Today we are continuing our exploration of the Five Great Elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Ether is the most subtle element and earth is the densest. Each element carries with it the qualities of the elements that came before it. Thus, water carries the qualities of ether, air, and fire.

Our watery origins.

If we have ever charted our family tree, we know well that the farther back we go, the more complicated our understanding of where we came from becomes. If humans go back far enough in their evolutionary history, or, more accurately, the evolutionary history of this planet, modern science strongly suggests life as we know it emerged from water.

Perhaps it is this assumed ancient connection to water, or perhaps it is our present awareness of water’s life-sustaining properties, that mesmerizes us humans. We love to sit by the pool, a lake, the ocean. There is little more delightful than splashing around in the water on a hot summer day.  Water captures our imaginations and soothes our souls.

Beneath the surface.

Carl Jung said that water represents all that is in the Unconscious. It is our emotions, our shadow, and our creative impulses. Working with the water element means diving beneath the surface of our psyche and opening ourselves to discovering our own depth, possibility, and potential. Thus, we know ourselves through water.

Water purifies us. It washes debris from our physical bodies, but it cleanses our psycho-spiritual bodies as well. When we consciously work with our unconscious selves, we bring to the surface all that is not serving us: our neurosis, unprocessed trauma, and the ways in which we sabotage ourselves, to name a few. When the unseen becomes seen, we wash our hands of that which we surrender and bathe ourselves in healing waters.

Bringing water into our practice.

We can tap into water’s healing properties through our yoga practice. Just like we can invoke fire into our practice by creating heat within our bodies, we can bring water into our practice by cultivating more fluid movements: side stretches, deep twists, and even moving in a circle bring a sense of liberating fluidity to our practice. Because water is closely associated with the sacral chakra, svadhistana, deep hip-openers are another way we can bring the element into our practice. Water-focused asana practices release deeply held tension and emotions from our bodies. Naturally, we want to make sure we are hydrated before and during the practice, and that we drink plenty of water afterwards.

The ins-and-outs of hydration.

Our physical bodies are primarily made up of water- about 60%! Proper hydration is a key component of caring for our health. The first sign that we are dehydrated is that we are thirsty. Some people may even mistake hunger for thirst. Ideally, these are the worst symptoms we experience due to dehydration. Other symptoms include fatigue, headache, and nausea. More severe symptoms may also occur, such as fainting, changes in blood pressure, and the slowing of some brain functions.

One of the simplest ways to determine whether or not we are properly hydrated is the “skin test”. To test the skin, gently pinch the skin on your arm to create a “tent” shape. Let go and see how many seconds it takes for the skin to return to its normal position. If it takes longer than three seconds, you might be dehydrated.

Ideally, we drink water when we are thirsty and leave it at that. However, many of us either don’t notice when we are thirsty, or we get very busy and forget to drink water. There are several techniques we can use to monitor hydration. The most well-know is to simply drink eight cups of water a day and leave it at that. However, every human body is unique. Eight cups of water may be too much or too little for our individual constitution. That is why some medical professionals now recommend the more precise method of drinking half to one full ounce of water for each pound you weigh. Of course, we need to drink more water if we consume caffeinated beverages, when engaging in exercise, or when spending time in the heat.