Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether—and Yoga

by Julie Balter

I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t take much for me to feel out of balance. Sure, I have a regular yoga practice (most of the time). Yes, I eat healthy, breath mindfully, and meditate deeply (some of the time). Over the years, I’ve also experimented with Ayurveda, acupuncture, and daily affirmations. Yet even when I’m careful with my self-care, even when life feels in a flow, the world keeps swirling with change.

Some changes—such as the shift of seasons—can be subtle. Others—like a new relationship or the reopening of an old wound—feel all-consuming. I’m noticing that I sometimes change the way I handle change—and this is precisely why different healing modalities suit me at different times. I don’t have to be a “rocket yogi” to intuit that a restorative yoga class soothes anxiety, a walk in the woods settles uncertainty, and dynamic breathing counteracts burnout.

The benefits of balance, adaptation, and integration are exactly what I love about Five Element Yoga. As its creator and facilitator, Jennifer Reis, explains, “Earth, water, fire, air, and ether are the archetypal building blocks that compose the universe, including nature and the human body.” The premise of Five Element Yoga, Jennifer says, is that “every person has a unique combination of these elements within them, creating distinctive individual constitutions. Health, vitality, and happiness depend on these internal elements. When they are in balance, we experience health and harmony.”

And when they’re not? Well, not so much.

I recently experienced Jennifer’s Five Element Yoga, a powerful practice that incorporates aspects of Kripalu Yoga, Ayurveda, Integrative Yoga Therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, and creative expression. She started with the density of the earth element and grounding postures (think Tree, Goddess, and Warrior) and moved up through the body to the most ephemeral element: ether—the element of freedom—as manifested in meditation and yoga nidra.

In between, Jennifer guided us through the flowing movement of water, distilling the chunks of old emotions that settle in the hips. Traveling upward through the body, we explored inner power in the fire of Sun Salutations. Air offered purification and openness to our highest self with practices such as Lion’s Breath, mantra, and cultivating witness consciousness.

Within each element, we explored hand mudras, affirmations, colors, and visual guides. Earth, explained Jennifer, connects our physical body and mind with feelings of abundance and trust. Water represents the flow of life; fire sparks clarity of vision; air opens us to compassion; and ether brings us into an expansion of consciousness.

Everything I’ve learned from Jennifer about the five elements’ relations to nature, consciousness, and our physical beings make complete sense. It’s the same sense that guides me to take that walk in the woods, to notice which foods fuel me, and to watch my words and thoughts. Really, it’s quite elementary.

Julie Balter is a film industry veteran, a yoga teacher, and a writer whose work has been featured in Elephant Journal and Avalon Magazine, as well as on her blog, Yogi After Forty.