On Friday we had the baby and family expo at Kings Court Mall and there I was promoting pregnancy yoga. I had some of my yoga mats on display and someone who claimed to do yoga came up to enquire about the price of the mats. The mats sell for R500. A lady, quite indignantly, asked why the mat was ‘so expensive’. In short: the mat is much cheaper than what you would pay in shops or online and there are a number of reasons why it’s a wonderful yoga mat, but when I got to the part that one of the great things about the mat was that it was bio-degradable, she frowned and interrupted me – ‘why would anyone care if it was bio-degradable?’ she asked. Stunned at her ignorance and/or sheer stupidity, I could only reply: ‘Generally, yogis care about the environment’.
Her comment left me a little angry. Yes, angry is a strong emotion, but that’s me – no half measures. Upon closer inspection of my own response, I realized that – as always, my anger was just sadness earlier down the line. I ultimately felt sad about this woman’s clear indifference to the environment. Our Mother Earth that has always and continues to hold us all, provides for us all, selflessly, without asking for much in return – other than perhaps not killing her as quickly as we are currently doing. When did this woman stop caring? Did she ever care? And this shallow, narrow, indifferent and ignorant outlook – how many people in this country and in this world hold it?
When did so many of us stop caring?
Why does it not matter to us that our landfills are filling up and overflowing with products that will never decompose into something useful? Why is recycling so low on the agenda? Why is it okay that our country is full of rubbish everywhere and even when we put the rubbish in dedicated spots – why don’t we care that non-biodegradable waste impact on our environment in such a disturbing and serious way? Why don’t we care about our land, our country: this place on earth that we call home? If we don’t know the impact of our lives and rubbish on the environment – why don’t we care enough to find out?
This got me thinking further and to be honest, I got increasingly sad. I realized how many overweight and obese people I saw at the event on Friday, and how many really, really fat people I see every day, walking around PE. I ask myself the same question – when did we/they/fat people stop caring?
You didn’t wake up one day and realize – ‘oh geez, I’m 20 kg’s overweight! Who the hell visited overnight and handed me this nasty surprise? ‘There are no fairytale figures such as Father Christmas or the Tooth fairy who come and make you fat. You bring it on yourself, systematically, over time. At some point you stopped caring about yourself enough to stop and think – what am I doing to my perfect, miracle body? The fact that people stop caring about themselves is such a profoundly sad state of affairs and there are many, many reasons why this happens. I, of course, have sympathy for all those reasons. But let’s keep it real here – bottom line: When did we stop caring enough to look after ourselves?
How do you honestly and truly care and respect your body and then at the same time stuff it full of sh*t which ultimately has you the size of a house, miserable, sick, clammy and out of breath? (The same goes for smoking, excessive drinking, purposeful starvation, being in unhappy relationships, hating our jobs.)
Then I think about how people manage their weight and their attempts at weight loss. Even when people think they care enough to DO something about what has happened to their bodies, they don’t care about how they address it. The number of fad diets people follow, pills they take and other ways in which they just break the body down rather than build it up to deal with the damage that’s already there, is enormous! People starve themselves, clog up their livers and kidneys with toxins through medication, eat ‘food’ one molecule away from being plastic because it says ‘fat free’ or ‘sugar free’ and they do not care one dime how it impacts their body. People who exploit fat people by selling diet pills, books, and weight loss programmes that serves no-one other than themselves, make me feel nauseous. When did they stop caring about other people? How do you respect yourself if that’s the business you’re in?
As a nation we pride ourselves on many wonderful things about our country – and rightfully so. I am also very disturbed by how many people pride themselves on how much meat they eat, how much beer they can drink and how they drive so well when they’re drunk.
No one says you have to be vegetarian to be healthy but I only need to mention Dr Atkins for us all to realize how a diet consisting of predominantly meat, is bad for you, your health, your heart, your weight and just about every organ in your body. Eat meat if you enjoy it. Care enough for your body to understand the proportions you need in relation to your lifestyle, your blood group, and knowing what your body can and can’t handle.
The same goes for beer and alcohol. No one says you should never drink but looking at the beer bellies around town – really? Something to be proud of or something to hang our heads in shame about?
Driving drunk doesn’t even warrant a further word. Never mind seizing to care – when did you start hating yourself and every other person around you – those you know and those you don’t – that you not only think driving drunk is funny, but boasting about how well you do it is acceptable in any way shape or form.
