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Focus of Month - May 2022

The 5 elements - Pancha Bhuta

written by Jenny T.

What you call as “my body” is just a manifestation of five elements – earth, water, fire, air and akasha (space).

- Sadhguru

Earth, water, fire, air and space - According to many ancient philosophies, the creation of nature, our planet, the whole universe is based on those five elements. In yogic philosophy they are called Pancha Bhuta (पञ्चभूत) or Pancha Mahabhuta (पञ्चमहाभूत).

Especially when living in the city, the daily life and habits and the stress that comes with it lead to a distance between us and the natural world. Yet, we have forgotten that we are inherently a part of it - we were born out of it. Therefore, our body, the ecosystem and the whole cosmos are an intertwined play of the five elements and building a fundamental understanding can not only help us learn more about our body’s composition and it’s functioning. But by connecting to the qualities of those elements within our human vessel, we can deepen the connection to mother earth and explore new ways to care for her.

What are the 5 elements

In yogic philosophy the universe is a union of Purusha (पुरुष) and Prakriti (प्रकृति). Purusha refers to the realm of universal consciousness and Prakriti to the realm of experience and nature. So everything around us, everything we see, feel, taste, hear and smell is Prakriti and is composed of the five elements.

The vedic wisdom of Ayurveda goes even deeper and explains that those five elements are not to be understood as scientific elements (e.g. oxygen and hydrogen) but rather on a physical energetic level. We are looking at the qualities of those natural elements and how they are embodied within our human body. Moreover, each of the elements is related to one of the chakras as well - internal energy centers in our body.

Earth - Prithvi (पृथिवी)

This is the most dense, stable and the one that is most tangible to us: earth, also Prithivi. This element can be found right beneath our feet. The earth that holds, supports and grounds us. At the same time it can also be found in the solidity of our bones. This element comes with the sense of smell and is deeply associated with our survival instinct. When you feel deeply rooted in your earth element you will feel safe, grounded, confident, physically healthy and you experience trust. Disconnection to the element of earth might lead to anxiety, fearfulness, restlessness, moodiness and fragility.

  • Chakra: Muladhara (root chakra)

  • Energetic qualities: grounding, stable, nourishing, caring

  • Affirmation: “I feel safe and peaceful.”

  • Mudra: Prithvi Mudra

Water - Jala (जल)

The second element is Apas or Jala - water. Among all the five elements, Apas has the strongest significance on a physical level as our body consists of around 70% water. The body fluids within us are governed by the element of water e.g. blood, synovial fluids in our joints and saliva. Water can be felt, heard, seen and we can also taste it. When the element of water is balanced we can connect to people around us easily, experience creativity and an overall contentment and are open to joy and pleasure. Whenever jala is imbalanced we experience this in the form of emotional instability, inner tension and dehydration.

  • Chakra: Svadhisthana

  • Energetic qualities: fluid, soft, flexible, strong and resilient

  • Affirmation “I allow the experience of life to flow through me.”

  • Mudra: Varun Mudra

Fire - Agni (अग्नि)

Fire, also Agni, is the third element and represents the principle as well as contains the energy of transformation. Fire can be felt, heard and seen with and within our human body. In Ayurveda the biochemical process of food digestion is connected to the element fire and is therefore called digestive fire. A balanced Agni will strengthen our vitality, willpower, self-esteem and gives us purpose. On the other hand, if Agni is too high we rather feel controlling, aggressive, stressed or even burned out. If Agni is too low we tend to feel fearful, sluggish, low in self-esteem and lack of motivation.

  • Chakra: Manipura (solarplexus chakra)

  • Energetic qualities: hot, luminous, spreading, sharp and clear

  • Affirmation: “I stand in my truth.”

  • Mudra: Agni Mudra

Air - Vayu (वायु)

In Ayurveda the element of air, Vayu, represents the principle of movement. In nature, air can be felt and heard with our body through the wind and within ourselves through the breath (Prāṇa). When the element of air is balanced within us we are in a place of compassion, self-acceptance and freedom. Our intuition is strong and we are able to receive and give love. When our vayu is imbalanced we might feel codependent, jealous or shy, lonely and lack empathy.

  • Chakra: Anahata (heart chakra)

  • Energetic qualities: vital, transformative, light and cool

  • Affirmation: “I give & receive love equally.”

  • Mudra: Vayu Mudra

Ether or Space - Akasha (आकाश)

The first element is called Akasha and represents ether or space. It is said that ether is the space where everything connects and comes together. Ether is the fundamental element out of which all the elements are being created. When this element is in balance we can experience a strong sense of intuition, wisdom and clarity within us. We feel centered, deeply connected to us and others and communicate freely from the heart. Out of balance we either fear to speak our truth or inherit the inability to actively listen to others.

