Ground To Stand On
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
Earth (“Prithvi” in Sanskrit) is the last of all the elements because it evolves from the other four. It also contains these elements within it. Ether provides Earth the space to exist within. Air provides Earth with subtle movements seen on a subatomic level. Fire (energy) and water are latent within the Earth. As we progress through the elements, we move from space, to gas, to liquid, and finally culminate in the dense, solid matter which is Earth. Most of the elemental qualities of Earth can be grasped intuitively: heavy, solid, connected, secure, and stable. It’s qualities are cool, stable, heavy, dry, rough, solid, dense and hard. The element of earth gives form to the human body, and to all of creation. It’s energy lends us steadfastness, and slow, undeterred advancement towards our goals. It can be rich and fertile when in harmony with the other elements - when there is enough heat, moisture, and good air. It can also be cold and unbearable without enough heat, arid and harsh without enough water, or stale and lifeless without enough air. (Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche)
The origin of the Earth element is smell, called “gandha.” Disorders of the ability to smell reflect an imbalance of the Earth element. Through the nose we take in the scents of creation. These impressions enter the body, mind and consciousness deeply affecting us physically and emotionally. Although we may not like to talk about it, the rectum serves as a regulator of the earth element in our body through consumption and defecation. If too much earth is released, as occurs in diarrhea, body structure weakens. If too little earth is released, as occurs in constipation, the body remains strong for a while but becomes more and more toxic. Healthy elimination is essential to the balance of the Earth element, the sense of smell and the overall well-being of the body. The other body parts related to the Earth element are the bones, teeth, cells, tissues, and the iron in our red blood cells and spleen.
The chakra of the Earth element is the Root Chakra, located at the base of the spine. It is associated with security, safety, and stability. When the earth element is balanced, you feel confident, grounded, flexible, safe, resilient, and strong. An imbalanced earth element can cause anxiety, paranoia, fragility, moodiness, and forgetfulness.
The season of the Earth element is late winter / early spring. During late winter, the environment is dormant. Water that has fallen in the form of snow is locked up in a solid state and unable to flow. In general, due to the seasonal influence, less Earth element should be consumed during late winter than at other times of the year. However, too little of the Earth element in the diet at this time will make it difficult to maintain strength and body temperature. Thus, fasting and strong purification should be avoided during the excessively cold winter months. In early Spring, as water begins to flow, the Earth element provides the substance that will be utilized to begin building new structures, as is evidenced in the budding of trees. Similarly, in the cycle of a human life, Earth represents the gestational period inside the womb where the basic structure of the body is formed. During this time, proper maternal nutrition provides the necessary Earth element, and is essential for proper growth and development. The Earth element continues to play an important role in the development of the child until growth is complete.
Astrological Earth signs include Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn. All the earthy metaphors are appropriate here: “salt of the earth,” “feet firmly planted on the ground” and so forth. Earth signs are practical, grounded and dependable. Earth signs are all about what is solid, so they prefer not to take big risks and opt for a sure thing. They like to “nest” wherever they are, and just like a bird or a squirrel, part of this is the gathering of possessions as if they are stocking up for winter. The risk inherent in this, however, is that these individuals have a tendency towards materialism. They are sensualists. They appreciate a good meal and fine wine better than anyone else. Earth signs may be so caught up in their objectives that they might overlook the feelings of others. They may be more concerned with the finish line than the journey they are taking.
When the Earth element is in balance, we feel stable, grounded, and confident. We are neither too heavy nor too airy. We are rooted in our experience, so we are not easily knocked off balance, nor do we lose touch with what is important. We are not easily swayed by others or distracted from our path. We are responsible, consistent and diligent. Spiritually, we can keep our center no matter what life brings our way. The Earth element can be out of balance as a result of too much earth energy, or not enough. If there is an excess of earth, we are plodding, dull, lacking motivation, lacking creativity and too literal. This can lead to depression or being stuck or resigned in our careers, relationships or spiritual practices. It can be difficult to bring about change. We identify with problems and they seem very solid. With too much earth, we sleep too much. When we try to meditate, we find ourselves nodding off. Being late for every appt or punctual to the minute can both be expressions of earth. When an excess of the earth element is taken into the body, as occurs with overeating, the tissues of the body are provided with an excess of raw material for building new tissues. Excesses of earth that exceed the body’s capacity to convert it into other structures are stored in the body as fat, strong finger nails, large muscles, and copious hair. (Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche)
Conversely, when there is not enough earth energy, we lack the raw materials to build solid tissue, which can lead to osteoporosis, weakening of the body, and loss of fat. With the reduction in body mass, we lose our ability to regulate our body temperature, and easily feel cold. This weakening of our ability to withstand the elements is also reflected in our inability to stand up against the challenges of the world. We become easily pushed aside by stronger forces, ungrounded, chaotic, vulnerable, disconnected, irritable and have low self-esteem.
In the Ayurvedic tradition, the Kapha Dosha is made up of Earth and Water. (For a summary of the Doshas see my previous Buzz article on Balance, https://www.beefreeyogaaustin.com/post/balance-in-all-things) Water, with its cool and soothing properties, provides the primary protection of the body against the factors of Fire (the heat of Pitta) and Air (the movement of Vata). Earth provides the underlying structure and foundation that allows for the growth and development of tissues. The entire body is dependent upon the Earth Element for its health and well-being. Normally we are told to work on our inner selves before making changes to our external world. However, when earth is deficient, it is beneficial to seek stability in your external situation -- a secure home, a healthy relationship, a regular routine and a steady income. The Earth element is connected to all food, but is found especially in solid, heavy foods, so consuming these will help increase the influence of the earth in your body. These foods include nuts, legumes, grains, meats, sweet potato, baked meals, thick soups and bread. Certain types of activities are more grounding than others. First and foremost, physically connecting with the earth through walking barefoot or gardening is the best way to connect with the Earth element. Also you can invite in this element through activities like yoga, pilates, sculpture, bringing plants into your home, practicing gratitude and self-care. If you find that you have too much earth, eat lighter foods, avoid exhaustion, and call on the elements of air and fire to generate flexibility, creativity and liveliness.
