THE 5 ELEMENTS AND YOGA

Mateja Antončič:

Everything in nature is made up of five basic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. All the Vedic schools of philosophy, especially Samkhya, Yoga and Ayurveda, view the world and the whole universe as an integrated entity made up of five fundamental elements that are called “panca bhuta-s”. The five elements come alive and manifest in various forms when linked to consciousness through the phenomenon called Prana. Our body, from the time of conception onwards, is made up of the five elements and is subject to these elemental energetic principles throughout our lives.

Additionally, the old schools of healing such as Yoga (yoga therapy) and Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine understood our existence based on prana and the five elements, which in turn influence the make up of our constitution (dosha) and the functioning of our cakra-s. Consequently not only all of our physique, but also our behavior through our actions, emotions, speech and thoughts as well as our relationship with our environment is closely connected to these principles of five elements.

The Yogasutra states that continued meditation on the five elements makes us not only understand and manipulate the elements within us, but also a master the macrocosmos.

There are many stories of great Yogis in the past who had a profound understanding and mastery over the elements and thus were able to influence their own bodies and the environment in a way that seems incredible for modern minds, be it not being harmed by fire, walking on water or passing through walls. Some of them had such a deep understanding of the subtle anatomy of our body, that they were even able to stop their heartbeat on multiple occasions, a feat many believed was not possible.

Even if we might not reach such a level of mastery in our life, it is appreciated to understand clearly these elemental principles, so that a deeper understanding of the tools of yoga can occur.

In the upcoming pages I will explore the following topics: Evolution of the Bhuta-s, Characteristics of each Bhuta, Functions of the Bhuta-s, Asana-s & the Bhuta-s, Organs and the Bhutas, Indriya-s & the Bhuta-s, Pranayama & the Bhuta-s, Cakra-s & the Bhuta-s, Mind & the Bhuta-s, Meditation & the Bhuta-s, Emotions & the Bhuta-s, Mantra & the Bhuta-s, Trauma & the Bhuta-s.

Picture 1: Bhuta-s or five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space)

Evolution of the Bhuta-s

The whole word consists of consciousness and matter. In all human beings both of them exist together. Although they are living together they need to be treated and nourished differently.

Each of the five basic elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space) represents a state of matter.

The evolution of human begins rise from subtle element (e.g. space) to gross element (e.g. earth). The development of human being, in the matter sense, is multi-leveled, with the next stage emerging or evolving from the previous (space→wind→fire→water→earth).

The characteristics’ of space are expansion and contraction. The breathing is possible because of space attribute. The nature of wind is connected with possibility of movement (walking, running, movement of arms, legs, fingers, opening and closing of eyes, opening of blood vessels, etc.. ).

Because of movement (for instance if hands are rubbed together) the heat or temperature appear which is belonging to “fire” nature. Fire is connected with cooking, transformation, and light, temperature (hot and cold) and also with visibility (visibility of human body depends on fire element).

We derive nourishment from water element. Water element is the principle of cohesion. If we take more metaphorically water takes a role in emotional connections with ourselves, others and the Divine.

Earth element is the principle of stability, foundation and grounding. In our body, this emerges as growth, accumulation and support; the muscle tissue, fat tissue and hard part of our bones depend heavily upon earth element. Not just physical body structures but also our emotional structures.

The last element earth contains all characteristics’ of previous elements. Space, wind, water and fire together make up the body of the Earth. Therefore earth has the capacity of contraction, expansion & movement, temperature, visibility and capacity to change (fire element) as well as water characteristics. On the other hand water element has all characteristics of previous elements except the stability which is the element of earth. Furthermore, fire has no “binding” possibility which is the main attribute of water.

All later elements have all attributes of previous elements. For instance, pranayama has much more powerful effect in comparison to asana. The pranayama has an impact on “space” element and consequently all next elements which includes space element will be influenced and changed accordingly.

The five elements are believed to be represented in the first 5 chakras (energy centers or “wheels of light”), climbing in order from the root chakra to the throat chakra.

SPACE WIND FIRE WATER EARTH

Picture 2: Evolution of the Bhuta-s

As mentioned, in materialistic evolution (e.g. manifestation of matter) we are evolving from subtle elements (space) towards gross element (earth). Following spiritual evolution we are developing in opposite direction from gross elements (earth &water) towards subtle elements. The balance between these two processes is reached and maintained by breath.

