Unlock the Truth in Your Natural Elements
Can you picture parts of your anatomy as water or fire or earth? Feel the fluidity of water and vitality of breath? It is an interesting thing to picture the elements of the earth as part of your being, and it gives a rich and juicy metaphor to play with.
Ayurveda and Yoga see the body the same way they see nature, comprised of the same elemental qualities: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether. These natural elements work in a dynamic relationship with each other for our optimal health and vitality.
The Yogic model would even say that each element finds a natural home in a certain part of the body. Ayurveda would see that each cell houses all 5 elements in different combinations to create the specific purpose and vitality of that cell.
The Five Elements
Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether are the 5 elements, and each is said to govern part of our body. Earth at the structure, Ether at the cavities/spaces within the structure. Every element is an innate instrument of balance – creating structure, cohesion, transformation, movement, and space.
Within these roles, there are qualities on a continuum from solid to formless, hot to cold, heavy to light, clear to cloudy, etc. Ayurveda calls these traits Gunas, and each element is ascribed specific qualities or Gunas. In the most basic understanding, we can feel those qualities as heavy and dense at the legs, moving up our body to formless and clear in the head.
We experience these elements in our body and put words to our experience. For some, it can be visceral, for others metaphorical, but when we can describe our experience, our awareness helps regulate them. It feels sometimes like we have too much of something, other times not enough. Being able to connect elements to parts of our body, and understand these sensations helps us uncover the innate balancing principle.
Any time we feel off we are experiencing too much or too little of an element. Here is what nature might be nudging us to counter with to regain balance:
The Truth To Your Natural Elements
Earth governs structure; manifesting in our bones, nails, hair, teeth, skin. It is our container. It is concentrated in our legs.
The Gunas of Earth are Heavy, Dense, Thick, Hard and Stable.
Earth is grounding. When we can plant our feet on the ground and allow our legs to hold us up, we are connected to our earth.
Too much Earth:
You feel stuck and unmoveable, perhaps weighed down. The remedy is to ignite your fire, add bellows of air, create activity. Invite your awareness to rise up your body offering sunshine, fresh air, laughter, light-hearted company. Do something new, devise ways to add warmth, softness, and easy, joyful movement.
Too little Earth:
We feel unstable, ungrounded, and our balance is off. The feeling is cueing you to connect to elements low in your body, to earth and water. Getting into your legs will help. Additionally, allow yourself to slow down, be still, find silence. You can meditate, allow your breath to settle, get enough sleep, have warm baths, and eat nourishing meals.
Water governs cohesion; it is our lymph, plasma, cytoplasm, and saliva. It is thought to govern our pelvis, although the water element is found almost 80% of our biology and is found everywhere.
The Gunas of Water are Cool, Liquid, Dull, Soft, and Cloudy.
Water is fluid and smooth. When our movements are flexible and supple, and we feel fully nourished we are connected to our water.
Too Much Water:
We are all over the place, spilling into too many areas, or drowning. Water can pool in the ankles, calves, the bowl of the pelvis, and fingers and hands when we get too much of it. We may need air to dry us out and/or earth to give us solid ground. Slow down. Find your feet and reach up to fill your lungs. Find a place where you can stand solidly and take a deep breath, not feeling pulled by undercurrents or gasping for air. Often for me, this means saying no to something or someone.
Too Little Water:
We lose our fluidity, become too dense and hard. You feel stuck, unmotivated, and needs a shove to get off the couch. Remedy this with water; hydrate, drink it as water, tea, or broth. Soak in a bath. Find fluidity and motion in a swimming pool or body of water, dance with joy. Nourish your skin with Abhyangha, ayurvedic self-massage, and oil your dry skin. Avoid dry foods and infuse your diet with soups and stews.
Fire governs transformation; digestion, absorption, assimilation, comprehension. It lives in our belly.
The Gunas of Fire are Hot, Sharp, Spreading, Light.
Fire is metabolizing. It digests all that we take in each day, through food and our senses. It generates our energy and highlights our burning life desires. It points us toward what “lights us up”. When we are motivated and energized in our daily life we are connected to our fire.
Too Much Fire:
The fire roars right out of your mouth, biting, and hot-tempered. Phrases like “raging anger,” “tempers flared,” “hot-headed” come to mind. You will need to douse your fire with earth and water. And sometimes ether is necessary. More space can calm a fire – if the container is too small for the fire, allowing it space allows the excess to burn off and go back to its balanced size.
Too Little Fire:
We feel cold, extinguished, smothered, needing a spark and a blast of air to ignite the flame again. Have you heard the phrase “someone needs to light a fire under her ass?” Kindle that fire with the bellows of air and the curiosity of ether. Stimulate the things you are passionate about, add the fuel that feels sustaining and invigorating. Eat clean, to burn clean. Keep all your airways open.
