Have you ever noticed how one day you come away from a particular class feeling amazing, and then another time you may leave feeling just a bit meh..? We usually put this down to low energy, and it kind of is in a way, but it could be down to any number of energetic shifts, be it low, high, indifferent etc. Certain yoga poses stimulate or diminish certain states, so a good place to start is to listen in to how you are feeling that day. If you feel tired and sluggish, don't cancel your class, find a practice that's going to lift you, in most cases this is likely to be a more dynamic, sweaty class, even if that's the last thing you feel like doing. By tuning into the elements of yoga, we can relearn how we listen to our bodies and what they need on any given day. Below is a brief guide to the elements within the context of yoga:
Earth in yoga practice refers to grounding. Think forward folds, lengthening hamstrings, bringing the heart centre above the head in some capacity to give it a bit of a rest. 'Rest and digest' over 'fight or flight' when it comes to the Earth element in your yoga practice. In taking these sometimes softer, more introspective poses, we hope to activate Muladhara chakra, or root chakra, the centre of creativity and reproduction, and sometimes all you need to do to begin establishing that connection is engage your pelvic floor muscle (Mulabhanda).
When Earth poses should be taken: If you're feeling overly flighty, up in your head or self-analytical and stressed out.
Padangusthasana (standing forward fold binding peace fingers around big toes)
Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold - props can be used)
Parsvotanasana (pyramid pose)
Ardo Muka Svanasana (downward facing dog - child's pose works in a similar way)
Equally, if you find yourself feeling stagnant, sluggish or congested, Earth poses may not be the thing for you. The quality of Air in yoga centres around backbends and quad stretches, basically frontal opening for the body. These contribute to a sense of welcoming and openness. It can be a fine balance however, as sometimes feelings of extreme introversion need to be honoured, whereas if you have say, a chesty cough, a back bending, air centred practice could be just the thing for you. In these invigorating, energy lifting poses we look to activate Anahata chakra, or heart chakra, the centre of self-love and unconditional love (both to the self and others).
When Air poses should be taken: If you're feeling heavy, lethargic or congested in the respiratory system.
Natarajasana (dancer's pose)
Dhanurasana (bow pose)
Ustrasana (camel pose)
Supta Virasana (reclining hero's pose)
How is your digestion at the moment? If the answer is, like many of us find this time of year, not great, then a fiery practice may be the one for you. The application of the fire element in yoga asana practice focuses on twists, so no surprises that it aids digestion, but what is also important here, is the centre point around which we twist: the solar plexus, otherwise known as 'Manipura' chakra. This chakra is thought to be the centre of change, hence the need for building a fire around it to invite that change, progress and personal development.
When Fire poses should be taken: If you're experiencing digestive issues or feeling low on motivation.
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (twisted extended side angle pose)*
Ardha Matsyendrasana (lord of the fishes pose)*
Parivrtta Trikonasana (twisted extended triangle pose)*
*supercharge these poses by supercharging the breath, twists can feel tough to breathe through because it can feel like your organs are being crushed! But breathe powerfully through it to heat the digestive fire and reap the benefits.
If you find yourself lacking in creative inspiration, or if your interpersonal/romantic relationships are struggling, it might be worth looking to a water-centric elemental practice. The element of water is centred around the Sacral chakra, or 'Svadisthana' in Sanskrit. If our root chakra (located just below) allows us to connect to the earth beneath us, then the sacral chakra allows us to emotionally feel the world around us. The way to improve this emotional, creative, sensual connection is, unsurprisingly, through the hips and groin.
When Water poses should be taken: If you're feeling physically tight in the hips (and maybe experiencing lower back pain as a result) or when you need creative or romantic/sexual inspiration.
Malasana (garland/deep squat pose)
Utthan Pristhasana (lizard pose)
Baddakonasana (bound angle pose - can be taken reclined/supported)
Ananda Balasana (happy baby pose)
There are a wealth of yoga poses that you can incorporate into each of these elements, and you can also combine several into one sequence, so get creative! I hope using the elements in your yoga helps you to cultivate your own individual, unique and healing practice.