Yoga is for everyone!
The ancient teaching of Ayurveda, the sister-science of Yoga, talks about the five elements of the manifest world: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Ether (Space). They are represented in the human body by the bones, fluids, muscles, breath, and inner spaces/cavities, respectively. Consciousness journeys through these elements towards Matter, and from Matter it evolves back into pure Consciousness.
It is all too easy for these elements to become out of balance. There could be, as Ayurveda puts it, a derangement of a particular Dosha, and imbalance of a particular element that causes problems with our health: the bones become brittle and prone to osteoporosis, the joints stiffen, movement of lymph is restricted, immunity is weakened, circulation and metabolism are negatively affected, fears and anxiety grip us, pain sets in, and we experience a crisis of faith. Understanding of these elements, being in tune with them in your body/mind will help you bring these forces of Nature into greater balance through Yoga.
One can view Yoga Asana practice as a way to tune up and balance these elements through five subtle actions:
- Earth/Pritivi: solidity, rooting through hands and feet, and bringing more body weight into the bones, creating a sense of stability in poses by shifting the weight into the bones of the body. This allows you to stand firm when circumstances of Life require it. The essence of the Earth element is to resist being moved.
- Water/Apa: fluidity, transitioning from pose to pose smoothly, allowing the joints to move freely, inviting a sense of "juiciness" into your body. Having a balanced water element helps you to adapt and go with the flow when needed.
- Fire/Agni: excitement, to meet what's coming. By engaging the muscles of the body correctly, by distributing the muscular effort evenly throughout, hugging the muscles to the bones (often we tend to overuse certain muscles and underuse others), and creating heat from the inside-out by engaging full diaphragmatic breath (ujjayi) we can balance the fire element. This element helps to transform matter into consciousness by helping us to "digest" our experiences. With a balanced fire element, we can meet the challenge and fight for what's right.
- Wind/Vayu: lightness, breathing smoothly, calmly, steadily, deeply, mindfully. A balanced wind element allows you to simply move out of the way if that is the correct answer under the circumstances.
- Space/Akasha: awareness, which is increased by allowing moments of stillness in your practice, for your mind and body to drop into and savor the present in all its manifest beauty. It is in these moments of stillness we can see the whole picture, and make correct choices. Space nourishes hearing, because that's what awareness in essence is - the ability to hear the body, the subtle fluttering of Prana (life force) in it, to move as a whole.
All Yoga poses (Asanas) aim to balance all of these elements, but your awareness can be applied in any pose to address an imbalance in any particular one. Some poses make it easier to explore certain elements simply because the pose naturally highlights it (such as standing poses for the earth element, etc.) Next time you practice, notice which of the above subtle actions are easy for you to do, and which are difficult. No matter what pose you are doing, focus on those actions that are difficult (without abandoning those that are easy).
- Do I feel grounded? Is the weight of my body mostly in my bones, or do I muscle my way into the poses? Are my feet and hands rooting down into the floor, do I feel a connection to the ground? Am I even aware of the contact I make with the ground? Am I afraid of certain poses or anxious for whatever reason?
- How are my transitions? Do I rush from pose to pose? Am I mostly concerned with just getting into the poses? Are my transitions graceful and slow enough for me to appreciate them? Are my movements smooth and fluid, or jerky and uneven? Do I get too emotional about my body, about the poses? Or does the concept of having an emotional reaction in a pose seem very alien?
- Are there certain muscles that I tend to use more than others? Does my body generate even heat throughout the practice, or do I tend to get too hot or too cold at times? Do I feel a sense of radiance of that heat through the muscles of my body? Does my awareness radiate through me evenly? Do I experience frustration, anger, or irritability at times while practicing Yoga? Do I compare myself with others? Compete with the teacher?
- Is my breathing smooth, long, and full of quiet power? Do I feel the lower ribs move evenly in all directions (front, sides, back body) at all times? Can I maintain a soft, long and subtle Ujjaui breath throughout my entire practice? Or can my Ujjayi be heard across the room? Do I feel full of energy or do I feel tired? (In other words, does my practice generate and contain Prana in my body, or is Prana actually being drained?)
- Are there pauses of breath and movement in my practice that feel infinite, even though they last a second or two in real time? Are there moments of stillness that delight me? Is there a sense of unhurried savoring of every drop of my practice, like it is the first and the last? Do I find the time to appreciate the "aftertaste" of each event of my practice? Do I always have time for relaxation at the end, for my Sivasana, and appreciate the cumulative effect of the entire practice? Do I feel that my practice is nourishing my Spirit, helps me to connect with the Divine, helps me become a more spiritual person?
I hope this inquiry into your practice will help you find a way to a greater balance. Self-knowledge is a powerful tool for transformation. What this allows us is a choice. Instead of unconscious reacting to whatever comes our way, through a cultivated witness state we actually begin to choose our reaction and act in our best interest. Do I stand firm and resist, do I adapt, do I get out of the way or meet what's coming? Often we react the same way even though the circumstances are different, without realizing that we have a choice and could be acting differently.
I have uploaded a short video practice on my Youtube Chanel to illustrate these concepts in action.
P.S. I ended up expanding this subject in my 700 hour graduation paper, which you can read here.
This was beautiful, amazing and inspiring. I will most definitely be incorporating these thoughts and ideas into my practice. Thank you so much!!!
Thank you! I keep coming back to this over and over again, because once you grasp the concepts, it is such a wonderful tool to deepen Yoga practice.
This post resonates with me on many levels - thanks you for sharing your insights.