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The Water Element and Winter

HAVE YOU NOTICED that during the winter season you: want to sleep more, gain a little weight, are lazier, and want to socialize less? All of this is the natural influence of the Water element on our body and mind.

In the yearly cycle, the Water element manifests as the winter season. By observing what occurs during winter, we can gain an understanding of this element. During winter, with the sap going inward, trees stop their growth and live off nutrients stored in their roots. Turtles and frogs hibernate at the bottom of ponds. With thick layers of fat reserves, bears and raccoons pass their time resting and sleeping. Some butterflies remain in a state of suspended animation in their cocoons. In the past, people routinely canned or bottled fruits and vegetables, cured meats, and stored water to live through the winter. These natural and sensible activities demonstrate that the energy of the Water element is associated with going inward - with rest and with reserves.

In the 24-hour cycle, the period corresponding to the Water element is nighttime. There is a resonance between the winter season and what occurs during this period. During winter, the weather turns cold. When we sleep, our body temperature drops. During winter, nature pauses and replenishes itself. When we sleep, our body rests and renews its energy stores depleted during the day.

When the Water element is in balance, it is like a calm and serene lake. Our mind can be calm and our body can be relaxed. When the Water element is out of balance and turbulent, our nervous system is unable to rest. We have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Our body and mind are unable to relax. Our mind is constantly moving and our body can't sit still. This overall restlessness eventually depletes our deep energy reserves.

A very powerful way to help balance the Water element is to practice meditation and Tai Chi. Winter is a natural time to go inward, meditate, and direct our attention on our essential spirit. Meditation rests our mind and relaxes our body. To replenish our store of energy, we focus on our tantien when practicing Tai Chi. The tantien, a point three finger widths below the navel, has been compared to a pot that can be filled with energy. Tai Chi fills our tantien with vital energy, which we experience as a vibrant aliveness. With the regular practice of meditation and Tai Chi we can balance and align ourselves with the Water element during this winter season.

author: Sebastian Palmigiani

Entering the Tao

WINTER IS A TIME FOR STILLNESS, rest, gathering energy, and renewing your power. A simple way to do this is with a standing meditation. Stand shoulder width, with heels turned out so that the outside edges of your feet are parallel. Your knees are slightly bent. Let your arms rise so that they are crossed at the wrist in front of your chest, with the right hand on the outside, with a little room under your armpits. This position is at the end of the Tai Chi form and is called "Entering the Tao." While maintaining your focus on your tantien, let your breath be slow and regular, filling and emptying your lungs completely. Allow your belly to expand on the inhale, contract on the exhale. Notice that in the beginning the air passing in your nose is cool as you inhale and warm as you exhale. Let the breath be slower still, and notice that you can no longer feel the passage of air at all. Let your thoughts slow down, and allow them to come and go, like waves on the ocean. Relax in the position for a couple of minutes for a quick reset, up to ten minutes to allow your mind and body to recharge.

author: Cate Bellafiore

The Core of Meditation

JUST AS HUMAN BEINGS need to learn to sit upright before we can stand, walk, run, and participate in sports and other activities, the core competency of meditation (and prerequisite for all higher forms of meditation) is the ability to discipline the mind to rest on a single point of focus and to leave it there as long as necessary or desired. This competency has been called by many names: calm abiding, single-pointed concentration, even placement, etc.

While this skill can be exercised through a wide variety of methods (e.g., complex board games such as Chess or Go, intensive periods of academic study, learning to listen without distraction, focused repetitive practice on any particular skill or technique, etc.), the most effective, quickest, and most universally applicable way to develop competency is the practice of basic meditation. An analogy is the way that general strength and cardiovascular training supports all other forms of physical activity.

Probably the most universal beginners' practice is watching the breath or "riding the breath". Not only is this a powerful and accessible practice for beginners, but even highly advanced meditators often begin their sessions of meditation with this practice. And, it has the two special benefits: it may be practiced anywhere, at any time, and it harmonizes the voluntary and autonomic aspects of the nervous system.

It is preferable to receive oral instruction from and gain some experience practicing with an experienced meditator, but here is a very basic form of the practice in a kind of "cookbook" presentation:

1. Relax your posture into a natural straightness, so the spine and neck straightens and the muscles can relax because the bones are carrying the weight (this can be done sitting, standing, walking, or even lying down).

2. Direct your mind to remain aware of the breath throughout the entire cycle of inhalation and exhalation. Do not attempt to control the breath, but simply remain aware of it. Similarly, do not try to reject or suppress thoughts, emotions, or sensations, but rather simply do not allow anything to distract you from your breathing.

3. Count each complete cycle of breathing. When you become distracted and temporarily lose your awareness of the breath, start the count over again at "one." If you get through 21 breaths without distraction, rest for a few moments and then start again at "one."

4. Practice for 10-20 minutes per session, at least once (preferably twice) a day, until you can routinely remain undistracted through 21 breaths. At this point, you have undoubtedly begun to experience some of the wonderful benefits of meditation; you may choose to continue with this practice or seek out instruction in the next stages.

May your practice be fruitful and of benefit to both yourself and others.

author: Patrick Wooldridge