When did we stop caring about ourselves and about each other?
In which era did we leave our self-respect behind?
I realized while pondering this, that because we have become so disconnected from ourselves: our true spiritual nature, we struggle to love and respect who and what we really are. We see ourselves on a superficial level – not acknowledging or realizing what a privilege life is, what a miracle we are, how vast and brilliant we were created. We stopped caring about ourselves and so we stopped caring for others and for the world we live in.
I am grateful to yoga for many things and this has to be one of the most fundamental and useful lessons I have ever learnt through the practice: Honour your body, honour yourself, acknowledging your connectedness to others, the environment and the world at large. This might sound so foreign and hippie-ish….but I would much rather associate with that way of thinking, honour my body, love my life, respect the earth and everything that dwells on it and care about whether my mat is bio-degradable or not – than live a life of ultimate ignorance, ill health, and disconnectedness from everyone and everything.
Step away from this mentality. Starting with yourself – begin to care again.
The question that the element of space asks is: what is your true purpose? It is the element that is the hardest to get to grips with in terms of what it is. It is everything – because everything is in space - but it is nothing. It is invisible, yet limitless, an intangible nothingness which is in everything and around everything. It can be seen as freedom or as our connection to faith and spirit. It teaches us a lesson about humility and learning. We are everything in our own eyes, yet we are nothing in the bigger scheme of things - a speck of dust when looked at from space. We learn to know as much as we can to be able to control and manage our environment, but the more we learn, the more we realise how little we know. We realise we are here as a result of something so much bigger than us…and we are part of that ‘something bigger’. There is a Universal Truth, which governs life as we know it – and as we don’t know it. Most mind-blowing of all - the Truth is out there, but it is also inside us. We are the Truth and we hold it’s power and it’s magic right inside us.
Space – You’re meant to be here…what is your true purpose?
The vastness of space has many valuable lessons for us. It teaches us about expansion – expanding our minds and bodies to access the limitlessness of our true being. We are more than what we have constructed in our mind. What our mind can grasp is useful, yet limited. We can exercise unimaginable creative energy when we expand fully into the space of knowledge and wisdom available to us through the Divine. The Divine is ‘out there’ and it is ‘in us’ through the element of space. We have the ability both to create the vision and execute the plan for our lives – living our true purpose. We have space and freedom to move and be ourselves - to live our own unique truth.
The bodily organs associated with the space element are the liver and the gall bladder. The energy meridians for these organs run up the inside (liver) and outside(gall bladder) of our legs, all the way up through the torso into the face (liver) and from behind the head towards the ear (gall bladder). As with the other elements, imbalances manifest in the organs themselves and speak to us through injuries, dis-ease or discomfort along any of these energy lines.
Common physical conditions associated with an out of balance space element are all conditions reacting to the liver and gall bladder – issues in blood purification, gall stones, and some hormonal issues due to the liver activating hormones (insulin, glucogen, thyroid and sex hormones). Many many dis-eases can be traced back to problems in the liver and gall bladder due to the vast functions of the liver. Those with a Space imbalance will often experience anger management issues, be very competitive, have wild ideas, be intimidating, reckless and forever craving arousal. They are easily frustrated, appear very busy and while they crave order, can be disorganised and easily confused. Someone with too much space energy will present as very controlling and sincerely believing they are always right.
Balance in the space element brings the freedom of movement and flexibility both in mind and in body. There is peace in flexibility because we know beliefs can change and nothing is ever set in stone. There is a sense of certainty, which comes from knowing that you don’t know. There is a healthy sense of direction accompanied by the ability to use initiative and take risks – because a leap of faith is so much more fun and meaningful, than recklessness! People balanced in Space have a strong sense of spirituality and their place in the Divine scheme of things. They are often strong leaders because of all the aforementioned characteristics.
Relaxing in the knowledge that you are part of something bigger, that you have access to infinite knowledge love and wisdom through your connection to the Divine.
There are many reasons to want to balance space so read on to find out how!