  • Inhalation: manifestation breath (moving from upwards to downwards)
  • Exhalation : liberation breath (moving from downward to upward)

Picture 3: Impact of inhalation and exhalation on five elements

Earth (Prthvi)

The earth is the ground on which we live and walk. It is our playground. She provides an abundance of food while surrounding us with beauty, color, fragrance, tastes, and textures for us to enjoy. The earth shares with us her bounty. It has the quantities of all elements. So, earth is sometimes called “bhumi” (fully manifested). It is very dominant. We can be stocked or trapped by earth and we want to liberate ourselves from trapped situations in our life.

Characteristics of Erath

  • Fully manifested (matter and senses): Earth is fully manifested form of matter and senses. It contains characteristics of all elements also in sensation way. (For instance, if we take flower it contains smell and texture which are brought by wind element, taste bought by water element, color and visibility because of fire element).
  • Stability/Structure/Roots/Grounding: When you are comfortable in a company with somebody you feel stable (you feel who you are) and you feel manifested and rooted in your potentials and capacities.
  • Security & Nourishment: Earth is nourishing its potential, offers security and stability.
  • Home/Family: connections with feelings of home and family live.
  • Health: if earth element is strong in our body we feel healthy since health is form of stability.
  • Relaxation: the capacity to relax and feeling of being relaxed.
  • Prosperity: blooming in your own potential.
  • Faith/Trust/Confidence:
  • Moral code: ability to be guided by your own moral codes and you are not influenced by other opinions.
  • Elimination/Letting go: ability to let go what is not nourishing for our body (e.g. bad experience, memories, emotions).

 

Cakra connected with earth element is Mülädhära which its primary purpose is foundation.

Developmental Function: Physical Growth, Motor Skills

The masculine and feminine characteristics of “earth element” are:

  • Masculine Characteristics:

 

roots penetrating earth, pushing energy into matter, anchor, foundation.

  • Feminine Characteristics :

receiving nourishment from roots, drawing energy from matter, capacity to receive.

Body parts which are connected with “earth” element are:

  • legs, feet bones, large intestine, teeth, nails, legs, feet, anus.

If earth element is affected in our body the associated physical dysfunctions are:

  • Disorders of the bowel,
  • Anus, Large intestine,
  • Disorders of the solid parts of the body – bones, teeth etc.,
  • Issues with legs, feet, knees, base of spine, buttocks
  • Eating disorders,
  • Frequent illnesses.

The traumas which affects “earth” element in our body are:

    • Birth trauma,
    • Abandonment,
    • Physical neglect,
    • Poor physical bonding with mother, mother unwanting child, mother instability during pregnancy
    • Malnourishment,
    • Survival threats,
    • Potent illnesses, major surgery
    • Physical abuse / growing up in violent environment,
  • Inherited traumas – survival fears (for example – war veterans, holocaust, poverty etc.).  

 

What to do with yoga?

  • Asanas: langhana, static, nyasa

All asana(s) which give you sense of grounding and postures which reaches lower chakras of body. It is recommended to stay in asana (repeat and stay in asana – include static element) and doing asanas with nyasa (holding tennis ball or small stone in hands during asanas helps to reach a sense of grounding).

  • Pranayama: langana (focus on exhalation), nyasa (touches in specific locations on the body). Doing pranayana with nyasa.
  • Mantra: langhana mantra-s – pace (Santimantra)
  • Meditation: faith /Shraddha (faith, trust, confidence, and loyalty), meditation on  earth/mountain /tree

 

Water (Apa)

Water held us while we were growing in the womb, protecting us and helping transport nutrients to us. As the water breaks in the mother’s womb, the child is ushered into the word carried by the beauty of water. There is no life on Earth without water. Water reflects the beauty of our souls and also nurtures and cleanses us. Earth is called the water planet, as water covers the majority of the surface of our planet.

Characteristics of Water

  • Spiritual domain: connection with our spiritual haer, our ancestors and divine (baptism).
  • Cleaning & Healing
  • Deep emotions & feelings : in mother womb all mother emotions are transferred from mother to a child via water.

