Focus of the Month: April 2019

Water is Life

written by Bradley Spiegel

“I, with all my abilities, potentials and talents both physical and spiritual, am unique in the universe. Amongst all those alive today there is no other me.

In past generations too there was no other me,
and until the end of time there will be no other me.
And if so, the Master of the Universe must certainly have sent me here on a special mission that could be fulfilled by no one else but me-
With all my uniqueness.” –Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe

In order to embrace our innate uniqueness, it helps to ponder life from different perspectives. As a droplet of sweat flowed down my arm in utthita trikonasana (triangle pose), I remembered that water is life. Just as a sponge cannot absorb more water when it is saturated, the human mind cannot absorb divine wisdom and creativity when it is drowning in complaining, comparing or criticizing. Sometimes the waters of the body and mind become polluted, but thankfully, our yoga practice can flush us out. Sweating for me has become a sacred practice where I offer that water back to the Earth to be cleansed. Leonardo DaVinci said that “water is the driving force of all nature,” and scholars say that our bodies are around 70% water. We are literally conscious water flowing about a water planet. How can we coexist and live in harmony with our watery reality? As a graduate student in urban water planning at University of New Orleans, I’ve come to realize that the natural flow of the waters within the body can be a teacher for us living in New Orleans to embrace the water that is life in our unique eco-system.

Just as the human body yearns to be hydrated to optimize functionality of the interconnected systems, the alluvial soil of the Mississippi River deltaic eco-system yearns to be saturated like a sponge. Each inhale bathes the heart allowing it to pump blood out to the periphery through the arteries and back to the heart through the veins upon each exhale. These passageways are the rivers and tributaries of the human body, and the stream of consciousness necessitates hydration because water is life.

Unlike the effortless harmony that occurs in our flowing water temples each second, humans of our region have managed to sever a link in our eco-system by building pumping stations that convey every single drop of water out, instead of allowing it to soak into the soil. Thankfully, in 2013, the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan entitled “Living with Water” unveiled a transformative vision for what it would be like to live in harmony with our eco-system because ultimately, water is life in New Orleans. Each of us can contribute to the green infrastructure revolution by volunteering with organizations, such as SOUL NOLA (Sustaining Our Urban Landscape) who are reforesting the city by planting native trees. The roots of trees absorb the water, which nourishes the soil and saturates the sponge. Also, a percentage of all Swan River Yoga classes benefits the Mississippi River Delta Conservation Project, thus, we are helping just by attending yoga classes at Swan River! Planners and designers realized that in order to sustain society in a deltaic eco-system, it is imperative to mimic the natural flow of water on its journey from the river to the rising sea.

Just as a fish cannot perceive what’s beyond the surface of the water, what is it that humans cannot perceive beyond the celestial water vapor of our atmosphere? An invitation for April, the month of Earth Day, is to ponder the impermanent shapes of water within our bodies and in our surrounding environment. Savor the droplets of spring by celebrating the waters that shape our deltaic eco-system and Keep New Orleans afloat. When the mind becomes agitated by complaining, comparing or criticizing, take yourself on a walk, run or sit by the river, bayou, lake or swamp. Or, if your body is craving a full flush-out, nourish yourself in a sauna or steam room to release and sweat out what no longer serves you. On the yoga mat, the invitation is to “dance with the waters, move with the sea and let the rhythm of the water set your soul free” (Christy Ann Martine). The yoga practice can be a powerful tool to embrace, purify and harmonize with the conscious water within.

Krishnamacharya said, “It is important to remember that vinyasa is not just any sequence of actions; it is one that awakens and sustains consciousness.” Vinyasa, the fluid nature of a Swan River open class, is designed to mimic the ebbs and flows of waves. By mimicking water’s tendencies to be gentle, chaotic and still in our yoga practice, we can refine our ability to surrender to the current of our unique co-existence. Hatha Yoga teachings state that in order to optimize our vinyasa flow practice and truly flush ourselves out, we should embrace these qualities: ujai breath, drishti, bandhas and tapas. By synchronizing our breath, gaze, pelvic floor and will power while flowing from pose to pose, we detach from the thinking mind, awaken consciousness, and become inundated by jivamukti, soul liberation. Upon merging with the omnipresent truth of who we really are, we remember that water is life and our sole task is to float on.

“Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love, it humbles my heart for you are everywhere”
—The Shape of Water

Teacher Tools:

-Emphasize the synchronization of breath, gaze, pelvic floor and will power through the whole practice to guide the mind back to the present moment (ujai, drishti, bandhas, tapas)
-Intention setting to direct awareness to the now
-Practicing presence by allowing the vinyasa to be a form of movement meditation
-Offer a mantra to be recited for each inhale and exhale during the flow part of class, for example: Let-Go, Sat-Nam, Sri-Ram, Om-Ma, Om-Gom, Kal-Li, Dur-ga, Shi-va
-Equating the yoga practice to a tool to flush out the body and mind allowing divine wisdom to flow in
-Practice long holds in hip openers to activate the svadistana chakra related to the water element, creativity, sexuality, the planet Neptune and the reproductive glands
-Practice raja kaptotasana
-Embrace creative sequencing that highly emphasizes breath linked to movement
-Incorporate water sounds in shivasana, or songs with or about water in the flow
-Dharmas talks about magical experiences you’ve had with water
-Prescription for the complaining, comparing and criticizing mind, compassion, compassion, compassion
-Meditate on the all the liquids and water within body
-Breath like waves
-Elements of water: adaptability, fluidity, purity, solid liquid or gas, creative, sustaining, destructive, soothing, calming, peaceful, healing powers
-Read passages from Hidden Messages from Water
-“The Ocean Refuses No River” –Sufi Chant
-“There is no path to truth. Truth must be discovered, but there is
no formula for its discovery… You must set out on the uncharted sea,
and the uncharted sea is yourself.” –KRISHNAMURTI
-“Let the waters settle, and you will see the stars and moon reflected in your own being” –Rumi
-According to legend, Master Patanjali fell into his mother’s hands as she made a water offering to the divine
-Ananta, Lord Vishnu’s serpent, rests on the cosmic waters of infinity in between cycles of creation
-Yoga Sutra 2.47: “It (yoga) is realized by relaxing one’s efforts and resting like the cosmic serpent on the waters of infinity.” Translation: Barbara Stoler Miller
-Bhagavad Gita 7.7 and 7.8:
“Nothing is higher than I am; Arjuna, all that exists is woven on me like a web of pearls on thread.
I am the taste in water, Arjuna, the light in the moon and sun, OM resonant in all sacred lore,
and the sound in space, valor in men.”
– translation: Barbara Stoler Miller
-Recommend volunteering with SOUL NOLA or Restore the Mississippi River Delta Foundation
-Prescribe walks and meditations by the river, bayou, lake, swamp
-Treat yourself to a sauna or steam room to purify yourself
-Go swim in the ocean or lake

April 2019