Kelly Spencer - Happy Healthy YOU
(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)
Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m., the beach was quiet and still. The odd person out for a stroll, but otherwise the sounds were of nature. I laid my blanket out, did a couple of yoga stretches and sat comfortably with my feet in the sand.
The water was like glass, the sky cloudy with peaks of the sun’s rays and the leaves on the tree beside me had a murmur of rustling from the gentle breeze. I took a deep breath in and out as I peered out to where the lake and sky held hands. I inhaled another mindful inspiration of fresh air. Ah, there it is…the balancing energy of the beach.
Whether I go with family or friends for fun or on my own for some meditative, contemplative time, the departure from the beach is always met with gratitude. There is something aligning and harmonizing here.
In classical Greek science and medicine, the “Four Elements” are the basic constituents of all matter. Everything in the universe is composed of these elements, in varying proportions and amounts. The elemental composition of a substance determines its particular nature and attributes, properties and actions. The Four Elements are Fire, Air, Earth, and Water.
Shamanic cosmology speaks of the four sacred directions, or the four winds. These four sacred directions also correspond to the four natural elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air), and depending on the tradition, tend to vary in their correlation. This has been called by some, Earth astrology. The four directions are ways of connecting with the seasons of our lives, and understanding them greatly assists in coming into harmony with our own natural rhythms and patterns.
In Yogic philosophies, the four elements correlate with the four foundation energy systems within us called chakras. Chakra is a Sanskrit word that can be translated to mean “wheels of energy.” The four fundamental chakras are root, sacral, naval and heart. Each of these chakras represents the elements of earth, water, fire and air, in that order.
So let’s examine these four elements a little closer.
Last year I was facilitating a workshop with a round table discussion on the topic of “how do you relieve stress and find your center?” The answers varied, but the majority stated they go for a walk in nature. Being outside, sitting on the Earth, leaning up against a tree can assist to feel more grounded, more secure in our foundation and release life’s stresses.
Dr. Benjamin Bensadon, a biomedical science professor, said beach sand alone can help chill us out.
"You can feel the sand, it's often soft, and that can be a relaxing tactile stimulus," he said. As well, the Zen-like tranquility many feel at the beach can related to the visual. Studies have shown that blue hues (of water and sky) have a calming effect on people.
Dr. William Dorfman, a psychology professor says of the soothing experience, “The water tide soundtrack also may trigger the brain to release feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.”
About 70 per cent of an adult's body is made up of H2O. The natural pull we feel toward the beach may have an evolutionary tie, Dorfman said.
The ebb and flow of the waves remind us to flow with our lives. Life is constantly moving and changing, and the more grounded we can be, the higher our ability to surf the wave. It is also where we started, safely floating in the water of the womb.
The warmth of the sun on my face brightens my mood. But the element of fire also has physiological benefits. Sun exposure in safe amounts causes the body to produce vitamin D, which helps with bone strength and calcium absorption. Also according to Jaime Tartar, an associate professor of psychology research at NSU, the sun assists us to feel alive, exhilarated and refreshed, stating, "It's a combination of scattered blue light (short wavelength that causes the sky to appear blue) and bright sunlight, which induce these cells in the retina to release melanopsin, which can increase mood."
The air at the lake seems thinner and cleaner to me. Perhaps as the breeze comes off the water, there is less pollution for us to inhale. However ocean water has been examined a little more closely for its healing properties.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, ocean air was considered a cure-all for nearly any illness, from depression to tuberculosis. Thomas W. Ferkol, the president of the American Thoracic Society and a pediatric pulmonologist at Washington University, informs that some data does exist to conclude that inhaling salty air can clear the lungs. A popular belief is that ocean air is filled with negatively charged ions, which can decrease blood pressure and elevate mood. Others suggest simply inhaling sea air can help abate ear infections, skin inflammation and other maladies.
On the four elements all together, "We've had more than a few families come back from the Gulf Coast and ask if they should move because they feel so much better," says Dr. Ferkol. "I'm not sure how much of the improvement is spiritual, metaphysical or physiological, but I suspect it's all."
Dr. William Dorfman suggests that gazing out at the water can do wonders to clear the mind. "When you look out at the beach, there is sort of this infinity, this sense of perspective to get some distance from your everyday problems."
We can find this elemental alignment at any body of water, whether a creek, stream, lake or ocean, where the other three elements are also present. For me the balance of all four elements is offered at the beach.
Where is your favorite place to find balance in the elements?
P.S. You should go there soon!
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