· Standing wide legged forward bend (Prasarita Padottanasana)
· All twisting postures and variations
· Extended side angle pose (with bind) (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
· Birds of paradise (Svarga Dvidasana)
· Reverse Triangle (Parivrtta trikonasana)
· Side plank (Vashistasana)
· Combine with water postures – standing splits and half moon/revolved (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana and (Parivrtta)Ardha Chandrasana)
· Wide Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana)
· Revolved seated side stretch (Parivrtta Upavistha Konasana)
· Meditation – space in body, space in spine between vertebrae, space between words and actions – time to reflect and choose differently
Lifestyle and Eating Habits
Balancing space goes hand in hand with cleansing and decongesting the body Sour foods help to detoxify the liver and give new life. Foods that balance space in general are wheat and barley grass, sprouts from alfalfa, mung beans, sunflower seeds, whole wheat, rye or mustard seeds. Green foods are great to balance space. These include spinach, kale, celery, asparagus, and cabbage.
The liver can become extremely congested due to excess fats, chemicals, toxins and even competitive environments. This impacts the livers functioning and while this is not easily noticed due to the liver being such a robust organ, we need to take extra care of this multifunctional organ. The liver impacts so many other organs in the body, so even though the liver might not be obviously affected, it has a very direct affect on other organs. E.g. when the liver isn’t healthy blood purification is very poor which leads to high blood pressure and heart diseases, and even skin problems. Hormonal issues can be due to poor liver functioning – clear examples of the indirect impact of poor liver functioning.
As for lifestyle tips in looking after your space, try these:
· Art therapy (creativity)
· Dancing (bringing freedom and movement in the joints)
· Creative and challenging projects
· Community awareness actions (being aware of being part of something bigger – having and influence and ability to make a difference)
Create space for your spirit to thrive. Live a life of purpose.
The question that the element of air asks is: what can you let go of? It assumes that in order for us to be adaptable to constant change and movement as a natural part of life – we need to be comfortable with letting go of those things we no longer need. We can’t fully move forward with a part of us stuck in the past – clinging on to hold beliefs, habits, or resentments. What do you need to let go of in order to become fully present? What is it that has managed to stay in your life even though it no longer serves you?
In addition to a theme of letting go, which is often very difficult and painful, air also incorporates positivity and vitality. New, fresh, positive life follows when we are able to release the baggage. We face what is holding us back and then emerge anew and afresh with new life and vitality.
Air – Keep moving and shaking…erm…changing!
The nature of air is to be ever moving and ever changing. It teaches us to learn to say goodbye as we let go, and to see loss as an opportunity for renewal. Air uses the cycle of breath as a natural metaphor for this lesson: taking what one needs, fresh and new (the inhalation), and releasing whatever has served its purpose and is no longer required by the body (the exhalation). What is brought in to our bodies through the breath is positive, as it is life force (prana) and it is a product of earth functions. While that which we exhale has become redundant or even toxic for the body, it has a purpose in the natural flow of life in the atmosphere and the world outside our bodies. This process illustrates our role in the cosmic cycles and how we are an integral part of something so much bigger than ourselves.
The bodily organs associated with the air element are the lungs and the large intestine. The energy meridians for these organs all run through various fingers and up the arms into the chest, up to the face under the nose. As with the other elements, imbalances manifest in the organs themselves and speak to us through injuries, dis-ease or discomfort along any of these energy lines.
Common physical conditions associated with an out of balance air element are asthma, bronchitis, constipation, and problems related to the lungs and large intestines. Psychological/personality difficulties evident in an air imbalance are bipolar disorder (often in combination with a fire imbalance), depression, general clinging and controlling behaviour, accumulating and hoarding tendencies, excessive perfectionism, righteousness and being overly analytical. People will also often experience feelings of vulnerability, anxiety, have a disinterest in life, have a habit of constant complaining and lacking in spontaneity and a sense of self-preservation.
Balance in the air element brings the capacity to embrace the winds of change. It brings the ability to make level headed judgements on the basis of sound and fair discrimination, and to feel comfortable to allow others to voice their own unique judgements. Balance in air allows the ability to maintain inner order, even amidst change and even chaos around us. It allows us to move on, to let go, to grieve and release whatever we need to in order to achieve inner peace and balance.
Once we become comfortable knowing that all things on our journey are meant to be there, but not all things are meant to stay, we free ourselves, our body and our mind by releasing what has served its purpose, and can now move on.
