From chakras to mudras to asanas to doshas, yoga philosophy attempts to define and balance the full range of our human existence. While Western yoga is highly focused on the physical practice of yoga postures, yoga encompasses a much deeper level of existence- specifically, the mental, physical, and emotional harmony of our lives. This is where the 5 elements of yoga come into play. These energetic qualities of our bodies and the world help us find peace, good health, and balance.
If you have been seeking a deeper connection with nature and yourself, here is everything you need to know about the 5 elements of nature according to yogic philosophy. Plus, we include practical ways to bring these elements into equilibrium in your yoga practice and beyond.
- 1 The 5 Elements of Nature
- 2 How the 5 Elements Apply to Yoga
- 3 Using Yoga to Balance The Five Elements of Nature
- 4 Key Takeaways: The Five Elements Balance and Enhance Yoga Practices for More Connection to Nature
The 5 Elements of Nature
For thousands of years, ancient cultures have sought to identify what makes up nature and the world. Traditional Chinese Medicine has the 5 phases of qi or life force, while ancient Greek philosophy supposed that the Universe is made up of four classical elements or “roots” for the Greek gods. In modern chemistry, we have the periodic table of 118 elements.
All of these philosophies attempt to answer the question: What is life made of?
Ayurvedic and Indian philosophy defines five elements that compose the core building blocks of the universe, including every person, plant, animal, and object. They are the basis of all of the cosmic creation. In Sanskrit, these are known as the pancha bhutas or panchamahabhutas. The 5 elements are:
- Prithvi or Bhumi (Earth): Representative of grounding, safety, stability, survival, and support. It is closely correlated with the root chakra.
- Jal (Water): Represents cleansing, soothing, pleasurable energy that flows with life. This element is linked to the sacral chakra and our emotions.
- Agni (Fire): Symbolizes heat, passion, energy, motivation, and transformation. This element is a catalyst for action and is correlated with the manipura (navel) chakra.
- Vayu (Air): Air represents any form of motion or movement. It is correlated with the heart chakra and relationships.
- Akasha (Ether or Space): This element represents space, emptiness, and consciousness. It is the most subtle element and is associated with the throat chakra.
These basic elements of life seem quite rudimentary, but the hold tremendous spiritual importance. Earth, water, and fire are the most tangible and visible forms that we experience in our daily physical lives. Space and air are intangible and invisible, but we know they are there.
While each element seems to exist on its own, they are actually all intertwined. You cannot have one element without the rest. For example, fire cannot burn without air because the oxygenation fuels the flame. Similarly, you cannot have water without space because rivers and oceans must flow through the physical space of the planet.
In our own bodies, these elements affect us in both a literal and metaphorical sense. For example, when you are excited or motivated about something, you may describe having a “fire within you”. If you are physically dehydrated or imbalanced in the water element, your body may have issues with digestion and urination.
Practicing yoga can help improve your awareness of these elements and how they may be out of balance in your life.
How the 5 Elements Apply to Yoga
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, yoga is the union of mind, body, soul, and spirit . The philosophy asserts that finding peaceful harmony within ourselves (reaching a radiant experience of enlightenment or samadhi) requires deep self study and meditation. Yoga as a lifestyle involves so many practices for reaching this level of self awareness. The Eight Limbs of Yoga are:
- Five Yamas (Moral Restraints, like non-violence and truthfulness)
- Five Niyamas (Ethical Practices)
- Asana (Physical Postures)
- Pranayama (Breathing Practices)
- Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal)
- Dharana (Concentration)
- Dhyana (Meditation)
- Samadhi (Pure Contemplation)
The 5 yoga elements are interwoven into every level of these practices. For example, the air element is the core focus of pranayama breath control, while the space element is linked to the concentration and intuition of meditation.
The fluidity of water is noticeable in yoga practices like Vinyasa or Sun Salutations, which aim to flow between asanas like a dance. Meanwhile, the heat of the fire element is found in the physical exercise components of a challenging yoga class or the practice of fast-paced “fire breath” to build energy in the body.
The elements are also closely linked to physical healing. Ayurveda is the ancient system of traditional natural medicine that coincides with yoga. It asserts that diseases and ailments are caused by imbalances or stressors in your personal consciousness, which can be alleviated through changes in your lifestyle, food, herbs, and spiritual practice.
You may have heard of the Ayurvedic doshas. These three energies (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) are believed to circulate throughout the body while governing our health and wellbeing. Each dosha is a combination of two elements.
- The Vata dosha is made up of air and ether.
- The Pitta dosha is formed of water and fire.
- The Kapha dosha is a mix of earth and water.
You can see how the elements can be balanced through yoga and Ayurvedic healing, or they can be knocked out of equilibrium by mental, physical, or spiritual challenges. Let’s dig deeper into the specifics of each of the five great elements:
Using Yoga to Balance The Five Elements of Nature
We could all use more balance in our lives and our yoga practice. But this starts with understanding one element at a time and reflecting on
When applying the five elements to your yoga practice, avoid focusing too much on the physical manifestation of each element. Instead, think of the vibrations, energy, and essence of the elements in your body and your practice. As you move on your mat, try to feel the sensation of the element you are focused on. Then, as you return to your daily life, notice how this element (in its energetic and physical form) appears in your body and your environment.
