Find your element
The subtle qualities of earth, water, fire, air and ether in yoga practice. By Lauren Bloxham
An empowered practice is one where we’ve recalled our senses and trust ourselves to move creatively and in response to our deepest needs. It’s an intelligent and compassionate space to occupy and one where the multi-dimensional experience of being can be fully explored.
In exploring this space, we open ourselves up to the experience of movement, we become open to the qualities that movement brings, the elemental nature of our bodies and the way we connect to and cultivate that nature in order to serve and nourish our vitality, our prana.
Just as yoga provides us with the structure within which to move our bodies, the natural world can provide us with the structure and language within which we can experience it and learn to draw those qualities into our practice.
The earth under our feet provides the foundation upon which we build our practice. Drawing on earth we build strength and stability into the foundations of our being. We feel grounded and rooted. The qualities of earth help to stabilise and strengthen us in standing postures and balances. Earth provides us with a safe space in which to feel supported. Letting go of the weight of the body in seated and laying postures, it’s earth that we’re drawing in as we surrender and soften the muscles and joints.
Earth can help us to feel safe, grounded and connected. When the light of our awareness is drawn to the connections of our body with earth, within asana we can ground and stabilise our bodies more efficiently. Earth becomes an anchor for awareness if we’re feeling unbalanced, or our day has been stressful.
Water ebbs and flows, and so shows us how to trust the ebbs and flows within us. We become responsive to the natural fluctuations of thought, energy and emotion, responding with compassion and drawing nourishment from the experience.
Within our bodies we can experience resistance in asana…over extension, breath holding, and force all go against the natural rhythm and flow within us, which is as unique to us as our fingerprint or our breath. It’s sometimes much easier to accept the weather in all its changeable forms than it is to accept ourselves in all our changeable forms, but when we do, we can adapt our practice accordingly.
Water can encourage us to soften and flow, to allow and say yes to all that is arising, it moves us away from a fixed mindset and towards a more intuitive way of moving.
Fire shows up in our determination and will power. The transformative qualities of fire turn our challenges into assets.
There’s warmth and radiance in fire, which when we apply to challenging asana or flows, or challenging situations, allows us to stay present for them. Fire gives us staying power, it’s this consistency of presence that will eventually transform any situation we find ourselves in, on or off the mat.
Fire brings heat and heat is expansive, in warming the body; working through sun salutations we allow our blood to flow, our lymphatic systems to work efficiently and our prana to radiate expansively around the whole body.
Air is in our breath, breath awareness and all the nourishment it brings. Movements of our upper chest create space in which air can flow. Although air is less tangible than the other elements, it becomes powerful as a way of moving us; think about how wind can be cooling, destructive, still, stifling, can feed fire or put it out – there’s incredible power in the air element and connecting to our breath and the way we allow the breath to move can have a powerful effect on all the systems of the body.
Breath awareness meditation can powerfully alter and balance our experiences. In just a few moments we can move from anxiety to calm, or from stress to ease simply by becoming aware of the way the breath moves in the belly or at the nostrils or anywhere else we notice it.
And ether, or space, is in all that gives rise to matter. It’s the infinitely expansive space beyond our physical bodies in which we can grow into physically during asana practice, or that can be experienced in meditation practice. In recognising the qualities of this holding element, we can experience all thoughts, emotions and physicality objectively; their changes and fluctuations can become less alarming or derailing to our balance.
The qualities of ether are the most subtle of all, but ultimately this element is the element which holds all the others in balance. Just as we practice asana or breath awareness with curiosity, so we can practice awareness of the fluctuations of the mind with curiosity, and from a place of spaciousness.
As the Yoga Sutras teach us: “Yoga is the stilling of the mind into silence.” And it’s the deep spaciousness of ether which, when cultivated, enables us to hold all things in balance and brings wisdom to our perspective. It’s here where our experiences become something to be interested in and to explore rather than to be judgmental of, feared, ashamed of or ignored. The strength of ether, whilst subtle, is what holds us all.
Next time you come to your yoga practice, begin to explore the subtle body, noticing the qualities of the elements within movement and stillness; learn to recognise and trust these qualities as the great teachers within.
Lauren Bloxham is a registered yoga teacher with the British Wheel of Yoga. She is a mother of two and also specialises in pregnancy yoga and birth preparation. Visit: blackdogliving.com
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.