Embodying the Four Elements
“If you look too closely at the form you miss the essence” – Rumi
Yoga can be many things. We commonly think of it as a good stretch or a way to tone muscles, improve mobility or calm the mind. The virtues of practising yoga for these purposes are significant and essential to healthy living. Very early on, however, I realised yoga has a capacity for enhancing well-being that extends far beyond stretch, tone or brief escape from the vicissitudes of life. As I committed to physical practice my awareness organically grew to notice things beyond physical sensations. Feeling deeply into postures and breath allowed me to do exactly that …. feel deeply. Within the safety of my mat and practice I touched into the person living inside the house of my body. My body was no longer an object to be “greased” or tuned up like a machine but rather treated tenderly as the storehouse of my experiences. My body bears my biography and expresses the currents of my person-hood like sand ripples with the effects of wind and water. Yoga has become the process through which I self-dialogue, non-verbally, with my state of being.
Within this inner dialogue is a circular exchange of feedback. My awareness gathers information on the condition of my mind, heart and body and then I am able to use this information to respond to my needs or wants within my practice or life more generally. I gain feedback, but I am also able to feedback TO myself and engage practices that support my experience or shift it. There are times when I am scattered and need a very solid, still practice. And other times when I’m stagnant and sluggish and need a fluid, intense practice. I have found immense empowerment being able to meet my needs in this way. However, it requires a creative approach to yoga beyond prescribed, mechanistic physical-only methods.
Using imagery and metaphor in practice is a way to lean into a more holistic practice. Imagery is a very powerful psychological tool used commonly in psychotherapy. Using a metaphor or image to describe an inner experience helps to express emotion while at the same time observing it rather than being consumed by it. To say “I feel like there is a giant dark cloud in my chest” means we are aware of, rather than consumed by the cloud. At the same time I could imagine allowing this dark cloud to rain down through my body, figuratively, and allow feeling to release through me, leaving clearer “skies” inside. Metaphors act as a bridge between two things that aren’t obviously connected. In creating this connection our cognition becomes more open, flexible and enhanced. This is key to insight and moving beyond stuck patterns of living.
In the coming yoga session, starting at the end of January, we will be exploring this more creative approach to yoga in depth using the metaphor of the four elements to guide inner experience. We will get curious about what it means to cultivate the essence of earth, fire, water and air internally. Using the four elements as a meditative practice means we can, firstly, get clear on where we are at, for example: Do you feel grounded today? Is there a solid connection to the here and now through an earthen connection with your bones? Or do you feel scattered by the winds of your thoughts or external factors? Using metaphor to inform our yoga practice helps us to feel into the energy of our being. Metaphor can also influence our being into new possibilities. What might it be like to imagine ourselves “on fire” with passion and perform yoga practices that cultivate that? Or to use the air element to bring space into body, heart and mind?
Working with yoga in this way means that its not just the house of our body that is tended to but the dynamic, multi-layered person inside as well. In this way, we make our house a home. We are influenced by our psychological states but we can also befriend and INFLUENCE our psychological states. Working with the four elements gives us inner tools for engaging, understanding and shifting ourselves toward health and wholeness.
If you would like to gain relationship with your elemental self through movement, breath and meditation please contact me at email@example.com. My classes are centered around gentle, restorative movement and verbal cues that engage your whole self. I weave in breath work and meditation that supports the development of self-awareness and self-