Pancha Bhutas: Yoga’s 5 Elements of Nature

5 elements of yoga

From traditional Chinese medicine to Feng Shui, almost every ancient culture described the nature of natural phenomena composed of several basic elements. In yoga, Ayurveda and Indian philosophy, the five elements are known as pancha bhootas. These five basic elements are earth, water, fire, air and space or ether. They represent the physical and energetic qualities of the human body and of the physical world. The ebb and flow of these five elements influence our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. When they are in harmony, we experience peace and good health. When they are out of balance, we can experience suffering and unhappiness. The awareness and understanding of these laws of nature allows us to bring them into a state of equilibrium through our yoga and meditation practices.

The 5 elements of nature

The 5 elements of nature are known in Sanskrit as the pancha bhutas, or panchamahabhutas. They form the basic building blocks of the universe, every person, animal, plant and thing is composed of various combinations of the pancha bhutas.

Viewing ads supports YogaBasics. Remove ads with a membership. Thanks!

Each element has its own characteristics and properties:

  1. Prithvi or Bhumi (Earth) — represents solidity, stability and grounding.
  2. Apas or Jal (Water) — represents fluidity, adaptability and change.
  3. Tejas or Agni (Fire) — represents energy, passion and transformation.
  4. Vayu (Air) — represents movement, expansion and communication.
  5. Akasha (Space or Ether) — represents emptiness, consciousness, and intuition.

Earth, Water and Fire are tangible things that can be touched or seen; they exist as matter. Space and Air are intangible yet they exist everywhere around us, even though we cannot see it. Earth, Water and Fire are therefore easier for us to understand than Space and Air because they have more concrete forms. However, all five elements are equally important and interrelated.

The importance of five elements in yoga

The three Ayurvedic doshas are combinations of two basic elements. Vata dosha is formed from Air and Ether. Pitta dosha is made from Fire and Water. Kapha dosha is a mix of Earth and Water.

The techniques and practices of yoga can be very effective at harmonizing and balancing the five Ayurvedic elements. By understanding and incorporating the awareness of each element into your yoga practice,  you will find that it is easier to balance and harmonize your individual dosha to create health, well-being and happiness.

The benefits we get from practicing yoga with an emphasis on experiencing the elements of nature are numerous. Yoga teaches us that when all five are balanced within ourselves, then we have achieved perfect wellness. This means that we feel calm, peaceful, happy, healthy, and strong.

Using yoga to balance and harmonize the elements

To use yoga to balance and harmonize the elements, start by focusing on one element at a time. We recommend you start your journey with the Earth element, as it is the foundation for all the rest.

When incorporating the five elements in your yoga practice, try not to focus too much on their materiality. Instead, think about their energy and vibration, or how the essence of these elements affects your body, mind and emotions as you move and breathe on your yoga mat.

Try to feel the sensation of the element as much as possible throughout your practice. Once you have mastered connecting with the first element, you can proceed to the next one. Eventually, you can work on experiencing the qualities of each in every asana you practice.

1. Earth element

The journey to consciousness begins at Prithivi, the Earth element. This foundational element is represented by a yellow square and it corresponds to muladhara chakra, the root or 1st chakra. This aspect of nature governs groundedness, stability, strength, permanence, patience, fertility, and security. It manifests in the body in the solid structures of our bones, muscles, nails, hair, and teeth. Its associated sense organ is the nose.

When the Earth element is out of balance, people tend to feel fatigue, insecurity, weakness, fear, possessive, greedy, materialistic, lack of energy, or loss of appetite. Issues with our skin, nails, teeth, hair, and bones can also point to an imbalance.

You can harmonize and connect with the earth by regularly practicing standing and balanced yoga poses that promote stability, strength, and groundedness. These include asanas such as Mountain, Tree, Chair, Warrior 2, and Seated Forward Bend. They also help improve posture and stability and strengthen the leg muscles, which will help you in all standing poses. While safely practicing these asanas focus on their calming, anchoring, stabilizing and strengthening actions.

As you move through these poses and notice your connection with the earth, and how the ground supports you as you activate your feet and leg muscles. Focus on feeling your feet pressing into the earth, providing a stable, safe and centered foundation.

2. Water element

We usually think of Water in its many forms, including rivers, oceans, lakes, ponds, streams, and raindrops. Yet, inside our bodies, water plays a vital role in our health. The Water element is associated with the 2nd chakra, Svadhisthana, located between the belly button and pubic bone. Its symbol is a white crescent moon. This element governs fluidity, purification, nourishment, and controls the movement of energy, fluids and the physical body. The water element is soothing and sensual, and helps connect us to our feelings and emotions. It manifests in the body as blood, lymph, tears, saliva, sweat, urine, semen, and breast milk.

When the Water element is out of balance, we may experience issues with addiction, emotional expression, creativity, and mental rigidity. Problems with digestion, elimination, sexual function, bladder control, or menstruation can also be a sign of an imbalanced water element.

You can harmonize and connect with the Water aspect of nature by practicing asanas with a sense of playfulness, fluidity, and easeful motion. Focus on the pulse of the breath and vinyasa type movements in poses like Cat/Cow, Sun Salutations, Crescent Lunge, Pigeon, Bound Angle, Plow, Cobra, Locust, Crescent Moon, Fish, and Down Dog. Notice how each pose brings about different sensations within your body. As you hold these poses, allow yourself to move and flow in them without resistance or judgment. Feel free to experiment with new ways of moving and breathing.