To connect with the Earth element, go to a natural setting where there is a strong sense of the qualities of Earth and sit on the ground. Walk around and find the spot with the strongest earth energy. You can even lie on your stomach and connect to the earth energy through your whole body. Don’t worry about whether this connection is “real”. Imagination is the tool that develops the practice; use it and don’t worry about it. (Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche) If you’re not in nature you can do this practice sitting in a chair, and feel the connection to the earth through your feet. Focus on the qualities of the earth and use your imagination to be affected by them. Recognize that your body also contains those qualities. In your yoga practice, focus on grounding and connection to the earth. When you press your hands into the ground during downward-facing dog or when you dig your toes and heels into the earth during mountain pose, you are connecting to the Earth element. Focus on a gentle, no-flow (or slow-flow) yoga practice to build strength and stability (Hatha). Include grounding and balancing poses in your sequence such as mountain, warrior 1, tree, eagle, head to knee pose, one-legged seated forward fold, hero pose, child’s pose, and of course, corpse pose. Learn breathing techniques for grounding such as three-part breath (Dirga Pranayama), Brahmari (the bumble-bee breath) or Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing).
Over the past five weeks we’ve studied the characteristics of the elements and how they manifest in our lives. You can use this information to help you achieve and stay in balance. So much of this is intuitive and drawn from our innate knowledge of the elements and their qualities. Think about what you’ve wanted to change about yourself and how you react in life. This will point you in the direction of a dominant element or one that is lacking. What do you want to change about how you feel physically, emotionally, energetically and mentally? Where do you run into problems? Are you always late? Do you talk too much or too little? Are you agitated or calm? Are you creative? Do you worry too much? How is your meditation practice? Ask your friends what element they think dominates you. Even if they don’t know anything about the elements, you might find that you get surprisingly consistent responses. (Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche)
Our natural impulse is toward balance, increased awareness and spiritual growth. Choose appropriate practices to balance the elements. For example, if you are too scattered, develop earth. If you are too dull, develop air with practices focusing on prana. If you worry too much, diminish the air quality and cultivate earth and water. If you are too angry, diminish fire and cultivate water. If you are irresponsible, diminish water or space and cultivate earth and fire. We can also call on the elements when we experience temporary imbalances. If you are nervous when you meet strangers, call on earth so that you can change your experience in the moment. When you sit in meditation, if you are scattered, ground through the earth. If you are agitated, connect to the comfort of water. If you are dull, connect to air and fire for life and inspiration. Remember the sacredness of the elements, and that through these practices we are connecting with the essence of all that is. Avoid turning it into a psychology to manipulate, and rather use the elements as a tool for dissolving our limited identities. (Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche)
Work with the raw natural elements. One way to balance our elements is to connect with the external elements and internalize their qualities. This connection is healing. We are naturally affected when we are in nature, such as deserts, mountains, jungles and open plains. The whole body responds. When we take a hot bath or shower and feel the relaxation and comfort of the warm water, we can bring the comfort inside and feel it throughout our bodies. We can let it pervade the space around us, inside us, and eventually all other beings and places. Absorbing positive qualities and then radiating them to all beings is a profound way to work with elements. (Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche)
Ultimately we can merge with the element. We connect the external quality, with the internal quality and then dissolve the distinctions. Practice connecting to an element anytime you are in nature, but if you are in the city, you can find elements to connect to there too -- the water in your bath or that you drink, the earth beneath you. Many cultures that live close to the earth develop an appreciation for the spiritual dimension of the natural elements. They believe elements are not only raw materials, but an environment where spirits abide. Perhaps you can think of these as “fairies.” Spirits reside in rivers, trees, rocks, mountains, waterfalls, fires, planets, the sky, valleys and caves. The spirits are related to the elements in the same way your spirit is related to your body. So when we own or spend time on a piece of land, we can take time to connect with the physical beings that are already there (birds, insects, animals) and the non-physical beings that we can’t see with our eyes. (Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche) Ask their permission before making changes to the habitats, and after making changes, thank those beings that have been affected. We are only one species surrounded by innumerable other sentient beings of various types, all of whom wish to be happy and free of suffering. By developing a relationship and belief in nature spirits, we can cultivate the power of the elements in ourselves and our lives. We can take a step towards recognizing that the planet is alive and sacred-- that the elements are not just resources -- and we can invite a little magic into our lives.
As they say, “the proof is in the pudding.” You’ll know you are successfully balancing the elements when you begin to see positive changes in your life. Undesirable qualities that once dominated your experience begin to diminish, and what was internally weak becomes stronger. There is no downside to connecting with the elements. At the very least it reminds us from whence we came, and to where we shall return. It reinforces the fact that we are all made of the same stuff, and therefore all worthy of love and belonging. So mote it be.
**For more information, check out Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Ripoche, The Laya Center’s article on Earth www.thelayacenter.com/earth ), and information on the astrological air signs at www.horozo.lt/element/earth/ ) Much of the content of this article was taken from these excellent summaries of the element.