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Express the Power of the 5 Great Elements with Yoga and Meditation

In Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga, everything is believed to be composed of the Five Great Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether.

Each element has its own characteristics:

  • Earth: grounding, slow, stabilizing, boundaries, firm, container.
  • Water: fluid, adaptable, creative, flowing, cooling, soothing. 
  • Fire: hot, strong, transformative, mutable, passionate, destructive. 
  • Air: mobile, subtle, gentle, life-sustaining, dry, cold, vital. 
  • Ether: omnipresent, light, expansion, dreaminess, imaginative. 

 

The properties of each element create the world we live in and the human form.

What we perceive in the macrocosmos is mirrored in the microcosmos of each individual. Each element contains qualities that create, sustain, and illuminate the universe. Balance is achieved through the study and application of The Five Great Elements

This article outlines the importance of the elements; keep reading to see how each element affects our thoughts, mood, behavior, environment, and activity. 

The Elements and Ayurveda

“The elements represent progressive stages in the cycle of movement of this energy from Spirit into matter. They form the outward, involutionary cycle from within to without, from above to below, from Ether to Earth, from subtle Spirit to the crystallization of consciousness into matter.”

– Bruce Burger.

The Five Great Elements are known as the Pancha Bhuta. 

Pancha means ‘five,’ and Bhuta means ‘material element’ and expresses the necessary components that give birth to the cosmos.

The first three elements are material: earth, water, and fire. They are easier to identify as they are part of the material realm.

The last two elements, air and ether, are more nuanced.

As we progress from the first to the fifth element, from the gross to the subtle, we shift from the ego ‘i’ identity to collective consciousness.

The five elements make up everything that we see and the world around us. They make up the food we eat; they make up the colors around us; they make up the sky.

Ayurveda is about being in a relationship and working to harmonize with the conditions we find ourselves in

Ayurveda is one of India’s oldest practices, dating back over 5,000 years to the Vedic period. As the Mother of Healing and the sister science to yoga, Ayurveda works with the elements to examine the energies we perceive.

The five elements create the three unique doshas, or energies, that provide our constitution. 

  • Vata: air and ether, governed by movement, creativity, flexibility, vision, space, and sound. In harmony, Vata is inspired and inclusive. Out of balance, Vata is anxious, fearful, and flighty.
  • Pitta: air and fire, governed by digestion, metabolism, direction, absorption, assimilation, and intelligence. In harmony, Pitta is a leader and advocate. Out of balance, Pitta is angry, resistant, and jealous.
  • Kapha: earth and water, governed by structure, stability, patience, compassion, nurturance, and immunity. In harmony, Kapha is loving and vulnerable. Out of balance, Kapha is lethargic, withdrawn, and greedy. 

 

► Read this article on Ayurveda to learn more about the Doshas and their characteristics. 

Going Deeper Into Each of the Five Great Elements

The ancient wisdom describes these fields of resonance emanating from the center as elements. The elements are the vibratory archetypes of Cosmic Intelligence that underlie creation. Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth.

– Bruce Burger.

All About Earth

Earth (Prithvi) is the grounding force that creates the container for the other three material elements to move freely.

The qualities of the earth include grounding, slowness, security, the establishment of boundaries, and firmness. The earth is the container for water, fire, and air to move through it. 

Earth is Prithvi in Sanskrit and encapsulates our relationship with the natural environment, physical body, and all matter. 

Earth Governs: the bones, skeletal system, and organs of elimination 

The Kosha: Anatomical (annamaya) 

This layer governs the skin, bones, muscles, organs, glands, and tissues.

► Read more about the koshas here.

Like the first chakra, this kosha is linked to survival, food, shelter, and how we seek security and support.  

Working with the earth element can look many ways, including:
  1. Paying attention to how, what, and when we eat.
  2. Ensuring we get enough relaxation. 
  3. Honoring the beauty of the natural world. 
  4. Preparing our home space to feel clean, safe, and grounding. 
  5. Expressing gratitude to our family – blood or chosen. 

 

Chakra for the earth element: 

  • Root Chakra – Muladhara 
  • Color: Red
  • Mantra: Lam
  • Element: Earth
  • Gland: Adrenals
  • Psychological Function: Survival, Stability, Independence
  • Body Part: Feet, Legs
  • Organ: Large Intenstine
  • Emotion: Fear

► Read more about the root chakra here

Yoga for the Earth Element

You may include classes that strengthen and lengthen the muscles of the legs, leg balancing poses, and work with Mula Bandha (the root lock).

Earth – Terra Flow Yoga Progressive Series:

All About Water 

Water (Apas) moves in a downward motion. Its container is the earth. 

The qualities of water include fluidity, adaptability, expressiveness, creativity, and calm.

Water is Apas in Sankrit and expresses our relationship with ourselves and others. It governs the tendons and urogenital tract, as well as the sex organs. 

The Kosha: Physiological (pranayama)

This layer governs the energy body and all the processes that give us life and help things move, including the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems. 

The five Pranas construct this kosha. The five pranas are forces that have a specific function. They are Udana, Prana, Samana, Vyana, and Apana. 

Questions to reflect on:
  1. Where can I bring more fluidity into my life?
  2. How can I engage the world with more flexibility? 
  3. Where do I feel the most fluid and agile in my body?
  4. How does my breathing affect my movement and thoughts? 

 

Chakra for the water element: 

  • The sacral chakra – Svhadisthana. 
  • Color: Orange 
  • Mantra: Vam
  • Element: Water
  • Gland: Gonads
  • Psychological Function: Sexuality, Desire, Pleasure, Creativity
  • Body Part: Hips, pelvis
  • Organ: Reproductive and sex organs, kidney, bladder
  • Emotion: Guilt
► Read more about the sacral chakra here

Yoga for the Water Element

Your class may include hip, glute, and pelvis-focused postures with sequences that emphasize moving meditation and flowing with the breath. 

