In this chapter I reference a number of studies demonstrating what common sense and our ancestors have known for ages--that being in nature is good for you. . . . In spiritual parlance, Nature is inherently sattvic, it brings clarity and light to your life, and spending time in Nature lets some of that sattva rub off on you.
In the Vedic worldview, Nature is made of five great Elements. By separating ourselves from the elements outside us, we isolate ourselves from our own nature inside, leading to disorders in the body and the mind. To bring sattva into our daily life, we can reconnect to at least four out of these five elements on a daily basis.
The 5 Elements of Dharma
The 5 dharma types are perhaps the most important key to cultivating sattva in your life. Each type is associated with an Element in this order:
While it’s important to integrate all 5 elements to truly connect with nature, you get extra benefit by focusing on the element corresponding to your dharma type. When Laborers integrate the Earth element, they become rock solid, stable, and anchored to their dharma. When Merchants channel the Water element, their prosperity flourishes. The Fire element helps Warriors attain their goals faster. Exposure to Air inspires Educators--who tend to stay too long stuffed up in the laboratory, in front of the computer, or in the classroom--refreshing their bodies while rebooting their minds. Having organized Space around them helps Outsiders feel calmer. [Following are some suggestions to help you intentionally connect to the elements.]
The Earth element is everything solid in our experience, including the bones in our bodies and the bricks in our houses. Earth is security and stability, shelter and food. To connect to it is to ground yourself in this security. Try taking your shoes off every day for at least 15 minutes to feel the sand or grass under your toes. Try sitting in the park, rolling around, or even playing in the mud. Feeling the earth on your body can drain your cares and worries, and balance stress levels.
If you’re worried about money or your place in the world, your bones and joints may show stress like lower back pain. Adding strontium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D to your diet will help rebuild your body structure and relationship to the earth. This is just one way to bring awareness to the earth element in your body. It is a step to reconnecting with nature--the nature within you. Though not essential for everyone, if you are deficient in any of these minerals, they may be an essential part of your well-being, from digestive health to proper sleep, which translates into improved sattva and better meditation.
Spending time in and around Water contributes to sattva since water purifies the body, mind, and emotions. It is not enough to take a shower every day--drippy tap water can’t compare to the sheer quantity and quality of an ocean wave submerging you, or pure rain sprinkling your head and body, or a waterfall gushing around you, stripping you of all negativity. Nature’s water sources are the first choice when it comes to connecting to this element. Surfing, sailing, swimming, and diving all work.
In chapter 1 we saw how getting up at or before sunrise can infuse you with sattva all day long. But exposure to the midday sun is also useful. Take advantage of the sun’s natural vitamin D-producing light, making sure at least a third of your body is exposed and spending 15-30 minutes in the midday sun. Of course, if you have sensitive or cancer-prone skin that burns under sun exposure you can minimize or skip this practice, but be sure to get your vitamin D through dietary supplementation.
Healthy vitamin D levels range between 30 to 100 ng/ml, with 20-30 ng/ml considered insufficient and anything below 20 ng/ml deficient. Even sub-clinical vitamin D deficiencies can show up as depression, low libido, low energy, diminished cognitive function, and more. If you can’t get vitamin D from the sun, make sure to get it in your diet or as a supplement and get your levels checked every year!
The Air element connotes movement in body and mind because it relates to the brain and nervous system, which stimulate your leg muscles to run and your mind to race. It regulates communication, both within your body and with the outside world via speech and writing. The Air element also relates to touch, since the nerves that communicate sensation to our brain also respond to touch receptors in the skin. Therefore massage, self-myofascial release on a foam roller, or mat yoga or Pilates on the floor are some ways to vicariously pamper the Air element in your body.
In the age of smartphone digital screens, where many of us find it hard to look up from our devices, it is even more important to step out of the digital box and widen our horizons. Creating sacred Space in our lives begins in the body by fasting and clearing the GI tract. It continues by honoring and decluttering the center in our homes--the place of spirit. Finally, creating Space means exposing yourself to the great expanses of nature. Try staring at the far horizon. Or, simply spread out a blanket, lie down, and look at the sky above. You know, like when you were little and your life seemed full of possibility. Staring into the vastness of Space creates aspiration and wonder.