We all have those days when making it into the yoga studio to take a class seems next to impossible because of our busy lives. When we do enter the yoga room for what may just be the only time we get to ourselves the whole day, it can be challenging to turn off the mind chatter of everything we’ve carried with us emotionally and everything we’ve received from the people we’ve been with and the things we’ve seen on that day.
You may have heard your yoga teacher refer to this as chitta vritti or “monkey mind.” Your thoughts are dancing around wildly in your head and are resistant to letting you drop into the present moment where the only relevant thoughts are those related to your present state in the present moment in the yoga room.
The reasons we come to our yoga mats are numerous, but we are all familiar with the divine sense of relaxation that a yin or restorative yoga practice offers or the rush of joy we may receive after an intense power yoga flow.
If we’re preoccupied by our thoughts, we are distracted and not fully present; and emotionally, physically and spiritually we are not fully receptive to the benefits of the yoga practice.
Consider Elemental Meditation as an offering to drop more deeply into your yoga practice.
Elemental Meditation incorporates earth, water, air, and fire—the four elemental pillars of our universe—into a practice of mindfulness that holds universal meaning and is always accessible, wherever we are doing our yoga. Elemental Meditation can be incorporated mindfully into other parts of our lives as well. Different forms of elemental meditation have roots in Buddhist text, as well as in Native American traditions.
There are three main ways we can incorporate the elemental world into our yoga practice:
Auditory: You may listen to actual sounds of nature such as the rainfall, waves crashing or the claps of thunder (whether real or recorded), or you may imagine these sounds as part of your meditation and explore the healing properties of the sounds of nature.
Visual: There may be nature in the yoga room such as a plant, a flower, or a window overlooking the natural world just outside, and you can use this to help ground you and calm you down. You can also call in a setting in nature that feels calming, soothing and protective for your meditation.
Kinesthetic: The different elements of your yoga practice can help us connect more deeply with the elemental world for each aspect of the yoga practice can correspond loosely with an element. Pranayama is represented by air. Bandhas are represented by fire. Earth is represented by grounded asana. And water corresponds with the flow aspect of vinyasa.
Each of these four elements carries different meaning into the meditation practice:
Earth: Earth represents richness, fertile soil and terrain to root down into. The element represents the opportunity for prosperity. The earth element reminds us to ground. It reminds us of the support below us that is always present to support our rootedness. Rooting down into the earth helps us re-establish balance in our yoga practice and in our lives if we’ve recently been uprooted by life circumstances.
Imagine the roots of your favorite plant or tree supporting you as you ground into the earth to help you bring a sense of rootedness and presence back into your yoga practice.
Yoga Poses: Rooted poses, grounded postures, hip openers.
Air: Air correlates with our thoughts, creativity and our intellect. It’s representative of communication.
A focus on the air element calls for a focus on breath.
Yoga Poses: Balance postures such as Tree Pose, and Dancer’s Pose. Pranayama.
Fire: Fire is the most intense energy of the four elements. It’s flames represent transformation of energy, spark and change.
Imagine the transformation that occurs as the ways of relating to the world that may no longer be serving you are burning away.
Yoga Poses: Engaging bandhas when and where appropriate in the yoga practice. Abdominals.
Water: The flow of water symbolizes a current washing away that which may no longer serve us. It’s the element most commonly tied with emotion, flow, and change.
An honoring of the water element in your yoga practice may encourage you to go with the flow of poses and honor the tides of whatever particular emotions you’re experiencing during any given practice.
Yoga Poses: Flow sequences.
Each day and each yoga practice may bring about a feeling of which element may be most supportive to your needs on that particular day to support you in going back into balance physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Incorporating the natural world as it’s represented by the elements into our yoga practice may help draw us closer to balance when we’re feeling scatterbrained and help us truly mimic the pace of nature in our often chaotic lives.