THE WATER ELEMENT
The water element corresponds to the Kidney and Urinary Bladder meridians and organs in Chinese tradition. Kidneys store our life essence, and together with urinary bladder balance yin and yang for all other organs. In Chinese tradition, Water is connected to the north, where days are shorter and nights longer. It’s darker and colder, everything is frozen and not that much food is available. You can imagine water as a winter lake, deep and cold, ice-covered, not moving. Water element and winter season brings us inward, force us to stay inside. We can also experience it spiritually and use the winter time to connect to the deeper layers of our intuition and to the wisdom of our soul.
The Water element corresponds to the feelings of FEAR and TRUST
We can see it in our lives in form of stress, anxiety and overwork, or faith, calmness, courage and trust in life. In a healthy way, fear is an emotion that allows us to stay alert and response to the situation or possible danger. We can evaluate the surroundings and act according to the circumstances. We are like a water flowing over the stones, finding a smooth way to move forward. We trust, that we are safe and move easily in life. When our water element is out of balance, fear can become an obstacle to the movement. It can show up as chronic anxiety or as an intense panic attack. The cause of this imbalance is a deficiency in the water-energy (Kidney Chi) and it’s linked to the lack of grounding. We can experience fear as a heaviness and tighten in the chest or throat, as fear rises adrenalin production, which accelerates the heart rate. We start to hold the breath, our muscles tighten, our senses are on high reaction mode: we are ready to fight or fly. As we stay in a chronic state of stress, our body rises also the production of cortisol. High levels of cortisol might be a cause of headaches, tiredness, insomnia or waking up tired regardless long and deep sleep, gaining weight, sugar cravings, low libido, frequent colds (immune system deficiency), anxiety. These physical feedbacks reinforce our fear and create a vicious cycle: in Chinese tradition is believed that excess fear harms the kidney Chi while a dysfunction in the Kidney energy, in turn, further increase our fear.
Kidneys and urinary bladder are connected to our limbic system
The limbic system supports a variety of functions including emotion, behaviour, motivation, long-term memory, circadian rhythms (sleeping/being awake) and olfaction (sense of smell). It stores our emotional memory, decides what kind of situations are pleasant and what is dangerous. Especially the part of the limbic system called amygdalae play an important role in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. It works as a filter, which allows us to transform external situations into our inner experience. With an overreactive limbic system, we interpret neutral (or even positive) events as negative. That increases our stress response. Meditation and yin yoga, where we can calm down and let go, relax our muscles and observe our inner experience can help to bring peace to the limbic system. Some postures directly work with kidney and bladder meridians, but our whole yoga practice can create a space, where we can experience safety, collect positive feedback and reprogram emotional memories of our limbic system.
The kidney is the main organ responsible for the stress reaction.
It stores our energy in form of Kidney Chi and gives us endurance and strength to respond and flow freely with changes in life. Overworking, overthinking, overstressing needs a lot of energy. We can see stress as a tension between the present moment and our imagination how the moment should be. When we focus on planning, what we need to do and to change, we got caught in future thinking. In extreme cases, we’re living in our imagination and our thoughts are running in a circle of despair and hopelessness. We are pulling back, trying to avoid all unpleasant feelings and situations. Everything is too much. We feel overwhelmed, and we have no courage and no energy to take the challenge of life. We rather stay passive and withdrawn. In modern society, it’s often seen in form of burn out syndrome. Another way to cope with stress and fear is keeping ourselves busy all the time. We work constantly, without taking a break, and plan and organise every minute of our free time. Work gives our life the meaning, we identify with it and keep ourselves busy. We are more in the future then here and now. In fact, we are creating more stress and pressure on our nervous system and it makes us even more exhausted. To keep going and feel better we use coffee, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes. That accelerates our system and requires a lot of our energy. It depletes our adrenals and the Kidney Chi more and more and keep us in a vicious circle of stimulation and exhaustion. As we lose the Kidney Chi and we feel continuously worst what leads us to the state of feeling lethargic, exhausted, burn out. It can cause panic attacks or makes us constantly crying for no reason. It is essential for healthy kidneys that we are able to stay relaxed in the present moment with everything that is here.
Yin Yoga and mindfulness are excellent tools which can help us to stay here and now and reduce the stress response.
When we stay longer in a yin shape, we create space where we can recognise our reactive thinking patterns, let them be and investigate them with loving kindness and self-compassion. We can see our thoughts and emotions as waves in the ocean of our consciousness. It helps us to get out of the vicious circle of our repetitive thinking and to find peace again.
5 Yin Poses to restore and strengthen the Water Element
Caterpillar is the yin version of Paschimottanasana – seated forward bend. In Yin Yoga we allow knees to bend slightly, round the back and fall forward very, very slowly and gently. It allows to stretch urinary bladder meridian, calms down our system and brings better sleep.
The butterfly is a nice stretch for the urinary bladder meridian, as well as gall bladder meridian (wood element). Yin version of Baddha Konasana, with your back, rounded, allowing your head to drop toward your feet or the floor.
Snail is a yin version of halasana. Get comfortable: you can bend your knees, allowing them to drop to your ears or your forehead. You can also stretch them. Stretch for urinary bladder meridian.
Sphinx is a yin version of Bhujangasana, the Cobra. It gives a stretch to the Kidney meridian and a gentle pressure directly to the Kidneys. It helps to restore the Kidney Chi and reload our batteries.
Savasana allows us to relax and restore the kidney Chi. We can create space where energy can just flow into our system, passive and yin.
You will experience deeper practice with the meridians, it’s connection to the chakras and impact on your energy during our 300hr Subtle Bodies Teacher Training in Goa, India, March 4th till April 4th 2018.