The Water Element: Go with the Flow

Young woman practicing yoga on a rocky island during a vibrant sunset

Article At A Glance

Explore the ebb and flow of life through the lens of the water element in this insightful article. Here, you’ll discover how water, both physically and energetically, impacts our existence and learn valuable techniques to develop resilience in turbulent times. Dive into yoga-based practices and self-awareness to find your balance amidst life’s tidal waves.

Life can flow gently like a babbling brook or smash into us like a tidal wave. The COVID-19 pandemic and the personal and political unrest that came along with it are recent examples of the tidal wave analogy. The saying, “go with the flow,” is one way to think about how the water element permeates every part of our lives. Sometimes it flows with us and sometimes it flows against us. In either case, we need to develop resilience in order to maintain our balance and stay afloat. To do this, we can turn our gaze inward and consider the physical, energetic, and psychological aspects of the water element.

My last post explored the earth element and the need to ground. In this post, we’ll explore how to use the element of water to help us enlighten up.

The Water Element in the Physical Realm

Man walking on a beautiful beach with the beautiful colored skyAs matter, water is a substance we can experience with our five senses. We see water in streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans. We hear water when rain splatters against our windows. We touch it when we bathe, swim, or walk in the rain without an umbrella. We taste water in our beverages and can smell it in the sulfurous rotten egg odors wafting up from sewers on a sweltering summer day.

Our bodies are made of about 70 percent water. Blood and lymph move between our cells and through our vessels. Our taste buds only work when water or saliva is present. No water, no taste. And we can experience water as tears, snot, urine, and the fluids we excrete during sex. Water unifies all life on planet Earth and is necessary for the survival of all living things.

The Water Element on the Energetic Level

If we look at the energetic qualities of water we see it as unstable, changeable, cool, warm, hot, moist, smooth, flowing, lubricating, and strong (floods, tsunamis, and hurricanes). Energetically, water is associated with breath, which flows in and out of the body in waves; and with creativity, pleasure, and healthy sexuality.

Water and water images can evoke strong emotions and enliven the sensesPsychologically our thoughts and emotions, like water, are changeable aspects of the mind reflecting back to us our ability to connect and flow with the ups and downs of life. According to Dr. David Frawley in his book, Ayurveda and the Mind, the element of water, “ … includes our capacity to gather sensory impressions and respond to them through like and dislike, attraction and repulsion, fear, and desire.”

When Water Comes Crashing Through

Oh, how true that is. Here’s a personal example of how this played out during a pivotal time in my life. Energetically and psychologically, I was dealing with a mental and emotional whirlpool of issues; a troubled marriage, followed by my husband’s death from brain cancer, widowhood, and financial difficulties that left me with a big house, two mortgages, and a ton of bills. At the same time, my job ended because of an internal department take-over and I had to make a major career change in order to pay the bills.

As you can imagine, I was feeling a torrent of thoughts and emotions mostly focused on dislike, repulsion, and fear. In the middle of all this, the physical aspect of water showed up when the basement flooded. Then the well, which was the only source of water for the house, dried up and the roof sprang a major leak. Talk about the water element and its intersection with life on the physical, energetic, and psychological layers! Was it woo-woo or worldly? I didn’t know, but WTF! Woman sitting near the water in contemplation

To gain some sense of balance and control over the water/emotional stress mess flowing around me, I looked for ways to move smoothly around and through what I was facing in the same way that water finds ways to flow over and around obstacles in its way. Fortunately, I managed to navigate my way through this shipwreck by using self-awareness as my lifejacket.

How to Assess the Water Element with Awareness

To assess your awareness and management of the water element in your life, use your five layers of self-awareness for indications of balance and imbalance in this element.

For example, when your joints feel “juicy,” when your thoughts flow smoothly and easily when your muscles and skin feel supple and you feel relaxed and sensuous, the water element is thought to be in balance.

Conversely, when you are feeling emaciated, dehydrated, drained, rough, stiff, obstructed, and immobile, and you struggle with your emotional issues, the water element is thought to be out of balance.

Movement and mindfulness are natural “go-to” solutions. Here are two yoga-based suggestions to help you become aware of, tune into, and balance your water element.

​2 Practices to Balance Your Water Element

Dynamic Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) Child's Pose or Balasana Pose a restful pose

  1. Come to the floor in Tabletop Pose (Bharmanasana) with your knees hip-width apart and your arms shoulder-width apart.
  2. Exhale as you sit back onto your heels in Child’s Pose (Balasana), to generate a feeling of safety, security, and self-nourishment.
  3. Inhaling, move through a hands-and-knee position to lower yourself into your comfortable version of Cobra Pose.
  4. Exhale, push yourself up to your hands and knees and sit back into Child’s Pose.
  5. Pick a pace and rhythm that is comfortable for your body as you move through the flow.
  6. Repeat at your chosen pace for 30 seconds to a minute or more.

If—to paraphrase my colleague and friend Marsha Banks Harold—“your body don’t bend that way,” try Jala Mudra, an energy practice.Cobra Pose or Bhujangasana a lengthening and strengthening yoga pose

Jala Mudra (The Gesture of Water)

Image depicting the Jala Mudra, the gesture of waterThis hand gesture (mudra) is said to encourage fluidity and flexibility in both mind and body, lubricate the joints, and support the health of the urinary, reproductive, digestive, and elimination systems.

  1. In your favorite seated position, touch the tips of your thumbs to the tips of your little fingers and extend the other three fingers straight out.
  2. Rest the backs of your hands on your thighs or your knees.
  3. Soften your shoulders and sit with your spine comfortably straight.
  4. ​Hold for 5 to 10 breaths or as long as you’re comfortable.

When the water element, in the form of floods, tsunamis, or hurricanes, crashes into your life, it’s helpful to remember this Yoruba proverb. “It is only the water that is spilled—the calabash is not broken.”

Reprinted with permission from Beth Gibbs.com
Beth Gibbs, MA, C-IAYT, Writer and Yoga Therapist

Beth Gibbs, MA, is a faculty member at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She holds a master’s degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is the author of Soul Food, Life-Affirming Stories Served with Side Dishes and Just Desserts, Enlighten Up! Finding Clarity, Contentment, and Resilience in a Complicated World and Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, a therapeutic yoga book for children. Beth is an experienced workshop leader and public speaker. She blogs at bethgibbs.com

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