“Earth my body
Water my blood
Air my breath
Fire my spirit”
~Native American prayer
Growing up in northern California — one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world — has been an immeasurable blessing in my life. One of my earliest childhood memories from this place is from when I was about four years old. I remember being in Point Reyes, West Marin, walking over sand dunes with my mother. As we came to the top of the biggest dune, the majestic, vast blue of the ocean emerged on the horizon. Overwhelmed by the epic and powerful expanse of the water, I recall throwing my little arms open as I passionately and loudly exclaimed: “THE PACIFIC OCEAN! Just what I want!” While it will always be a sweet story within my family circle, on a deeper level I feel it embodies the real magic and power of nature that is humbling, shocking and inspiring, if we slow down and take the time to really look.
The ancestors of our past certainly lived this spirit of interdependence with the elements, animals, plants and the greater rhythm and flow of life. But, today, so many people have become disconnected from nature. How did we get here?
Ancient spiritual systems such as Buddhism and Hinduism teach us that the root of human suffering is a sense of separation from God (or Goddess, Source, Nature, the Universe, Spirit, etc.). As human society has grown more technologically advanced over time, we have also grown farther away from this nurturing connection to the earth and her elements. So many people are on autopilot walking through life, disembodied, ungrounded and suffering.
(Feeling ungrounded? Try Getting Grounded: What It Means and How to Get It.)
Luckily for us, it’s not too late to come back to right relationship with the earth. By looking to indigenous cultures, as well as holistic earth-based healing traditions such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, we can see how humans can still live in a way that honors the earth and her wisdom.
Let’s take a look at how understanding the qualities of each of nature’s elements — earth, water, fire and air — can help us create more balance in our lives.
Just like an old, tall tree, the element of earth is stabilizing, grounding, fertile, steady, nourishing and feminine, or yin. The earth element anchors us into our connection with our physical bodies. What can we learn from a Redwood tree? To be still. To be present. To take up space and allow yourself to be seen in your beauty. To provide a cool, safe space for others to find sanctuary and rest.
A wonderful practice for connecting to the earth element is the practice of grounding, or walking barefoot on the earth. Spend some time outdoors and find a peaceful space with land such as grass, soil or soft smooth rock. Kick those shoes off and feel your feet connected to the earth. Feel as if with each step you are massaging Mother Earth with your feet, simultaneously offering her love and appreciation while receiving this nourishing, stabilizing energy up into your body. Walk in this way any time for as long as you’d like to receive some grounding and healing earth energy.
(You can also Get Grounded This Earth Day and Try 'Earthing'.)
Next time you find yourself near a river, notice the way that water flows around the rocks. Moving in a sensual, fluid stream, water finds her way around obstacles. She changes. An ocean can be peaceful and still in one moment and then tempestuous and powerful the next.
The water element is healing, cleansing, life-giving, shape-shifting and also holds the yin quality. Water connects us to our emotional body, that part within us that is always shifting from moment-to-moment. We grew inside of our mother’s watery womb space and our bodies are largely made up of water; we can’t live without it.
To feel your sacred connection to the water element, make space in your day to take a relaxing, warm bath. As you rest, submerged in the water, close your eyes and feel yourself held in this safe, nurturing space. Completely relax your body and allow yourself to be held by the water element. Imagine the healing water washing away any tension, fear, resistance or negativity from your emotional body. Emerge with a sense of rejuvenation, cleansing and rebirth.
The fire element is life-force energy in action. The sun’s warmth is the reason that life can survive and thrive here on Earth. Fire’s blazing heat radiates, transforms, cleanses, destroys and creates.
Associated with yang, vitality, strength and creativity, fire symbolizes the passion of the soul, and animates our spiritual body. In relation to the other elements, fire is both vulnerable and all consuming, as it depends on the other elements to exist. Because of its immense power to give and take life, the fire element commands respect.
A beautiful way to honor the fire element is to spend time under the sun, receiving the warm radiance into your heart. You can also stoke your inner fire through vigorous exercise, or hot and sweaty dancing. Have fun!
Take a moment to pause wherever you are right now. Can you feel the sensation of the air on your skin? Notice the temperature, the electricity in the air as it passes over your body. The air element is pervasive. It subtly impacts all that it touches and, therefore, shows us our connection to all that is.
Air breathes life into our being. This element rules the mental body, and teaches us to flow with change, to be open and to expand our consciousness. It is known to hold more yang, or masculine energy.
To experience the expansive power of air, rest on your back in savasana. Draw in a deep, full breath, allowing it to expand the belly, ribs and chest. See if you can hold the breath at the top of the inhale for a few moments. Exhale slowly and completely and then rest in the emptiness at the bottom of the exhalation. Feel the sensations of the air flowing in and out of your body, this continuous dance between life and death, fullness and emptiness. Enjoy this simple practice anytime you’d like to feel more alive and connected to the space around you.
Make the Connection
The wisdom of Mother Nature is all around us. Each flower, stone, sunbeam and rainstorm all hold medicine for us to learn how to be more present and embodied in our lives. Are you paying attention?
Life is too short to live in any other way than in awe and reverence of the magic around us. Take a deep breath, feel your feet on the ground, connect to the fire in your heart and allow it all to inspire gratitude for the simple beauty of this moment. You are alive!
(Continue reading in Give Thanks, Get Gratitude: 3 Reasons We're Thankful for This Mindfulness Practice.)