At the start of a new year, many people’s thoughts turn to how they can improve their wellbeing over the coming months. Certainly mine do. In addition to being inspired by beautiful views, enjoying the calming effect of water or warming ourselves with fire there are many other ways the elements can help us to be well.
This post is designed as an introduction to the wealth of ways the elements are, and can be, an integral part of our wellbeing. It shares a selection of my growing collection of resources on the subject, listed at the end of the post. Over the coming months the aim is to explore the resources and the themes arising from them in greater detail.
Given the diversity and scope of the resources, it took a while to decide how to present them. One option was to compile a list under headings such as yoga, meditation, exercise, the immediate environment, Martial Arts, medicine/healing and healthy eating. That approach would mean jumping between different elemental ‘systems’ and different parts of the world.
Realising that no classification would be perfect, I opted to share the resources by broadly grouping them in geographical/cultural regions, apart from the section on Shamanism, which spans many parts of the world. This enabled me to list references that drew on the same set of elements.
There are gaps of course, particularly Africa. It’s also been challenging to find accessible resources on Australian Aboriginal views on the elements and wellbeing. I’ll continue with my explorations. There are also unavoidable overlaps in the list, such as the book on Russian magic referring to shamanism. One has to start somewhere! One day I will draw a mind-map of the resources and see how that goes.
The resources are all in English, as that’s my sole language. Many of them will be influenced by a Western worldview. No doubt there is a wealth of material available in other languages. To explore those would mean forming collaborations with people conversant in both English and another language. Anyone interested should let me know. Also get in touch if you would like full reference details for items in the list.
Caveats aside, I’ve found these resources informative, thought-provoking and at times inspiring. They range from populist to works aimed at academics. Their geographic and cultural spread is evident and indicative. The resources demonstrate that most, if not all, of the major healing/medical sciences across human history, including in the west until ‘modern’ times, have been based on the elements. Techniques such as acupuncture, meditation, qigong, yoga, chakra balancing/cleansing and certain forms of massage come to mind.
The resources emphasise the importance of the elements to both our internal bodies and externally. That they are fundamentally expressions and flows of energy. That we are part of nature, not separate from it. In sharing these resources my hope is that you too can find something of interest.
Selected resources on wellbeing and the elements follow
Here’s a brief guide first to take you through the resources: the word ‘influences’ is used to cover the situation where a system from one region/culture has been adopted and/or adapted by another; the list of elements directly under each heading describes which ones are included; where ‘plus one’ is referred to, it means that another element may sometimes be added; next the title of the resource is given in italics; the underlined words aim to give a quick view of the topic at hand; the author and the year of publication are included in brackets; finally, there are some notes where I felt some more explanation could be helpful.
(five ‘elements’/phases – earth, fire, water, wood and metal):
Five Elements, Six Conditions – a Taoist Approach to Emotional Healing, Psychology, and Internal Alchemy (Marin 2006)
Power of the Five Elements – The Chinese Medicine Path to Healthy Aging and Stress Resistance (Moss 2010)
Spirit of Nature – The Harmony of the Five Elements: a Path to Healing (Bell 2004)
The Web that Has No Weaver – Understanding Chinese Medicine (Kaptchuk 2000). Note: I love the title of this book. The contents are excellent as well.
The Personal Feng Shui Manual – How to Develop a Healthy and Harmonious Lifestyle (Lam Kam Chuen 1998). Note: One of MANY books written about Feng Shui.
(five elements, plus one – earth, fire, water, air, space/ether and consciousness):
The Handbook of Ayurveda – India’s Medical Wisdom Explained (Godagama 2001)
The Six Element Practice (meditation based on Buddhist teachings) (Wildmind MP3, accessed January 2015; includes conciousness)
Kundalini Yoga – the Mysteries of the Fire (Aun Weor 2012). Also note the healing power of Kundalini dance.
Yoga of Nature – Union with Fire, Earth, Air & Water (Luby 2004; I’m not sure what happened to ether/space)
Vastu Shastra – The Indian Counterpart to Feng Shui (Robertson 2000)
(seven elements, plus one – both Chinese and Indian influences have been adopted and adapted in different settings in Japan):
Aikido and Words of Power – The Sacred Sounds of Kototama (Gleason 2009; one of serveral excellent books on Aikido by this author)
The Book of Macrobiotics – The Universal Way of Health, Happiness & Peace (Kushi and Jack 2013). Note: Michio Kushi, the senior author of this book, died at the age of 88 on December 28th, 2014. He was instrumental in bringing Macrobiotics to the west. Macrobiotics is based on the yin-yang and the Chinese ‘elements’. Kushi does not use that term in the book, calling them the five transformations instead – a more accurate description.
The Japanese Art of Reiki – A Practical Guide to Self-healing (Steine and Steine 2005)
Heaven and Earth are Flowers – Reflections on Ikebana and Buddhism (Stamm 2010; includes conciousness as well as earth, air, fire, water and space)
Note: The Chinese ‘elements’ form the foundation of the tea ceremony in Japan, which is designed to calm the mind, body and spirit. So far I’ve been unable to find a useful book in English that describes this.
(four elements, plus one – earth, fire, water, air and ether/spirit):
Mrs Darley’s Pagan Elements – A Celebration of Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Divine Spirit (Carlton 2010). Note: This book includes the healing properties of the elements. The Divine Spirit is referred to as ‘ether’ in the text. I’m pleased that Mrs Darley recognises the fifth element.
The Four Temperaments – A Rediscovery of the Ancient Way of Understanding Health and Character (Rolfe 2002). Note: The four temperaments and corresponding humors were the basis of western medicine for over two thousand years. They were linked to the primary elements of earth, fire, air and water by Aristotle, whose philosophy dominated western thought until the ‘modern’ era we are currently in.
Spiritual Science and the Art of Healing – Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophical Medicine (Bott 1984; based on earth, fire, water and air)
Russian Magic – Living Folk Traditions of an Enchanted Landscape (Gilchrist 2009). Note: This book refers to the fundamental importance of the Tree of Life and the elements earth, fire, water and air to Russian beliefs – one imagines they would underpin healing and health creation (so far I haven’t been able to find an explicit link in this book).
(encompasses all 8 elements, in different combinations):
Healing with Form, Energy and Light – The Five Elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra, and Dzogchen (Wangyal Rinpoche 2002; earth, water, fire, air and space)
The Medicine Wheel – Earth Astrology (Sun Bear and Wabun 1992; earth, fire, water and air). Based on the wisdom of Native Americans.
Note: The next resource is not focused on wellbeing, it does however touch on the importance of the elements to shamans/traditional healers and broadens the geographic/cultural coverage.
Elemental Shaman – One Man’s Journey into the Heart of Humanity, Spirituality & Ecology (Rosales 2009). Contains four chapters based on Fire (Toltec, MesoAmerica), Earth (Cherokee, North America), Water (Maya, Central America) and Air (Bhutan).
Bellyfit – a holistic exercise system for women based around the elements of earth, fire, water, air and spirit (www.bellyfit.com). Note: Developed in the USA, the system includes yoga, meditation, exercise and dancing inspired by music from the Middle East, Africa and India! Most likely a hybrid of Indian and European influences. Definitely American!