you have carpet), a good sticky mat can really help your practice (especially for vinyasa flow yoga, where your hands can get a little sweaty and slippy). You don’t want to spend every downward-facing dog worrying that your hands are sliding on the floor …

You really can spend a whole lot of money on a yoga mat, and if you’re just starting out, it’s probably not necessary to spend more than about £20. I would avoid going to a sports shop as they rarely have anything that’s actually any good for yoga, and look online at somewhere like Yogamatters (I’m not making any money by featuring them, I  just like what they’re about!).

Once you have maintained a regular practice for a while (maybe a few years) you might want to step it up to a stickier type of mat – Liforme is my mat of choice, but I only switched to that after practising for almost 20yrs on a regular sticky mat!

You may also want to get a block and / or a brick. Whilst not essential (and you could use a big book or a cushion), they can help with modifying poses (not just for beginners!).

I got a yoga mat, now what do I do with it?!

How you practice at home is a matter of choice, and how much you can remember from your weekly class. You might just want to start off with some sun salutations – next time you go to your class, really pay attention to the poses in the sun salutations, so you can take it back to your mat at home. Then each week maybe add in a new pose from your class.

If you want to have a longer home practice, or don’t trust yourself to remember much from your classes, you might want to get a DVD or use an online video. There are TONS to choose from. Being a bit old-school, I am a DVD-girl… I love Shiva Rea‘s DVDs (Fluid Power and Daily Energy are my favourites) – especially as she has a ‘yoga matrix’ where you can create your own practices made up of sections of her sequences, varying it according to how much time you have and your energy levels.

There are so many online videos, some are free (Yoga with Adrienne is a favourite) and some are sophisticated membership sites with top international teachers (Movement for Modern Life and YogaGlo are popular)

Another old-school (but still valid!) choice for your home practice is an audio CD. You don’t have the distraction of needing to have your eyes on the screen, and can make your practice more meditative. Lara Baumann does some good yoga practice CDs for beginners (although you can also download the video sequences).

You might want to practice yoga using a book. Whilst this is good for slow hatha styles, it’s not so good for vinyasa flow, as stopping to look at the book after every pose doesn’t keep the heat in the body. Books can be a great resource off the mat, however, and maybe I’ll do a blog post in the future about yoga books.

How to make sure you actually do some yoga

Whatever diary / planner you use, start scheduling your yoga home practice sessions. Whether you prefer getting up early and doing it before work, or in the evenings, you’re more likely to stick to your plans and actually do some yoga if you mark out the time in advance. Laying out your equipment the night before can also help.

How to keep it interesting

If you just use the same one DVD, online video, or few poses from your weekly class, things can get a little stale. Having a few videos that you rotate can keep it fresh. In the summer, you might want to take your mat out into the garden or on holiday with you. Also adding in things like a guided meditation or a yoga nidra recording at the end of your practice can step it up to the next level.

The main thing is to get started! You know all about the benefits of yoga and how great it makes you feel … in the words of the famous sportswear brand, JUST DO IT!

Namaste!

My story

I had dabbled with yoga as a child, copying the pictures in my mum’s Richard Hittleman book. I first got on the yoga mat seriously in 1997 with the course in the back of Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, in search of connection between body and mind. I was recovering from an eating disorder and depression, and needed to find a kinder way of inhabiting my body. Yoga gave me a way of feeling embodied and grounded that I had never had before.

Yoga (and later, meditation) provided a platform for personal growth and transformation in the area of self acceptance and connecting with a larger purpose. By observing your fear in that big backbend, you can really learn a lot about how you face fears in your everyday life. It’s all there in the microcosm of the yoga mat, you just need to tune it in.

I became a teacher to share the potential of this transformation with others, and have been surprised how much I love teaching (I’m really a bit of a wallflower!)

I have been teaching vinyasa flow yoga since Jan 2017, and have been practising since 1997 (over 20yrs). I am inspired by David Swenson, Lara Baumann and Shiva Rea.

I graduated from a Yoga Alliance accredited 200hrs training with YogaLondon in 2017. I am also a qualified nurse and have a diploma in counselling skills. My classes are accessible yet challenging, have a creative approach to sequencing and always feature a gentle soundtrack to complement your experience.

What is yoga, anyway?

“Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means to yoke, or union. In modern terms, union between body and mind, greater integration of ourselves as a path to liberation.

Uniting body and mind means embodiment – so many people today are very disembodied, have lost touch with their bodily sensations. Modern scientific research shows that embodiment as a form of mindfulness can help relieve stress and anxiety, putting us back in touch with the body as the container for our emotions (so when we feel angry it anxious, we really notice where we feel it in the body).

Yoga as physical postures is just one of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s ancient system (we will look at the others in weeks to come), as well as our ethical behaviour, meditation and breath control.

Yoga is good for bodies in the modern world which are often hunched over computers for hours every day. It’s a good way to increase flexibility and gain strength. It is also great for relieving insomnia, managing stress and simulating the abdominal organs and assisting digestion. So what are you waiting for?

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.