Each year, I give talks about Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of medicine, and the five natural elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether/Space. And each year, I come to appreciate a deeper understanding of their qualities, value, and healing potential. This year was no exception!
By staying home due to the pandemic, I had the opportunity to teach online seasonal wellness programs that allowed me to work closely with yogis from around the country. Together, we went deeper in our elemental practice. We brought yoga and Ayurveda to life with daily routines and mindfulness practices focused on self-care, people care, and earth care. I hope in sharing these practices with you that you reach new heights in your exploration of yoga and Ayurveda, and that you fall more in love with the beauty of nature around you.
If you’d like to take your yoga practice to the next level, consider spending time with each element and the examples or challenges listed below. With summer on the horizon, I recommend starting with the Earth element practices to ground you, then working your way toward Ether/Space practices for the hot summer season ahead.
Examples: Practice savasana outside, sit on the ground, walk mindfully in nature, do forest bathing, or take a yoga class that has "Earth" in its title!
Food Challenge: Before each meal, take a moment to express your gratitude or say a prayer or blessing for the food and the resources it took to grow this food you are about to enjoy.
Environmental Challenge: Practice zero food waste. Avoid throwing out any food unless you compost, or have a worm bin or chickens to feed! Consider using leftovers in the fridge to make soup broths.
New Heights: Discover the name of the indigenous people that were here before you. My hope is that by learning about the history of the land upon which you live that you see what a privilege it is be here and not take this land for granted. Knowing the history may also help motivate you to be part of the change for more equality and justice for all people today and into future generations.
Examples: Swim or sit near an ocean, river, or stream. Drink adequate amounts of water. Sweat, soak in a tub, and take time to taste your food.
Food Challenge: See if you can create meals with seasonal ingredients and spices that include all six Ayurvedic rasas, or tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Including all six tastes can help you feel more satisfied after each meal.
Environmental Challenge: Save water! As you wait for your shower or sink to go from cold to hot, collect your water and re-use it to water your house plants or yard.
New Heights: Can you name your watershed? Where does your water come from? Perhaps knowing where your water has traveled will inspire you to take extra care in how you use it.
Examples: Sunbathe, sit near a fire, exercise or do multiple rounds of Sun Salutations, practice candle gazing meditation, set intentions, or eat spicy foods.
Food Challenge: Pay attention to signs of hunger in your body. Eat when you are hungry and consider having your largest meal mid-day when your digestive fire is at its peak.
Environmental Challenge: See beauty. What time does the sun rise and set these days? Try to see one or both this week and enjoy the beautiful light spreading across the land. Notice how you feel in the presence of this light.
New Heights: Align your wake and sleep times with the sun for each season for optimal health. Also, when your body’s internal clock is aligned with nature, you create a stable periods of rest that balances daytime activity.
Examples: Practice conscious breathing, stand in the wind, sing or chant.
Food Challenge: Take six breaths to get grounded and centered before eating. Bonus: Eat at least one meal a day in silence and focus on chewing your food more.
Environmental Challenge: Get to know the names of trees and native plants where you live. Befriend your environment.
New Heights: Reduce your carbon footprint. Ways to do this include: walking and biking more, driving less, and eating more plant-based food.
Examples: Meditate, focus on engaging your bandhas in practice for deeper pauses, do restorative yoga, set boundaries, enjoy star-gazing.
Food Challenge: For better digestive health, finish eating when you are satisfied rather than full. To do this, consider putting your fork or spoon down between bites.
Environmental Challenge: Know when the moon is in its waxing and waning phases, keeping track of any changes in your sleep, mood, and energy levels. Notice how the moon affects the tides, plants, or your pets.
New Heights: Find dark spaces to watch the night sky and let yourself be in awe of its beauty. Beauty is its own medicine and stargazing will hopefully bring you closer to nature, spark new creativity, and release stress.
May we each remember all the various ways we are interconnected to each other and the natural elements. May we remember that we are not on the earth, but made of the earth, as well as water, fire, air, and space.
I hope these elemental approaches offer direction and support in reaching new heights with your yoga practice both on and off the mat.
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