Some truly serendipitous things can happen with this practice. You may notice ways in which your emotional expression is lacking (imbalanced water element) or your anxiety is heightened (imbalanced air element). As a result, you may find yourself drawn to bodies of water or bird watching as a means of self reflection. You can use specific yoga poses and exercises to dig deeper into these imbalances and find more healing.
Let’s dig into the details of each element:
Earth Element (Prithvi)
The first element is the foundation for all the rest. After all, without the planet Earth, humans would not exist or even have the capacity to contemplate a higher power. This element is all about groundedness and the solid structures of existence (our bones, muscles, skin, hair, and teeth). It is represented by a yellow square.
Mood: Stability, strength, permanence, safety, patience, security, grounding, fertility, foundation, anchoring
Chakra: Root chakra (Muladhara)
In Harmony: When the earth element is in harmony, you feel grounded in your identity and sense of purpose in the world. You are confident, strong, and energized. You feel safe in your body and calm amongst your surroundings.
Out of Balance: When the earth element is out of whack, you may feel tired, insecure, weak, fearful, greedy, materialistic, or possessive. You can also feel unsafe or unsure of your identity. You may not have very much energy or appetite. Physically, there can be issues with the skin, bones, teeth, nails, or hair.
How to Harmonize the Earth Element: The most obvious way to find balance for your earth element is to go outdoors to be with nature. Walking barefoot on the soil or grass (as long as it’s not treated with herbicides) is scientifically-proven to reduce inflammation, reduce pain, and calm your nervous system. This is also called “earthing”.
You can also practice stabilizing and grounding yoga poses such as:
As you move through these poses, focus on drawing your body downward and feeling how gravity supports your being. Feel your feet pressing into a solid foundation. Positive affirmations and journaling can help improve your self esteem. Reaching out to a loved one for quality time or advice can help expand your support system so you feel more grounded and safe.
Water Element (Jal)
When you think of a river, pond, lake, or the ocean, it is clear that water is cleansing and free-flowing. The Earth is over 70% water and our bodies are about 60% water. This element is especially notable in our bodily fluids, such as digestive juices, joint lubrication, saliva, blood, and reproductive fluids. The water element is connected to our emotions, feelings, and flexibility. The symbol for this element is a white crescent moon.
Mood: Fluidity (“going with the flow”), fun, creativity, adaptability, change, sensuality, pleasure, purification, movement
Chakra: Sacral chakra (Svadhishthana)
In Harmony: When our water element is in harmony, we feel emotionally balanced and free to express ourselves. Our creative juices are flowing and potentially our attractive intimate side as well. The link to the sacral (second chakra) explains why water is so closely correlated with passion and creativity. The water element makes it easy to get “in flow” with your productivity, routine, yoga practice, or life. You feel ready to adapt to change and flexible in terms of plans or expectations. You are willing to flow with new ideas, be playful, and maintain an open mind.
Out of Balance: When the water element is blocked or destabilized, it can manifest as emotional suppression, addiction, creative blocks, or mental rigidity. You may feel overly serious, depressed, or unable to express yourself. Life can feel heavy. Instead of moving and flowing with ease, you may feel sluggish and stagnant. Dehydration also creates a range of physical imbalances like brain fog, dizziness, tiredness, sluggish digestion, dark urine, and dry mouth or eyes. There can also be issues with intimate dysfunction.
How to Harmonize the Water Element: Vinyasa yoga is one of the best ways to get back into flow with your inner water. You can dance and embrace movement to loosen up any stagnant energy. The best asanas for balancing the water element include:
- Sun Salutations
- Moon Salutations
- Plow Pose
- Cobra Pose
- Crescent Moon
- Downward Dog
- Pigeon Pose
- Other hip opening poses
Breathing is another important way to calm your mind and activate your water. Pranayama practices like Three-Part Breath can help stimulate the flow of vital energy through your lungs and body. Unsurprisingly, swimming or meditation near water is a a simple practice to unlock this element. If you’re feeling blocked, don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids and moisturize your skin with a natural cream or oil.
Fire Element (Agni)
The fire element is vital to your yoga practice because it fuels your inner warmth and passion for life. This element is all about transformation. It is hot and active, clearly part of physical fitness as well as mental discipline. It is represented by an upward red triangle.
Mood: Dynamic, passion, active, heat, stimulating, strengthening, ambition, willpower, confidence, courage, leadership, metabolism, identity, purposeful life
Chakra: Solar Plexus chakra (Manipura)
In Harmony: When the fire element is balanced, you will likely feel passionate, engaged, and excited about life or your work. You have an “inner fire” that fuels you forward and keeps you “warm” on cold nights. Your body has plenty of core energy and circulation. Your energy is bright, warm, and welcoming. People with a lot of balanced fire often make great leaders who empower others to work towards a common goal.
