Space… the final frontier.
All the Trekkies out there know that space is the final frontier. Yogis know that space is both the final and the primal frontier! Even though there are 118 elements included on the periodic table at this point, they are all derived from just five. In India, these original five elements were known as the Panchamahabhuta, or the Five Great Elements. Beginning with the most subtle, each element builds on the one before it. They are space (or ether), air, fire, water, and earth.
Akasha may sound like a hip, new-agey term, but it has actually been a concept in Hindu philosophy, from which Yoga and Ayurveda are derived, for millennia! Akasha is the first and most subtle of the great elements. When we think of space, we often think of it as being empty. However, Akasha is the space in which air, fire, water, and earth come together as creation. It existed before anything else came into being and it is that which everything will return to.
Ayurveda, the traditional Hindu medicine system and the sister-science of yoga, teaches us that space, along with air, is the stuff of which vata dosha is made. When vata dosha is imbalanced, we may feel weak, be underweight, have digestive difficulties, and suffer from free-floating anxiety and nervousness. Balanced vata dosha means that we are creative, energetic, and expressive. Vata may not be experienced through the physical senses, but it can be felt through its effects. It is our thoughts, words, ideas, and beliefs. Akasha is the space through which these things move beyond the ethereal and into manifested form.
Don’t just do something! Sit there!
The old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” has informed the American psyche since before the founding of this country. This has led us to be a driven, fast-paced society where busy-ness for the sake of being busy is considered admirable and time spent doing nothing in particular is seen as wasted. This discourages us from the very things that increase Akasha: stillness, emptiness, time to simply be. As a result, it is up to us to consciously insert more space into our day. We can do so through simple things like turning the radio off while driving, not checking our devices when our dinner companion gets up from the table, and putting our phone on “do not disturb”, only checking it at designated times of our choosing.
Fasting has long been part of many spiritual and religious traditions, including yoga. Fasting is one way to increase Akasha. Other less intense options may include dietary cleanses such as juicing or eating only fruit for a limited period of time. Ayurveda says that individuals experiencing a vata imbalance should not practice fasting. Before undertaking any dietary changes (fasting, juicing, or participating in a dietary cleanse), be sure to have a conversation with your trusted doctor or medical professional. These practices are not safe for everyone.
Meditation is another way to increase Akasha. Have you ever had so many thoughts running through your head that, ironically, you felt as if you couldn’t think? Our minds are naturally spacious. There is stillness beneath all of those thoughts. The spaciousness we experience when we quiet our thoughts is Akasha. The more we can tap into that spaciousness, the more effectively we can use our minds. This allows us to experience greater focus and creativity.
Space is more than just the absence of something. Humans long to explore space. Space opens us up to possibility. We explore outer space when we go somewhere we have never been, try something we have never done, or speak a truth we had long kept silent. However, our yoga practice is always directing us inward. There is an inner space to discover as well. When we allow space to be what it is, without trying to fill or in some way change it, we explore our inner space and learn to navigate the terrain of self, psyche, and consciousness.
The next time you practice yoga, be it at the studio or in your own home, set an intention to allow there to be space in your practice. Even if you are doing a vinyasa practice, notice the space between one pose and the next. Enjoy the sense of spaciousness you create in your body. Notice there is space in your breath. Intentionally pause at the top of your inhalation and the bottom of your exhalation. Discover how deep your practice can be when you are no longer trying to do something. Simply allow yourself to experience it.