Come On Baby, Light My Fire
As we continue our exploration into the Elements, let’s consider the third element, Fire. Ether provides the space -- the potential -- for ignition. Air provides the fire’s fuel and makes it constantly moving. The Fire Element, “tejas” in Sanskrit, is often associated with the fires we can see. However, the ancient idea of fire was more comprehensive. Fire represents light, heat, energy, understanding, metabolism, and the power of transformation. Fire varies in intensity. It can bring warmth, comfort, ripening and maturing, and in full-force it purifies and transforms. Fire is responsible for our creativity, accomplishment, resilience, perseverance and passion. Fire burns away the cloak of ignorance and allows the truth to shine through. Fire is the generator of energy in the body just as the sun is the generator of energy for the earth. Fire liberates energy from its source and is responsible for all the sources of energy in the world including solar, hydroelectric, nuclear, fossil fuel and biodiesel. Fire can transform solids into liquids, to gas, and back again. Within our bodies, fire is responsible for our metabolism. It binds atoms together, converts food to energy and creates the impulses of nervous reactions. Fire stimulates our feelings and our thoughts. (Much of the information contained in this article was taken from The Laya Center’s article on Ether.)
“Tapas” means “heat” in Sanskrit. Tapas is the fire of our will and self-discipline. In the same way that Pranayama is how we use our Air with intention, Tapas is how we use our Fire with intention. Like focusing sunlight through a magnifying glass to intensify the heat, through Tapas we can create energy by focusing ourselves with will-power. Like a phoenix rising from the flame, there is catharsis through heat. In nature, a wildfire or controlled burn can remove debris and create fertile land. Similarly, our fire can burn away negativity and make way for new growth. When we are ineffectively using our Tapas, we have an agitated mind and body. Existing in overdrive can lead to exhaustion, making it difficult to reason or make wise decisions. We act on impulse and don’t think things through. When we effectively use our Tapas, we call on our energy to mobilize our intentions in a sustained, organized direction. Taking action in a Buddhist context is not about attaining something out there - having status, possessions, money - it’s about living now, and being guided by the essence of who you are. It’s not just about taking action, it’s about taking “right” action. You must consider the far-reaching implications of your actions for yourself, your loved ones and the environment. Tapas gives us the jump-start we need to get in the flow, so the effective use of tapas necessarily involves an element of non-grasping and faith. We commit to living intentionally, and begin taking small actions in order to create the life that we want. Once a commitment is made, a whole stream of events may present themselves to carry us on our way.
The origin of fire is “Rupa” which means form or color. Fire provides the light so we can perceive form and color. The eyes are the vehicle through which light is digested and perception takes place. Hence, disorders of visual perception are primarily those of the element fire. The feet are the organ of action associated with the fire element. It is through the feet that we react to what we see. Use of the feet allows a person to change direction and speed based upon perception. The choice of direction and the intensity of action are functions of the fire element.
Fire is hot, dry, rough,subtle, flowing, sharp and clear. Interestingly, it is not stable, but it’s not mobile either. It doesn’t stand still, but it doesn’t generate its own motion. Although fire is subtle, its effects are clearly observable, and so we have a clear sense of what it is. It is the heat of fire that is most recognizable. There are many types of heat, some of which exist in our own body. The “agni,” named after a Hindu Fire god, are the many types of digestion which occur in our body, and include; the digestive fire which processes food, the fire of the intellect that digests ideas, the fire of perception/vision that digests images, the energetic fire that invigorates the body, and the fire that digests touch and sunlight.
The Chakra of Fire is the Solar Plexus Chakra. This element and chakra are associated with heat, power, strength, passion, transformation, and digestion. Fire can be imbalanced by being too low or too high. Low fire leads to depression, laziness and being withdrawn. High fire leads to irritability, anger, and aggressiveness. An imbalance of fire can also cause inflammation or indigestion.
