Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on how Qi travels through the body. Qi is often translated as energy, but it goes far beyond simple electrical charges moving through the body. It is all the things we breathe in, eat, drink, and touch: the air, water, earth, and fire that make up our environment, as well as our emotions and thoughts. These build up inside of us as blood and flesh.
When Qi is moving freely throughout the body, it is said to be in a state of equilibrium. All of the five elemental phases need to be in balance—Fire and Water, Earth and Metal, and Wood and Metal—to facilitate Qi movement. Imbalances occur when excess or deficiency occurs in any of the phases.
If you are a yoga practitioner, here is a guide to the five elements and how they come into play in yin yoga.
The 5 Elements: How to Apply Them in a Yin Yoga Practice
Wood represents the introspective nature of the body, emotions, and the rational mind. Imbalances in the wood element include anger, depression, and negative behaviour. These are caused by a deficiency in the wood phase, which is exacerbated by excessive earth (the physical body) and fire (the emotions) “stealing” the Qi from the wood phase.
In a yin practice, when too much fire or earth is present, move further into the poses. Move deeper into the backbend, and meditate on the backbend itself. Focus on the breath and being present with the sensations in your body, and allow your thoughts to come and go freely.
The earth phase represents the physical body and is influenced by the amount of food a person consumes, as well as how much of it is cooked or raw. The earth phase also represents the element of water, and people that are deficient in the earth phase may suffer from an excessive amount of water in the body.
In yin yoga practice, an excess of earth can be corrected by moving the body further into the poses. Move closer to your toes in a forward fold, fold more deeply into a hip opener’s pose, or drop deeper into a backbend.
Metal represents the lungs, and the metal phase governs the ability to take in air. If a person is deficient in metal, they may suffer from lung weakness, coughing, or asthma.
Imbalances in the metal phase can be corrected by breathing deeper into the poses and allowing your breath to come from a deeper place in the body. When you inhale, trace your breath from the crown of your head all the way down to your toes. Exhale from the soles of your feet all the way up to your crown.
Water is represented by the kidneys, and in yin yoga, the water phase helps us stay present. When the water phase becomes deficient, a person may suffer from a lack of memory or emotional instability.
Water imbalances can be addressed by breathing deeply into the poses and allowing your breath to flow freely in and out of the body. While you are holding the pose, make a conscious effort to be present with your thoughts and let go of any judgments or opinions you have about the pose.
Fire represents the heart, and an excess of fire can manifest as anger, violence, and fear. Deficiencies in the fire phase manifest as a lack of love, compassion, passion, and enthusiasm for life.
Fire imbalances can be addressed by being more present with your thoughts and emotions and working on loving-kindness and compassion. As you move further into the pose, let go of your judgments and let go of your thoughts. Allow yourself to be present with the challenge at hand.
Yin yoga allows students to explore the five elements while they hold challenging poses and reaps the benefits of Yoga therapy. Yin is usually described as passive or restorative, but when yoga practitioners apply the five elements to their practice, they open up a new world of possibilities.
If you are looking for yin yoga classes, come to The Power Yoga Co. We are the leading Yoga studio in London, offering over 90 classes a week. It’s your time to recharge, energise and transform.