“Everything in nature is made up of five basic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. Knowledge of the five elements allows the yogi to understand the laws of nature and to use yoga to attain greater health, power, knowledge, wisdom, and happiness. This arises out of deep intuition of how the universe operates.”
-- Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati
Where was your most recent yoga practice? Maybe you found yourself on your mat? In your home or at a studio? Perhaps you were in a heated space? Or maybe you were out on a breezy deck or terrace? Most importantly, you made the choice to grant yourself space – first, mental space, and second, physical space.
Have you granted yourself heart space lately? Mental space is space of the mind; physical space, the space for the body; heart space, the space for the soul. How is the physical space in which you’ve chosen to practice yoga connecting with and nourishing your heart space, your gateway to the soul?
Yoga, as a holistic practice creating harmony of mind, body and soul, is ultimately a way to gain a deeper understanding of nature and how we play a part therein. We must always seek out new physical places for our yoga practice in order to gain more profound mental and spiritual (heart) space. Each of the five elements in nature corresponds with the chakras – the wheels of energy – that comprise our nature as beings. We contain each of the five elements within us, and so it’s crucial to seek out spaces in nature that awaken each of those elements and the associated chakras. Bring your practice to new levels in any or all of these five spaces in nature.
Under a tree or in a forest – Root yourself with the element of EARTH
The earth element, associated with the mooladhara (1st, root) chakra, is grounding and solid. Bringing your yoga practice into a forest, park, or under a single tree feels comforting and safe. Trees are rooted and firm in the ground while also being gentle and sheltering in the protection of their foliage.
Try practicing with bare feet, maybe finding contact with the leaf litter of the forest floor or some soft grass. Perhaps your feet even make contact with the roots of a nearby tree.
On the beach or in a gentle rain – Recreate yourself with the element of WATER
The water element, associated with the swadhistana (2nd, sacral) chakra, is fluid and changing. Taking your yoga practice to a sandy (maybe rocky) beach allows you to feel the ebb and flow of the ocean waves with the malleable sand beneath your feet. Not near the ocean? Find any water feature – a waterfall, river, or other dynamic body. Practicing yoga or meditating in a light rain can also be a refreshing feeling, assisting you to reset and find balance with nature.
Use the sounds around you – of breaking waves, falling water, or a light tap of raindrops – to fall into rhythm with your breath. Find synchronization in nature beginning with the flow of water.
Prime poses: Hip opening poses such as goddess pose (utkata konasana), pigeon pose (kapotasana), and the warrior (virabhadrasana) series inspire the flow of creative energy. (Note: If you’re on the beach, avoid poses on the stomach so as to avoid getting sand in your eyes.)
Facing the sun – Energize yourself with the element of FIRE
The fire element, associated with the manipura (3rd, solar plexus) chakra, is powerful and passionate. Turning to face the sun in your yoga practice, especially when doing sun salutations (surya namaskar), is the best way to invigorate your yoga practice. As the source of all energy in nature, the sun gives us power, confidence, and vitality.
Face the sun and close your eyes, lift your chin slightly, and imagine the power of the sun radiating in your third eye center. As you practice, acknowledge the internal fire that grows in your core and permeates your body.
Prime poses: Sun salutations are most energizing, increasing circulation with a combination of chest-opening poses and forward folds that warm the body. Chair pose (utkatasana) and boat pose (naukasana) build fire rapidly, opening the manipura chakra to the energy of the sun.
On a mountaintop or peak – Refresh yourself with the element of AIR
The air element, associated with the anahata (4th, heart) chakra, is light and genuine. Seeking out a high point, mountaintop or peak for your yoga practice allows you to gain perspective as well as detach from the earthly things and distractions that can bog down the mind. On a high peak, where air is slightly thinner, we can appreciate the value of the air and breath that gives us life and vitality.
Allow yourself to move with the wind, feeling a breeze of lightness in your body that drifts into your mind, also. Feel your heart supported by your easy, full breath – a breath that is rejuvenated and refreshed by the beauty of nature surrounding you.
Prime poses: Of course, mountain pose (parvatasana) is certainly appropriate up on a mountain peak. Emulate the mountain in this pose, drawing the peak of your hips to the sky. Finding balance [carefully!] in dancer pose (natarajasana) is also refreshing in the high mountain breeze.
Under a clear blue or dark night sky – Liberate yourself with the element of SPACE
The space element, associated with the upper three chakras – vishuddhi (5th, throat), ajna (6th, third eye), and sahasrara (7th, crown) – is expansive and free. Finding a big open sky under which to practice is not only liberating, but also challenging, as we most often understand our place in nature relative to other objects. When practicing yoga underneath a vast sky (or perhaps in a big open space like a desert), we are reminded of our significance in this body and this life, which is ultimately fleeting.
In the expansiveness of space, focus outwardly to draw the attention inward to find the freedom of space there, then bring the inside more inside. Allow the fullness of limitless space to permeate your body, mind and soul.
Prime poses: Standing backbend (ardha anuvittasana) with the hands at heart center/prayer (anjali mudra) or eagle pose (garudasana) serve to re-center and refocus. Following poses such as these, a meditative pose such as easy seated pose (sukhasana) and/or corpse pose (savasana) helps to bring awareness further inside.