What we eat can affect the levels of Fire in our bodies. Pungent, sour, and salty tastes contain the most fire. The pungent taste will increase fire the most rapidly. Pungent foods include the dry heat of spicy foods, which stimulate the nerve endings of the mouth, such as: garlic, chili, onions, mustard greens, radishes, black pepper, cayenne, cloves and ginger. The sour taste has the greatest long term effect, and includes pickled foods, yogurt, and foods marinated in vinaigrette.
The season of fire is summer. Daylight lasts longer during this time and the sun plays a great role in our lives. The air is warmer, the light is longer and the activity of the people and plants reach their peak. Summer is the most naturally active time of year. So long as the weather does not become unbearably hot, summer is the time to do all of those things you planned for during the late winter and spring. It is the time to bring plans to fulfillment, while balancing our heat so that we are less driven by our own will and more by a divine path of service. If we become too focused and intense, fire will increase too much, so it is important to keep our fire in check and spend some time by the cool water while maintaining a diet that is cooler and less spicy.
Just like in the annual cycles of nature, in the cycle of a human life, fire represents our most productive years. We have grown and planned in our youth and adolescence, and now, in maturing, we can bring our plans to fruition. Each person’s capacity for work and service is greatest during this phase of life. Just take care to balance productivity with rest and self-care to avoid burn-out.
The astrological fire signs include Aries, Leo and Sagittarius. These fiery signs bring joy, color and attitude. Their energy shines forth from their strong personal identities. The element of fire makes these people active, self-motivated and full of charisma. Fire signs don’t need anyone to “light a fire” under them, because their motivation comes naturally. They are courageous and confident. Fire signs don’t set out to burn anyone, but sometimes they do inadvertently. The fire element yearns to freely express itself, and sometimes can be too blunt, or too caught up in its own brilliant expression for the world’s more sensitive souls. While they all share the essential nature of the Fire element, they each express it in a slightly different way. Aries is concerned with the development of a strong ego self. This sign of leadership is action-oriented. As a result, this sign will use its Fire in a way that promotes new experiences. Leo will focus on using the Fire element to sustain warmth and joy. Leo is fun loving and dramatic, and will use the flamboyant nature of fire in order to promote personal theatrics and to gain respect and recognition. Sagittarius is a Fire sign that’s eternally seeking the truth in life. This sign will use its Fire energy to bravely assert opinions and ideals and to feed a never ending supply of optimism and inspiration. ( www.horozo.lt/element/fire/ )
When our fire is in balance, we have the capacity to create, to initiate projects and to accomplish what creativity sets in motion. Intuition is related to fire, as is enthusiasm and excitement. We are inspired and find joy in our work. The joy of fire (enthusiasm) is different from the joy of water (contentment and acceptance). Fire can be out of balance because of too much or too little. If you have too much fire, you are easily agitated, impulsive, irritable, and prone to lashing out. You may lack patience and tolerance of others. You may even be annoyed by the way someone else is sitting or talking. There is lots of movement and instability, and if paired with a lack of water, there can be a persistent discomfort and restlessness. You may have difficulty sitting still or being quiet, which leads to difficulty sleeping. The next idea arises before the present one is articulated. In meditation practice, too much fire results in a racing, overactive mind. New ideas continually arise and seem too important to put aside. (Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche) Physically, as heat/fire builds up in the body, there is a need to eliminate excess heat so the body sweats and urinates more and stools become looser and more frequent. If the fire in the body goes unchecked, the skin erupts in red rashes, the eyes become bloodshot, the mind becomes intense, the tissues of the body may become inflamed, and there may be a fever.
