The Five Elements:
From Greek Philosophy to the ancient Indian Chakra system – and Taoist Chinese medicine to South American Shamanic practices – for centuries spiritual and intellectual cultures have recognised and honoured the existence of five basic elements.
Universally, the four physical elements – Fire, Air, Earth and Water (of which the entire world is composed) were agreed upon. Going by a variety of names, and more rarefied than the others is what is known as the ‘spirit,’ ‘ether’ or ‘quintessence’ – directly translated as ‘the fifth element’ in Latin.
Over time, Alchemists have eventually associated triangular symbols to represent the four physical elements, and a circle for the spirit; each coexisting in the physical and metaphysical planes and attributing to our wellbeing.
In traditional Western theory, the elements are hierarchical, journeying from the most spiritual and pure down to the most material foundation – Spirit, Fire, Air, Water and Earth.
While I acknowledge and respect each of the unique principles, benefits and shadow sides to the five elements, I too have my own hierarchical understanding of them, which I have shared below, along with how they play a fundamental role in my unique holistic health coaching program, with the pillars of what I offer directly linking to the principles of: Air, Water, Earth, the Spirit, and Fire.
1. The Element Air
Air is a masculine principle associated with movement. Occasionally referred to as the wind element, air is all about agility and ‘the winds of change.’
Unlike the other three physical elements whose power we can observe, air is a power that we feel, in the varying strengths of a gentle breeze, to a full force hurricane and in the subtle through to powerful impact that breath can have on the mind-body.
Associated more commonly with coolness, the element air can also offer warmth – be it via a warm summer breeze, warm breath, or in its connection to the heart Chakra, Anahata, the green wheel of energy residing in our heart centre, healing all manner of love to self and other.
With its close connection to our vital organs, heart and lungs, the element Air holds a very special importance when it comes to breath awareness, representing Prana (the breath of life) and Qi in the body.
The Air in the atmosphere consists of nitrogen and oxygen, the life-sustaining substance of living beings – and with every breath we take, we are directly connecting to this element – yet so many of us do not take time to breathe consciously or focus on our breathing pattern.
I invite you in reading this to take a few moments now to pause and bring all of your attention to your breathing, working with the following simple mantra:
- Inhale: “I am breathing”
- Exhale: “I am breathing out”
Connecting to our breath anchors us to the present moment and invokes an almost instant feeling of calmness. In terms of my coaching programme, the element air is attributed to breath work and Pranayama (breathing techniques); which I offer to my clients through online and face to face guided breathwork sessions, meditations in varying lengths (depending on the experience-level of the coachee), centred on the chakras, and using a variety of elemental mudras (hand gestures or positions)
2. The Element Water
Personally, Water is my favourite element, a feminine principle and the element associated with emotion. Also associated with movement, but in a different, more receptive and divinely feminine way than Air (think e-MOTION), water asks us to ride the tides of feelings, permits us to feel, and teaches us to go with the flow.
Water is to me the most enigmatic element, invoking a sense of serenity, but also the true depth of asking us to look at what is going on below the surface.
In terms of our physical body, the element water resides in our hips, where our second chakra Swadhisthana, the orange wheel of energy, known as the ‘water chakra,’ is connected to our fundamental right to feel life.
Water itself is formless – yet it has infinite form possibilities as it takes on the shape of the surroundings in which it sits – on one spectrum, a life source that can quench and support you, and on the other a tidal wave that can cause destruction – from which we can rebuild from the deepest level of our emotional body.
Staring at water is a great aid to start meditation – I find watching the flow of waves or movements of water puts me in a near instant meditative state.
May this inspire you to reflect on how water makes you feel today – perhaps when you next take your bath, shower, go for a swim or simply feel water running when you wash your hands – really feel it, connect with it.
In terms of my coaching programme, the element water covers ice-bathing, Watsu therapy and water fasting. Water fasting is an ancient Greek method, different to intermittent fasting, as it tends to last anywhere from 5 to 40 days, and is the complete absence of all substances, except pure water, in an environment of complete rest. In my programme I set you up with all the tools and support you need to fast in harmony with the moon.
3. The Spirit
The element of spirit does not have the same arrangements, or correspondences as the physical elements, since spirit is not physical. Various systems may associate planets, tools, and so forth to it, but such correspondences are far less standardized than those of the other four elements.
While doing our work to connect to the physical elements and the principles of nature, we must remember that part of our journey is to connect into something higher, bigger and more expansive in consciousness than what we experience in our daily lives; and this is our work to honour the fifth element – the spirit.
Spirit is a bridge between the physical and the spiritual. In cosmological models, the spirit is the transitory material between the physical and celestial realms. Within the microcosm, the spirit is the bridge between body and soul – and in our bodies resides in our top two chakras – accessed through meditation.
I connect Spirit to my coaching through meditation techniques.
4. The Element Earth
The second feminine element is Earth. The element of stability, abundance, our foundation, fertility and stillness.
In connecting to this element, we are trusting in our basic right to be here; trusting that we have all that we need to survive. In our bodies, we connect to earth through our feet and legs– the heaviest and most stable parts of our body, closest to earth itself, and through our ‘root chakra,’ muladhara, the red wheel of energy at the base of our spine.
While so many of the principles connected to earth are essential to a grounded, still and steady approach to life – as with everything, there is a shadow side – and in healing our connection to earth we are being mindful to not get ‘stuck’ in old patterns, or to get stagnant and stubborn to old ways.
When I coach, the element earth is related to the Primal Diet.’ source and grounding. In my coaching one of the first things I look at is my clients’ diets to help the eliminate toxins from their store cupboards (think refined sugars, refined carbs, grains and anything you can’t pronounce – basically items that our Paleoithic ancestors wouldn’t have eaten); along with suggesting a more holistic approach to eating.
5. The Element Fire
Also, a masculine principle, what movement is to air, emotion is to water and grounding is to earth; creation is to Fire.
The physical element itself is one of power – as is the Chakra associated with the element fire – Manipura, the yellow wheel of energy residing in our solar plexus (our personal power center). Fire evokes inspiration and intuition, along with desire and passion – making for an element which, fundamentally, is both forceful and very primal.
All consuming perhaps – like everything in nature, fire has its own duality between light and dark – with the propensity to give back:
Fire offers light, warmth, guidance in the dark – and community. It is the element that we sit, dance and chant around, either in sister circles or the most spiritual of rituals; that we drop into captivated or even meditative states before when gazing into its flames. With the most divine connotations of all the elements, with fire we light candles to pray.
As I learned when living in India, Hindu tradition refers to a fire as a Deity called Agni, encompassing thesun, fire and lighting all at once; and because of this scared divine nature, we do not blow out a candle with our breath but rather gently move the hand around it or delicately use a candle snuffer to extinguish the fire.
When I coach, I use fire to represent Tantra and sacred sexuality as well as sun exposure.