 

    • Pleasure: Every time a pleasurable object appears saliva appears as well (a pleasurable object makes our mouth water).
    • Sexuality: for good relationship between partners sexual and spiritual connection is obvious. Water palys its role also with conception/ egg and sperm recognition systems during fertilization
  • Nurturing
  • Intimacy
  • Emotions

 

    • Movement & transformation: dancing is form of movement which affects our water element
  • Balances/Polarities : water binds two extremes (polarities)

 

Cakra connected with earth element Svädhiñöhäna which its primary purposes are movement, flow, expansion, pleasure, feedback.

Developmental Function: sensory exploration of the world, locomotion

The masculine and feminine characteristics of “water element” are:

  • Masculine Characteristics:

 

Extending, Seeking, Penetrating, Cleansing, Holding.

  • Feminine Characteristics :

receiving nourishment from roots, drawing energy from matter, capacity to receive.

Body parts which are connected with “water” element are:

  • hip, sacrum, abdomen, genital organs, inner thighs, knees, pelvic.

 

If water element is affected in our body the associated physical dysfunctions are:

  • Disorders of reproductive organs, spleen, urinary system
  • Menstrual difficulties
  • Sexual dysfunction: impotence, premature ejaculation, non-orgasmic
  • Low back pain, knee trouble, lack of flexibility
  • Deadened senses, loss of appetite for food, sex, life , depression (anti-pleasure feelings).

Traumas which affects “water” element in our body are:

  • Sexual abuse (covert or overt)
  • Emotional abuse
  • Volatile situations
  • Neglect, coldness, rejection
  • Denial of feeling states, Lack of mirroring Enmeshment
  • Religious or moral severity (anti-pleasure)
  • Physical abuse
  • Overuse of playpen or restricting normal movement development.

What to do with yoga?

  • Asana: Langana, Movement, extension of exhale
  • Pranayama: Langana, rations focus on exhale, U.banda/M.banda
  • Mantra : Langana

 

  • Meditation : water (lake, ocean, waterfall, river, etc.)  /movement

Fire (Agni)

Fire is one which elevates and it is always moving upward (fire of a candle). Fire in the form of the sun gives us the energy to live. Fire mirrors back to us our inner passion for life, the unlimited sustaining force. When landscapes are in need of regeneration, fire comes to heal the earth. Just as fire alters our outer landscape, so, too, our inner landscape changes over time. Once fire has cleansed and healed the land, new life is born. Seeds that require intense heat to burst them open start to grow and blossom.

Fire is worshipped because it is the means by which we can purify, empower, and control the other states of matter.

Characteristics of Fire

  • The metabolizer
  • The equalizer
  • Creator / Manifest:
  • Transformer/ Change Maker: fire is that part of nature that transforms one state of matter into another. For example, fire transforms the solid state of water (ice) into liquid water and then into its gaseous state (steam). Withdrawing fire recreates the solid state.
  • Purifier
  • Fuels Passion
  • Motivator/Will
  • Autonomy
  • Proactivity
  • Spontaneity/Fluidity
  • Warm Personality

 

Cakra connected with earth element Maëépüraka which its primary purposes are transformation, will, energy, strength.

Developmental Function: Will, autonomy, awareness of Self as separate being

The masculine and feminine characteristics of “fire element” are:

  • Masculine Characteristics:

 

Initiating, willing, forcing, manifesting.

  • Feminine Characteristics:

 

Warmth, dexterity, skill, radiance.

Body parts which are connected with “fire” element are:

Mid-torso, sides of the body, ribs, belly, digestive organs, liver, ribs,

If fire element is affected in our body the associated physical dysfunctions are:

    • Eating disorders
    • Digestive disorders, ulcers
    • Hypoglycemia, Diabetes
    • Muscle spasms, muscular disorders
    • Chronic fatigue
    • Hypertension
  • Disorders of stomach, pancreas, gall bladder, liver.

 

Traumas which affects “fire” element in our body are:

  • Shaming,
  • Authoritarian or overly lenient parents,
  • Overpowering, domination of will, will breaking
  • Overstimulation,
  • Physical abuse, dangerous environment, fear of punishment,
  • Age inappropriate responsibilities (parentified child),
  • Inherited shame not worked through by parents.