Here’s how to balance air:
· Pigeon, King, lazy, reclined, double (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana; Agnisthambasana)
· Humble Warrior (Baddha Virabhadhasana)
· Cowface (Gomukhasana)
· Lizard Lunge (Utthan Pristhasana)
· Camel Flow
· Flow between upward facing dog and downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana and Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
· Flow between childs pose and upward facing dog in a slower (yin) practice
· Squat (Malasana)
· Flow between Warrior 1 and 2 and Reverse Warrior
· Suffi grinding
· Fists between thighs and stomach in child’s pose
· Shoulder stand (Sarvangasana) with leg variations
· Butterfly/lying down(Supta/Badakonasana) – try with a bolster under the length of the spine
· Wind removing pose (Pavanamuktasana)
· Pranayama – interval breathing, full yogic breath
Lifestyle and Eating Habits
Due to their ability to remove excess mucus (apart from in conditions such as constipation when dryness in the large intestine is the issue), pungent foods are best placed to balance air. These include all members of the onion family, especially garlic, turnip, ginger, horseradish, radish, cabbage, kale, and daikon. Seaweeds and green vegetables are essential for rebuilding a healthy mucus membrane in the lungs and large intestine. The intake of fibre is super important to keep the large intestine healthy. Opt for apples, carrots and cherries as they are great sources of fibre and help to eliminate cholesterol from the digestive tract.
More so than any type of food, deep, conscious, expansive, full, yogic breaths are essential for the vitality of our lungs. Your large intestine is the last exit for all which your body needs to rid itself of. If the colon isn’t healthy, this toxic waste can sit in your body longer than is necessary – sometimes even years! Processed foods like white bread, white pasta, pastries, hard cheeses and other dairy products destroy healthy bacteria in the colon and it gets stuck in the walls of the intestines. Consider a colon cleanse at least once a year – even if you are vegetarian.
As for lifestyle tips in managing air, try these:
· Conscious breathing/pranayama
· De-clutter - your home, your office, your wardrobe
· Nature walks
· Cardiovascular exercise
Get comfortable with letting go of the past so you can fully experience and appreciate the present. Embrace the joy and challenge that changes can bring. You can either fight it or embrace it – but you can’t stop it! What is it going to be?
You’re heart’s desire, the fire in your belly, the pain and discomfort associated with purification and transformation – all of these are associated with the element of fire. In Part 3 of the Five Elements Series we take a closer look at how the element of fire plays out in our lives. The element of fire poses the rhetorical question: What do I NEED? Begin to try to answer that for yourself. What are my true heart’s desires? Can I allow myself to even want what I need? Where and how do I hold power in my life…and how do I lose power?
The fire element is a psychological element and so working with the fire element will raise a big response from your mind. You will meet resistance, justification and rationalisation as your mind protects the status quo. Allow your mind to have its say and then dig a little deeper. The wisdom of fire will calm your mind… eventually.
Fire: Meet your heart’s true desires and give the power back to YOU.
Fire’s nature is to destroy and transform: In the act of destroying lies also the beauty of a new creation. Understanding this teaching of painful destruction, preceding total transformation, is key to understanding the wisdom of fire. Coming into contact with fire can be seen as a sacrificial act – giving up the current form for the purpose of transformation. Mostly we hope for beautiful creations and new beginnings, but fire has a dark side too. Thinking about fire ceremonies and rituals, it is clear to see how bewitching fire can be: inspiring joy, celebration, creativity and MAGIC! Ever noticed how the dance of fire hypnotises those sitting around it? How it is strangely magnetic? Remember the old saying “ don’t play with fire ‘cause you’ll get burned”? These all illustrate the power of fire to draw you in…and possibly devour you. The issue with too much fire is the notion of giving away our own personal power to the external pleasures we seek. This leads to overindulgence, addiction, and compulsivity. The transformation that fire brings can be a beautiful process of growing in power through an increased freedom in love. However, that same fire, when out of control, can bring mass destruction as we lose ourselves and become a victim of our own desires. As always, the balance here is so key.
The bodily organs associated with the fire element are the heart, the pericardium (muscle that protects the heart), and the small intestine. The body’s immune system, described in Chinese medicine as the triple heater, is also associated with the fire element. The energy meridians for these organs all run through various fingers and up the arms into the chest, up to the head and face. Imbalances manifest in the organs themselves and in injuries, dis-ease or discomfort along any of these energy lines. The fire element is a psychological element. It is therefore much more common to find a fire imbalance evident in your approach to life and your state of mind - a stifling of your inner joy, a numbing of your charisma, lack of compassion and self-love, and an increase in pointless self-destruction.
