The 5 Elements

According to Yoga and Ayurveda, there are four basic elements which of nature that compose all things. These elements are; Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. These four are derived from a fifth element Ether “the breath of the invisible”.

Nothing is just one element, each element is dynamic, changing its nature towards or away from the others. ~ Godfrey Devereux.

All five elements are found to some degree in each one of us.

Ether (Akasha in Sanksrit) means space. It is vast, like the sky and is cold, light, clear and immeasurable. It is the container that holds all others, allowing all things to have freedom to move and take form. Space pervades everything, even within each cell in our bodies. Ether is the space, the emptiness out of which all things emerge and is the equivalent of the divine. It is associated with expansion, vibration, and non-resistance. The sensory organ associated with Ether is the ear, a hollow cavity that transmits vibrational sound waves. In yoga we practice with the intention to connect with our deepest levels of consciousness, open to change and new possibilities. As we evolve we become increasingly conscious of our true selves. We carry the awareness and growth off of the yoga mat and into our daily lives. Ether is the element associated the Throat Chakra (Vishuddha).                                                                        

Air (Vayu in Sanksrit ) is the essence of movement. Like the wind it is dry, cold, rough and responsible for all movement. In yoga, Air carries our vital energy or “prana” (“chi” in Chinese ideology) throughout the body riding on the breath. The breath is the foundation of all yoga. We bring space or expansion into specific areas of the body as we focus the breath into tight areas or increase the spaces between the ribs or vertebrae as we stretch and lengthen. Pranayama, or breath control, requires mindful awareness on the breath to strengthen and steady the mind. We exhale, moving stale energy out and bringing in newness with our in-breath. With the air element we refine our postures and apply mental acuity to our practice. Breath-work yields alertness combined with calm. Air is the element is associated with the Heart Chakra (Anahata) located in the center of the chest.

Fire (Tejas or Agni in Sankrit) is responsible for transformation (and metabolism in the body). As the air element provides movement, it causes friction and produces heat or fire. Like the sun it is hot, dry, sharp and changing.  Physically it is associated with neurological synapses, digestion, metabolism, thermoregulation and various forms of transformation.  The corresponding sensory organ is the eyes and the perception of light. It is also functional in the transformation of our minds and intelligence. In yoga, Fire practice is heating, dynamic, and energizing. Our yoga sequence generates internal fire, to boost immunity and maintain vitality especially during the winter months. The earth element is also drawn out as we ignite our fiery discipline (Tapas) to practice consistently, to try challenging poses or to extend holding times. Fire Practice helps the mind to break through negative habitual patterns and provides the energy and “will” to go on even when we want to quit. Fire practices tend to be standing postures and vinyasa flows, or in any postures that generate heat in the abdomen. This is associated element Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura) just above the navel.

Earth (Prithvi in Sankrit) like the ground is heavy, cold, dense, hard, stable and dry. Prithvi is responsible for structure, form and strength in the body and in all mass in existence.  It is represented in solid structures in our physical body such as muscles, bones, teeth and nails. The sensory organ associated with the Earth element is the nose and the small earth particles provide us with the sense of smell. In yoga, Earth practices are grounding, slow, and stable. We connect with the earth, being more aware of our base, our roots. It is centered around downward movement of energy (apana vayu). The Earth element relates to the framework of the body; the bones and muscles. This is where we begin each time we learn a new yoga posture, beginning with foundational shape of the pose and areas making contact with the floor. It is represented in the Root Chakra (Muladhara) of the body located at the base of the spine. For this reason, hip-opening postures also are associated with the grounding earth element.

Water (Jala or Apa in Sankrit) has the fluid quality. Like the ocean, it is cold, moving, heavy, and liquid. It is about flow, adherence, and lubrication.  Water can be a constructive force as it connects and binds cells. In the mind it connects thoughts to emotion. Combined with fire protects burning too hot. Combined with the earth it keeps it from becoming hard and crumbly. It is associated with the tongue and saliva which allow for the sense of taste. Yoga practice for the fire element brings the intention to bring about healthy change through nourishing, rhythmic, fluid movement. Yoga postures are rejuvenating and used to consciously increase the flow of blood into particular areas of the body. Yin movement is also used here to bring peacefulness and the state of tranquility. The water element is represented the Sacral Chakra (Svadhishthana), just below the navel.

By harmonizing these elements within ourselves, we are able to connect with our personal awareness, our environment, and the energetic frequencies of all creation. Using the elements, we can explore our physical, mental and spiritual aspects while practicing yoga and moving through life.