Welcome to Exploring the Elements—our 5 part series devoted to describing the power of the 5 elements which Ayurvedic tradition believes to be the foundation of life: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Space. Transform your view of the world around you, and your own health, with a new understanding of the elements!
Of the 5 elements, Space is the most subtle. In yogic philosophy, the other 4 elements are said to telescope out from Space. Space gives rise to Wind, which gives rise to Fire, and so on.
Space element, sometimes called ether, is the place where everything happens. In its most subtle form, it is the place before everything happens. The qualities of Space reflect that. It is still because it lacks the movement of Wind. It is cold because it lacks the heat of Fire. It is dry because it lacks the moistness of Water, and it is light because it lacks the weight of Earth. It is the place that is nowhere and so it is expansive, pervasive, and has no center. Sound familiar? That's because vata dosha is made up of Space and Wind!
All of the “spaces” in the body are predominantly Space element in nature, from the intestines to the most delicate nadis (channels).
Un-cramped Space element has no preferences and can host everything just as it is. When you express unfettered Space element, you accept your own and others' situations. You feel flexible and open-minded. You accommodate changes and challenges with a natural ease because you do not hold too tightly to the way you would like things to be.
The “spaces” of the body are healthy and neither too constricted nor too lax. There are no excess spaces where there shouldn’t be. The intestines are free of bloating, and bowel movements occur daily without discomfort. For women, the menstrual cycle is regular and doesn’t cause digestive upset.
In the modern yoga world, Space element abounds. The practice of intensive, drying asana sequences, an emphasis on raw food, and the devotion to practices and substances that make us feel “blissed-out” all contribute to excess Space element.
The sense of wide-eyed “spaciness” that can result might look like ease and open-ness but actually results from too much Space element, causing a sense of detachment from your actual situation.
Alternatively, a lack of Space element can cause a tightening of the channels and a tension and strain that pushes out all spaciousness. The mind shuts down and you become stubborn and inflexible.
For excess Space:
- Forward bends and standing postures practiced with slow, deep breathing (no Ujjayi Breath)
- Warm, grounding, cooked food—meat can be especially helpful
For deficient Space:
- Bitter foods such as collard greens or broccoli rabe
- Yoga Nidra—a meditative practice of rest and rejuvenation
- Spending time in nature, watching the sunrise
- Full Yogic Breath