Also, incorporating pranayama breathing in your practice can calm your mind and relax your nervous system to activate the Water element. Practice breathing techniques like the diaphragmatic breath, 3-part abdominal breath, and the equal breath.

3. Fire element

While we have an inherent fear of fire, woking with this element in our yoga practice can promote powerful states of transformation. The Fire element is associated with the manipura or third chakra located at the solar plexus, and it is represented by an upward pointing red triangle. The Fire element is hot, bright, active, dynamic, strengthening, and stimulating. This element governs passion, anger, ambition, desire, willpower, courage, confidence, self-expression, creative thinking, and leadership. It regulates our metabolism, energy, and body temperature.

When the Fire element is out of balance, we may experience problems with motivation, concentration, decision making, discipline, and impulse control. Inflammation, fever and Issues related to digestion or elimination are all signs that the Fire element needs attention.

You can harmonize and connect with Fire by practicing asanas that stimulate circulation, activate the core and build heat, such as Warrior 3, Eagle, Bow, Bridge, Chair, Camel, Plank, Prayer Twist, and Boat. Also, incorporating warming pranayama breathing exercises like kapalabhati will activate your inner fire. To reduce signs of excessive fire, use the cooling pranayamas of Sit Cari and Shitali.

When working with the Fire element, focus on being present, clear minded, focused, confident, assertive, strong and courageous. Use your experience of this element to burn up negative thoughts and emotions to purify the mind.

4. Air element

The hatha yoga tradition describes five Vayus subtle energetic winds or airs in the human body that represent different types of prana energy. The Air element is associated with the anahata or fourth chakra, located at the center of the heart. It is represented by a blue circle. The Air element is gentle, uplifting, nurturing, healing, freeing and balancing. This aspect of nature governs all types of movement in the body, kinetic movements, breathing, thinking, and circulation.

When the Air element is balanced, we tend to be peaceful, patient, kind, loving, compassionate, understanding, forgiving, accepting, tolerant, nonjudgmental, and openhearted. When the Air element is out of balance, people become impatient, argumentative, fearful, anxious, compulsive, indecisive and flighty.

You can harmonize and connect with the Air element by practicing asanas that open the heart and lungs like the chest-opening backbends of Cobra, Upward Dog, Camel, Fish, Dancer, and Wheel. Practice these poses with deep yogic diaphragmatic breathing and a sense of lightness, calm, and ease. All types of yogic breath work will activate the air element, yet Ujjayi and Sama Vritti Pranayama will have the strongest effects.

5. Ether element

The Ether or space element is neither visible nor audible, yet it permeates and connects everything together. It is the most subtle of the elements and is associated with the vishuddhi or fifth chakra located in the throat. It is represented by the shape of a black oval.

The Ether element is expansive, calming, soothing, receptive, intuitive, spiritual, universal, timeless, infinite, and boundless. It represents pure consciousness, intuition, creativity, imagination, inspiration, faith, love, compassion, empathy, peace, joy, bliss, truth, purity, wisdom, and transcendence. This element governs communication, speech, hearing, intuition, dreams, clairvoyance, and spiritual awareness.

When the Ether element is balanced, we feel connected, safe, secure, protected, supported, loved, accepted, understood, and still. We feel deeply connected to others, ourselves, life, spirit, the universe, and our higher power. When in balance, we also tend to speak and act from the heart rather than from ego.

Since it is motionless, this element is best balanced and strengthened through meditation, awareness, and mindfulness. Any type of meditation practice will strongly cultivate Ether. In a hatha yoga practice, you can cultivate the qualities of Ether by holding poses longer while focusing on the stillness between the breaths and the awareness of the space around your body. The best asanas to focus on Ether are Shavasana, Child, Seated Forward Bend, Belly Twist, Bound Angle, Crocodile, and Mountain pose.

Chanting mantras can also help you access the ether element. You can chant out loud, but silent repletion of a mantra will be the most powerful way to connect with the still spacious qualities of Ether.

Bhuta Siddhi

Bhuta Siddhi is a yogic spiritual practice, which purifies the five elements of water (earth), air, fire, space and ether. This Sanskrit term is translated as “purification of the elements. ” It is the process of cleansing oneself of negative energies, thoughts, emotions, and habits. The purpose of this practice is to free the yogis from their physical nature and open the doors to higher levels of consciousness.

Bhuta Siddhi is an advanced yoga practice that requires experience in the practices of kumbhaka (breath retention), visualization, and mantra meditation to balance the vital energy of the five elements. This meditation practice focuses your attention on visualizing each of the seven chakras with chanting of the bija (seed) mantras of the chakras. You can find instructions for this practice at SwamiJ.com and Yogainternational.com.

  • Yoga Therapeutics

    Yoga Therapy is the use of yoga postures, meditation and pranayama to help the body naturally heal and balance itself. Check out our Yoga Therapy section to learn which yogic practices have been shown to have healing qualities for common complaints. Yoga Therapy Guides
  • MONTHLY YOGA GIVEAWAY!

    Each month YogaBasics’s readers can enter a new giveaway for a chance to win a great yoga prize. Previous prizes have included yoga books, clothes, and yoga festival tickets! Enter This Month's Giveaway!
  • Our Premium Membership

    Like what you see...and want more? Our premium members have access to deluxe features and premium content including: advanced asanas, yoga pose sequences, yoga therapy, and downloadable MP3s. Join Now!