[Editor's note: This is a guest post by Sarah Oxley, who shares some insight on how to create a sanctuary for your home yoga practice.]
I’ve been doing yoga classes for a year now, and soon after I first started I also began a daily yoga practice at home. This wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be since I didn’t have the space to do some of the asanas I really wanted to try out. Most of the time I was worrying about knocking something over or being too close to items in the room. I tried clearing rooms and moving furniture to make more space, which did the trick space-wise, but I still couldn’t find the same focus and calm I often experienced in class.
After some research into ways to find inner calm I discovered the concept of the five elements. This ancient Chinese philosophy consists of surrounding yourself with the entirety of the five elements of water, fire, earth, metal, and wood. It was these elements that got me thinking about other spaces and areas in my home where I might be able to enjoy my home practice. Keeping the five elements in mind, I decided to try practicing yoga in the garden.
Practicing outdoors does present some challenges, especially in a colder climate where I live, so the next best thing came to mind: maybe I’ll practice in the garden shed. I cleared the shed out, gave it a good cleaning, placed an old sheet on the floor with my yoga mat on top, and included a portable electric heater to keep me warm. Although the shed served quite well as a quiet and spacious area to practice yoga, I still wanted to incorporate the five elements into my surroundings.
From my research I discovered that the five elements have two cycles: 1) the cycle of creating; and 2) the cycle of overcoming. They interact differently with each other depending on which cycle you follow. As yoga is a creative activity, I decided to focus on the creating cycle in which wood feeds fire, fire creates earth, earth bears metal, metal carries water, and water nourishes wood. The wood of the garden shed is my sanctuary, the heater and some scented candles represent fire. I often have the candles surrounding me in a circle. Some plants have been placed on the small window sill of the shed to symbolise earth, and I’ve bought a small water feature. I find the sound of the running water highly relaxing. Metal was a difficult element to include. I finally settled on following my water theme and focusing on sound. A wooden wind chime with metal tubes represents the element of metal in my humble sanctuary.
Although I realise this method of using the five elements is very loosely based on the Chinese philosophy of Wu Xing and is solely my own personal interpretation of it, I find it helps me not only in my yoga but in my daily life. I am more at ease and less likely to panic when faced with a difficult situation, and when a stressful event does pop up I think back to my time in my garden shed and visualise the flames of the candles, the sound and look of the metal chime and water feature, the smell and feel of the wood, and the company of my humble bonsai trees.
A few resources on the Five Elements (Wu Xing):
Wu Xing on Wikipedia
Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life by Gail Reichstein
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
A little inspiration for your own yoga sanctuary:
Sheds: The Do-It-Yourself Guide for Backyard Builders by David and Jeanie Stiles