Exercising With the Elements

Autumn always leaves me feeling a little nostalgic. I’ve just returned from my daily walk and the colour of the changing season, the smell of drying leaves on the breeze and the sight of squirrels and chipmunks gathering their stores for the winter has left me feeling very connected to the world of nature through the changing of the seasons. It has also left me feeling very relaxed and at peace with the changes that I undergo each year.
I admit I don’t always notice the nature around me, power-walking past with my mp3 to distract my attention, and with a lack of awareness the beautiful impact of nature is dulled a little. But when I do “stop to smell the roses” and appreciate the brilliance of nature that is around me, the impact is magnified, and goes far beyond the ordinary sensory perceptions. Most importantly, time in nature helps me to feel more peaceful, easeful, and very much a part, albeit a small part, of the many cycles in the natural world.

My students often remark that it is their connection to nature that helps them to feel “connected” on all levels. After a stressful day fighting traffic, performing tasks and fulfilling responsibilities, a few moments in nature can offer us an opportunity to reconnect with our “selves” and with our world as a whole. Nature does not judge, demand, criticize, complain or expect anything at all from us. All we have to do to connect with nature is to show up. We can wear anything we want, say what we want, or remain silent. We don’t have to live up to any expectations; the birds do not expect good table manners, the trees have no judgements of your girth, the sun shines equally on both rich and poor. Thus, it is in our connection to nature that we can remember to simply be ourselves, and revel in the fact that our “beingness” is enough.

So, I ask you, are you getting the time in nature that you consider to be ‘enough’? Is time in nature beneficial to you? If so, can you create more time for nature? And, when in amongst the trees and the birds and the sunshine, are you really there? Are you present, aware, and connected to life?

One exercise that I often find myself engaging in is an olfactory exploration of my surroundings. I can sometimes miss the signs of the changing seasons even though I may remark on the colour of the leaves, the chill in the air, and the movement of the animals to their winter destinations. These remarks are passing comments on what I see, but they seem sometimes superficial, am I really “feeling” it. What helps me to come into alignment with nature and the changing of the seasons is my nose. Today on my walk, after 45 minutes of walking and breathing and sweating out the thoughts and ideas that seem to run rampant in my head all day, my mind finally cleared and quieted enough for me to notice the smell in the air. What is that smell? Is it dry, or slightly musty, earthy, perhaps a little sweet, how do you describe the smell of autumn. For those of you around the world not in the midst of this season, I’m afraid that I can’t really put into words this sensual experience. It truly must be smelled to be appreciated. But, I can recommend that some time today, you step outside, take a deep breath, and savour the smell of the world around you, whatever your season.

And, when you are taking that taste of nature, perform a simple exercise in “presence”, simply open your senses and experience. What do you see? What do you smell? Are you feeling the burgeoning of Spring, or the decline of Autumn? What are the birds and animals doing right now, preparing nests for young, or moving off to their winter destinations? Becoming present, coming into harmony with the season around you, and connecting with the natural cycles of life are a great way to “be in the now” and find some peacefulness in your life. The great thing is that whether you live in a city block, a subdivision or a secluded farm, nature always finds a way to find you.

An Elemental Exercise

Deepak Chopra in one of his many books on the ancient science of Ayurveda (literally life-science) recommends spending time every day in nature, and being conscious and aware of each element. He advises this as essential for a healthy state of mind, and preventative medicine for the many systems of the body. He advises that we physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually connect everyday to each element; earth, water, air, fire, and ether (space). This means to literally put our feet on the earth, or perhaps take a few moments to consciously “ground”, feeling the support of the earth while seated in a stretch or yoga posture.

Water – the element of flow:

To connect with the element of water try taking some time every day to really experience the physical element of water. This means literally rain on face or toes in a stream, or perhaps when taking a shower you could visualize the cleansing effects of the water as it washes tension and resistence from body and mind, and helps you to flow more gracefully through life.

Fire – the element of transformation:

To experience the element of fire you could simply light a candle each day during your meditation or yoga practice, or at dinner. Or if the season allows, take a few moments sitting by the fireside to experience the element of fire, appreciating its purifying, transformative, and strengthening powers. Keep in mind that to temper steel, to refine gold, we must burn it to find it’s finest qualities.

Air – the Element of Movement

For the element of air, practicing some deep, relaxing breaths to appreciate its nourishing and revitalizing powers. While breathing, become aware of the movements of the body that allows the breath to become more full. Allow the breath to relax the body. And, imagine the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide with each breath that is keeping the body alive and vibrantly healthy.

Ether – the Element of Space

For the element of ether or space, consciously creating some space each day for your own practice or health improvement program is important. This may mean 10 minutes in the morning before the kids wake up, or taking in a class or trip to the gym on the way home. Space is essential for healthy relationships, healthy bodies, and healthy minds. And, to truly appreciate the element of space the burning of incense is a traditional exercise to honour the element of ether or space.

Feng Shui the ancient oriental art of conscious design, Vastu, the ancient Indian art of the same purpose, as well as many traditional and modern personal growth and preventative health systems encourage this daily connection with nature. Whether it’s a few moments of focus in the shower in your condo downtown or dipping a hand in a waterfall in a remote rainforest, this awareness of nature and the power of the five elements can help you to become more conscious and aware of the world around you and within you, and help you to remember that you are a significant part of the universe, and yet just a small part of the great cycle of life.

I encourage your feedback, suggestions, and perhaps other exercises you may know that help to attune one with the elements to bring about greater health, clarity and awareness. And, whether you have time for a hike tomorrow or not, when you step out in the morning perhaps you will be more alert to the call of the birds, the warmth of the sun, and the cycles of nature that can bring you to a greater sense of calm, peace, and connection.
Namaste, Heather

First Published in the Mind Body Messenger newsletter 2006

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