Mostly we westerners don’t think elementally. We think in terms of vanquishing Nature. To see the effects of natural disasters (witness Hurricane Sandy in the U.S.), I think it’s a better idea look to how to work with hand-in-glove with Nature rather than trying to overcome her.
The yoga view is that there are five elements and these are the components of Nature (including our bodies):
- Ether holds the principle of space, or what is void or hollow.
- Air holds the principle of gas and movement.
- Fire holds the principle of heat and metabolism.
- Water holds the principle of what is liquid and fluid.
- Earth holds the principle of what is solid and dense.*
Interestingly, traditional Chinese medicine has a five element theory with which physicians studied the connections between the physiology and pathology of tissues and organs and the natural environment.
Living in nature as I do now, I’ve been paying more attention to these five elements and the way they intersect with my yoga practice and what I observe in my students.
In the Manning Valley, we’ve come out of a few years of a wet weather pattern which made our gardens and forests verdant. Recently, the climate has turned extremely dry, and bush fires and back burning has made the air acrid on many days.
It may be just a coincidence, but many people have been struck down with sore throats, colds and miserable coughs.
Today’s aphorism encourages us to tune in to the basic elements as a way to manage our health. Patanjali proposes observing the influence of the elements on our bodies, especially when we get out of balance from stress, burning the candle at both ends, bad diet, and even how we are approaching life.
In the system of Ayurvedic medicine, foods are broken down into flavours and how they relate to particular qualities, emotions, elements, and doshas.
The dry, smokey weather we experienced in the last few weeks played havoc with my predominantly vata constitution, and I ended up with a doozy of a cold.
Nature has been kinder to us this week and brought some balmy rain. And fortunately, my health has returned.
*The Essence of Yoga, Bernard Bouanchaud.
Samyama on the origin of matter in all its forms, appearances and uses can develop into mastery of the elements.**
**Patanjali’s Yogasutras, translation and commentary by T.K.V. Desikachar.