Common physical conditions associated with an out of balance fire element are peptic ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoperosis, acne and so on. Psychological issues associated with a fire imbalance are bipolar disorder, addictions, and compulsivity. A fire imbalance will also show up in personality difficulties such as an obsession with euphoria and sense gratification as well as compulsive patterns of self-destruction. The opposite end of the imbalance points to a person lacking in creativity and energy, being weepy, bored and easily disempowered. One can clearly see two opposite ends of the spectrum in the out of balance fire element – on the one end the energiser bunny that completely burns himself out, running around, trying to find more and more pleasure and fun and satisfaction, draining everyone around them – and the opposite end: a person lacking in drive, with no fire in their belly left to engage in anything creative or exciting, low or no levels of joy and celebration or excitement. Both ends of the spectrum have placed the ‘power’ for their own love, joy and happiness in the ‘incapable’ hands of external sources of pleasure and satisfaction. They are not accessing their heart’s true desires and their quest to find it anywhere but inside, have rendered nothing but dissatisfaction and a further need to seek!
Balance in the fire element sees an individual acting from a place of unconditional love and compassion to self and others. Such a person doesn’t feel the need to hide his heart as a way to protect himself. Instead the heart and what it has to offer is sacrificed with the knowledge that by sacrificing, nothing is actually ‘lost’. It is simply a part of the natural cycle of elements moving through us, as we remain on a path of purification leading towards a higher consciousness. Fire brings about the quality of passion. People who have the power (and so the lack of fear) to acknowledge their heart’s desire and live accordingly – true and trusting – enjoying a life of celebration, charisma and creativity. It is not a path of least impact, least tears or least pain…but it is a path of huge rewards and satisfaction. It’s a typical case of ‘nobody puts baby in the corner’. If you can access and balance your fire – you make magic – in life and in love. Here’s how to balance your fire:
Yoga postures that balance the fire element stimulate mainly the meridians and to a lesser extent the actual organs. Balancing fire could require a dynamic practice, breaking a sweat and building physical power to create the quality of power in the small intestine, and it can also involve a very slow and conceptual yin practice, honing in on messages of love and opening up the heart – allowing ourselves to be vulnerable; sacrificing fear for transformation. Yoga postures include:
· Plank (Palakasana)
· Boat (Navasana)
· Arm balances
· Headstand (Sirsasana)
· Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
· Forearmstand (Pincha Mayurasana)
· Dolphin (Makarasana)
· Savasana with heart opening backbend
· Heart Salutations
· Pericardium opening stretches
· Clear intentions for practice given the activity of the mind in fire practices.
Lifestyle and Eating Habits
Foods that balance fire include cooling foods such as celery, lettuce, sprouts, cucumber, tofu, watermelon, lemon, limes, mung beans and chamomile. These foods will cool down your system and are easy to digest. When trying to balance fire it’s best to eat raw and green foods, as well as food cooked at high temperature for a short time. It is important to look after your small intestine in balancing the fire element in your body. Digestion in the small intestine is closely linked with all the other digestive organs – yet 90% of all digestion takes place in the small intestine. Health, in many ways, can be measured by the effectiveness of the digestive FIRE – that which is found in the small intestine.
As for lifestyle tips in managing your internal fire, the following are recommended:
· Swimming in cool water or simply finding ways to stay cool
· Engaging in creative activities, writing, painting, choreographing or dancing
· Meditation to assist your mind in focusing
· Devotional practices, depending on your religion or taste, singing devotional songs and Kirtan are known to light the fire in our hearts, to open us up, to experience the love from the Higher Source that lives through us – that love of endless compassion, care and kindness. Connecting with our higher loving selves here is invaluable.
When we are able to access the full capacity of our loving hearts we find immeasurable power within ourselves. Balance fire – calm the mind and open the heart.
In Part 2 of our Five Elemental Series we explore the glorious qualities of water. Think sparkling oceans, glistening lakes, magnificent waterfalls, puddles and raindrops - and what they teach you about your body, your health, your happiness. Our bodies consist of 70% water and so the water element is alive and flowing inside us…in a big way. How do we begin to connect to our water element – and how do an out of balance water element impact our health and quality of life?
Water – Flow effortlessly: Know where you are going.
