This week we will be looking at postures for the five elements. You may have seen some of these before in other courses, and we will develop them further in this one. You could spend a long time developing each of these postures and stances by themselves, but the way we will practice them will be as a sequence of all five. This way is quite stimulating and energising working through each of the five elements in sequence. By practicing all of them it also helps to keep each of them in balance with each other.
Our first posture is for the earth element. It should make you feel solid, stable and grounded.
The posture is the horse stance with your fists drawn back by your sides. How deep you go into this stance is up to you. As with all the postures it is best to go gently and work your way towards a lower stance little by little.
The main principles of alignment are that the feet should be parallel facing forwards, the knees should be above the feet (not too far forwards or too far back, and not too far to the side either). In a high horse stance the feet may only be about shoulder width apart, but as you go lower into the stance your feet will need to be wider until the are about two shoulder widths apart when your thighs are parallel with the ground. The pelvis should feel like it is sitting down on something and the back should be upright. A good way to get the feel for this is to bounce up and down a little in the stance to get the feeling a bit like riding a horse, this will help to engage the pelvic floor muscles and get the pelvis and lower back in the right position. The shoulders should be relaxed and wide to open the arm pit. The head should face forwards with the chin tucked slightly to lengthen the neck.
The next posture is for the metal element. This should make you feel sharp, alert and ready.
The posture is a cat stance with your hands in a slicing shape in front of your body.
Turn your rear foot out ward slightly, raise your front foot onto the ball of the foot. Bend the knee of your rear leg so it goes out in the direction of your toes, and sink into the stance to a level that is comfortable for you. The front foot can be positioned quite close in front of the rear foot, or as you go lower into the stance you can set the front foot about half a pace in front. About 90% of your weight should be on the back leg and 10% on the front leg, with the ability to quickly change this to 100% on the back leg. Keep the pelvis facing forwards (there can be a tendency to twist the pelvis to the side in this posture). Keep the back upright and long. If your right foot is forward, then the right hand will be high in front of your face and the left hand lower sitting underneath. Both hands should be on the centre line of your body (the line that would run between your nose and your belly button) and extended forwards in front of you.
The next posture is for the water element. This posture should make you feel loose and flowing like water running down a river twisting and turning around rocks and bends.
The posture is a cross step stance with the hands palm down as if gliding on the surface of water.
Step your rear foot behind your front foot and place the ball of the foot on the ground. The front foot should stay flat on the ground. Extend the arms out in the direction of the rear cross step so that the body is twisted. Keep the body and head upright and turn the head in the direction of the arms. Do not try to flatten the back, allow the natural curves of the back to be accentuated a little by this twisting posture. This allows activation of the kidneys in the small of the back.
The next posture is for the wood element. This posture should make you feel tall and flexible like a young tree reaching for the sky.
The posture is a single leg balance with the arms reaching for the sky.
Straighten one leg and keep the foot facing forwards. Raise the other leg and cross it on top of your straight support leg. Bring the palms together in front of your chest and then raise them upwards above your head. You will likely feel pulling down the sides of your body and sides of your legs where the gallbladder meridian runs when you are practicing this posture.
The next posture is for the Fire element. This posture should make you feel like you have energy rising up and bursting forwards.
The posture is a bow stance with the hands in fists and one hand drawn back at the waist and the other extended in front of you.
Step forwards with your feet shoulder width apart, bend the front knee so that it sits above the front foot. Turn the back foot outward slightly and keep the back leg straight. The ideal position is to work your way downwards until your front thigh is parallel with the ground – but you can do this little by little. Draw the hand on the side of your front leg back to your waist with the hand in a fist and the palm side facing up. Extend the hand on the side of your rear leg forwards in front of your shoulder with the hand in a fist and the palm side of the fist facing down. The energy should feel like it comes up from your feet through your legs to your waist, then from your waist through your body to the chest (where the heart sits in the centre) and then forwards through your arm to your hand like a flame bursting forwards.
Putting Them Together
We will practice the five element stances in the order listed above, starting with Earth which is the central or gathering place, then proceeding through the rest of the elements and finishing on Earth again. Because each of the elements except Earth is asymmetrical, we will practice these stances on each leg before moving on to the next element. A good way to regulate the time spent in each posture is the same one we have used for previous exercises by counting our breaths in each posture and gradually increasing the number of breaths we spend in each posture. You can go through several full cycles of postures for each element in a session until the time you are able to spend in each posture starts to make this prohibitive.
Make sure not to strain into the postures, but relax into them gradually. Don’t be concerned if you need to practice the postures in quite a high stance to begin with. You will gain more benefit by gently working with your body’s limits than by straining them.
Finish your session with your usual cooldown.