building blocks of growth

expand your awareness by reflecting on the elements

photo courtesy Yasodhara Ashram: Swami Sivananda Radha, 1970

We live in a world of fundamental elements – earth, water, fire, air, space. In the Kundalini system, each cakra has a corresponding element. You can gain an expanded awareness of your inner world by reflecting on the elements in the external world and asking how they exist within your own body and mind. Start by writing down your associations with earth, water, fire air, space, and then reflect on how these words relate to you personally. The following framework may be useful as a guide to exploring the symbolism of the elements through the cakras.

In the first cakra, the Muladhara, the element represented is earth. Just as the earth supports life and growth, our personal growth is an ongoing process. This refers not just to physical growth but also to the growth of understanding and intelligence and the use of the senses. Through life experiences we grow a body of knowledge, which is also an ongoing process.

Plants are rooted in the earth. When earth is symbolic of the body, the mind and the heart, we can ask what is rooted in these respective earths. When the mantra is rooted in the heart, the roots can spread like the net of nerves all over the body, and the cells will be nourished. In the earth of the mind, we grow concepts rooted in tradition and conditioning but also in our own ideas. We allow our concepts to become entrenched and to develop – perhaps into fear, ambition, sensuality. We can use the tools in the first cakra to free ourselves from what we have created.

The second cakra, the Svadisthana, is related to water and the imagination. What do we do with this fluidity of possibility? In the Divine Light Invocation, we can imagine people moving up into the source of all Light, an ocean of Divine Light. This ocean symbolizes unlimited bliss: ananda. But to reach it we have to control the waves of the mind.

Our imagination is like water and can range from murky to very clear. Like water, the imagination can be very supple and smooth, stagnant or flowing, gushing or falling in torrents, and it will have the respective effect in our lives. Visions of Light arise only when we are properly focused and when the mantra is rooted. Mantra will purify the waters of the imagination.

Fire is the element of the third cakra, the Manipura, related to the sense of sight and to the emotions. Just as fire radiates heat, the fire of knowledge radiates wisdom. The classical saying in yoga is that “ignorance is burned in the fire of wisdom.” Fire also has a tremendous power of destruction and the fires of passion can burn on many levels. When we are angry, we “see red.” We can experience the animal heat of sexual passion and the constant burning for more. Burning desires can be a great flame or they can be embers smoldering in the unconscious.

The third cakra controls sight. Ask yourself what sight means. What is insight? Can you see in the mind’s eye? When you have spiritual insight, all of the pairs of opposites – pain and pleasure, hate and love – are understood as fluctuating emotions. The eyes can flame with jealousy or burn with criticism or anger. If you want your eyes to emanate clear Light, offer the pairs of opposites back to the Divine in return for Divine Love.

The element of the fourth cakra, the Anahata, is air. This cakra is also related to touch. We breathe without having to convince ourselves that we breathe, even though air is invisible. We need air to produce sound – without air we cannot speak, chant or even whisper. The purest breath is that which produces the mantra. Air, with its qualities of fleetness, lightness and invisibility, cannot be grasped and held onto.

In the fifth cakra, related to the sense of hearing, akasha (sometimes translated as “space” or “ether”) is the element. Akasha is the power of flight and transparency. Is it possible to become so transparent that you would not cast a shadow? What could be meant by the ethereal body and the ethereal region? How can you make your mind as wide as the sky? When we concentrate, meditate, contemplate, we open to a vastness beyond suggestion, an openness to the past, present and future.

Harmony comes when the elements are beautifully blended together. All five elements create an interplay of forces, and when transmuted, they have transcendental aspects that lead to an extraordinary power. Understanding the symbolism of the elements can lead to a realization of how everything is always there for us at any time, in any place. How do we use the powers that we already have?

A pioneer in bringing yoga to the West, Swami Sivananda Radha is the author of 10 classic books on yoga, including Kundalini Yoga for the West and Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language. Her teachings focus on developing awareness and quality in life.

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