If you have too little fire, you lack vitality and inspiration. Work and daily activities become rote, and you may lack enjoyment and enthusiasm. Life seems routine. If you have not enough fire, but an excess of air, there is movement but it is repetitive and uncreative. You may be intellectually sharp, but not able to create or bring ideas to fruition. Your spiritual path may lack joy, and you may have trouble getting started. Physically, you may be cold, and your skin would lack luster. If you have too little fire, your metabolism slows down and food is poorly digested. As the body tries to hold on to heat, sweating, urination, and bowel elimination all decrease. When your fire is low, you feel like you don’t have anything of value to share, so your relationships may be fraught with anxiety and fear of rejection. You may be sexually frigid and inhibited, shy, or emotionally cold and easily hurt, or even overly dependent on your partner. If you lose sight of yourself, how can you express your true self or enter fully into a relationship? Instead you may find yourself calculating your moves defensively and presenting an image of yourself that isn’t truthful, and only perpetuates the fear of eventually being "found out." (Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche)
In the Ayurvedic tradition, the Pitta Dosha (type of constitution / body / personality type) contains both fire and water but it is fire that plays the more dominating role. (For summary of the Doshas see my previous Buzz article on Balance, https://www.beefreeyogaaustin.com/post/balance-in-all-things) Because Fire has a destructive quality, in the body it is always mixed with a small amount of water to keep it from destroying the tissues. Fire fuels our digestion. When the digestive fire is healthy, there is little gas and elimination is regular occurring on a daily basis, 1-2 times per day. The digestive fire is increased primarily by hot, spicy, sour, and salty foods and is decreased by both heavy and cold foods. Hence, if digestion is weak and the fire low, the diet should be made lighter and spicier until digestion normalizes. Caffeine and alcohol increase the fire in our system. So if you’re feeling especially fiery, avoid alcohol and coffee, use cooling herbs like mint and basil and avoid spicy foods. If you want to stoke your internal fire, try fried onions, garlic, ginger, scallions, mild spices, coffee (moderately), alcohol (moderately), oils, corn, nuts, apricots, seeds and herbs such as parsley. It's important for Pittas, or anyone with an excess of fire, to keep cool by avoiding overexposure to direct sunlight and fried and spicy foods. Avoid alcohol and tobacco, overworking, and overheating. Choose fresh vegetables and fruits that are watery and sweet, especially cherries, mangoes, cucumbers, watermelon, and avocado. Have lots of salads with dark greens such as arugula, dandelions, and kale. Avoid conflicts. Cultivate the virtues of honesty, morality, kindness, generosity, and self-control. (The Laya Center blog on Pitta)
Whenever you are feeling uninspired, dull or flat, connect with Fire. It is fire that burns off illness in the body, and it is fire that burns off bad habits and old beliefs that no longer serve you. To connect with Fire, find a sunny place, or if there is no sun, sit in front of a fire, or even a heater or stove. (Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche) Get your circulation going and generate heat through exercise, dance, running or play. Other activities to connect with fire are stage performance, singing, sunbathing, socializing, talking, wearing bright colors, and having fun! Make fun a priority - schedule your fun, if that's what it takes. Don't compromise. Consider fun as important to your well-being as work or anything else you do. Live your passion, whatever it is. If you don't know what your special passion is, no problem! Stay curious, notice what sparks your interest and keep trying new things. In order to honor fire in your yoga practice, consider practices that build Tapas (heat), such as warming pranayama (breath of fire, bellows breath, and ujjayi breath), increasing the length of time that you hold poses or keep moving with a vinyasa flow, and choose poses that focus on strengthening your core and creating internal heat such as: Sun Salutations, Plank, Knee to Nose, Revolved Crescent Lunge, Beast, Chair and Boat.
The exploration of the Fire element is sure to be illuminating. Notice how a flare up of anger resembles a flame. Feel the sun fuel you as it soaks in through your skin. Explore the extroverted side of you even if it only means donning a bright color you may not normally wear. Most importantly, notice what you are passionate about and let that fuel you into action -- find what you love and let it light your fire.
**For more information, check out Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche, The Laya Center’s article on Ether (www.thelayacenter.com/ether). Information on the astrological signs of the fire element at https://www.horozo.lt/element/fire/. For information on the Dosha, www.thelayacenter.com/blog/2020/5/20/the-pitta-ful-days-are-upon-us Much of the content of this article was taken from this excellent summaries of the element.