Incorporating the Five Elements in Our Yoga Practices
by Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen
I recalled the time when I was introduced to the Five Elements in the yogic context; it is so basic and simple yet it plays a very important role in our day to day living. The logic behind the Five Elements is truly mind-blowing and that is why I incorporate them in every yoga session I do.
Ayurveda is always said to be based on the concept of Five Elements; these elements are namely water, fire, air, earth and space or ether. Let’s look at the significance of each element, their interrelationship with each other and how they assist in balancing the body and mind:
Heavy, hard, immobile, and stable solids are some of the qualities of earth. They are related to our dense components like bones, muscles, joints, fat tissues, tendons and ligaments. Constant travelling or fast-paced lifestyle, especially now when studies and extra-curricular activities have become the centre of our lives. Hence, whenever you feel disconnected, disorganised, fatigued or burnt-out, go back and surrender to your earth element. Undoubtedly, this will also balance the vata dosha which governs flow and motion in the body. The easiest way to connect to the earth element is to visualise yourself like a mountain while standing tall. As you are consciously breathing, go deep and release every ache or dis-ease you feel in the body.
Water is known to be fluid, cool, nourishing, refreshing, fulfilling, lubricating and purifying. Circulation, the way nutrients move from one part of the body to the other, and the regulation of hormones, blood and cells depend on water. Water also nourishes the bones, joints and muscles. Connect to the water element anytime you feel stuck or rigid in the body or mind. You could soak yourself in the tub, drink a tall glass of water, go for a swim or practise a slow, fluid yoga movement like Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose).
Fire is known to be hot, sharp, erratic, radiant and fiery; it is often associated with energy, illumination and transformation. In terms of fire in our body, think of it as the heat for digestion. If the water element helps bring nutrients through the body, its fire counterpart helps to assimilate those nutrients. Hence, both these elements are co-dependent on each other. Fire is also the source of concentration or focus for all the desires we seek in life. It offers the power of transformation to digest life experiences. Connect to the fire element by visualising a flame at the navel centre. You may practise Trataka (gazing at a candle flame) to boost your concentration and focus. You may also practise yoga poses like Utkatasana (Chair Pose) which helps create heat in the body.
Air is invisible, so in that sense, it is different from the rest of the elements. The air element can be sensed through its effects on the world; think tornado, hurricane, a light breeze or even a cold wind on your face. As air is light and formless, it is always associated with freedom, positivity and openness. Too much of the air element causes the mind to become restless and overactive. Too little of it causes one to be dull and lethargic. For an overactive mind, it can be quite a challenge to concentrate on studying. Hence, the individual can try visualising themselves as a mountain to bring in some grounding. However, if one feels a tad dull, they could dance and flow with the beat of music. They could also practise the Downward Facing Dog and Plank while breathing deeply.
Space or ETHER
The qualities of ether amongst others are vast, spacious, expansive, subtle and limitless. It is the element that encompasses all the other elements. In relation to the body, think of the space in between the organs such as the stomach, intestines and lungs. Create space in our minds around the limiting and negative thoughts so we can see various perspectives, have different vantage points and see our limitless potential. To connect to the ether elements, I like doing backbends or the Half Moon Pose. The practise of breathing is also appropriate in connecting to the ether element; it opens up the mind for easy grasp of the learning process.
Understanding the elements and their qualities helps a great deal in the balance of body and mind – a vastly important factor particularly for students be it at the primary, secondary or tertiary level. You will feel a sense of empowerment within yourself which goes a long way in creating the life that you seek.
This article was featured in YogaMail Oct-Dec 2019 issue.