Water is life. We have all heard this statement and still, most of us have never really contemplated on what this means in a practical sense. In this post I will address this issue from a philosophical and yogic point of view, starting with some physical considerations of why this might be of value to anyone.
As we humans are pretty alive, it should be of no surprise that all our vital organs contain high amounts of water; the brain, the lungs, the heart, the liver and the kidneys contain a larger quantity than other organs – between 65 to 85%, while bones contain less water, but still 31%. In the picture below you can see all the bodily functions that are aided by water.
Actually, most part of the human body is constituted of water. For small children it has been shown to be up to 75% and they not just feel different to touch, chubby and cuddly, but also smell different, don’t they? As we grow up the amount of water decreases to stabilize around 60% as we enter the stage of adulthood. As we grow older, our tissues and muscles lose elasticity. This happens not only because of less muscular activity, but also as a result of a continous decrease of water in the whole body. For many people over 70 years, the proportion of water can be as low as 50%. There are of course exceptions from the average, no matter age. One correlation that has been shown in some studies is that the more muscular a body is, the more water it contains. Conversely, the more fat in the body, the less water the body contains – as body fat has little water.
So, to summarize it: The more water, the more life! Do you need more reasons to care about the water in your body?
Realising how vital water is for our existence, is there anything we can do to prevent water loss in our bodies? First of all, start every day with drinking a glass of clean, pure water. Room temperature is best for general. After a week you will already feel the difference in every cell of your body.
Next, look around yourself! Water is everywhere, and you can easily observe its qualities. From an Eastern perspective this is a good way to learn about yourself. As soon as you start seeing yourself as part of nature you can start observing the elements in their natural settings, and learn to apply that knowledge in your own life.
In my last blog entry I wrote about the qualities of the element earth and how we can use those qualities to stay grounded and calm. What about the qualities of WATER? I will here first list some observations and then turn to analyse how we can benefit from this knowledge in life and on the yoga mat.
- Water has a wide range of energetic expressions. It can be sluggish, it can be swift, it can be pounding, it can be vapor, and also frozen. Nevertheless, in all its expressions, it continues to manifest itself as the main force of life.
- Water is relentless. It never stops exerting its force.
- When restricted, water seeks the weakest point of any obstacles and applies constant force to break itself free.
- When it is pressed or attacked, it changes from to reposition itself.
- Water is opportunistic. Given the slightest opening, it will pass through. It will also widen the opening, if possible.
- Water always seeks for the easiest solution. It doesn´t complain, just follows the path of least resistance.
The philosophical school closest associated with water is Taoism. Applying Tao to life means never fleeing a cause, no matter the obstacles you meet on your way. Never give up, but seek for another way to pass through towards your goal. By being present in the moment you will be able to recognize the slightest opening, the way of least resistance and by being persistent and seeking for the easiest way to pass through you can reach unexpexctedly far. However, Taoism is often misunderstood. Taoists never look to nature as a metaphor. Humans are seen as a part of nature and nature is an expression of Tao. Thus, a Taoist looks to nature as a way of self-guidance.
Taoism is also the main philosophical guide behind many of the Eastern Martial Arts, like Tai Chi and Kung-Fu. When meeting obstacles (or being attacked), an Eastern warrior will not confront his opponent in a direct way. Instead he will start observing his opponent and slowly turn the attack to its favor. First step is minimizing the damage by turning away from the hit to the side, letting the main stream of the attacking power pass. At the beginning the main point is observing the powers of the opponent. By provoking and then constantly leading away the attacks of the opponent, the warrior can spare his energy for later. As he is aware of the weak points of his opponent, it is time to fight back, using a moment of disorientation in his opponent. And he will place his hit, where the opponent have shown weakness. Pretty different way compared to Western thinking and living, isn´t it?
What can we learn from this Eastern way of thinking? Following the flow of life means staying open for what is offered in the moment. Sometimes people are so focused on a certain way of doing things, on a certain door to be opened, that they forget to stay open for opportunities that arise in the moment. We might even miss another door being wide open in front of them. But sometimes that door you are waiting for will never open for you. Not as long as you stand there on that spot you are at right now. Life is in constant flow and you have to be in motion yourself. If you feel there is no motion in your life and you are stuck, look around to see if there is another direction that is open for you. Find the place where you CAN go, and keep moving. That is what water would do. Be water!
In Vedic teachings, which is the ground of the yoga tradition I follow, the best way to live a harmonious life with less suffering is by showing no resistance towards change. When something turns up in your life, there is no use of judging it as good or bad, but accept it and say “Come! Come! Come!” When something goes,say: “Go! Go! Go!” This way of relating is also a quality of water. Following the flow of life.
In a yoga class we always start with setting up a stable posture by grounding our feet (or sitting bones) and hands into the mat/the ground, establishing connection with the energies of the Earth. After that, lift the upper body straight; back, neck and head in a straight line, the crown of the head striving towards the sky. Take a couple of deep breaths. This way we become alert for the moment and open for the flow of life. In a physical sense we establish a stable position from where we are able to turn and twist without losing balance. Ready for the challenges, ready for change.
The water in our bodies is best experienced in flowing yoga sequences. The sequences might be performed in slow pace, as water never hurries
A nice book to get inspired of when it comes to build up flowing sequences is Liz Lark’s Yoga. For a watery feeling perform the sequences in a slow pace. Remember, water never hurries! It is persistent. Translated into yoga practice this means many repetitions in a slow pace.
Water in Sanskrit is JAL. So one would expect the associated hand mudra to be called Jala mudra. However, the godess of the waters is called Varuna, and the most common name of the water strenghtening mudra is most often called Varuna mudra.
And here’s a nice Spotify playlist I prepared that suits flowing sequences.
A last important remark to keep in mind is that water is only lifegiving as long as it is clean. Polluted water can actually kill. So to keep the waters flowing and clean within us is important for our health. A regular yoga practice might be a good way to do so. There are of course other ways to gain a similar result. What do you do to stay healthy and open for change? I’d love to hear from you!