Yoga and the Elements
The Upanishads are some of the oldest sources of yogic wisdom which contain the essential teachings of the unification of that abounds all creation. Yoga philosophy, practice and culture have evolved from these ancient scriptures and their meaning and relevance enables us to connect with the universal laws of nature in constant operation, deepening our experience of the interconnection of all things
As is the human body
So is the cosmic body
As is the human mind
So is the cosmic mind
As is the microcosm
So is the macrocosm
As is the atom
So is the universe –
The embodied experience of spirit in human form can be tangibly experienced when we use the lense of the tattwas – elements. The tattwas express at both the subtle (mind) and gross (body) levels and provide us a tool in which to better understand our physical, mental and energetic experiences. Let’s take a closer look into each tattwa and how its related qualities that can be tapped into.
Earth is the home of our body
Water is fluidity, connection, adaptability
Fire represents discipline, transformation, inspiration and willpower to act consciously
Air is movement, expansion and lightness. The breath in and out of the body, the opening and contraction of the muscles and the mind.
Space is the container for everything. It is pure possibility and the journey to awaken potential.
Earth is home. It is structure, cohesion, and the foundation. It's the centred, 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 physical landmarks – the bones, spine, skin reflect our state of stability and ease (sthira and sukham). Every pose has a home base, a root pose and a qualitative state or attitidue. To embody earth in our practice is to move slowly, to feel deeply and to honor the ‘reflective quietness’ of stillness. To honor the silence by establishing the witness quality known in yoga as the drastha.
Physiological links: Perenium
Associated chakra: Mooladhara
Water is flowing with life. Fluidity, connection, adaptability. It shows up in our ability to consciously hold on and at the same time, let go. It fuels our practice as fluid and graceful 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 and therefore mental sensuality. It also means moving fluidly through your practice, synchronizing movement with breath, opening, feeling and yielding in a way that is powerful and creative. Surya namaskara becomes a dance of rhythm form and energy when the power of moving with the breath takes place.
Physiological links: Ovaries & Testes
Associated chakra: Swadhisthana
Fire: The fire in our practice is experienced as intensity and prana. 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 or reality clearly and have the willpower to engage with what's important or needed to respond positively.
Physiological links: Adrenal glands
Associated chakra: Manipura
Air: 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 purification and enables inspiration to manifest.
Infusing air into your yoga comes from... An awareness of the breath. Pranayama is a great way to open and tap into the subtle channels of air (prana vayu) of the body - clearing the way for insight, inspiration and energy to flow.
Physiological links: Thyroid glands
Associated chakra: Anahata
Space: Spaciousness in the body and space to just be. It feels like stillness, freedom, and awareness. Space is both a cause and the result. It supports and fuels transformation by providing a place for the magic to happen. Creating space requires discipline, but experiencing it is pure freedom. To connect with the space tattwa integrate practices with sound like simply releasing the breath audibly or chanting. Visualizing practices develops internal seeing and one pointed focus or concentration called ‘dharana’ in yoga.
Physiological links: Pineal & pituitary
Associated chakras: Vishuddhi & Agya
Here is a chart of both the physical and mental tattwas:
The tattwas are the subtle essences of our being, the constituent parts that come together to create our minds, our bodies, our yoga practice and our experience of living. The elements provide a beautiful context, exploration and framework for us to expand on and enjoy a quality of life that nurtures positivity and inter connection with all.
Join me on my upcoming Yoga Day (23 March) taking a journey through a range of practices to connect with and understand ourselves better. To find new ways of relating. To continue the yogic journey with newfound tools and inspiration.