Yesterday’s yoga class was about staying connected. It was my first proper Yin class as opposed to a restorative one, and jeez, was it tough! We started by sitting on our knees with our toes bent back underneath us. I have only ever done this once before in a pregnancy yoga class designed to help you “get used to” the agony that is labour. In actual fact, whilst it may be a technique that works to great effect in Thailand where it originated, it did nothing of the sort for me. It is a pose with which I do not wish to get more acquainted. The following one - pigeon (or sleeping swan as our Aussie teacher called it, held for over 5 minutes each side in order to help us “melt into it”) - was not to be taken lightly either. My contorted body resembled neither that of a pigeon nor a swan, sleeping or awake. As a distraction from the pain, I focused on the theme for the class and the reason behind this particular series of asanas: that the increasingly common sense of emptiness we are all prone to feeling (which is encouraged by our consumerist, capitalist societies - after all, you will only buy yet more stuff if you think you 'need' it to feel whole), is the result of a disconnect with our earth element.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, each of us holds the energy of all five elements within us (wood, earth, fire, metal and water) although one will be more dominant than the others. That of the earth helps us feel grounded and safe. And when it is out of balance, we can feel empty, needy, obsessive, worry unnecessarily about the future as well as suffer from digestive issues. Whilst many of us may unconsciously turn to addictive behaviours or substances in an attempt to numb these uncomfortable feelings, it is only through reconnecting with and rebalancing the earth element that we can reach a longer-lasting sense of calm.
This struck a chord with me because I have recently been feeling pretty empty and needy myself. Unhappy and feeling like I'm missing something, despite living in a gorgeous villa in a stunning setting in a tropical, welcoming and beautiful country. Which has been very frustrating when I know only too well how much there is to be grateful for and happy about. A classic case of shonky earth element.
Usually for me, the most effective way of looking behind what is really going on is to parent my child energy (more about this in my next blog). But when your earth element is out of whack, this becomes tricky because it is precisely this which allows us to inner parent. As the Institute of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture writes "the Earth element grants us the ability to internalize the mother by learning to nourish and care for ourselves".
So instead of doing the deep inner work necessary to make me feel better, I've been relying on the quick fix of other people behaving in a certain way or on my surroundings to be ‘just right’ in order to feel calm. (It's so much easier to blame others or external circumstances, don't you think?) The problem with this is that it does not deliver a quick fix: other people and things can never really be counted on. Selfishly, they tend only to be concerned with themselves. So you end up having to do the work anyway.
Luckily there are also other ways to restore the connection: by practising yoga (and in particular, a form that focuses on opening up the spleen meridian), by communing with Nature, or by doing anything that takes us out of our heads and puts us firmly back into our bodies in this present moment (such as meditation, dance or sport).
So as a reminder to me to connect to my earth element, and to come back to the 'present' next time I am feeling particularly needy or empty, I retrieved a beautiful stone from the bottom of my rucksack that was pilfered in September from a beach on Ikaria. I have decided to carry it around with me as a sort of talisman. For not only are stones the natural symbol for the earth element but this one in particular probably has its own unique healing power, drawn from its exposure to the transformative “radioenergy” of the thermal springs near which it was found. It is also a lovely yellow which is a reminder of the light within us all. So far so New Age - that's the Bohemian half : )
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Image: Christian Schloe