Akasha

Akasha is the element from which all things arise and to which all things return.  It is the backdrop or the "space" that makes it possible for all the other elements to exist.  It is all at once completely empty and yet all encompassing.  We think of all that we know as being made up of "stuff", but if you look closely enough, there's space between the stuff.

When I was in Costa Rica earlier this year, studying with Shiva Rea, I was blessed to have a physicist in my tribe.  As a wildly intelligent, spiritual practitioner, he would not only entertain my "nerding out" about all things yoga, but he would translate the vastly complex ideas into simple terms that I could understand and wrap my mind around.  I'll never forget one of our conversations about the space element when he asked me to imagine the smallest possible thing that I could.  I answered with a single atom and he described how it could be smaller still because at the center of the atom is a nucleus made up of protons and neutrons.  (Something I learned years ago, but hadn't thought about in ages.)  The next closest "something" circling the nucleus is an electron in the electron cloud...stay with me.  Between the nucleus and the electrons is space.  Now, to put this into terms that we can more readily understand, imagine that the earth were the nucleus of an atom, the next closest something (an electron) would be at a distance of Jupiter away!  So the stuff we think of as solid is really made up of organized space.  Unless there's smaller stuff that we don't yet have the ability to understand.  Hopefully I didn't lose you there, maybe Dustin Hoffman and Mark Walberg can explain it more clearly:

When hearing the word "space" I generally think of outer space - the cosmos and the sense of awe rushes over me when gazing up at the night sky.  For me, this sensation often results in contemplations on infinity and the edge of the universe which Inevitably yields acceptance of the unknown and joy in the unknowing. 

We can search and seek outside ourselves for answers, but yoga gives us an opportunity explore the inner space of our consciousness with the same curiosity and wonder that we do outer space.

Here's another video of just how mind boggling the scale of space can be.

And finally, here is a sequence to awaken the space element, akasha inside the body. 

Jala

From the stability and grounding of the earth element, we transition to matter in its liquid state.  The boundary begins to relax and we experience the fluidity of motion.  Water is dynamic and adapts to its container.  When faced with obstruction or resistance, water doesn't stop or struggle, it spontaneously changes its form and flows around the impediment following the path of least resistance.  The breath, when fluid, guides us along this same path, flowing in and out of our deepest caverns to create slow change over time. 

In the body, water or jala, is responsible for all the biofluids that keep our tissues healthy and functioning.  And in its most natural state, water flows.  When the flow stagnates, problems can occur.  In the body, this equates to poor circulation, sometimes resulting in illness or disease.  The practice of yoga asana balances the water element by clearing space for circulation and movement in both our physical and energetic bodies through the vehicle of the breath. 

Water originates in the svadhisthana (2nd) chakra and is the energy of our creativity.  It represents our ability to adapt and go with the flow.  It helps to soften our hardened edges and connect us with our inner essence, beyond the physical form.

Bhumi

Like all things in nature, the body is made up of elements.  In scientific terms, we consider elements like oxygen, hydrogen and carbon.  In yogic terms, we simplify these elements into the energies of earth, water, fire, air and space.

The earth element represents matter in its solid state.  In this state, matter is stable and the particles move slower.  The earth element, bhumi or prithvi, is present inside all the structures of the body - from the cellular structures to our organs to muscles and bones.  It establishes the foundation upon which transformation can occur, like the sand beneath a beach bonfire. 

Earth comes to life in the the root chakra (muladhara) and helps us connect to our instinctual body. The bhava or feeling of the earth element is a smooth, steady rhythm that draws us closer to the ground by letting everything go to gravity.  This magnetic earthly pull of consciousness supports the energy of manifestation where we put ideas into action. 

Wave Therapy

Today I was in need of wave therapy.  Waves of breath, waves of the spine, waves of practice.  I am still working through some lower back pain and limited range of motion in spinal extension, so I needed the practice to be slow and fluid. 

These waves are what I love vinyasa krama, the idea of setting a pattern in the body, exploring it with breath and building on it to a peak shape or pose.  The body begins to open in receptivity so that each krama or stage reveals something deeper.  There's an intuitive intelligence to the order which is the spirit of vinyasa, to place in a special way.

Relative Stillness

I have been perplexed by the notion of stillness these days.  Even in meditation where I am as still as I will ever be as a human being, I experience movement.  I feel the vibration of my heartbeat, faithfully undulating through my body, sometimes so strong it seems I might fall over.  And so I wonder, is anything ever completely still? 

At the microcosmic scale, the atoms that make up all matter are buzzing around constantly.  Even materials that are not alive in the way that we define living things, are vibrating and seem to have a quantum pulse.

So what does it mean to find stillness

For me, it is about relative stillness.  It's the quietude that arises as a result of deeper breathing.  It's an an effort to be present and tune into the universal rhythm that awakens inside.  Stillness is not necessarily the absence of movement, but perhaps it's the alignment of the energetic body with the physical body.  In stillness, there is freedom from distraction and we find the release of disturbance.  Stillness is that sweet feeling when you're no longer swimming against the current, but you're in the flow.  

In the end, isn't that the essence of yoga? We employ the practice as an entry point to relative stillness. 



Relax into Receptivity

I always begin my practice (especially on the days when I am feeling heavy or tired) with relaxation.  Whether I am lying down or standing tall, I start by focusing attention on my natural breath in a conscious effort to relax.  This tuning into the breath is not done in an arbitrary way, but in a deeply intimate and intentional way.   It always blows my teeny tiny brain that no one else can breathe for me nor can anyone ever know what it feels like to breathe with my lungs.  If it's not personal, what's the point?

This ritual "dropping in" to the flow of practice happens intuitively, I never thought to question why I do it.  This week however, I had a student ask me why I always begin in this way, why we don't just jump in and start moving.  Don't get me wrong, sometimes, this immediate action is necessary.  Particularly to meet the body (or more likely the brain) where it is.  For example, if you're coming to the mat in a rush, having just just barely made it on time after working until the last possible second or after dropping the kids off at school, perhaps you're not exactly in a place to peacefully ease into your yoga.  Nevertheless, even just 3 conscious breaths can make a difference. 

Whatever your opening ritual is, it can transform your state of mind and the quality of your energy.  It can be the difference between walking off the mat feeling refreshed and walking away feeling more wound up than when you arrived.  If we allow ourselves to relax into receptivity from the beginning, there's an opportunity to experience the exquisitely subtle layers of the practice that we might otherwise miss if we're not paying attention.  Instead of attacking the poses from the outside in, receive the practice from the inside out. 

When we're relaxed, we're in a better mood.  And when we're in a better mood, we can approach even the most challenging poses in a more playful way.  The practice below aims to relax the body first and then explore the patterns that create stability and power in adho mukha vrksasana, handstand.

Dreaming + Doing

This  practice was an exploration of balancing the upward and downward currents of the subtle energy body.  Using the breath and the bhava of each pose, this sequence is designed to be both grounding and energizing so that you feel calibrated and steady.

For more on the subtle energy currents and how they affect our ability to create and communicate, check out my latest blog post, The Energy of Dreaming and Doing on allyoucanyoga.com.  Here's a sneak peek:

"Soul is embodied spirit and spirit is liberated soul. The beauty here is there is no hierarchy. Soul is not in service to spirit, nor is spirit bound by the soul. Instead the two are mutually divine and in an infinite dance."