Air governs movement; our heartbeat, muscle contractions, and neural impulses. It most easily identifies with our lungs, but of air is the driver of action in our bodies.
The Gunas of Air are Mobile, Cold, Dry, Light, Rough.
Air is our breath. It fills us up with vitality and life, it is our capacity for all movement and action. When we can take deep full easeful breaths, that feel abundant and sustaining we are connected to our air.
Too Much Air:
We can feel scattered, full of anxiety, stress, confusion, and memory lapse. Our thoughts don't feel tethered to anything concrete, just swirling in our brains. To balance this weigh yourself down, work your legs, eat a good meal, take a bath, oil your skin with a nice self-massage. Think of ways that you can add heaviness to excess airy lightness.
Too Little Air:
We feel limited and our breath feels tight, gripping, shallow, and restricted. Stagnant breath decreases our vitality and we feel lethargic and drained. Find the position where your breath can move unhindered, where it can be full and satisfying. Lengthen the spine, possibly against a leaning bolster. Often lying flat or sitting straight up is too taxing on the system and a supported back will open up airways with ease. Do a breath meditation (find audio breath meditations at Jill Novak Yoga).
Ether governs space; our mouth, nose, lungs, and digestive tract. Ether is associated with our mind.
The Gunas of Ether are Subtle, Clear, Light, All-Pervading and Formless.
Ether is the invisible, omnipresent element that is our thoughts, connecting us to our highest instincts. Ether houses our collected knowledge and our innate wisdom.
Ether permeates our universe, the most obvious first thing in the morning, that hour when it feels like information is coming right from a divine unlimited power. Yoga calls this time Brahmamuhurta, the hour of the divine. Ether is the space in which we envision and create our lives, in balance we feel focus, curiosity, and inspiration.
Too Much Ether:
We feel too much space, empty and lonely, experiencing a void and lack of connection. We have no original thought or motivation to create, learn, grow, or become anything beyond exactly what we are in this moment.
Connect back to the elements, allow your breath to expand and fan the flames of your fire. Let the heat from the fire warm you, add water to hydrate, care for your physical body. Take care of your living container, support your Ojas to be vital and strong. This will add substance to your structure, allowing awareness of your spacious quality without it feeling too intangible and unattainable.
Too Little Ether:
Our minds are not clear, but cluttered with messages; marketing, commercialism, to do lists, worries, and fears. Our minds are swirling with thoughts moving through us without rhyme or reason, chaotic and unorganized.
In this instance find your legs, walk and work your physical body. Get blood pumping, drawing your energy downward. Pull the helium balloon of your brain from the sky and connect it to an anchored body. Unite your elements. Be connected.
Harmony Just Feels Right
When these elements are in harmony we rarely notice their individualities. You don't feel hot or cold, or heavy or light. You just are; at ease, relaxed, filled with gratitude.
The same thing is reflected in my Yoga Therapy Clients. They notice their pain but when that pain subsides they forget that it was ever a factor. When we are not well, our body reminds us over and over again, hoping to nudge us in a new direction. When we are well, we feel ok, we aren’t constantly reminded by our bodies that things are good. Union. It feels right.
Understand that your elements interact the same way as they do in nature. Work into your legs when you need more earth, add hydration/nourishment to your life when you need more water, fuel when you need more fire, breathe when you need more movement. Ether of your mind will reflect the qualities most apparent in your being. It is a reflection of the harmony of our elemental body
An expansive life is waiting to be lived. A life free of suffering.
Find harmony in your elemental body. Respond to its subtle clues. While your body is your strong and vital container, your mind has no boundaries. It can take you wherever you want to go. Live big and be in tune with the dynamic rhythm of your natural elements.
About the Yoga Health Coaching Blogger
Jill Novak is the creator of “Your Good Day Guide”, an invitation to experience a good day each and every day with simple steps from Ayurveda and Yoga. Use Jill’s 4 Step approach to sync practical habits and breath-filled movement to guide your day. Jill has been practicing yoga for over 20 years, teaching for 8 years, and blending Yoga Therapy & Ayurveda into personal evolution for herself and her clients for the last 4 years.
A special thank you to my Ayurveda teacher Mona Warner from Janati Yoga who made me redo lessons over and over again to understand subtle concepts, who even in this article redirected my thinking a few times. This writing is a reflection of how I currently understand these concepts in my metaphorical mind and is nowhere near a complete or nuanced reflection of the full wisdom of Ayurveda or Yoga.
Jill, and her husband Jason, are the parents of three teenagers, living in Cochrane, Alberta. They are currently feeling the pride & loss of seeing their son off to University, and experiencing the joy & drama of raising their girls as they become glorious young women. Jill loves solving the problems of the world on long walks with great friends, reading life-altering books, riding her bike with her hubby, and connecting with people who have a deep desire for personal evolution. Connect with Jill here and join her community on her Facebook and Instagram page.
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