Winter, or maybe it's Yinter; it is after all the most yin of all the seasons: dark, quiet, still, deep, cold and bare. The rawness hints at the very essence of life. This essence or taste, the rasa of existence is contained within the element of water.
In the 5 elements system, water conveniently brings us full circle. And as we dive into Winter the qualities of water expressed through adaptability and strength can be felt within as we are encouraged to pause and become still. Nature bares herself. Casting off her pretty accessories of leaves, flowers and berries she transforms them into layers of blanketing shelter to protect and conceal the inner transformations occurring beneath her barely moving skin. Deep within the Earth seeds are being planted.
Winter directs us toward this quiet pool within; to our own source, our essence of self-identity. It's here we can plant our self seeds through awareness of what we've become and how perhaps far this may have veered away from our original desires or what truly feels right, resourced and wholesome. Now is a good time for internal work to become our focus. Starting a meditation routine or to establishing a mindfulness practice are ways to effect this. One way to consider this in the context of mindfulness is to set an intention and then to pay attention to that in everything you do in the context of "does it align with my intention"? This greater awareness lends itself to reflection. Inevitably we notice what activities, people and thoughts replenish us & fill up our cup and what depletes us - where are the leaks?
The seeds we plant during this inner journey will need energy to germinate and sprout. It's not only about manifesting them come Spring but also about having a reserve of energy to maintain the impulsion that brings them into fruition. Think of a time when you were reluctant to share an idea for fear of it being too early. Were you concerned that you might not be able to make it happen and it might remain a pipe dream. Think also of a plan that you did share and then lost interest in? Perhaps the initial excitement propelled by the secrecy of preparation dwindled once it was out there in the world. There is great intuition in knowing when a seed needs more to maintain it's growth and achieve it's full expression. The concentration of power is held more potently and kindled more strongly in the dark - we see this in many mystical rituals and ceremonies that are shrouded in concealment.
In this most yin like of seasons energy is gathering. On the surface we see dormancy, inertia, but within, alchemical transformations are occurring. Cold and dark are prerequisites for storing and preserving energy in preparation. It is the internal force accumulated now that will empower the seed to burst forth in Spring and bud and grow and flower beyond it's initial bloom.
Water's essence is it's ability to adapt with effortless ease to changing circumstances, to alter it's form, to find or create a new path. It also expresses the power of strength, sheer force at times but also continuity and persistence, the wearing down rock to forge a way through. This transparent, unadorned element is said to contain the code to all life. Water has memory* and responds to external influences allowing itself to be melded by the earth and to take upon the shape of whatever container it finds its' way into. This ability to adapt, to reinvent requires strength and and stamina and both need energy.
When we have enough we feel strong and courageous, able to act and find the self-will or determination to keep going. We see obstacles as possibilities to be overcome rather than blocks that scupper plans and force us to give up. Not having enough causes us to feel depleted and if we lack resource then fear can become the obstacle that stops us. A healthy amount of fear is necessary to protect us from danger and prolong our lives so that we can reap the benefits of the seeds we are planting, but too much fear and our energy stores will be drained.
For over 5000 years the Chinese have associated the emotion of fear with the element of water and in the 5 elements system and the meridian system which underpin yin yoga, a depressed water element relates especially to the fear of not having enough. If we are unable to complete plans, to bring dreams into reality or we feel unprepared to meet the challenges we might face along route, then it indicates our energy reserve is dwindling. As we prepare our seeds we need to ensure we have enough energy stored up to survive Winter.
The kidney and urinary bladder are the yin and yang organs that belong to the water element and the season of Winter. The meridians which connect to these organs are channels which carry energy or qi (pronounced chi). The kidney meridian has a particular type of qi, called jing. Jing is essence, or life force so it's vital these channels inparticular are in balance to maintain our energy reserves and provide access to the areas in which our true inner strength, courage and wisdom lie.
All backbend poses activate the kidney meridian and all forward bends the urinary bladder. These meridians govern the efficacy of water in the body for hydration and elimination. There are specific points where the meridian channels run close to the surface: 27 on the kidney line and 67 on the urinary bladder line and these are typically used by acupuncturists to treat disorders. Acupuncture requires a great deal of skill and training but since we are not sticking needles in ourselves we can safely apply pressure to these points either by direct pressure or through stretching or compressing the tissues by placing the body in certain positions. (Please note some points are contraindicated particularly for pregnancy)
Kidney 25, known as 'spirit storehouse' might be imagined as an ashram or church! It is a very powerful point that opens a chamber of riches. This point is used for those who may have suffered chronic pain or fatigue over a prolonged period and may might feel utterly drained and depleted. This point, which is located on the chest, in the 2nd rib space between the midline and the nipple (one on either side) is a treasure cave. A well spring of inner fulfilment, strength and wisdom. Activating this area either can initiate the healing process and replenish the vital flow of energy reserves.
The specific point can be activated by applying firm pressure with the index fingers or thumbs in a circular motion for 30 seconds to 1 minute or by opening the chest area in a supported backbend which target the upper cavities of the chest. It is ideal to stimulate the point via acupressure and then take the yin posture for 2 - 5 minutes. Use two yoga bricks or books placing one under the upper back (bra strap area) and one under the head. Opening the arms to the side or for a deeper backbend take them overhead and clasp the elbows. (Note that if tingling or numbness occurs in the hands of fingers, especially during longer holds, please do not ignore this sensation, instead try elevating the hands onto another brick, bringing them to rest on the forehead or if the sensations persist bringing the arms down at the sides.). When the time is complete remove the blocks and rest on the back. Take time to savour and revere the rebound as Paul Grilley suggests. Breathe into the sensations and notice what you are feeling inside, what energies are presenting themselves and moving unseen beneath.
The pause between yin postures is a salutation to the season. To truly allow ourselves to be infused with the energy of water we must become still. To be able to really feel and experience the subtle flow of recalibration within as we become this container of powerful energy. Emptying into stillness our awareness shifts. We see through the clouds of exhaustive accumulation, our amassing of material possessions intended to highlight our status and symbolise our surface progression show just how far outside our bodies we live in our busy, achieving orientated lives. Now however, in the quietude of repose we glimpse clearly where the balance and imbalances lie. Where are we living in harmony with ourselves, with nature and with each other and where are we tipping the scales - sliding off the edges, leaching energy out of the gaps?
Here is an opportunity to question our own energetic intake and usage. What are we feeding ourselves in terms of the food we take in and digest and the environment we live in. The people we chose to expend our time and energy on, the activities we partake of and the habits we indulge in - are they replenishing our energy, building reserves or sapping and depleting our strength, courage and wisdom, making us feel a sense of lack and allowing fear to steer the vessel? This is the essence of water, it's fluid easeful response to a changing course by assuming without effort the shape of whatever contains it - filing up all the spaces with life giving, refreshing code of life essence, refuelling the ship.
So when we allow nature to become our guide, when we are prepared to heed her call to take a Winter sojourn, we develop a natural proclivity that tunes us into her still, dense, peacefulness. This alignment of energetic frequencies allows us to sense when the light is returning. With this internal knowledge we are able to monitor our reservoirs of energy, repairing the leaks well, accumulating enough, protecting it and directing it as we prepare ourselves to emerge in the Spring. With a storehouse of energy the seeds we cultivate and nurture now, will not only burst forth in Spring but will unfold with sustained creative expression and flourish into fullness having harnessed all the energy invested in their source essence.