As with so many things in life, yoga is a constant dance of where we can find balance, where we can listen, where we can respond and find a path through the middle that feels neither overworking nor underworking.
If we can get attuned in this way with a sense of play, then our body follows in energy, mood and health. We can find a sense of freedom, gracefully moving but also with a sense of containment, a sense of knowing ourselves and our boundaries.
This might sound a bit abstract, but it is one of those states we simply know when we get there, like feeling the sun on our face on a beautiful morning!
Fluidity is a very redolent word. It gives us a sense of moving like water, like something that trickles, that has a free flow in a direction that it will simply find itself.
It doesn’t need to be pushed or forced, but has a sense of inevitably continuing to travel. It’s not brittle, staccato or jerky, but has a smoothness and an ease.
Fluidity is a term we often use in yoga teaching just to free up people’s mind and attitude around the way they move, particularly if moving from one pose to another with smooth transitions. That sense of water flow isn’t necessarily about a specific type of yoga, but much more about our relationship with how we move through the space around us and how we find ourselves moving from one place to another. It’s about how we can find the path of least resistance in the way that our body organises itself with the most ease and grace.
So fluidity is often viewed as the positive, with the rigidity as a rather negative, hard-held, less graceful connotation; it’s really important to note how we need things in continual balance. For instance, in every cell in your body, you need fluidity in your cell membranes, you need them to be receptive, responsive, to be able to pick up signals through receptor sites, to not be brittle, to be well hydrated, but we also need a sense of containment for them to function fully. They need to contain the contents of the cells and have a very distinct shape apart from other cells around them.
This lovely balance between fluidity and rigidity can also be seen as Yin-Yang principles where the analogy of the river flowing is the fluidity, and the more Yin – feminine energy. However, a river must have banks to contain it, otherwise it’s just flooding out with no shape and a loss of cohesion. So, the banks of the river are often seen as a Yang, containment, more male holding energy, and it’s really important to note within these principles that the Yin and the Yang are always continuing, following each other.
In these principles, when Yin reaches a highpoint, we pass over to Yang. Too much Yang and we move over to Yin – hence the two black and white polarities are shown in a continual circle of change in the well-known Yin-Yang symbol. Applying that to our yoga practice, we are continually finding, playing with that balance of enough movement and freedom but with that sense of holding, that sense of noticing the edges of our range of motion.
So, take a pose like downwards-facing dog for instance, one that we might do over and over again. Even if you have done this pose a thousand times, each time we come to this it’s completely new, feels subtly or markedly different and depends on what came before it. You’re in a different place even if you’re doing it on the same mat within the same practice. Your hand and foot position will never be the same as another time. It’s another time in space and it also depends on what you were doing beforehand. If it comes to a more resting place after something stronger, then it might have a bit more of containment about it, coming to something where you can drop into stillness as recovery. If it’s coming after something softer where you’re building up energy, it might need to have a fluidity in it to start to move tissues to get some hydration and pliability into muscle, fascia and skin.
This constant interplay and noticing where we move, where we’re still, where we’re contained, where we’re exploring out to the edges means that our practice can be alive, creative, continually changing, have a sense of play and be ultimately interesting and fascinating for us. It’s not just going through the motions and it’s definitely not a sense of one thing is the right way and another wrong. Yoga is a constant inner dialogue, it’s not that we need to decide if a more static or more flow practice is good or bad, we can recognise how we need both.
If you really pay attention tuning in, turning into what your body needs at any given time, you’ll feel that you can start to really let your practice evolve and play in the moment. Again, for instance, in downwards-facing dog, sometimes we need more of a strength back from the tops to the thighs to feel a held lengthening the spine and sometimes we need to roll through the hips and through the shoulders.
Finally, let’s be clear that words are only labels, I’ve just picked fluidity and rigidity as examples of dualistic language – opposites like black and white. In reality we are looking to move away from such judgments, and instead to play with them. They can help us notice how we feel in each moment and open up into the sense that everything is just continually finding its own balance.