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The thing I love about Traditional Chinese Medicine is that it’s based on nature and the world, so just about anything in the world can relate back to its principles.
Last week, I went to see (again) my favorite parts of an exhibition by the Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, at the SFMOMA. (Exhibit info here.) I didn’t know of this artist before this exhibition. They are big pieces. Color. Angles. Curves. And all kinds of materials, including water.
In one installment, (called Beauty), you walk into a darkened room where you see light passing through a misty “curtain” of fine water droplets, cascading down from above, onto the absorbing floor. The water drops reflect the light, so it appears like a wall, but really, it’s an illusion. We can walk through that “curtain”.
In another room is Notion Motion. When we walk on squeaky floor boards in front of a screen, the screen shimmers in different patterns. Depending on the location of the floor board; the amount of squeak. It turns out there’s a shallow water pool on the other side of the screen, and the shimmering is a reflection of the ripples on the water.
Another work which I only peeked into was an ice-sculpture. Actually an ice-covered car. Both times I passed by, my inner-cozy won out over my experience-adventurer.
Anyway, I’m writing about these water-related art objects, because they got me thinking about the Water Element. Since Winter is the season associated with the Water Element, how a propos, I thought, that I was drawn to water in different forms.
The cool thing about water, is its flexibility. It can take so many forms. From fluid liquid water to solid frozen blocks; from refreshing cooling mist to dangerously scalding vapors. In each form, it has a beauty and a power.
So, when our Water Element is in balance, or doing well, flowing, as it were, then our flexibility should be good. Physically, especially along the spine. Mentally and emotionally. Being able to flow with the ebbs and flows that are natural in our daily lives.
By the way, boundaries are also an important aspect of this. Think of it: A river that is healthy is full and flowing within its boundaries. But one that gets out of bounds can wreak all kinds of havoc, as has been experienced in many parts of the world.
To support the Water Element, here are a few wellness ideas:
- Support your energy. We know how grouchy and inflexible we can be when we’re running on too little sleep. Get enough rest whenever you can.
- Keep your spine supple. Do some simple stretches.
- Sit on the edge of a chair, with feet flat on the ground. Stretch your arms up alongside your ears, high overhead, and take a deep breath in. As you exhale, stretch forward and down as low as you can go with a nice stretch along your back. (Only go as far as is comfortable. Don’t strain if you have lower-back pain.)
- Do some simple twists. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, and swing your arms back and forth. Or, sit on the side of a straight-back chair (the back of the chair should be at our side), and raise your arms overhead, with a deep breath in. On the exhale, twist toward the back by placing one hand on either side of the chair back to help you get some leverage. Don’t yank into the twist!
- Hydrate! Drink water. I hear/read so many conflicting reports/study findings about this. So I just tell people to pay attention. Most of us don’t drink enough. Are your lips dry? Do you get headaches? Is your mouth dry? Is your skin dry? Try increasing your water intake. Replace some other fluids, like coffee/tea/juice/cola, with water.
Boy, was I thankful for having learned to be a better breather when I was under the dentist’s drill, the other day. I felt some pain, but mostly fear and anxiety about this new experience of getting a filling.
Whenever I teach a class on acupressure, I tell my students, “Your breath is your friend.” So when you hold a point, take a few deep breaths. Even if you’re not holding a point, take a few deep breaths. Deep breaths help with relaxation.
And what I learned on the dentist’s chair is that I was able to access my calming breath, because I had done it before, in many ways. Practicing acupressure points; giving wellness sessions; receiving bodywork; meditating; in my yoga practice. So, hooray for all that attention to breath.
I went to my regular yoga class this morning, and their was a substitute teacher. His training and style is different from my teacher’s (which is Anusara), so we did a lot more vinyasa* flows than we do in my teacher’s classes. This means that we moved from asana (pose) to asana more quickly than I am used to.
Both my body and mind resisted, but somewhere between downward dog and cobra pose, I thought, “Hey, this is more of that go with the flow stuff.” So, while my teacher is away for a few weeks next month, I think I’ll seek out some more “flowy” classes, to give me some more chances to bring flow and flexibility into my life.
I was happy to see how this initially trying experienced turned out to be a gift for my yoga practice, and my life off the mat, too.
* Definition of vinyasa (source: About.com):
The word “flow” keeps popping up for me. It is a propos the current season, winter, so in honor of all the water that’s been falling (and falling and falling in the form of snowflakes in some parts of the country), I want to share a relevant experience I had a couple of weeks ago when I was taking care of my toddler nephews while their parents are away.
My everyday life usually doesn’t include parenting, so that weeklong experience was quite a lesson in learning to go with the flow.
Overall, the experience was a delight–they are fun kids–but wow!, they take a lot of energy and patience. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Water Element reminds me to go with the flow, like water like a river, twisting and turning around rocks and boulders, making its way towards the sea. It doesn’t get hung up on those obstacles, spending energy on fighting what can’t be moved.
So, in those (many) moments when my patience was tested, I asked myself, “Why fight what I can’t control?”
So, take some deep breaths and let it flow.