Here i introduce my favourite sequence to the Daoist Water Element, working with the kidney and urinary bladder meridians. I skip all the technical details but let you know my approach to the poses. For guidance of how to get into and out of poses www.yinyoga.com is always a good resource.
The Toe Squat is quite a challenging pose to start with, but a beautiful way to activate all our lower body meridians flowing through our feet (UB, GB, ST, LV, SP, K). The pose also provides the opportunity to automatically acupressure K1, our most grounding point under the ball of the foot (releasing excess energy, calms the heart and clears the mind). There is this old Daoist saying “A person with open toes has an open mind’ 😉
Take the help of your hands to make sure all the toes are really stretched out. While guiding my students into the pose I always make sure to mention that if the pressure on the toes is too much you can release the upper body forward and bring your weight on your elbows. If that is still too much (some people are really sensitive here) an alternative is to just bring your toes up a wall, so ball of the foot is on the ground and toes stretch up the wall.
After two minutes swing your feet around to the front and come back for a few moments into a neutral rebound on the back to make sure the toes get some time to release and to let all the lower body meridians flow undisturbed again. Enjoy the happy life sparkles in your toes!
The Dragonfly pose with a leg/ groin stretch and a forward fold is a very efficient way to stretch our kidney meridian along the inside legs and the groin, while then this meridian gets compressed through the forward fold in our abdomen. Here it crosses our Dan Tien, our energetic and physical body center. It is said here is the place of our instincts. (Additionally our liver meridian get activated in every groin stretch as well.)
At the same time we stretch our urinary bladder meridian all the way out from the backside legs and along our spine flexion, from there it flows along our neck, across our head to the inside corner of our eyes. It flows through our third eye, the place of our intuition, and through our limbic system, which is needed to feel emotionally stable.
The Dragonfly makes a perfect pose to address the energetic value of the water element, to reconnect to our basic trust in life, to trust our journey and to let go of subconscious fear.
Precautions need to be taken for people with lower back issues, hinge from the hips to the maximum point possible first rather than round the spine right away, sitting on a bolster can help. People with tight hamstrings might struggle, then we can place a bolter under the knees. Also it’s important to make sure the feet are not falling inwards, as this is a tendency we don’t want to emphasize regarding our general body posture. Place bolsters on the inside legs to prevent this inward hip rotation.
Three to five minutes, depending if you add some variations, is a good length of time here.
The lateral opening version of the Dragonfly gives us the opportunity to stretch out our gallbladder meridian along the side of our rips as well and the arm stretch is a nice opening for the heart meridian emerging from our armpit. Three minutes on each side is nice.
Another variation is a simple turn over to the side and forward fold over one leg, addressing the wood element with liver meridian flow through our groin and (like all twists) engaging the liver and gallbladder meridian flow on the sides of our torso. It is nice here to follow the general yoga rule to always exhale as we move into the twist. And like the lateral version here we have the chance to stretch out all our arm meridians of the fire and metal element. Each side for three to five minutes.
After the dragonfly-flow stay in a brief neutral rebound lying on your back before we move deeper into the forward flexion.
The snail is the biggest release of the whole spine and probably our most intense yin pose. The stretch of the bladder meridian along the spine to the maximum while the kidney meridian get an intense compression in our abdomen makes this an ideal water element pose. It has all the great benefits of the inversion: reversing then blood flow from the heart to the head, flushing trough our blood vessels, giving them a detox which can help prevent a heart or brain stroke. The inversions are said to be ‘the fountain of youth’ in yoga.
To get into the pose you start lying down and lift your hips, support with your hands. Allow your back to round (unlike Halasana in which we keep the spine and legs straight) and your feet to drop over your head toward the floor.
