One of the fundamental beliefs of Ayurveda is that you are made up of the same things as that sandwich you're eating, and those clothes you're wearing, and the stars in the heavens (that's the part I like). And that would be the Five Great Elements.
According to Ayurveda everything in the universe is made up of these five great elements: Pancha Mahabhutas; space, air, fire, water and earth. Each of these elements offers unique qualities to our experience of living. And together, they are the basis for our connection with everything around us.
We share these same components with the people we love, the food we eat and the environments we live in. Each of the five elements informs and supports everything about our lives — including our practice of yoga.
The Path of the Five Elements
Yoga is a practice that moves from subtle (a thought, feeling or intention) to gross (a movement in the body, or a physical action) and then back to subtle (bliss, freedom, enlightenment). It's this beautiful dance of cause and effect that inhabits our entire consciousness.
The five elements unfold in a similar way, moving from subtle (space and air) to gross (water, earth). They are the constituent parts that come together to create our minds, our bodies, our yoga practice and our experience of living. And they provide a beautiful context for us to expand and enjoy it all.
So to honor our connection with everything around us, and bring us back to ourselves, it's enlightening to explore each of the five elements in our practice of yoga and life.
The container for everything. It is pure possibility and potential. It feels like stillness, freedom, and awareness. Space is both a cause and the result of a blissful yoga practice (and life). It supports and fuels transformation by providing a place for the magic to happen. Creating space requires discipline, but experiencing it is pure freedom.
Creating space in your yoga is a matter of… Being present and aware of what you're holding in, up or onto – whether it is a thought, an emotion, or any form of tension — and allowing yourself to let it go.
Movement, expansion and lightness. The breath in and out of the body, the opening and contraction of the muscles and the mind. The element of air gives us rhythm, grace, mobility and a sensation of mental and physical openness. Air fuels the body and stokes the fire of inspiration.
Infusing air into your yoga comes from… An awareness of the breath. Pranayama or breath control is a great way to open and tap into the subtle channels of the body — clearing the way for ideas, inspiration, energy and love to flow. As you move through life and your practice, notice how the breath feeds the body and mind. Breathe into the expansion and contraction of the muscles, joints, and connective and supportive tissues to create the sensation of lightness and openness.
Discipline, transformation, inspiration. The fire in our practice is experienced as intensity and abundance. The heat and energy created is the result of the action, dedication and focus put into the practice. Ultimately, our fire delivers purification. It creates insight that allows us to see and engage with what's important and burn the rest.
Lighting the fire in your yoga is about…Two words: engaging bandhas. Oh, and three more words: moving from center. Fire lives in the belly (surprise!) — our center of power, intuition and freedom. The use of our core muscles connects us to the spark at the center of who we are, and engaging the bandhas helps us keep the fire burning.
Fluidity, connection, adaptability. It shows up in our ability to consciously hold on and at the same time, let go. It fuels our practice with compassion and resilience that return to us as fluid movement, supple muscles, steady joints, agile minds.
Bringing the water to your yoga means…Cultivating a softness in your practice (particularly in the joints), and nurturing a physical, mental and emotional sensitivity that favors response rather than reaction. It also means moving fluidly through your practice, synchronizing movement with breath, opening, feeling and yielding in a way that is powerful and sustaining. Or, in the immortal words of Bruce Lee “Be[!ing!] like water.”
Earth is home. It is structure, cohesion, and foundation. It's the centered, grounded, and authentic, expression of you and everything around you. Earth is the sensation that we want to return to, the physical stillness that creates mental and emotional stillness, and vice versa.
Cultivating the earth in your practice is about…Establishing your foundation (feet, hands, sit bones). It’s about maintaining an awareness of how the state and position of these physical landmarks contribute to your overall experience of stability and ease (sthira and sukham). And remembering that every pose right through to Savasana is an opportunity to return home.
What's YOUR experience of the five elements in your yoga and your life? Are you and your yoga practice fiery, airy fairy, grounded, spacey, or fluid as water?