Lately, I’ve been more and more interested in the elemental stuff of our universe. By that I mean the five elements that constitute nature: air, water, earth, fire and ether. Maybe it’s because my fiancé is really into astrology. He’s always talking about how much water I have in my chart, which is why I tend toward deep sensitivity and emotions. We often speculate about why our friends and family are the way they are. Does it have to do with dominant elements in their charts?
All this elemental talk got me to thinking about my yoga practice. I know the ancient yogis were intrinsically connected to nature. And I know the tradition of yoga, which evolved from this connection, has the ability to take each and every one of us into a deeper connection to the five elements through our personal sadhana.
(First, learn how to Savor Your Sadhana: A Guide to Creating Your Daily Spiritual Practice.)
So, here I’d like to talk about how we can better understand ourselves and the natural world around us through yoga and the five elements.
The Five Elements of Nature (and Ourselves)
Both astrology and Ayurveda teach us that our bodies, minds and spirits are comprised of the five elements. Some are more dominant than others, but nonetheless, we all have earth, water, fire, air and ether within. Bringing each element into our yoga practice in a conscientious way can help balance our bodies, minds and spirits in profound ways.
As you can probably imagine, the earth element has a deeply stabilizing and grounding effect. Whenever you feel ungrounded, intentionally practice earthy yoga postures. Can you guess which ones they might be? If tree pose (vrksasana), mountain pose (tadasana), and all the warrior poses come to mind, then you’ve guessed right. All these poses have deeply grounding and stabilizing qualities that unite us with those same qualities of the earth element. They can help us feel safe, secure and more confident in ourselves, and our place in the world.
For some of us, we need to intentionally call in the fire element to our practice because we tend to move through life in an overly passive way. Sure, there are times to hold back, but sometimes we need to conjure up the fire within ourselves in order to conquer difficult situations or challenges in ways we wouldn’t otherwise do.
Integrating the fire element into our sadhana helps us step into our personal power. We can do this by working up a sweat through Sun Salutations and vigorous vinyasa sequences. We can also practice postures that work our core. Boat pose (navasana), plank pose, and arm balances like crow pose (kakasana) and handstand engages our core muscles while stoking our own inner fires.
(In addition to asana, try these 5 Ayurvedic Recipes to Stoke Your Inner Fire.)
Fluid, flowing water represents flexibility and our ability to surrender to the ebb and flow of our lives. Water is a healing force of nature that soothes the soul and cleanses the psyche. Consciously connecting to water in our yoga practice means moving the body through a gentle and fluid flow of postures. Bringing this element into your routine supports creative expression and emotional release. Think cat-cow pose, mermaid pose and circular, fluid movements.
Bringing the air element into our yoga practice can help support our own inner expansive nature. It also helps us move freely, while purifying the inner body. Naturally linked to our breath and our lungs, the air element also fans the fuel of our inner fires when we need to cool off a bit.
To invite this element into your practice, try postures that open up the chest and lungs. Cobra pose, upward-facing dog pose, bow pose, locust pose and all backbends support this opening. Reversing the flow of blood is another way to purify the inner body and invoke our connection to air. Try inversions like shoulder stand pose, plow pose and headstand, and, of course, try to incorporate a pranayama practice or two as well.
While this natural element may be less well known, it’s just as important in its own subtle way. Ether, which can also be referred to as space, marks the place where all the elements begin. It can be likened to the shiva energy that holds space for everything, and it’s within each and every one of us. This element is deeply connected to our inner wisdom, intuition and stillness. It helps us hold space for all that life brings — be it painful, pleasurable and all shades in between.
Reconnect With Mother Earth
As you can see, our yoga practice can deepen our connection to the natural world in wonderful ways. Whenever you’re feeling disconnected from Mother Earth’s healing powers, try bringing in the natural elements you feel disconnected from into your yoga practice. Pay attention to how much better you feel. Nature is deeply healing, and so are you!