This is part three of our five part series on the five great elements. Learn more about the five great elements at the EHY blog!
Humans have always been captivated by fire. Creation stories from all around the world indicate fire’s significance. It is said that Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, enabling us to establish civilization. Although humans celebrated Prometheus as a hero, the gods were so offended that Zeus severely punished Prometheus. His torment lasted until he was finally rescued by Hercules, a half-mortal.
Early Vedic literature also speaks of fire’s divine origins. Agni-fire- was the very first thing Brahma created. He named it as his eldest son. One story says a great bird brought humans fire as a gift from the gods. Likewise, the book of Genesis says, “In the beginning, God created light.” Time and time again, we see fire is a prerequisite for creation.
Agni and the third chakra.
No conversation about Agni would be complete without also taking a look at the relationship between fire and power. Whether preventing humanity from having fire or bestowing it as a gift, it is clear from the above creation stories that the gods knew well the power of fire. Agni is associated with the third chakra, Manipura chakra. This chakra is located at our core in the solar plexus region. Manipura chakra is associated with our sense of personal empowerment. If this chakra is in excess, we seek to have power over other people. If deficient, we allow others to have power over us. A balanced third chakra allows us to collaborate and and cultivate power with others.
An Ayurvedic perspective of fire.
In Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine, fire is associated with power as well. Agni is most closely associated with Pitta Dosha. It is primarily responsible for digestion and sight. On a physical level, it is Agni that allows us to digest our food properly and eliminate whatever material waste cannot be processed. Because fire gives light, it also gives good vision and allows us to see clearly. Of course, Ayurveda does not only address our physical health, but our psycho-spiritual health as well. Agni gives us the ability to digest our thoughts, emotions, and lived experiences, assimilating valuable life lessons and burning the things that no longer serve us in the fire of transformation. Likewise, Agni gives us the power to pursue our vision. Our dreams, goals, and intentions manifest in this world when we feel a connection to the fire within us.
Stoking the fire.
Whether they know it or not, Agni inspires many people to begin, and later sustain, a yoga practice. Our society has a precarious relationship with fire. Some have too little fire. They feel ambivalent in their lives: stuck and unable to pursue the life they would like to lead. Others have too much fire. They are burning the proverbial candle at both ends. They know they are alive because they are still running the rat race, but they also know they are not truly living. Having exhausted all viable worldly options in the search for meaning and happiness, people often come to yoga looking for a spiritual solution.
Yoga is a way to tend to Agni within us. Asana and meditation practices fortify our bodies, minds, and spirits. Mindfulness and seasonal living allow us to live in balance, cultivating a just-right fire. Lethargy and burn-out are signs our inner fire needs some attention.
The earliest yoga practices were very different from the practices we do today. They were primarily composed of fire ceremonies performed by the Vedic priests. These ceremonies were performed around celestial events such as sunrise and sunset, the full and new moon, and solar and lunar eclipses. They were also done to celebrate rites of passage including births, weddings, and funerals. Offerings of food and herbs were made to the gods and thrown into the fire. When the fire died out, the priests would cover themselves with the soot. The soot was the gift the gods returned to the people as a sign that their prayers and devotions had been received.
As yoga practitioners, we are the priests of Agni within. Like the Vedic priests tended the fire at their alters, we tend to the fire in our own hearts. When we sense our fire is either too much or too little, here are some practices that will help us find balance.
- When lacking motivation, find ways to serve other people. Seva can be incredibly energizing!
- If feeling overwhelmed, write down a master to-do look. As you examine each item, cross off any unnecessary tasks. (Be honest!) Take note of any tasks that you can ask others for help with. Evaluate the items left on your list and order them in terms of how high a priority they are. Schedule when you will perform each task, taking care that you do not try to do too much at one time. Three goals per day is generally reasonable.
- Attune your self-care habits to the seasons. For example, healthful eating means different things at different times of the year. Ayurveda provides excellent guidelines for how to live a yogic lifestyle according to the seasons. For example, a raw salad that may be refreshing in the summer could cause digestive difficulty during the winter. Likewise, we may crave and be nourished by chili when it is cold outside, but if we ate it in hot weather, we might feel overheated.
- It is said that with great fire comes great responsibility. As we more fully step into our power, our relationship with responsibility shifts. We may find ourselves taking on new responsibilities or letting go of things we had previously taken on that were actually the responsibilities of other people. When we have a right-sized relationship to our inner fire -our sense of personal power- our relationship with responsibility becomes right-sized as well.
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