Like the five layers of self (the physical, energetic, mental, wisdom, and bliss bodies), the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether) have different densities.
Earth, relating to our physical body, being the densest matter, and ether, relating to universal consciousness, being the subtlest. But before we get to the element ether, let’s take a closer look at the most gaseous form of matter — air.
The Air Element
Expressing lightness and movement, the air element (also referred to as the wind element) represents the ability to move freely, lightly and effortlessly and is embodied in the breath, putting us in touch with the flow of prana.
It’s not surprising that the air element, which is associated with the fourth or heart chakra, is contained in the chest and lungs. When the air element is balanced within the body, your breathing is smooth, steady, and deep — calming and stabilizing your mind.
The air element relates to our wisdom body, or discerning intelligence, and is associated with traits such as mental agility, logical, intellectual, and objective.
In our yoga practice, the air element invites us to not only breathe deeply but also to refine our poses with mental acuity. Balance the air element and increase your lung capacity with these three chest-opening poses:
1. Locust Pose with Clasped Hands
This variation of Locust Pose is one of the best ways to open your chest and warm up your back muscles in preparation for Cobra Pose.
The trick here is to keep a bend in your elbows as you rise, taking your outer upper arms and shoulder heads away from the floor and broadening through your collarbones.
Take three or four rounds, rising up into Locust Pose on your inhale and lowering on your exhale. Smooth out your breath as you begin to get into a rhythm.
2. Bow Pose
After warming up, take your heart opener up a notch with Bow Pose, a safer variation of the expansive Upward Facing Bow Pose but just as effective for opening the chest.
Once you’ve grabbed ahold of both ankles, kick your feet away from your sitting bones as hard as you can — but don’t let go. As your chest and torso rise away from the floor, firm your shoulder blades onto your back and broaden across your collarbones.
Rather than lifting the knees as high as they will go, which often places the focus on the low back, try to press the knees down into the floor as you swell your chest with breath.
3. Supported Bridge Pose
Once you’ve expanded your chest, increasing your lung capacity, use the breath to head inward with a Supported Bridge Pose.
Once you’ve got your block to the appropriate height for your body and flexibility, walk each shoulder underneath you and lift your heart toward your chin, flushing the collarbones back toward the earth.
Stay in Supported Bridge Pose for up to five minutes, regulating your breath and stabilizing your mind.
Stay tuned for the final element — ether — in our five part series "Yoga Poses for the Elements." And let us know what chest openers are your favorite.
Image credit: Nir Livni Photography