Out of Balance: You can imagine that a “fiery” individual is most commonly associated with someone who is easily angered or who has trouble regulating their impulses. An excess of fire can certainly lead to overbearing, extremely passionate emotions. On the other hand, an out of balance fire element can also lead you to have problems with your decision making, concentration, or self discipline. When fire is low, you may lack courage or motivation. In the physical body, an unbalanced fire element can lead to fever, inflammation, digestive issues, or hot flashes.
How to Harmonize the Fire Element: Yoga philosophy says that fire is the core of consciousness. It is shakti, or the creative energy of the Gods. To harmonize or bring back your inner fire, start with warming asanas that improve circulation and build heat in your body. Try:
- Bikram, Asthanga, or Iyengar yoga
- A hot yoga studio
- Warrior III
- Eagle Pose
- Bow Pose
- Chair Pose
- Camel Pose
- Prayer Twist Pose
- Boat Pose
Incorporate plenty of warming breathing exercises into your yoga practice, such as Kapalabhati or “Breath of Fire” to build up more focus and inner heat.
If you have excessive fire, it can be helpful to use cooling, relaxing breathing to calm your mind and emotions. Try to embrace more fluid water energy. When facing irritability or anger, try sense withdrawal through a candle meditation. Turn towards your sense of personal identity and purpose to help bring your fire back into balance.
Air Element (Vayu)
We cannot breathe or practice yoga without air. Air is so important to yogic philosophy that the Yoga Sutras outline five Vayus (subtle “winds” in the body) that symbolize different types of prana (energy flows). This element governs the loving, compassionate, and healing energy in our spirits. In the body, it is linked to movement, breath, and circulation. The air element is represented by a blue circle.
Mood: Love, gentleness, uplifting, peacefulness, understanding, buoyancy, compassion, intellect, lightheartedness, relationships, breath, non-judgement, nurturing, balancing, freeing
Chakra: Heart chakra (Anahata)
In Harmony: When air is in harmony, we are patient, kind, compassionate, forgiving, and openhearted. There is a sense of weightlessness and ease that allows you to seemingly float through life with complete presence and love. You may feel especially playful and compassionate. Air is also linked to balance and boundaries in personal relationships.
Out of Balance: Similar to a blocked heart chakra, when the air element is unbalanced, you may feel argumentative, unempathetic, fearful, or anxious. It can be hard to embrace forgiveness or understanding of others. There is a stagnancy in the heart and lungs that prevents air from flowing through. Physically, the air element is also linked to issues with the breath, or problems with the immune system and hormone production.
How to Harmonize the Air Element: Opening the heart will inevitably help to bring the air element back into balance. Practice asanas that open the chest and bend the back, such as:
All types of breath work and pranayama practices are beneficial for embracing the air element. You may also seek fresh air and more time with nature, especially observing flying birds or clouds in the sky. Focus on feeling the weight of your earthly stressors lifting from your body so you can float more lightly on your feet.
Ether Element or Space Element (Akasha)
The final element is the space or ether element, which is the most difficult to comprehend. You can’t see it, touch it, or hear it, yet it is everywhere. Everything exists in space and is connected by it, which is why this element is so strongly correlated to bliss, wisdom, and universal pure consciousness. The ether element is represented by a black oval.
Mood: Calming, expansive, receptive, intuition, spiritual awareness, communication, clairvoyance, dreams, universal energy, timelessness, infinite bliss, consciousness, purity, wisdom, transcendence, pure bliss
Chakra: Throat chakra (Vishuddhi)
In Harmony: When the ether element is balanced, we feel deeply connected to ourselves, others, and the whole universe. You are overwhelmingly safe, secure, accepted, and understood. You are OK with being still. You may feel very spiritual or in tune with a higher power in your life. You speak from the heart and feel an overall sense of empathy, compassion, and purity in your life. Instead of acting from a place of ego, you are able to communicate and interact with others with complete love and transcendence.
Out of Balance: An imbalanced ether element is most clearly manifested as a block in communication or spirituality. You may feel like you have lost your sense of true self or you don’t know how to connect to your deeper spiritual identity. You can physically feel tight in your throat or unable to speak up about what you feel. You may feel out of touch with the universe and stuck in the daily grind of the material world.
How to Harmonize the Ether Element: Because the ether element is motionless, it is best strengthened through meditation. Yogic practices like yin yoga, holding asanas for long periods of time, candle meditation, chanting, and slow pranayama breath can strengthen the space in your life. The best asanas to add to your practice include:
- Supported Shoulder Stand
- Fish Pose
- Seated Twist
- Mountain Pose
- Bound Angle Pose
- Seated Forward Fold
Key Takeaways: The Five Elements Balance and Enhance Yoga Practices for More Connection to Nature
Ultimately, these five core elements affect all of life on Earth. In our bodies, minds, and spirits, they can propel us forward or hold us back from achieving the highest version of yourself. According to the Yoga Sutras, the five elements permeate every aspect of yogic practice both on the mat and beyond. Next time you are in the flow, imagine how the Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Ether elements correspond with your physical and mental state of being.