Water always has one clear goal which is pursues with commitment and determination: to flow effortlessly, changing shape constantly, and moving, always towards finding the lowest point, in any landscape. Once there, water can become still – so still that you can see your reflection in it – like a mirror. On the path to the lowest point, water runs into many different directions, gathering bits and pieces to take on its journey with it. Likewise in our bodies, water transports information and nutrients, via our blood and circulatory system. We can see this in a symbolic sense as the water element representing the sense we make of knowledge and experience gained on the multiple avenues our life journey can take us on. We carry this information and knowledge with us, and can choose what we hold on to and what we discard, how and where we use these experiences. The point being that the knowledge and experience has been gathered – it is there for us to love or leave at our own peril.
Then eventually water actually reaches the lowest point. This symbolises “getting to the bottom of things” or the establishing the truth – our own true, our true potential, and our honest feelings. Being at this lowest point water illustrates that in stillness we have the ability and clarity to reflect. If we can quiet our physical body and above all our mind – we can learn and gain a whole lot! We have acquired all the information, knowledge, wisdom and experience along the path to get us where we are now….now we need to trust that we can use that properly and truly ascertain – where am I going?
The organs in our bodies that we associate with the water element are the kidneys and the urinary bladder. Water energy meridians run up from our feet through the inside and back of our legs, and up the torso to the clavicles in the front body and all the way up our back, the back of our heads and over towards the inner eyebrow. Water imbalances manifest with issues in our urinary bladder and kidney. It is also common to experience injuries on these energy lines or meridians such as tight hamstrings, back pain, neck pain and headaches. Common physical conditions associated with water imbalances are central nervous system issues such as stress, insomnia, fertility issues, menopause, sciatica, scoliosis, and all other spinal related issues due to the location of the urinary bladder meridian running up the spinal cord.
An out of balance water element, and corresponding physical dis-ease aims to draw our attention to the way in which we live our truth – or not. Are your water imbalance symptoms your body’s way of telling you that you have created a life on the basis of what you ‘think’ you ought to be and your true self has gotten lost in the ‘show’. Having to uphold a façade – regardless of how subtly we do so may lead to us either being very controlling of people and circumstances – all out of the ultimate fear of being exposed as a fraud, OR becoming very withdrawn, apprehensive and easily guided because really we have no idea where we should be going ourselves. When we have a water imbalance, we have low self-esteem born out of a lack of trust in ourselves. How can you trust yourself when you haven’t connected with your own truth? What/who exactly would you be trusting if you haven’t yet taken the time to connect with your true feelings and you don’t know your true potential.
A balanced water element means the teachings of water as mentioned above are seeping in – we become adaptable and more accepting of the truth in others and how it manifests itself. We have an openness to learn in a philosophical way as we follow the path of knowledge. We are less controlling of outcomes because we see the opportunity to learn and grow in everything – we find it easier to ‘go with the flow’ and appreciate the journey as much as the destination. We are able to be still, reflect, find our own truth, be connected to our feelings and grow in knowledge about our true potential and ourselves in general.
We have all seen and experienced water imbalances in ourselves and in the people around us. Living a life out of fear has devastating effects on your relationships, your career, and your general quality of life so let’s look at ways of balancing water pronto!
A Yoga practice aimed at balancing water will have a general aim of flowing and doing so with equanimity, effortlessness and ease. Fluidity in movement is extremely important when balancing water. Yoga postures aimed at stimulating the urinary bladder, kidneys and both organs’ energy meridians involve:
· Backbends – baby and big back bends are all stimulating to the kidneys and water meridians
· Forward folds – both standing and seated forward folds
· Kidney Squeezes – baby cobra (Bhujangasana) and variations
· Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana)
· Plough (Halasana)
Yoga postures challenging our balancing capacity also helps to balance water so have fun with:
· Tree (Vrksasana)
· Dancer Pose
· Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)
· Standing Hand to big toe (Padanghustasana)
· Warrior 3 (Virabhidrasana 3)
Note: always remember to warm up your spine properly before undertaking a strong backbend practice and alternate backbends and forward bends to keep balance in the spine.
Lifestyle and Eating Habits
Foods that balance water tend to have a salty taste to store food and energy deep into the body. We recommend rock salt or sea salt as opposed to processed salts such as table salt or salt found in processed foods.
In balancing water you want to be eating foods that promote kidney functioning and you want to be hydrated – always! Consider including barley, quinoa, tofu, black beans, soya beans, mung beans, kidney beans, seaweed, spirulina, sesame seeds, soy sauce miso and pickles in your diet. Spices like cloves, fenugreek seeds, anise seeds, black pepper, dried ginger, and cinnamon are great to include and enjoy lots of walnuts, onions, leeks and chives.
