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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Connecting with the Five Elements: Yoga Asanas for Balance, Strength, Safety and Self-Compassion

Oct 01, 2020 09:30AM ● By Sheila Ewers
Both yoga and its sister science, Ayurveda, view the physical universe as a composition of five primary elements: earth, water, fire, air and space. These elements compose the world outside of ourselves and within our own bodies. They represent expressions of energy that move from dense to subtle. Yogis believe that our ability to keep them in balance can preserve our health and well-being — physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The sequence below is helpful to sense and balance all five elements through traditional yoga asana.

Earth


The earth element relates to the framework of the body itself and can be experienced most fully in the density of bones as they get moved by muscles and placed in various shapes. We often begin a yoga practice connecting to the earth element to build awareness in the body and come home to ourselves. The energy of the earth element helps us experience stability, grounding and a sense of belonging. It dominates muludhara chakra, the root energy of the body, and, when it is in balance, it promotes feelings of safety and support. We can experience the earth element in yoga asanas that shift our awareness downward and emphasize stillness at the root of the body.

Asana: Thunderbolt Pose

Kneel on the floor with your lower legs folded beneath you and your hands resting gently on your thighs. Keep your big toes and knees close together. Use the support of a block beneath the buttocks or blanket beneath the heels to relieve any tension. Elongate your spine, reaching through the crown of your head. Close your eyes or keep the gaze softly focused on the floor in front of you as you direct your awareness to your breath. Visualize the breath moving through the steady container of the outer body as you practice sama vritti, or balanced breathing, by inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of four.

Water


The water element dominates the sacral chakra and encompasses the entire hip and pelvic region, along with the organs of reproduction and elimination housed therein. Energetically, water connects to emotions, creativity, fluidity and pleasure. When in balance, the water element allows us to move with grace and flow with the inevitable waves of pleasure and pain that roll through our lives. In yoga asana, we experience the water element through movement and flexibility and practice linking breath to movement.

Breath: Victorious Breath
As you breathe in and out through the nose, gently constrict the back of your throat to narrow the glottis, creating a vibration in the throat. The friction will sound like the rhythmic waves of the ocean. Keep the breath long, smooth and effortless as you begin to initiate movement while maintaining the breathing.

 

Asana: Cat/Cow Pose
From Thunderbolt, transition to hands and knees. Linking breath to movement, inhale and create an anterior tilt in the pelvis. Slowly extend the spine and feel the movement roll through until the chest and head are lifted and forward for Cow Pose. Then exhale as you create a posterior tilt in the pelvis and roll the spine into flexion for a Cat tuck. Continue moving with the breath for four to five rounds until the movement feels fluid and the spine feels supple.

Fire


The element of fire is hot, stimulating and invigorating. It connects most fully to the solar plexus chakra, and when it is in balance, it promotes will-power, discipline, commitment and strength. The fire element is enhanced when we practice yoga regularly and challenge ourselves to achieve greater stamina, work towards more challenging asana, or hold shapes for longer stretches of time. With consistent practice, the fire element purifies the body, tames the fluctuations of the mind, and harnesses attention into single-pointed concentration.

Asana: Mountain Pose
Transition from hands and knees to standing upright in Mountain Pose at the front of your mat. Then warm your body with three to five rounds of Sun Salutations as you continue to link breath and movement.

 

Asana: Plank Pose
From Mountain Pose, fold forward and bring your hands to your mat directly beneath your shoulders. Step one foot at a time towards the back of your mat until your body forms one long straight line. Wrap your abdominal muscles towards the center of your body and isometrically lift through the inner thighs, squeezing everything toward the midline of the body. Reach through the crown of the head and the heels and hold for at least five breaths, then drop your knees to the floor and rest.

 

Asana: Dolphin Pose
Come on to all fours, aligning shoulders over hands and hips over knees. Keeping your arms parallel and shoulder-width apart, slowly lower your forearms to the ground. Press your palms and forearms firmly into the mat. Curl your toes under, then begin to lift your hips toward the sky. Keep your knees bent slightly at first to lengthen your spine; then engage your core and extend your legs. Continue pressing the forearms down and firm your shoulder blades against your back. Gaze slightly forward and down between your arms. Hold for at least five breaths. Then lower your knees to the floor and rest.

Optional Challenge: Feathered Peacock Pose
From Dolphin Pose, walk your feet towards your elbows until your hips are above your shoulders. Lift one leg towards the ceiling as you continue to press down through your forearms and engage your abdominal muscles. Bend the knee of the leg that remains on the floor, then exhale and kick up through both legs, straightening as much as possible. Keep pressing down into the forearms as you wrap the abdominal muscles towards the center of the body and reach through both legs. Hold as long as you feel safe, then return to Dolphin Pose and lower your knees to the mat to rest.

Air

The air element connects us to lightness, movement and adaptability. In the body, it expresses through the breath and the circulation of prana, or energy. On a more subtle level, the air element reflects the discriminating faculty of the mind that allows us to practice non-judgmental awareness and see the connection among all beings. In asana practice, the element of air relates to the energy of the heart and can be heightened in shapes, such as balancing poses, that demand effortless concentration, softly focused awareness and self-compassion.

Asana: Mountain Pose
Once you feel rested from Dolphin Pose, return to standing in Mountain Pose at the front of your mat.

 

Asana: Open Tree Pose
Root your right foot into the mat as you flex your left hip and float your left knee forward, then open the left knee wide, abducting to the left. Keep the foot floating as you point the left toes and balance on your right leg. Lift your right arm softly overhead with the palm facing inward, and float your left arm out by your side with your palm facing up. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged for stability and focus your gaze on an unmoving point ahead of you. 

Space


The final and most subtle element is space. In yoga and Ayurveda, the element of space is primordial. It is that from which all other elements emerge, and it connects to consciousness, the sound of OM and the intelligence of the Universe or Divine. It is more subtle than form, but enlivens form with wisdom. Connecting to the element of space in our yoga practice brings us into connection with the crown chakra, which is often perceived in meditation or stillness.

Asana: Corpse Pose
When you have completed Open Tree Pose on both sides, lie down on your mat in a supine position. With or without props to support your body, make space by widening your legs and moving your arms slightly away from your body. Lengthen the back of your neck. Scan your body to soften any muscles that are still engaged. Part your lips slightly to unhinge your jaw and relax the tongue in your mouth. Release any technique or pattern in the breath so that the breath is soft, smooth and effortless. Then simply observe your inhalation and exhalation. If thoughts move through the mind, return awareness to your breath. Stay for five to 10 minutes and emerge by slowly returning to a seated position.


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In every yoga practice, regardless of the poses we choose, we have the opportunity to connect with all five elements and to harmonize them within our bodies, moving our awareness from the density of earth to the infinite possibility of space. In so doing, we are reminded of the many dimensions of our own human form and possibility as well as our connection to everything in the Universe that derives from the same elements.

Sheila Ewers, ERYT500, YACEP, owns Blue Lotus Yoga in Johns Creek. A former professor of writing and literature, she leads group and private lessons, yoga philosophy workshops, yoga teacher training and retreats. Contact Sheila at [email protected]


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