Move with the Elements
“When you dance, your movements are not just about getting from one place to another. You should move so that with each step you arrive.”
So say our dance teachers, who have much in common with gurus who implore us to be “in the moment’. To master any social dance requires mindfulness to be sure, but also awareness of what you are doing with your hands and feet, the partner’s communication, and of course the music. It’s harder in some ways than meditating. But it's more fun!
If you want to combine movement with meditation, the slow, mindful gestures of Tai Qi (translate as “Great Energy”) can be a satisfying everyday ritual. In response to a request from a former student, this month’s post will review a sequence of easy postures that resonate with the five elements
FOLLOWING WINTER’S LEAD
In winter, the dominant element is water. Ice or snow can cover everything, including mountains. When combined with cold, water is at its most penetrating. The organs associated with water are the bladder and kidneys. The bladder meridian, which travels along the back next to the spine, can be challenged in winter when we stiffen up against the cold. Your back, including your neck, needs protection from the wind.
Since other elements are relatively dormant now, we may feel less energetic and need more sleep. My meditation teacher told me that his teacher, who lived to be over 100, slept for 20 hours a day in the winter and four hours a day in the summer. But it’s not just about sleep, it’s about going deep. Have deep sleep so you dream about what you long for. Get in touch with deep feelings. Go deeper, to see what is behind the feelings. Take the time needed to think about life transitions. Cold and darkness conspire together to put you into a watery state of mind, where you can be “borne on the stream of time”.
Five Element Qi Exercise
This brief Qi exercise brings body and mind together to resonate with the elements of earth, metal, water, wood and fire. Morning is a good time to practice. It only takes a few minutes.
Stand with both legs together. Feel your feet rooted to the earth. Your head reaches for sky. Breathe out. Then with awareness move your left leg out so your feet are shoulder width apart. (The one becomes two, the beginning of life.) Repeat each movement nine times. (Nine is a cycle of completion in Tai Qi.)
Earth is our source of nourishment as well as digestion (stomach and spleen are the associated organs).
Turn your palms up and breathe in as you raise your arms up over your head. Imagine you embrace the earth and all the nourishment it provides. When your hands reach overhead exhale and relax the hands down to your sides.
Metal is associated with the lungs, which take in the oxygen that allows our blood to bind with iron.
Start with elbows bent and both hands at the level of the chest at the side of the body. Palms face down. As you breathe in, push your hands down along your sides as if you are compressing energy deep into the body (earth). When your arms are straight and at the level of the pubic bone, breathe out.
Water is associated with the bladder and kidneys, nourishing and cleansing every cell.
With your arms straight, place your hands at the level of the pubic bone, several inches away from the body. Palms face each other. Breathe in as you slowly move your hands towards the front center of the lower abdomen (roughly where the bladder would be). Imagine you are guiding water into the body as you breathe in, allowing the lower abdomen to expand slightly. Then breathe out and relax your arms.
Wood is our structure, under the domain of the liver and gall bladder.
Start with the hands at your side, palms facing the body. Breathe in, raising the arms to about shoulder level, then turn the palms up, breathe in again and raise the arms overhead. Stretch the fingers and palms, as if they were leaves taking in nourishment from the sun. Breathe out and relax the arms, bringing them back to your sides.
Fire is the fuel of the heart and small intestine.
Start with the arms bent and the hands together in front of the heart. As you breathe in, move the hands out from the chest to extend the arms in front of you. Then spread the arms apart until they are out at your side at the level of the shoulders (if comfortable). As you exhale, turn the back of the hands toward each other, which will slightly “close” the chest. The idea here is that we want to share our warmth with the world but also need to balance the needs of others with our own needs. (Don’t get “burnt out”.)
Bring the feet together again mindfully. Pause for a few moments to feel the effects on your body and mind.
“The point is not understanding what I write but feeling it.” Bob Dylan
Enjoy the Purple Hour
As day comes to a close and the sky starts to deepen, it can be an emotional time. One of the “seasons of the day” to observe. Mark the transition in some way; maybe light a candle, have a drink, or play music to suit the mood. Arrive at the end of the day to exhale and feel complete before taking the next steps, whatever they may be.