The following is a slightly-modified article I wrote for presentation to my Elements Study Group this past weekend. We've been exploring the Earth element, and to me the body-mind connection of yoga fit in well. I presented the article, then led them through a half-hour of gentle yoga. Most everyone seemed to enjoy it.
Yoga, a Sanskrit word, translates as “to yoke” or “to unite.” It has been practiced for at least 4,000 years, maybe longer, and originated in what is now India. Yoga is a philosophy, not a religion. I find it fits well with my Pagan spirituality. The purpose of yoga is to unite opposites – first body and mind, then individual and universal consciousness – and thus bring us into balance.
The philosophy of yoga was described in “The Yoga Sutra” of Patanjali in approximately 200 A.D. He detailed an 8-limbed path that is the basic framework of the practice of yoga.
These are the 8 limbs of the path to yoga:
“1. Yama : Universal morality
2. Niyama : Personal observances
3. Asanas : Body postures
4. Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana [or energy]
5. Pratyahara : Control of the senses
6. Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
7. Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
8. Samadhi : Union with the Divine”
(the above list is excerpted from the article “The Eight Limbs, The Core of Yoga” by William J.D. Doran, found here)
In our gentle yoga session for the Earth element we focused on some basic asanas, or postures, and some pranayama, or breathing exercises.
Asanas were originally created as a series of physical exercises to build endurance, flexibility and strength for yogis who spent many long hours in seated meditation. They also help calm the mind’s chatter and enable us to focus within. I find that asanas enable me to move from being “head-centered,” or looking at the world through Talking Self, into a deeper connection with my body. Thus I move into a more direct experience of being part of Mother Earth. That’s why I associate it with the Earth element.
Pranayama teaches us to use the breath to move energy, which is also a common practice in Pagan traditions. In the use of breath, it would seem to be closely related to Air, yet I also find it very grounding and Earthy. Pranayama helps us to connect our personal energy to where we are right now, in space and time. It helps us to be present in this spot on the Earth.
Here are a few resources for further exploration:
“The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice” by T. K. V. Desikachar
“Living Yoga: A Comprehensive Guide for Daily Life” by George Feuerstein
“The Secret of the Yamas : A Spiritual Guide to Yoga” by John McAfee
Yoga Journal. A great magazine, and their website also has lots of terrific information. http://www.yogajournal.com
“The Eight Limbs, The Core of Yoga” by William J.D. Doran, http://www.expressionsofspirit.com/yoga/eight-limbs.htm
Yoga Basics, http://www.yogabasics.com
Treeleaf Zendo has a useful interactive meditation timer,