Fire element in general relates to transformation, will, choice, creativity, action and movement. Physically it relates to the transformative actions of the body as a whole, to the metabolism, to the organs in general, and specifically to the heart and small intestines.
Our body is a continuous, constant process of transformation. Our body systems are working continuously for our survival, and they are transforming in response to the context we give them. If we spend much of our life still and static our body will transform in this direction, eventually shutting down signals to certain muscles, in time taking on the shape of the sofa we love so much, or the car seat we spend so much time in. The parts of our body that we consider to be the most static, such as the bones, muscles or the skin, too are in a state of continuous change, and over time are completely replaced and renewed.
When we practise yoga we channel the transformative action of the body towards flexibility and mobility, restoring function and flow throughout the body. We harness the natural transformative properties of the body towards health, balance and strength. By tuning into our innate tendency to move into alignment and dynamic balance, we direct our body to transform in this direction, to support the development of muscle and bone that in turn supports us to be in alignment and balance. In the same way that if we sit all day in a car, we create a body that is developed for that context, if we practise actions of upright dynamic balance we create a body oriented towards these qualities. By practising yoga we place ourselves in the flow of transformative action and orient it in the direction we wish to grow.
Metabolism refers to the chemical processes happening in the body, energy being taken in, in the form of food, drink and oxygen, which is then broken down and turned into forms usable by the body (that which is not usable being ejected in the form of waste), the energy from this process is used by the body to synthesise new substances necessary for life. These two processes are called Catabolism – breaking down or destructive metabolism, and Anabolism – the synthesising of new substances or creative metabolism. These processes are going on all the time in our body way beneath our conscious experience, except of course when our body lets us know we need to expel some waste materials, or when something has gone wrong.
Each individual’s metabolism is unique, varying dependent on age, sex, gender and physical condition. On the whole yoga practises serve to slow our metabolism, the synthesis of deep breathing, meditative focus, and movement, all work towards bringing us into a state of calm relaxation. In the most extreme cases, it appears that advanced yogis may be able to slow the metabolism down to a complete stop, one of the Grandfathers of modern yoga, Krishnamacharya in a public demonstration, slowed his heart to a stop for two minutes.
There are many benefits to a slow metabolism, primarily it is more efficient at turning food into usable energy; it may slow the ageing process due to its beneficial effect on the thyroid gland; the mind is calmer, and more thoughtful; William Broad the author of ‘The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards’ says that yoga helps develop an “inner physiological flexibility” meaning “your overall metabolic rate tends to go down. You get this kind of inner flexibility that mirrors the outer flexibility.”
In this way our practice serves to control the fire of the body in a way that serves to bring us more life, more energy, and to bring the individual into a deeper connection with the reality of their own being, and with this deeper listening, the ability to tune in to what the body needs at any given moment. We learn to trust in the tremendous intelligence inherent in the body, and seek to be able to listen so that this inherent intelligence can guide us towards healthy choices that support us to grow upright, balanced and strong, and in so doing we can support our friends, families and community to do the same.
In future blogs we will delve deeper into the subject of fire in the body, hopefully this has been a good introduction to the subject, which may provoke further investigation. Please do leave any questions or observations below, they are very welcome.
Our next cycle of blogs will look into the study of yoga, the five elements and the mind.