To connect to the water element in your body, undertake activities involving water such as swimming, enjoying hot thermal baths or seeking out hot springs. Try guided meditations on water and its qualities and seek out opportunities for stillness and reflection. And if all else fails – just make sure you stay hydrated!
Try to find ways in your life and practice to find your water, find yourself, and find where you are going.
The Five Elemental Series:
In working our way through the five elements, their qualities, how they present as balanced and imbalanced in our bodies and how we make them work for us, we begin by looking at Earth – the densest of elements. Our solid foundation – our home.
1. Earth - Find Your Center, Know Who You Are
When I think “Mother Earth”, I think place of safety, nourishment, home. “Mother Earth” has the qualities I associate with my own mother and so -lucky for me – the earth element’s qualities make sense to me. The Earth gives to us, her inhabitants, without asking for anything and without any judgement – completely selfless. Even when we treat her with disrespect or disregard – she just keeps on giving. She gives us a place to be – a center – a place where we belong in space. The strength and solidity of the earth comes from her very core, her center. It is from this center that she is able to hold us, nourish us and provide for us.
Brining the qualities of earth into our bodies we think about our core, our center. This is a concept we often hear about in yoga and if you weren’t ever really sure if the teacher meant your abdominals or maybe something more…now you know. Our own center is our bit of ‘earthness’ When we connect to our own center, we connect to our ability to nourish ourselves and others, from a selfless and centerd place, where we don’t ‘run out’ or ‘need something in return’. We draw personal strength and self-reliance from our core. Being able to be ‘centered’ so we can connect to the earth qualities within us, requires us knowing who we really are and that is the exact question that Earth asks us to come to terms with: Who are you?
The organs in our bodies that we associate with the Earth Element are the stomach and the spleen and the earth energy meridians run down our legs and feet – our physical foundation. Earth imbalances manifest through physical symptoms in the stomach or spleen, or along these meridians and common health conditions associated with an earth imbalance are diabetes and food/eating disorders, such as obesity, anorexia or bulimia. An Earth imbalance can also be identified on a personal and emotional level. If you find yourself to be a bit of a people pleaser, perhaps compromising yourself in an attempt to gain a sense of belonging or value, that points to an earth element imbalance. Often times we feel depleted from giving so much to others and in that case it is because we’re giving from a place of loneliness or fear. This results in feeling resentful when we feel our kindness is not being returned. Rigidity is another sign of an earth imbalance. The incessant need to control everything and everyone, and persistent attempts to keep things in a consistent and predictable pattern are all actions aimed at maintaining the sense of safety that has so carefully been constructed. It’s a false sense of safety because the real sense of safety and security, coming from the earth in our core is weak or not even present. It is a lonely place to be.
We are balanced in earth when we have a strong sense of belonging – just within ourselves. Earth’s strongest babies ooze strength and solidity, but will balance this well with softness, care and support. They know their boundaries – when to say no and they don’t need others to agree or approve of what they decide. It’s simple – when you know who you are, and you are honest and loyal to that connection with yourself (your core/center), you will know how to care for yourself. In so doing you are in a much better place to care for those around you.
You will agree – earth in balance sounds great, earth imbalance – not so much! So how do we get our earth on!
God bless YOGA!
The success of just about every yoga posture is dependent on a strong foundation to the earth (through your feet or whichever part of the body is connected to the earth) and your core. Bringing your awareness to that strong foundation, strengthens your connection to the earth and earth energy in your body.
Most importantly though, is your awareness of your center. We generally refer to our center as being in the center of our bellies. We bring our awareness to the center of our bellies through our breath through pranayama techniques but can do so simply by focusing on our belly expanding on the inhale and falling on the exhale. All the qualities of the earth: the strength and support, care, self-honesty, loyalty, boundaries, self-less giving – are right there – inside us. When we connect to this part of ourselves we connect to our true selves and when we respond and act from this center, we do so in a congruent way. We do so on the mat by realising our amazing strength and not crossing our own boundaries and hurting ourselves, and off the mat by being honest about who we are. We increase our awareness of our earth qualities and cultivate them. We begin to understand which people or situations ‘take our center away’, i.e. have us lose who we are and start behaving from some frame of reference born our of fear. If we can become aware of situations that have us responding from somewhere outside of our center, we learn something about ourselves right there and then. We can take the learning and practice holding our center in those situations or taking ourselves out or away from those places or people. Our breath and focus in yoga connects us to our center and this is the best place to practice recognising and then holding on to that connection.
