Winter is settling around us. Energy moves downward & earthwards with a heaviness & stillness. In the Five Elements system of traditional Chinese medicine, Winter is personified by the element of Water. Water embodies the quality of Yin energy- dark, quiet, still, introversion, coolness, decaying, waning, contracting, receptive, downward- the Moon energy.
Water-time is part of a cycle of the seasons in which the Chinese five elements play their parts: Springtime is Wood- a time of new growth- shooting, sprouting, springing upward, movement & wind. The heat of summer is Fire- the burning time, purification, light, laughter, joy. Earth represents the turn to autumn- dampness descends, and as the season turns, autumn brings the element of Metal to the fore- dryness, cold, shift & change. And then, Winter arrives with the deep cool of Water.
These elements may sound abstract, but when seen in a system of flow, they make perfect sense: Wood (Spring) is burnt by Fire (Summer); Fire creates ash that mulches into the Earth (transition time); Earth compresses downwards creating ore or Metal (Autumn); Metal produces the sheen of condensation, or Water (Winter); out of watery wet Earth grows Wood (Spring). The cycle is a poetic expression of the energies that prevail during the turning of the seasons. It beomes a symbolic shorthand for understanding the changes in our environment, our bodies & our minds throughout the year.
And this system becomes even more clever when we learn that each element is married up to organs & meridians (energy networks) in the body: Wood is Liver/Gallbladder; Fire is Heart/ Pericardium/ Small Intestine/ Triple Burner; Earth is Spleen/ Stomach; Metal is Lungs/ Large Intestine; Water is Kidneys/ Bladder. The system becomes a diagnostic tool in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but also a way of framing and exploring the ebb and flow of various energies in the body-mind throughout the year.
What does water symbolise?
Water symbolises life and death: it is the dark water of the womb in which we took our shape and form, and it is the great void to which we shall return- the vast Ocean of the Tao. Water is the ebb and flow of life. It is fear of being ‘out of our depth’, but it is also the freedom to float on eternal seas, being held in stasis and hibernation. It is dream-time and the realm of deep-knowing- “I can feel it in my waters”. Water is the vast nothingness in which all Life is suspended- formless, shapeless, fullness- God. Water is also flood and chaos, overwhelm and destruction. Water is dormancy, nighttime, sleep-time, rest and recuperation.
Water represents the aspect of Life that is mystery: Water takes us into a realm without boundaries- where all might be washed away, or from where we gather creativity and inspiration. It enables us to flow out beyond the confines of self to meet the other. For good reason, fear is the shadow energy of this element.
What does this have to do with yoga?
On a functional level, the Water element or tattva corresponds to two storehouses in the body- the kidneys and the bladder. The kidneys and bladder have many functions:
- They store our Essence, or jing: this is a dense energy that gives us spark, vitality, creativity, movement, sexual drive and sexual power. In yoga we call this substance ojas. Essence rules our overall vitality but also carries our inherited characteristics- our karma, and our genetic codes. Note:the adrenal glands are also connected to the kidneys & are related to the flight-flight mechanism in the body and the production of cortisol.
- The kidneys are said to be the storehouse of both Yin and Yang (Water and Fire) energy for all organs in the body: they ignite these energetic qualities in the body.
- The kidneys rule water by controlling the quality and quantity of urine and supply qi (pranic) energy to the bladder.
- The kidneys rule the bones and teeth, and manifest in the head hair and open into the ears (note: the quality of your kidney energy can be gauged by the quality of your hair; equally, deafness and tinnitus can indicate kidney energy dysfunction).
- The kidneys ‘grasp the qi energy’ from the lungs: when we take a deep inhale, the kidneys rise to grasp this pranic energy.
- The bladder stores and eliminates waste fluids
In yogic terms, these aspects correspond to the second chakra: the aspect of body-mind ruled by Water. The second chakra represents the hips, sacrum, groin, bladder, kidneys and organs. The bowl of the pelvis containing these organs can be visualised like a bowl of water: we can sense a fullness in the bowl of the pelvis and the slop and spill of the water element as we rotate our pelvis.
The second chakra is the level of consciousness of the creative self; our ability to access the inner creative waters. It is our juiciness in life and our ability to feel. If the first chakra is our groundedness, or contraction on the earth, and our ability to meet our survival needs (or not), then the second chakra is about expansion. The second chakra puts out feelers into the environment and brings back information- ‘how do I feel?’ Water is our emotional identity: our connection to the river of feeling within us. It is the subterranean wellspring that bubbles up to remind us how we feel, at a deep, deep level.
Water is movement- slop, bubble, gurgle, spill, sluice, splash, wash and flow. So too our emotions. We allow our emotions (energy in motion) to be our guide. This is the gift of the second chakra. But when we freeze those waters so they cannot move or be accessed, we become fearful and disconnected from our feelings. This is the place of jealousy (being frozen out), shame (being dirty or ‘unwashed’), self-rejection (thirsting for connection). Or perhaps our waters are not frozen, but flow too freely- slopping over anyone without boundary; we give ourselves away too easily…
How do I honour the Water Element within myself?
The second chakra is called Svadhisthana which means ‘the dwelling place of the Self’: the name highlights how connection to our watery flow of emotion is crucial to our sense of Self. We dwell in the deep inner rivers within us. We sip from this source of Truth that shows up in our emotions. We drink deeply from this luscious oasis that resides within us, lubricating our desire to create, expand, connect, flow out and greet the Other.
Water-Time is time to find stillness for rest, relaxation, and recuperation. It is time to allow, to surrender, to be: that might be sofa-time with a good movie, curled up with a book, a yoga nidra or deep meditation. All of these are yin activities- where we allow ourselves to float in the stream of time without DOING…
Kundalini Yoga practices for honouring the Water Tattva:
1. Kriya for Toning the Kidneys: http://www.shaktakaur.com/kriyas/toning_the_kidneys.htm
2. Kriya for Pelvic Balance: http://kundaliniyogasoundhealing.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Kriya-for-Pelvic-Balance.pdf
3. Good notes on second chakra work: http://www.spiritvoyage.com/blog/index.php/5-ways-to-clear-the-second-chakra/
4. Kundalini Mantra for Water Tattva: http://www.kundaliniresearchinstitute.org/docs/2009%20Meditation%20Narayan%20Kriya.pdf
5. Mantra Music for Hari Narayan: https://www.spiritvoyage.com/mantra/sat-narayan-wahe-guru/man-000106.aspx
Take some plain paper to a quiet cosy space and some crayons or pens. Relax the breath and with the eyes closed begin to drop into stillness and quietness. Bring your awareness to your pelvis area and breathe deeply here. Allow an image of water to begin to show itself. What shows up? A puddle? A lake? An ocean? A roaring tide? A trickle? A damp area where water once was?
With eyes still closed, feel into the quality of what you see. Reach out for your crayons/ pens and allow your intuition to guide you to select colours. Open your eyes and draw what you have seen with the inner eyes. Write down any words that show up. Flow with it. Allow the process to unfold.
Meditate on what has shown up. And then, if you want to change the image, go back into meditation and re-frame your water supply! Turn the trickling dirty stream into a deep, clear lake. Tame the roaring tide by putting some river banks in place and still the power of the water.
You can revisit this practice as often as you like, shaping the nature fo the second chakra through symbol, image and conscious awareness.