Moving from the stability of earth, through the flow of water, the passion of fire, and lightness of air, we reach the element that makes everything else possible: ether or ‘space’. Ether is both nothing and everything at the same time. It’s stillness, yet it’s the very thing that makes all movement and life possible.
Referred to as ‘akasha’ in Sanskrit, ether is the element that comes first in yogic and Ayurvedic thinking. Ether is without the firmness of earth, the coolness of water, the heat of fire or even the movement of wind. It is therefore the very essence of ‘emptiness’. The space element is the most subtle of all elements. Within our bodies we can recognise the space element literally anywhere there is space; the sinus cavities that allow for our voices to resonate, the space in the lungs that fills with air, and space in the stomach before a meal.
Medieval alchemists were fascinated with the ether element, believing it could turn lead into gold and even prolong life. They referred to the space element as ‘quintessence’; a term also used to describe the ‘heavenly bodies’ such as stars and galaxies. The ancient Greeks saw ether as a god-like element, and a substance that allowed humans to connect to spirituality and intuition. Ancient ancient yogis saw ether as that which was unbound and all-pervasive, and the element of potentiality.
In our yoga practice and modern lives then, how can we recognise and connect to the space element, especially when we can’t see or feel it? Read on to find out how to connect to the qualities of ether, and find more space and clarity in your own mind…
Ether & the Throat Chakra
The space element is directly connected to the throat chakra or ‘Vishuddha’, ‘place of purification’. The throat chakra is located at the base of the throat, along with the larynx or ‘voice box’. It is intimately linked to our ability to speak and be heard, but also our ability to truly listen. The throat chakra is very much about self-expression, speaking honestly and openly, and knowing that our voice matters. The throat chakra is often a place where energy becomes ‘blocked’, especially if we were repeatedly told to ‘be quiet’ as a child.
Blockages in the throat chakra may manifest in our being overly shy or experiencing chronic throat soreness. We may also be afraid to sing in public and feel as though we have to hold back from expressing ourselves fully. To encourage more energy flow throughout this vital space, it’s important to practice speaking the truth. Expressing your emotions to someone you trust, singing and chanting are all beneficial. As is caring for your throat with herbs like thyme and liquorice, and good quality honey.
Practices to connect to the Ether Element
Touch: Awareness of space
Many practices like Somatics, body-scan meditations and guided relaxation focus on feeling sensations within the physical body. However, we can shift our state of mind by shifting our focus away from physicality, onto aspects we can’t feel. To become more aware of your connection to the space element, first tune into the qualities present in your body – warmth, coolness, heaviness, lightness, movement and stillness. Then bring your focus to the space around your body. Notice the temperature of the air, sounds you can hear, and the light in the room you’re in. Shifting attention between the body and the space around us can help bring about a sense of being more connected to the world around us. It can give the mind a break from stress and chatter.
Ayurvedic texts explain how each taste is linked to a different element. The bitter taste is the only taste with a link to the ether element. This is primarily because of its ability to cleanse and create more space in the body. This taste helps scrape ‘ama’ (loosely referring to ‘toxins’) from the tissues, as well as gently cleansing the digestive system and gut. The bitter taste helps clear excessive elements from the rest of the body; removing excess fire element and heat, reducing water retention, and purifying the blood too. It can help support a healthy liver, which in turn can kick-start the body’s ability to naturally ‘detox’ from any excess impurities. Try adding more bitter foods to your diet with greens like chicory, chard and dandelion, as well as dill, fenugreek, turmeric and cumin seed.
We may not be able to see ether but it’s the substance that allows light to travel through space. To connect to light, try to incorporate more sunlight into your day. This has been shown in thousands of studies to have innumerable benefits, including improving immune health, bone strength, and enhancing longevity. Whilst we know sunlight is important for the absorption of vitamin D, it also plays a huge role in regulating our moods too.
When we get enough sunlight at the optimum times of day, mood, digestion, and sleep all improve. Try to get outside as early as possible, or head out for a walk between 8am and 11am. When we expose our eyes and skin to sunlight in the morning, this triggers all the cells in the body to ‘wake up’, and re-sets our body clock. By doing this, we also ‘switch on’ the digestive system at the right time, enhance our ability to focus, and prime ourselves for a better night’s sleep.
Smell: Sage smudging
Ether element is all about creating space, clarity, and lightness. A great herb to use when we want to refresh and re-set, or remove stagnant energy is sage. Sage smudging is an ancient ritual, established in Native American culture, but now widely practiced across the world. Sage has the physical properties of being antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and can even help clear unwanted smells from a room. It helps clear energetic ‘blocks’, removes old energy from a room, and is said to purify our own energetic body.
To sage smudge at home, light a stick of sage and walk around the room in a clockwise direction. Visualise old energy leaving the space, or chant the ‘Om’ mantra linked to this element. To help cleanse and clear your own energy, pass the sage stick over your body. You could also prepare sage tea, wait for it to cool to room temperature (make sure it’s definitely not still hot!), then pour over your body. You can also use a diffuser along with sage essential oil.
Sound: Raise your vibration
Everything in the universe is made up of vibrational frequencies, and whilst some are beneficial, others can be detrimental to wellbeing. If you’ve ever heard the term ‘raise your vibration’, there’s a good reason why! Our bodies and all of our organs are primed to resonate at specific frequencies. When those frequencies are ‘out of tune’, we may experience low moods, anxiety, stress, and illnesses.
It’s useful to reflect upon the things you feel may be pulling your vibrational state downwards; it could be a damaging relationship, too much time indoors, unhealthy foods, or an environment full of clutter. How can you reduce these things in your life? Next, reflect upon the things you feel raise your vibration; this could be spending time in nature, cooking, dancing, or charity work. How can you prioritise these things and add more of them to your life?
There are also specific frequencies we can use to elicit different brain states. To encourage a sense of love and compassion, search online for songs and sounds played at 528Hz. For a better night’s sleep, Theta sound waves can be helpful. If you need to focus, try Binaural Beats that contain 14Hz, which can enhance memory and concentration.
Pranayama: Brahmari Breath
Practicing Brahmari Pranayama or ‘humming bee breath’ is a great way to calm the nervous system. It also resonates the sinus cavities in the head. The practice involves making a long ‘hmmmmmmm’ noise on the exhale. It vibrates the throat and vagus nerve, thus activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘rest and digest’ part), and calms the mind. If you tend toward blocked sinuses, practice this whilst pressing on the UB2 acupressure points on the inner corners of the eyebrows, which can help release sinus blockages.
Practice humming bee breath with Jennilee Toner
Join Jennilee in practicing Brahmari Pranayama: Bumble bee breath. This breath, also known as the humming breath, will calm and harmonize both the body and the mind.
Yoga postures & movements for the Space Element
To connect to the space element in your yoga practice, try adding in more inversions, especially those that require you to focus more. Restorative inversions like Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose) or shoulder stand, bring energy towards the throat chakra and remove blockages there. Headstand and Pincha Mayurasana (forearm balance) naturally clear the mind as they require us to focus intently. Fish pose, Camel pose, and any backbends that involve a gentle opening of the throat area can also help enhance the space element within us, cultivating more clarity and lightness.
Journey through the rest of the elements:
Photo courtesy of Greg Rakozy on Unsplash