Looking at the Roots of Yoga
With hundreds of various yoga styles evolving today, contemporary yoga may well be leading the seekers into confusion about where to start. From the ancient science of yoga, the last few hundred years has sprouted such a vast variety of popular approaches that today we are overwhelmed with choice. A good place to start would be going back to the very roots.
Let’s look back at the traditional philosophy of yoga. It’s hardly surprising that what we see is its deep connection to nature. The initial yoga processes and practices were designed to work very closely with the forces of nature; to be more precise, they were created to “dissolve” the five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. As this extends beyond asana, we are able to use many subtle approaches to first discover where our elements have become imbalanced, and that it is in the act of balancing them that we can experience their dissolving.
Based on this approach, Swara Yoga School has designed Elemental Yoga Therapy. It provides the practitioner with a blueprint, or maps, of the channels and organs that carry the five elements and demonstrates techniques and complimentary philosophies that enable us to work with our own rebalancing while enhancing the yoga that we are already practicing.
Using asanas, pranayamas, visual meditations and meditations on the five senses (indriyas), practitioners can create yoga practices that are ideal for their personal state of elemental balance.
The five elements are not a whimsical metaphor, however; they are qualities and concepts we can witness in everyday life, reminding us that our health and balance are dynamic states of being.
Let’s look at the element of Earth as an example.
The element of Earth is found at the base of the chakra complex and running through the stomach, the spleen and their associated energy channels in the legs and torso. We can enhance the experience, or connection to this element in a number of yoga practices. Earth, representing our awareness of center and self-nourishment, safety, softness, solidity, and cycles, to choose a few, plays its part in our psychological being by asking us to become aware of how we are responding to these qualities of life.
Someone who may be having difficulties with digestion will often find that there is a disconnection to one or more of the qualities of the Earth Element. By raising and stabilizing the flow of this element through asanas that strengthen these body aspects, and connecting to the concepts that they are teaching us, the yogis have the opportunity to resolve the imbalance. They discover that energy simply needs to flow evenly through the Elemental channels and organs, to begin its work in our mind.
Think of how the earth, with its qualities of solid boundaries, can help water to flow along, by using the earth’s riverbanks. As the Earth Element remains true to its qualities of solidity and form, it allows the water to express its own: to flow effortlessly toward a lower place.
Our whole multi-dimensional being works the same. As we learn to raise, lower, harmonize and dissolve each force of our nature, we gain the wisdom that the quality of each element represents. In this example, Earth and Water Yoga will bring us to the wisdom that as we maintain our own boundaries, we will flow more easily toward peace.
By practicing standing poses that are static, and holding the center of the pose to create stability, we are raising earth energy. If we begin our practice with the intention to learn about the signals our digestive system is sending us, we open ourselves to the wisdom of nature. A wonderful teacher!
So imagine a long warrior pose that brings awareness to grounded sensations through the legs, then a long mountain pose that regulates the breath into the center. If we rest there and contemplate the quality of the experience, we will find our mind is connected to earth energies, either in harmony, or resistance to them. It’s often a very revealing experience.
This is just a glimpse of how one of the five elements manifests itself in our body, and how we can work with it. In summary, Elemental Yoga uses the awareness of nature’s qualities with postures, pranayamas, mantras, mudras, meditations, visualizations, for meridians, organs, glands and chakras. It is reversing the perspective that the issue of our symptoms is in the body, and giving us a chance to freely make medicine with our mind. When we arrive at the more subtle elements of Air and Ether, we realize our multidimensional being in simple yet profound ways, and discover that yoga is experienced more deeply when we work with it more within ourselves.
If you are a yoga teacher already, knowing how to work with the elements will give you a great advantage. As many health imbalances are seasonal and cyclic, you will be able to create medicinal practices to help your students, based on some very simple observations of the energy of our seasons. A lot of students choose to do two or three teacher trainings with different teachers to find the form that fits them best, often mixing up different qualities to find an appealing approach that fulfills their students. The Elemental Yoga Teacher training is designed to bring more choices to the students.
Jai Garuda is an International Yoga teacher who began studying alternative medicine over 17 years ago. Trained in India and Australia in Hatha, Satyananda, and Iyengar yoga, Jai also teaches Zen Shiatsu, and has been a clinic therapist as a Kinesiologist, Holistic Counsellor, and Yoga Therapist. He has been actively involved in Community Health in several countries, training many students around the world to provide reliable and empowering Yoga Therapy and Medicinal Bodywork. He also has a long standing interest in Shamanic Medicine and Dance Therapy.
Elemental Yoga Therapy was assembled by Jai, combining wisdom’s from several sources of Natural Medicine and Self Development arts such as these. It is an entirely unique approach to Yoga, that unlocks the potential of Traditional Yoga as a very potent self development system for the modern lifestyle, by bringing yoga into daily life, through the connection we all need in Nature herself.
To read a full Bio of Jai’s work, please go to Elemental Yoga.
Editor: Edith Lazenby
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