Still Waters Yoga Progressive Series:

All About Fire

Fire (Tejas) is expansive; its direction is upward and outward.

The qualities of fire are heat, desire, transformation, warmth, and willpower. 

Fire is Agni in Sankrit which refers to our spiritual and digestive fire. It governs the muscles and assimilative organs. 

Fire transforms all that it touches – as yogis, we worship the fire as we know that we are not the same person we were when we stepped onto our mat by the end of practice. 

Questions for reflection:
  1. What can you offer to the fire? 
  2. What are you ready to transform? 
  3. What changes are you witnessing in your life? 

 

The Kosha: Mental (manomaya) 

This layer governs thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions, and imagination. It is where we process our experiences. It also controls cognitive functions such as memory and critical thinking. 

 

Chakra for fire element:

  • Color: Yellow
  • Mantra: Ram
  • Element: Fire
  • Gland: Pancreas
  • Psychological Function: Ego, Courage, Purpose, Will Power.
  • Body Part: Solar Plexus
  • Organ: Stomach, gallbladder, liver, and spleen.
  • Emotion: Shame

► Read more about the solar plexus chakra here. 

Yoga for the Fire Element

Your class may include classes that activate the core strength and the solar plexus. Arm balancing postures fit into this element as they build heat, muscle, determination, and discipline and require a strong drishti (focus) 

Internal Heat Yoga Progressive Series:

All About Air

Air (Vayu) is the all-encompassing motion that exists in space. 

The qualities of air are heat, desire, transformation, warmth, and willpower. 

Air is Vayu in Sankrit and relates to the nervous system. The vayus are how prana moves through the body. There are five directions of the vayus in terms of how energy moves.

Prana Vayu is the most vital direction of energy as prana represents the body’s life force.

Prana refers to the inhalation, so its direction moves inward. We take prana through our nose and mouth in the air we breathe, but prana is contained in everything.

It’s in the water and food we consume, and prana is contained in how we see, hear, and feel the world around us. 

Samana Vayu is the assimilation of prana; its location is in the stomach and intestines, as this vayus’s function is primarily digestion.

It’s often associated with the solar plexus, Manipura chakra, and Agni—the digestive fire. 

Vyana Vayu moves energy outwards to the body’s peripheries; it moves in all directions to distribute the prana to all parts. It moves upwards and downwards, from side to side, and is centralized around the heart chakra to stimulate the lungs and respiration of breath. 

Apana Vayu moves downwards and is responsible for the exhalation and all down and outward movement of energy. Digestion, elimination, menstruation, ejaculation, and childbirth are all influenced by Apana.  

Udana Vayu moves upwards and is responsible for inspiration, inhaling breath. Udana influences speech, song, and communication. 

May we sip in the beauty of our environment through our eyes and body; may we sip it in and carry it with us through the rest of our day. 

The Kosha: Intellectual (vijnanamaya) 

This layer is what separates human beings from other life forms. At the intellectual kosha, we connect with our intuitive body and feel a sense of wholeness within and with the world around us. In this layer, we refine the ability to separate what is accurate and true from the illusion. 

Chakra for the air element

  • Color: Green
  • Mantra: Yam
  • Element: Air
  • Gland: Thymus
  • Psychological Function: Attachment, Compassion, Trust, Truth.
  • Body Part: Lungs, Chest, Arms, Hands.
  • Organ: Heart
  • Emotion: Grief

 

► Read more about the heart chakra here.

Yoga classes for Air Element

Your class may include an opening through backbends to engage the muscles surrounding the chest, shoulders, and upper back as a way to work with the air element as it opens and expresses the lungs. 

Light As Air Yoga Progressive Series:

All About Ether 

Ether (Akasa) fills all the elements; it pervades the earth, water, fire, and air. 

The qualities of ether are expansive, all-encompassing, subtle, light, imaginative, and ethereal. 

Ether is Akasha in Sankrit, where energy flows freely without obstruction. Ether contains all the other elements within it. 

Questions to reflect on: 

  1. How do you connect to your inner teacher?
  2. What brings you to a deeper awareness of the voice within? 

 

The Kosha: Blissful (anandamaya) 

The final layer is where we meet the Divine teacher within, God’s consciousness, and total unity with all beings. This kosha is where we feel love, compassion, kindness, and contentment. 

Chakra for ether element

  • Color: Indigo Blue 
  • Mantra: Om
  • Element: Light
  • Gland: Pineal
  • Psychological Function: Intuition, Insight, Vision, Clairvoyance.
  • Body Part: Head, Browline, Eyes. 
  • Organ: Brain
  • Emotion: Illusion
► Read more about the third eye chakra here.

Yoga classes for the Ether Element

You may want to include classes that work with inversions, such as shoulder stand, headstand, tripod, forearm stand, and handstand, are a way to connect to this element. 

Unseen Forces Progressive Series:

Meditations for the Five Great Elements 

Connect to the energy and power of the Five Great Elements through meditation, visualization, or mantra practices. 

5 meditations to choose from: 

13 Vinyasa Classes | The Elements Progressive Yoga Series

This collection of classes offers an exploration of the elements through 50-minute vinyasa practices. 

Clara partnered with Sanctuary Studios to co-create these classes, and now we are sharing them with our community.

Embrace the energy of the Five Great Elements: Earth – Water – Fire – Air – Ether.

The Elements Yoga Series – 13 Classes 

Tune into the frequency of the Five Great Elements with a progressive series designed to express each unique element with sequences, asanas, pranayamas, mantras, visualizations, and journaling prompts. 

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