  • Chakra: Vishuddha (throat chakra)

  • Energetic qualities: infinite, expandable, clear, transcendent

  • Mantra: “I trust the wisdom within.”

  • Mudra: Akasha Mudra

By understanding the characteristics of the five elements and their underlying energies we can find balance in body, mind and spirit. The practice of balancing and cleansing the elements within is called Bhuta Shuddi (भूत-शुद्धि) and helps us to reconnect to the five elements, to nature and to us.

How to connect to the 5 elements on the mat

Earth - Prithivi (पृथिवी)

  • Practice grounding Asanas such as Mountain Pose, Tree Pose, Warrior II, Child’s Pose and Savasana.

  • Activate your Mula Bandha in Asanas like Mountain Pose, Downward Facing Dog, Warrior II and in a bind to build a stable foundation.

  • Engage your Hasta Bandha in Asanas like Downward Facing Dog and Table to be stable and keep your wrists safe.

  • Practice Pada Bandha in Asanas like Mountain Pose or Tree Pose to ground yourself and root down.

Water - Apas (जल)

  • Expand the intercellular space within you by taking a bath or shower before practice. The water shall be a little cooler than room temperature.

  • Apply Pranayamas in your practice like diaphragmatic breath, 3-part abdominal breath and box breath.

  • Practice fluid Vinyasa movements like Cat/Cow, Sun Salutations, Cobra and Downward Facing Dog.

  • Flow creatively in those movements without resistance and judgment.

Fire - Agni (अग्नि)

  • Practice heat creating breath exercises like Kapalbhati to activate the inner fire.

  • Practice cooling breath exercises like Sit Cari or Sitali to moderate excessive inner fire.

  • Practice Asanas that activate your core and stimulate your digestion like Warrior III, Bow, Bridge, Chair, Plank and Boat Pose.

Air - Vayu (वायु)

  • Practice all types of Pranayama (mindful breath exercises) e.g. Ujjayi.

  • Practice Nadi Shodhana to cleanse the energy channels and breath.

  • Apply deep diaphragmatic breathing during the Asana practice (Yogic breath).

  • Practice chest- and lung-expanding Asanas such as Cobra, Upward Facing Dog, Camel, Dancer and Wheel.

Ether or Space - Akasha (आकाश)

  • Practice any type of meditation.

  • During the physical practice you can hold the Asanas longer and bring awareness to the stillness in between your breaths and the space surrounding your body.

  • Practice Savasana, Child’s Pose, Mountain Pose and Seated Forward Bend for introspection.

How to connect to the 5 elements off the mat

Earth - Prithivi (पृथिवी)

  • Root your feet into the floor first thing in the morning and connect to earth.

  • Stand barefoot in a park, garden and imagine your feet as roots deeply connected to earth.

  • Touch plants and trees and stay in touch with nature.

Water - Apas (जल)

  • Splash water on your face.

  • Enjoy the healing powers of water in the tub or shower.

  • Take a bath in a hot spring.

Fire - Agni (अग्नि)

  • Soak yourself in the warm light of the sun.

  • Light up a candle or lamp with vegetable oil or ghee and then sit with it.

Air - Vayu (वायु)

  • Draw fresh air deeply into your lungs - this can be done at any time of the day.

  • Take a walk in a park or along a lake or river and enjoy fresh and clean air.

  • Hiking and any activity where you breath gets moving and becomes dynamic.

Ether or Space - Akasha (आकाश)

  • You can access Akasha during the time after the sun has risen or within 40 minutes after the sun has set. Look up to the infinite sky, bow down in gratitude to Akasha, the etheric space that is holding us and the planet in place.

When we nurture and appreciate the natural connections, we can experience a sense of abundant well-being as well as belonging to all life that surrounds us and resides within us.

How to care for the planet

In times like these, globalization, economy and unsustainable human activities in general are affecting our planet in a harmful way, which can be seen and felt by the global climate change. And even though governments must take strong and sustainable actions we can still cultivate gratitude and awareness for our home by fueling our actions with a consciousness and take care of our planet on an individual level.

  • Save Water.

  • Walk or use the bike/public transport.

  • Reuse and recycle.

  • Eat sustainable and local produce.

  • Plant a tree.

  • Reduce the use of plastic.

  • Support global environmental movements such as “Save Soil” driven by the Yogic philosopher Sadhguru and create awareness for them.

“Come forth into the light of things.

Let nature be your teacher.”

- William Wordsworth

Next time, as you walk through a park, along a lake or on the grass, remind yourself that we are part of all the beautiful nature that surrounds us - we are one with it. With the upcoming outdoor Yoga season, practice outside the nurturing embrace of the elements and feel sunshine, wind, water, earth and infinite space surrounding us. As we find the deep connection and gratitude towards nature, we can heal our planet and therefore heal ourselves, too.

Further Readings:

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