There are five Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) elements that are looked at in yin yoga. In this series of articles, I have spoken about the elements of Earth, Water and Metal. Following on from these are the elements of Fire and Wood, linked to joy and anger.
The fire element is connected to our sense of joy. It is the most important of the five elements, as it is associated with the Heart Meridian. In TCM, the heart is the center for mental activity, rather than the brain. It is also responsible for the function of all other organs in the body, as it sends blood and Qi (life-force) through its meridian lines to the abdomen. Therefore, when the heart is out of balance, there is a cascade effect throughout the whole body and mind. Due to the highly emotional nature of these connections, a depleted fire element can be seen in impatience, insomnia, unstable emotions and lack of joy. Ultimately, these factors can lead to a sense of disconnect from the self and others, and unstable relationships.
The small intestine channel is also directly connected to the fire element, and in TCM is responsible for digestion in the forms of pure and impure. When the fire element is depleted, the small intestine and body become damp, and the body is not able to physically or emotionally digest things that are consumed. As this element is associated with the Summer season, it is especially important to maintain heat and fire within the body during the colder, wetter months.
Poses that help to nourish and create internal fire are: heart and chest openers, inner thigh openers, and whole body twists. These poses allow Qi and blood to flow from the heart to all of the other internal organs, and detoxify any impurities within the body, both physically and emotionally. When the fire element is balanced, we are able to experience joy, passion, purpose and authentic connection.
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fire balancing yin sequence:
Angry outbursts are often a sign that the wood element of the body is out of balance. In Western Medicine, it is well understood that the liver processes much of what comes into the body; filtering blood, breaking down chemicals and drugs. While this addresses the fact that liver removes toxins and prevents build-up in the body, TCM principles look at the effect of liver function on the mind, and conversely, the effects emotions can have on liver function. In this way, when we allow anger to consume us it causes the liver to become blocked, and if the liver is blocked we can easily become upset and angry. Other symptoms of wood imbalance include mood swings, volatile emotions, and indecisiveness.
To maintain healthy wood element levels in the body, it is important to practice forgiveness and kindness, to prevent resentment and anger from disrupting the liver. In yin yoga postures, to affect the liver and gallbladder meridian lives, we target the outer hips and glutes, inner thighs and lateral lines (sides) of the body. Since these channels are deeper within the body, it may be helpful to use trigger balls, such as in pigeon and shoelace poses. They can also be used under the occiput (base of the skull) to clear any associated headaches and sinus congestion. When the wood element is balanced, we find we can easily act with kindness, are more adaptable, can express ourselves and our values more clearly, and are more emotionally stable.
wood balancing yin sequence:
Yoga works on the body beyond the physical feeling of a deep stretch.