In this series, we explore the five elements in yoga and Ayurveda* – earth, water, fire, air and ether and we look at how reconnecting to nature outside of us can help us reconnect to our true, inner nature.
When starting your journey on reconnecting to the elements, I invite you to get reacquainted with nature. Stepping out into a nearby park, forest or natural space has been shown to dramatically improve wellbeing, from lowering blood pressure to boosting the immune system, improving mental health and enhancing longevity.
When we spend more time outside in the elements, we start to rebalance ourselves physically, mentally and energetically. There’s also an abundance of practices we can bring into our homes to balance the energetic elements within us too. Whether it’s the use of colour, scent, self-care practices or yogic techniques, you’ll discover the many ways you can get back to nature in your mind, body and spirit.
Connect to the Earth
It’s surprising just how easily we can lose connection to the earth. Spending long periods indoors, driving cars, wearing shoes and fixating on screens all creates a disconnection between ourselves and the earth. The longer we’re disconnected from the earth and the outside world, the more we forget our interconnected role within nature. Thus, the more we tend to focus on ‘I, me, my’ – the ego.
Like a cascade of dominos, the more we feed the ego by focussing on our own wants and desires and seeing ourselves as separate from the world around us, the more stressed and isolated we tend to feel. Indeed, when we’re disconnected from the earth and nature, we’re disconnected from our own true nature, which is pure conscious awareness, unobstructed by fear or stress and completely free.
Reconnecting to the earth element is more about doing less than adding more. Simplifying, letting go, and getting back to our most primal selves can serve as a way to feel grounded and earthed again.
In this elemental series, we’ll look at how we can use the five senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. Plus, specific yoga postures and breathing techniques to start cultivating more of each element within us. Throughout this journey, remember that you are the elements, so it’s really more a case of remembering what it feels like to connect to them.
The qualities of Earth element
Earthing is the practice of literally connecting your body to the natural earth. Also known as ‘grounding’, this simple technique can lower levels of inflammation, enhance the immune system, help wounds heal quicker, and gently treat chronic inflammatory conditions.
The earth’s surface contains negatively charged particles, whilst modern items such as phones, wifi, and computers all contain positively charged ions. These positively charged ions are generally detrimental to health and wellbeing. By disconnecting from phones and reconnecting to the earth for a while, we reduce the build-up of positive ions in the body, and neutralise the amount of charge the body has. This often leads to greater mind-body health, and a sense of feeling more emotionally ‘grounded’ too.
Taste: Sweet and sour
Each taste links to a different element and can help to enhance the energetic feeling of that element within us. Within the world of Ayurveda, this is an important topic. Having the ‘right’ balance of tastes in each meal means we generally feel more balanced energetically too. Too much of the ‘bitter’ taste for example, can aggravate the air, ether and wind energies within us. This may lead to weakness, anxiety, and lack of nourishment in the tissues.
The earth element is linked to sweet and sour tastes, which help to nourish our body, build tissues, provide an emotional sense of comfort, and help us to absorb vitamins and nutrients efficiently. The ‘sweet’ taste doesn’t just refer to sugars though. So if you’re looking to feel more grounded, try adding more sweet foods to your meals in the form of rice, basil, cashews, dates, milk, bananas, melon, beetroot, sweet potato, cardamom and cinnamon. Sour foods include grapefruit, lemon, lime, pickles, tomatoes, bread, vinegar, and garlic.
Sight: Nature and the colour red
Reconnecting to the earth element and feeling more ‘grounded’ can be as simple as walking in nature and really noticing your surroundings. Rather than plugging into a podcast or checking your phone, notice the colours of the trees, notice how the light filters through the leaves, or how your surroundings change from season to season. Doing this is a form of Shinrin Yoku, known as ‘forest bathing’ or ‘nature therapy’, and can be deeply restorative for the nervous system. From a yogic perspective, the colour red is linked to the root chakra and the earth element. Increase your earth energy by wearing red, or focussing on a red object as part of your meditation practice.
Sound: Schuman Resonance & The ‘Lam’ Mantra
Different frequencies can elicit either grounded, calm states of mind, or energised, focus feelings. The Schuman Resonance is a very low sound frequency, and is apparently the frequency emitted due to the vibration of the earth’s rotation. Listening to this frequency can be an effective way to shift perspective and bring awareness back to the fact that we are all a part of planet earth. Another sound that can help elicit more earth energy is the mantra ‘Lam’, which is the bija or ‘seed’ mantra for the root chakra. Chant this mantra with a relaxed, low voice as part of a japa meditation.
Smell: Using the sense of smell more often
The sense of smell is linked to the earth element, and is actually one of the first senses to develop within us. Without realising it, we actually use our sense of smell a lot. From subconsciously smelling the pheromones of loved ones, to using our sense of smell to tell whether something is edible despite it having been in the fridge a little past the sell-by date….
Smell is very much a primal sense – just look at how much animals use it – and reconnecting to our own sense of smell is a great way to re-awaken our earthiness. Pause for a moment and notice what you can smell around you right now, stop and smell the flowers on your next nature walk, or pick a favourite scent and meditate upon it.
Yoga postures: Feet, legs and hips
Asanas that bring awareness to the feet, legs and hips can help enhance our earth energy, especially those that are natural human positions – think of postures like Tadasana (Mountain pose) or Malasana (garland pose or ‘yogi squat’). A gentle way to practice with the earth element in mind, is to continually bring awareness back to the feet in each posture. In Warrior 1, can you feel your feet grounding into the mat? In Tadasana, can you feel the weight spread evenly throughout the soles of your feet, the engagement of your legs and the neutral position of the hips?
Pranayama: Box breathing
Cultivating an equal inhale and exhale (known as ‘Sama Vritti’) can help us feel more ‘grounded’ and calmer, and we can use this breathing practice with a technique known as ‘box breathing’. Each element has its own yantra or shape to meditate upon. The earth element’s yantra is a red square, so use this to accompany your pranayama practice:
- Visualise a large red square in your mind. See the edges and the corners of the square
- As you inhale, move your awareness along the top of the square from left to right
- As you exhale, move your awareness down the right side of the square, from top to bottom,
- Inhale again, move your awareness along the bottom of the square, from right to left
- Exhale again, move your awareness along the left side of the square, from bottom to top.
- Continue this for 3-5 minutes
Practice in class
Join Jennilee Toner in 5 classes exploring the 5 elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. Each class will explore (with asana, breath and awareness) the characteristics of each element. Visit playlist of classes.
More in the Five elements in Yoga series:
*Note these are slightly different to the 5 Elements in Traditional Chinese Medicine