Elements of Yoga
In yoga, the elements of earth, water, fire, air and space (or ether) are the building blocks of nature. They represent the qualities of our physical and non-physical (like your mind and your emotions) self. I’m talking about them here as separate qualities, but we’re a blend of them all together.
The delicate balance between the elements affects your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. When the elements are in harmony, you feel like your best self. When you’re feeling off centre, you can use yoga to encourage the balance back.
The elements are related to particular areas of your body, starting with the most solid at the base becoming more subtle as you move up.
Earth - Prithvi
Located the base of your spine and associated with the colour red.
Earth is related to your bones, skin and muscles, so it’s nourished by any practice that focuses on an awareness of where you are touching the ground. The element of the earth is about your sense of physical balance and support, so any standing postures or yoga for your feet will help to bring it into balance. Earth has a practical, cool and heavy quality to it. It is the element of being grounded. Choose earth element postures if you feel that you’re spiralling into over thinking to help you ‘get your feet back on the ground’. When you feel supported, your nervous system relaxes and your become quieter inside. Try forest bathing to enrich the earth element. Simply spend time with a group of trees, breathe deep and soak up the experience.
Water - Jal
Located in the lower abdomen (between your navel and your pubic bone) and in your lower back. It’s associated with the colour orange.
Water is related to the fluids in your body – saliva, blood, lymph, bladder, kidneys and it’s nourished by any practice that releases or opens your hips. To get an idea of the quality of water, consider how it can flow freely and smoothly or become sludgy and stagnant. I like to think of a sense of ‘juiciness’ as the quality of water in your body. You need to drink the right amount of fluid to allow your tissues to be plump and for your connective tissue to slide and glide easily. You also need to move regularly in the right way to pump the fluid around all your cells. Cells that don’t move don’t get nourished.
Smooth, slow flowing yoga postures enrich the element of water. Try a slow rhythmic walking meditation in time with your breathing, or find naturally flowing water in a stream, river or the sea, close your eyes, and listen to experience the quality of water.
Fire - Agni
Located at your solar plexus in the centre of your abdomen and associated with the colour yellow.
Fire is related to any sense of processing either physically, mentally or emotionally. A strong fire element gives you confidence, a sense of discipline and inner strength. A healthy digestion depends on a balanced fire element. Too much fire and it runs too fast to nourish you; too little and it’s slow, stuck and sluggish. Fire helps you to process your experiences, so you can learn from them, then let them go. The fire element is warming and boosts your circulation, but too much spills over into bouts of anger and inflammation.
Yoga postures that build strength and stamina like sun salutations, plank or balancing cat stoke your fire energy. Try gazing softly at a candle or sense the warmth from the flame to connect with the element of fire.
Air - Vayu
Located at the centre of your chest – called your heart centre or heart space in yoga – and associated with the colour green.
Air is related to a feeling of lightness and levity, being light-hearted. In your body you experience air as the flow of your blood, the mobility of your body and the movement of your breath and your thoughts. A lack of air element can lead to anxiety, indecision and a sense of overwhelm.
Nourish the air element with yoga postures that gently release the heart space at the centre of your chest and deepen your breathing like head of a cow or simply lying on your back with your arms soft and wide overhead. All breathing practices (pranayama) nurture the air element. Move outside and feel the touch of a gentle breeze and listen to it ruffle the leaves to experience the element of air.
Space (or ether) - Akasha
We reach the last and most subtle of the elements. Akasha is difficult to translate, something like emptiness or cavity. I think of it as space, but it’s also known as ether.
Located at the centre of your throat, but also connected with eyes, head and space around the outside of your body, the element of space is associated with the colour blue.
Space is related to a sense of spaciousness, integrity, openness, the spaces within your cells and a sense of curiosity. This element is about singing and communication – both speaking and being heard. I like to sit with open, relaxed hands with palms turned up so that my empty hands are making a space to receive something fresh and new. The element of space contains and holds all the other elements.
Nourish the element of space with yoga postures that are expansive like squatting goddess pose, or that work with your throat, for example, plough or any posture where you’re turning your head or humming bee breath (brahmari).
I’ve suggested some yoga practices that can balance specific elements, but in reality, it’s like the song. It's not what you do but the way that you do it that counts.
You could practice warrior I:
• With a sense of weight sinking into your heavy feet to enrich your earth element
• Smoothly flowing in and out of the posture to build your water element
• Bend your knees a little more to stoke your fire element
• Expand your arms and focus on your breath to nurture the quality of air
• Close your eyes and bring a sense of inner awareness to expand the element of space.
Have fun playing with a different focus and experience how the qualities of your practice change.