Strong earth postures in Yoga that will make you feel grounded when you focus on connecting to your center and the earth energy are:
· Warriors(Virabhidrasana 1 and 2) = focusing on the foundation – feet (squeezing the big toe into the ground activates earth meridians), legs, hips
· Chair (Utkatasana)
· Camel (Ustrasana)
· Low Bridge (Setu Bhandasana) – form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders – lifting hips by pushing into the feet, drawing energy from the earth and squeezing the big toe. (To intensify raise one leg at a time with soles of raised foot facing the ceiling and hold for 5 minutes)
· Mountain Pose (Tadasana) – feeling all four corners of the feet connected to the earth, thighs are engaged and strong, tailbone tucked, stomach in.
· Hero Pose (Virasana)
· Core work – focus on a connection with both your front body as well as the back body – this is more than an ab work out!
Lifestyle and Eating Habits
You can balance your earth element with your diet and also with day-to-day activities. Focus on eating root vegetables like carrots, yams and beets. Corn and Peas are also strong earthy type foods, as are wholegrains, quinoa, pumpkin, apricots and pears. Think ‘yellow’ foods that create a sense of satisfaction. Help the spleen to function even better by lowering your fluid intake during meals.
You can further connect to earth energy by having daily practices of connecting with your center. Do this in one or more of the following three ways:
· Ritualistic practice – decide on a ritual for you to remember to practice connecting with your core – I try to tie it in with my meals – so every time before I eat I take a moment to stop, breathe and center myself.
· Dedicated practice – set aside a time of day when you stop to center – 6am when you wake up, 3 pm when you usually fall asleep at your desk. Have a certain time of day and set an alarm to remind you
· Spontaneous practice – center whenever you think about it!!
If you regularly practice centering yourself like this you will soon find that you find it much easier to center in situations when you need to be strong to be true to yourself, and knowing when you have been ‘knocked off’ your center.
Further connect with the earth element by simple things such as walking barefoot (and noticing it), cooking whole foods (and appreciating the goodness from the earth), taking a mud bath, doing pottery, and engaging in gardening or permaculture.
Connect to the earth element in you – the Earth needs you to.
We in the western world have in recent years had to acquiesce that our modern medical model does not 'heal the world' and there is much to be said for and learnt from the wisdom of ancient healing methods...such as Chinese medicine, now widely employed in western hospitals through acupuncture.
Traditional Chinese medicine use the Five Element Theory to understand all relationships between the physiology and pathology of the human body and the natural environment in which we live. The five elements, Earth, Water, Fire, Air (aka metal) and Space (aka wood) each have distinct qualities, and they are in constant interaction with each other in response to what is happening in our world. When one or more of these elements get out of balance we experience some form of physical illness or dis-ease, which can also be emotional. The theory is extremely complex but if we can just get our heads around the fact that our bodies, and our natural environment exist as a composition of these five elements, we know enough to begin to explore how the elements play out in our body, mind and spirit, and how we can balance elements to improve our health and quality of inner state.
It is one exiting, and very empowering journey when you become curious about how your body works, and where dis-ease stem from! Feelings of discontent and unhappiness, physical illness, allergies, injuries, mental health issues, relationship difficulties, addictions and so forth – can all be explained and healed through understanding and acting on the elemental imbalance that brought them about. Your body communicates with you through physical symptoms so you can become aware and DO something about imbalances. Listen to your body because the body knows and the body never lies!
We become amazingly powerful once we:
· accept responsibility for listening to the messages communicated to us by our physical body to warn of imbalances,
· understand that our body will communicate messages and these messages will get more intense and harsh the longer we take to listen,
· understand most of all – that our body can heal itself.
In the five element series we will describe as simply as possible the five elements in our energy bodies:
· their qualities,
· how they relate to our physical bodies, and
· how they manifest in balance and out of balance.
You can then begin to identify the qualities of the elements within your own body and mind and notice where the imbalances are. We then offer you some helpful yogic, diet and lifestyle advice to bring these elements back into balance.
Enjoy the journey of learning about and understanding the amazingly complicated yet powerful creature that you are!