The four elements – fire, earth, air and water are the basis of the world in which we live. Without one, we would not survive. From a shamanic perspective though, we have a much deeper connection to the elements. Our physical make-up, personality and behaviours are all reflected in the elements. Even the way we speak reflects the elements.
We’ve all heard the phrases, ‘I’m not feeling grounded’, ‘I feel burnt out’, ‘I’m going with the flow’, ‘She’s got her head in the clouds’… By simply listening to the words and phrases we use in every day conversations, we can start to get an idea of where in the four elements we are out of balance.
As you will read in this post, learning and understanding each of the elements can provide us with practical tools for self-development, help us understand our strengths and weaknesses, and help support us through life’s challenges.
For each element I provide simple exercises to help us recreate our balance.
Fire represents the spirit
Fire brings us warmth and reassurance. It nurtures and even protects us, however when left unchecked it can become destructive and consume everything in its path. People strong in the fire element are ambitious, motivated and creative. They have drive, determination and commitment, but can easily be ‘burnt out’.
An excess in fire can cause anger, frustration, jealousy, competitiveness and in extreme cases, violence. Think about fire in nature. It is loud and expressive, but when contained for too long, it can become explosive (so too can a person with too much fire in their make-up).
On the opposite end, someone who is deficient in fire can be apathetic, unmotivated or unable to turn ideas into action.
To help maintain balance, fire can be cooled with the water element and steadied with the earth element. Connecting with fire, such as meditating with a candle or sitting by a campfire, is a beautiful way of re-balancing this element.
Earth represents the physical
Earth brings us stability and the ability to provide for our physical needs. People strong in the earth element are practical, reliable and able to carry their ideas through to completion. They are often described as ‘down to earth’, and very present.
An excess in earth can make a person overly materialistic, greedy and stubborn. Once their mind is set on something, there is no moving. A deficiency in earth, on the other hand, can cause a person to feel ‘un-grounded’, uncertain and lack stability.
The earth element can be balanced by the lightness of air and the fluidity of water. Some simple ways of reconnecting to the earth are to get out in the garden and get your hands dirty, sitting with your back against a tree, or walking bare-foot along a pebbly beach.
Air represents the mind
Air brings us our breath and the ability to speak. People strong in the air element have the gift of communication. They are often intelligent, logical, quick thinking and inventive.
An excess of air can make us argumentative and over analytical. Sometimes we can say too much, not knowing when we have over-stepped the boundaries. Too little air, on the other hand has the opposite effect – causing us to become vague, spacey, detached and impractical.
Air can be balanced with the support of the earth element (earth helps to ground and stabilise air). The simplest way of connecting to air, is connecting to our breath. Take notice of the way you breathe – taking full, deep, belly breaths not only centres us, but brings oxygen to the brain, clearing the mind and creating space.
Water represents the emotions
Water makes up 70% of our bodies – there is water around every cell, inside our muscles, bones and joints, and around our brain. It hydrates, cleanses and cleans the body. In nature it is perhaps the most adaptable element – so soft it can move through our hands, yet powerful enough to move the earth.
People strong in the water element tend to sensitive, sympathetic, compassionate and good listeners.
While an excess in water can lead to emotional drama, additions and obsessive behaviours, a deficiency (not enough water) can cause us to feel stuck, sluggish, unmotivated and unproductive. In nature water changes direction easily and from this we can learn to be flexible rather than fixed in our ideas and plans.
Water can be balanced by the practicalities of the earth element and the clarity of the air element. Water needs to move to stay fresh – if it stays still for too long it can become stagnant. For this reason, going for a swim or taking a cool shower can help get us moving again.
In shamanism, each element can be attributed to a direction on the medicine wheel. In the following post I will dive into each direction, providing more insight into the elements and our deep connection with nature!