Up to 60% of our bodies are water and it is present in all our tissues. And yet, it is incredibly easy to lose a sense of our fluid and buoyant selves in a world that is dominated by grids with straight lines and right angles. In Ayurveda, the water element is jala, it both nourishes and purifies our being, just as water does in all the rest of Nature.
In our asana practice, embracing the water element serves to transform stiffness of both our bodies AND our minds. In being physiologically rhythmic like water, we embrace impermanence as one pose dissolves seamlessly into the next. In focusing on the transitions between poses, our awareness embraces that tidal quality that equanimity requires.
To invoke the water element in your practice, embody shapes with curving, not straight lines, side bends, fluid twists and seamless transitions between poses, meaning, you don’t feel a hard stop between poses and very little holding of a single pose. We liquefy the solid qualities of held postures by staying in constant smooth and gentle motion in synch with breath.
Begin at the top of your mat with fit hip width or wider apart with arms alongside your body. As you inhale, sweep your left arm out and up and as you exhale, continue circling your arm across your body while arcing your spine to the right. Next inhale, sweep your right arm out and up and trace a full circle on your exhale while arcing your spine to the left. Continue this simple, circular motion with your arms until you’ve completed 5 fluid circles with each.
Then inhale both arms out and up overhead and exhale while floating your arms wide and fold forward. From here, inhale and place your hands on shins to lengthen your spine outward to a halfway up position, exhale and then fold again. Repeat this flowing transition between halfway up and forward bend 2 more times. Finally, inhale halfway up again and exhale step back to downward facing dog.
From here, lower to all 4s to move through bitilasana or cat/cow. Inhale and lift your sitting bones and chest, exhale and round your back and tuck your chin. Without stopping at the end points, begin to “smooth the seams” between these two positions with your breath, perfectly in synch with your movements. Observe the undulation of your spine, much like the way waves rise and fall. Feel free to blur the lines even more by taking this movement out of the up/down plane and begin to undulate and circulate the movement more randomly, as if listening to your inner waters and allow them to trace the paths they want to, freely.
Eventually make your way to downward dog. From there, inhale and round your upper back to come forward into plank and as you exhale flow back into downward dog. Try to remove the angles and sharp edges from these two poses in today’s practice by elongating both your breath and the movement and feel how they intersect like waves (downward dog) and the shore (plank). Repeat these 5 or more times. Then from downward dog, inhale to your toes and exhale walk or float your feet to the top of your mat.
With feet hip width or wider, bends your knees deeply. Keep the bend in your knees while you roll up to standing and articulate through every vertebra of your spine.
From standing, step your left foot out so you face the long side of your mat in a wide stance. Turn your heels in and toes out and bend your knees deeply for Temple Pose. Place your hands on your thighs and sink weight into your arms by straightening them. Drink in a deep inhale and as you exhale, drop your left shoulder into the center and twist to your right. Without pausing, back off just an inch or so on your next inhale and exhale twist again to the same direction. Feel how this rhythmic pulsation within a twist feels like wringing out, a purification. After 5 or more pulses, inhale back to center and exhale to repeat on the other side.
Finally, straighten your legs and turn your toes in and heels out. On an inhale, sweep both arms out and up like a geyser rising and as you exhale, cascade forward like a waterfall as if your upper body were pouring over your legs into a wide-leg forward fold. Grasp opposite elbows and just dangle. Neither try to move, nor try to be still, just allow whatever spontaneous movements that arise, to arise.
After 5 or more slow deep breaths here, come down to rest on your back as if you were a still lake at dawn for savasana.
In honoring the water and fluid power within us, we support greater awareness of the water around us and how essential it is for sustaining life. Specifically, over 844 million people globally lack access to basic drinking water servicesand 1.8 billion people (25% of the world population) lack reliable access to water for adequate sanitation.
It’s empowering though, that we have capabilities to reflect on our own purchasing habits (svadhyaya; self-study) and can choose companies that support global water needs. Some conscious companies, like LifeStraw, see the importance of not only providing products that cut down on single-use plastic waste, enabling you to have safe drinking water wherever you go, but also see the importance of giving back and providing safe drinking water to communities with limited or no safe drinking water access. For every product they sell, LifeStraw provides safe drinking water to a school child in need for an entire year. To learn more about their efforts and get involved, see LifeStraw Doing Good.