This pose puts a pressure on the neck so be careful if you have neck problems. Like all inversions it is not recommended for anyone with high blood pressure, upper body infection, vertigo, glaucoma, or a cold. Women during their menstrual cycle may find it better not to do this pose or maybe not for too long. For everyone else the longer the better to get the most of the inversion benefits. As alternative the Caterpillar serves well. Avoid this pose with lower back disorders which do not allow flexion of the spine. And its definitely not a good pose with a full belly or are pregnant.
I prefer here to not to dictate the time but let everyone decide for themselves while I just mention every passing minute. However, after maximum five minutes release into a neutral rebound for some time.
The Happy Baby is another nice opportunity to get some self-healing acupressure point in the practice, here we can easily press K1 (our most grounding point, see more at the first pose Toe Squat) on the sole of our foot at the beginning of the pose. The groin stretch is a great kidney meridian (also liver meridian here) activation. The neutrality of the spine makes this pose the ideal buffer between all the spine flexion’s we just did and the spine extensions, which will follow ahead. Finish with a brief neutral rebond position.
Always a nice combo is to come from a Spinx into the deeper Seal. Here this pose also functions as a counter pose to the snail to extend our thyroid area.
I recommend staying for three minutes in the Sphinx, elbows right under the shoulders here, and then push the arms up straight for two more minutes into the Seal. The position of the hands may be adjusted toward the corners of the mat, but as always, if you feeling is in your target area, the lower back here, you are doing it. See what feels right!
To have a complete rebound it is better to turn around on your back to also release your ankles.
And as with all our backbends we compress the urinary bladder meridian on our back while we stretch our kidney, spleen and stomach meridians in our abdomen. The pressing up in the Seal also presents us the opportunity to stretch out our upper body Fire and Metal Element meridians, especially the lung and heart meridian.
Release the body back to the ground slowly and enjoy a neutral rebound on your front, suspend the complete rebound on your back for now as we move even deeper into the backbend and keep the ankle stretch with our next pose.
The camel is a rather active and challenging pose but a beautiful heart opener. However due to its yang nature I like to keep this pose rather short.
The kidney meridian gets stretched out on our abdomen and chest, while the urinary bladder meridian gets compressed on our back. If you can reach your ankles you can even press acupressure point K3 on your inside ankle and UB 60 on the outside ankle. (But this also a perfect pose to open our chest and to stretch out especially our lung meridian along the arm. This pose also makes a good stretch for the earth element meridians on our thighs and abdomen.)
After two minutes come into a brief rebound on your back.
Not a classic yin pose, but my favorite back bend and ideal to be practiced keeping the yin yoga principles in mind. If the block is to hard put a blanket over it or just use a bolster instead and literally just hang out for 5 minutes. It is a wonderful pose to really completely release all our back muscles and to surrender completely in the back extension. I find in back bends it takes the longest to really let go of our natural reactivity of our muscles so it helps to really give this pose a long time. Do come out very slowly vertebrae by vertebrae and enjoy a long rebound in neutral position.
After all the back extensions the turtle is beautiful way to bring everything together again, to return back home. Perfect for the water element this pose is connecting our forehead, our third eye, our intuition to the ground beneath us, to mother earth. And of course it gives us the benefits of a gentle inversion: reversing the blood flow from the heart to the head, flushing through and strengthening our blood vessels to prevent heart and brain stroke.
Stay for four minutes. When you are teaching here is a nice opportunity to give your students a back stretch and massage. Before proceeding to the rebound pose it might be nice to just sit on the heels for a moment to let the blood flow reverse.
It is always beneficial to finish off with a good reclined twist to restore equilibrium and prepare for our final relaxation. Great pose to really let everything drop and let gravity do the work. Three minutes each side.
Shavasan / Starfish
A Yin variation of Shavasan, the starfish or penacle. To stretch out our arms and legs a bit more allows us create some space under our arms and between our legs where we have most of our glands and lymphs. This way they get some space to expand breathe, which they never have much in our daily life. Also it creates the opportunity to really stretch out all our meridians to let everything in our body flow uncompromised.