“What seems like chaos in nature is only a more complex kind of order.” - Gary Snyder
A deadly forest fire leaves behind soil so abundantly rich in nutrients that years of unimaginable growth follow. Night always gives way to day, winter becomes spring and a storm clears to reveal the sun that was there all along.
The earth always returns to equilibrium and harmony.
In the west, we tend to conceptualize humans as the pinnacle of evolution when, in fact, we are the little sisters and brothers of creation. Plants, animals and landscape have been around much longer and have had more time to figure things out. We have a lot to learn from our big brothers and sisters about how to live in balance.
We track the daily news. Nature, with her wide angle lens, sees not centuries but millenniums. As oceans rise and temperatures shift with global climate change, the earth herself will continue slowly adapting to the ever shifting atmosphere. Human and animal life may be in danger but the earth herself will go on.
Meanwhile, human culture counters by moving ever faster to produce more. The motto of the buzz, hum and whirr of daily urban life might be “go! go! go! faster! harder! stronger!”- which might as easily be the motto of cancer cells.
As yogis, we’re invited to step outside the cultural typhoon and call on this omnipotent harmonious force of the great mother to bring a sense of balance to our physical, emotional, mental and energetic bodies.
Our bodies are the mountains, the soil, the rivers and the oceans. Our body is 100% composed of nature and she’s telling us to slow down. Instead of madly scrolling, may we take this moment to notice our breathe, appreciating a few of the many ways we can embody the stability, grounding, ease, relaxation & presence of the Earth element in our everyday lives.
#1 Bring Earth Inside
Creating a simple altar from the seasonal decor of nature herself beats buying plastic decorations from Walmart. Go for a hike, appreciate the beauty all around you and develop a relationship with the earth as an ally by asking her if you might take home a few souvenirs. This altar may serve as a nourishing place to meditate or pray or might just sit in the living room or on your desk as a visual a reminder to remember your original nature as oneness. In the words of Rumi “we must remember to remember until we forget forgetfulness.”
#2 Be Quiet
The yogic practice of pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses invites us to stop talking so that we might hear what is beyond words. When you’re feeling the air element has you floating a foot off the ground as wind-like thoughts race, find a safe place to simply close your eyes and listen to distant sounds.
In one of my favorite buddhist stories a student asks her teacher “how do I attain enlightenment?” The teacher replies “do you hear the bubbling spring in the distance?” After listening for many minutes, she hears a slight trickle far off in the distance and replies, “I do.” “Start there” says the teacher. After a moment of reflection, the student asks '“what would you have replied if I couldn’t hear it?” “I would have said, ‘start there’.”
Turning off Spotify, stepping away from the phone and making the conscious choice for silence even a few minutes day nourishes all levels of our being and makes us more sensitive to the gifts all around us. Walking silently in nature without your phone = extra credit.
#3 Baptize Yourself (aka Take a bath)
The water element invites renewal, cleansing, purification and baptism in the name of the life you’d like to live. Instead of a means to an end, making a habit of understanding your daily water cleansing practice as a releasing of the past, an opportunity to set intention for your day as well as a radically conscious reclaiming of the sensual pleasure of your body.
To invite the water element into our lives is to flexibly flow with life, to be in tune with the mystery, to release mental and emotional rigidity, honoring our emotions, desires, creativity and dreams.
Unless all the produce we eat is local and organic, the soil in which our food is grown is becoming more and more nutrient deficient so Adding minerals like epsom salt for your skin to eat has a high payoff in overall increased vitality and relaxation.
#4 Fold Inward (& Opt of Showy Yoga Poses)
We all know the thrill a big full wheel pose or handstand can bring, but when we are feeling ungrounded and pulled in many directions, practicing yoga slowly and as close to the ground as possible is potent medicine for reconnecting with inner balance. Arm balancing, vinyasa and deep back bends, as magical as they can feel when practiced in alignment and tempered by a well rounded yoga practice, increase vata dosa, which may result in increased energy or euphoria when we are feeling sluggish or already balanced but may result in a mysterious sense of creeping anxiety or racing thoughts long after your practice.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, find a slow flow or yin yoga class, take a walk in nature, take a nap or at least take extra Childs pose in your traditional vinyasa or workout class.