What to do with yoga?

  • Asanas: Somana with Braething ration 1.0.1.0 with Mudra/Bandhas and Krama-s
  • Pranayama: Ujjay, Nostril regulation, Bandha-s and Krama-s
  • Mantra & Meditation: Fire related, Sun, Warm/Heat

 

Wind (Vayu)

Characteristics of wind

  • Love/Compassion: forming healthy relationships with peer and family.

Developing self-persona and self-love.

  • Empathy/Connection: right to Love and be Loved.
  • Generosity
  • Vitality
  • Selflessness/Altruism
  • Connection with others
  • Healthy Relationships
  • Imagination
  • Mover

 

Cakra connected with earth element is Anähata which its primary purposes is balance.

Developmental Function: Forming Healthy relationships with peer and family. Developing

self-persona

The masculine and feminine characteristics of “wind element” are:

  • Masculine Characteristics: Protecting, Guiding and Supporting
  • Feminine Characteristics: Giving, Nurturing, Connecting, Joining

Body parts which are connected with “wind” element are:

Chest, Lungs, Diaphragm, Shoulder Blades, Ribs, Heart, Respiratory System

If wind element is affected in our body the associated physical dysfunctions are:

  • Disorders of the heart, lungs, thymus, breasts, arms
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Breathing Problems, Asthma
  • Sunken Chest
  • Circulation Problems
  • Immune System deficiency
  • Shoulder and neck tension
  • Pain in Chest
  • Burn-out.

Traumas which affects “fire” element in our body are:

    • Rejection, abandonment, loss
    • Shaming, harsh, constant criticism, Betrayal
    • Abuses to other Cakras, especially the lower ones
    • Unacknowledged grief, including parents’ grief
    • Divorce, death of loved one
    • Lovelessness, cold environment
    • Love for manipulation
  • Sexual or Physical Abuse

 

What to do?

  • Asana : Brhmana & Dynamic with focus on inhale
  • Pranayama: Brhmana, Nostril regulation /Retention after inhale
  • Mantra& Meditation: Focus on wind & Movement

 

Space (Akasa)

Space is the mother of the other elements. The experience of space as luminous emptiness is the basis of higher spiritual experiences.

Space takes the attribute of consciousness which nature is to expand. It is a beautiful spiritual journey towards becoming more conscious in all aspects of our life.

More subtle element in comparison to wind and consequently nearer to consciousness. It is all-prevailing element. Body has space but this does not mean that body creates this space; our body borrows this space from universe

Characteristics of space

  • Transcendence /Consciousness

 

    • Expansion and Contraction : takes energy from consciousness and give source of energy to other material things. More energy is connected with more space.
  • Energy source
  • Communication/Expression
  • Refinement

 

    • Creativity: creativity is attribute of water and space element
    • Capacity to listen:
  • Capacity to hear unspoken words
  • Capacity for symbolic thinking: metaphorical thinking, talk in symbols not with words, deeper meaning

 

Cakra connected with earth element is Vishuddhi which its primary purposes are communication, purification, refinement.

Developmental Function: Creative expression, communication skills, symbolic thinking

The masculine and feminine characteristics of “space element” are:

  • Masculine Characteristics: creating order, distinctions, commanding. discipline, commitments, imperative tune of talking, commanding
  • Feminine Characteristics: listening, creativity

 

Body parts which are connected with “space” element are: shoulders, neck, throat, tongue, mouth.

If space element is affected in our body the associated physical dysfunctions are:

    • Disorders of the throat, ears, voice, neck, mouth, thyroid, parathyroid, shoulders
    • TMJ (Tempromandibular Joint Dysfunction)
  • Toxicity

 

Traumas which affects “space” element in our body are:

    • Lies, mixed messages
    • Verbal abuse, constant yelling
    • Excessive criticism (block creativity)
    • Secrets (threats for telling)
    • Authoritarian parents (don’t talk back)
    • Alcoholic, chemical dependent family (don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel)
  • Ignored, shamed.

 

What to do?

  • Asanas: Brhamana, Static with focus on Inhale
  • Pranayama: Ujjay, Nostril regulation, Krama, Badas
  • Mantra & Meditation: Space /Expansion/Stillness/Silence/Transcendence

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