#5 Invest in Mindful Community
Nature works as a team. Mycelium feeds off trees while also distributing nutrients through its root systems. When we choose activities, home environments, social situations and careers that incite a feeling of relaxation, aliveness and freedom to be authentic- we flourish.
Go out on a limb, invite your friends to explore their bodies as nature by asking them to join you in a movement class, ask your lover to go on a yoga retreat with you or to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths for no particular reason at all except to invite presence into your relationship. If you’re feeling spunky, drop on the ground and float your co-worker above you for an acroyoga computer break (see image below).
Choosing activities that connect you with your soul and sharing those with the people you love is a solid way to ensure the health of your community. Honest conversations about topics that are meaningful to your soul and woman’s or men’s circles or rituals are an opportunity to cultivate yourself as a healing community member: to practice listening, to set powerful intention and be open and vulnerable. See the Yogini’s Guide to Starting your Own Woman’s Circle in Yoga Journal .
#6 Mind Your Feet
The wisdom of the earth can be received directly through our feet. In the modern world we protect ourselves from this wisdom in anyway possible through the fashionable castes we walk around in (also known as shoes). The more we can get our bare feet on the earth and allow the over 100 muscles of our feet (!!!) to get strong, to spread out and to release tension, the more we somatically ground ourselves. Plus, walking on the earth provides a bacterial/mineral boost to your gut and brain that is much cheaper than probiotics.
For your reflection, a simple math formula:
Tight feet = tight legs = tight back = tight shoulders = tight face muscles
relaxed feet = relaxed spine = relaxed mind = the body is healing itself
As minimal footwear continues to increase in popularity, one day we look back at high heels like we look at corsets of the seventeenth century. In the meantime, get creative on how to get in as much barefoot time as possible and tend to your feet by stretching and massaging them, activating them in your yoga practice and placing them up a wall every once in a while.
#7 Eat Earth Food
“Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” - Hippocrates
In yoga philosophy, the physical body is known as annamayakosha, the food body. You can’t get closer to the earth than placing that which grows from it inside your body.
I grew up in the suburbs without knowing that meat actually came from animals. The closer I’ve gotten to the source of my food the more connected and at peace I feel in my own skin, the more balance my appetite and cravings and the more my weight has stabilized.
On those days when I scarf down a protein bar as I commute from job to job, I have a hard time falling asleep and tend towards negative thoughts about my body. When I take time to sit quietly with real food that I purchased directly from a farmer at my local market, when I offer a simple prayer of gratitude at the beginning of a meal or when I gather with friends to laugh over dinner, I fall asleep more easily.
The more we deepen the neural connections in our brain between our food, our bodies, nature, wellbeing and community, the more we re-enter the flow of the stream, the harmonious choreography of creation and the more grounded we feel.
Try taking on conscious breath and offering a simple silent blessing before eating “Gratitude to the plants and animals offering their life-force through this meal and to all the humans who grew it, tended and brought it to me. Through my life may it be of benefit to all.”
Sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference. This practice has perhaps been the most life altering game changer of all for me.
To ensure healthy soil (and, therefore, healthy food), a field must lie fallow every few years, allowing weeds to take over, so friendly bacteria can regenerate. If this process is disrupted, toxic pesticides must be used. Pesticides in soil means pesticides in our food.
In a culture that glorifies work, doing and productivity, we tend to do the same with our bodies, running on empty until we need caffeine and sugar as pick me ups and alcohol and prescription drugs to calm us down and give us a fleeting glimpse of our original nature as ease and joy.
Addiction is a direct result of ignoring the logic of nature. Addiction is substitute rest.
Even the sun rests once a day, even the spring and summer need a break half of the year. When in balance the body heals itself.
In our culture, to rest is a radical act.
Give yourself time to feel and heal (that doesn’t include surfing facebook or Netflix). Take a longer savasana, lie in a hammock, call in a sick day, escape to a tropical beach and do nothing.
Please share- how do you practice the art of grounding by embodying the earth in your daily life?