The 5 Ayurvedic Elements - Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether - Introduction to Ayurveda Salt Lake City
Ayurvedic Elements - Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether - Introduction to Ayurveda
Thousands of years ago, the original Ayurvedic scholars, called "rishis," observed that everything in nature, including ourselves, is made of five ayurvedic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. While these elements are not to be taken literally (rather, they are metaphors for all the molecules and energies that make up our universe), we can find health and harmony in our lives by observing and working to balance these elements through Ayurvedic diet, lifestyle, and daily habits/practices.
Here is an overview of what those elements might look like in your mind and body. When these elements come together, they are called the Ayurvedic "doshas." You can read more about the doshas here.
The Earth Element = Structure and Stability
The earth element is what gives everything shape and form--anything you can touch or feel contains the earth element. In the body, earth gives us our form and shape. It gives rise to all of our bodily tissues. In the mind, earth brings stability.
When we have too much earth element in the body, we will have too much tissue (weight gain). When we have too much earth in the mind, it leads to dullness and lethargy. Conversely, when you have deficient earth element in your body, you will also be deficient in tissue. When you have deficient earth in the mind, you will experience instability and have difficulty maintaining information.
The Water Element = Moisture and Flow
The water element gives rise to all substances that contain or involve moisture. In the body water represents all bodily fluids, specifically the lymphatic and interstitial fluids. The water element is also involved in byproducts and waste fluids like mucous, sweat, urine, tears, breast milk, and male and female reproductive fluids.
The water element In the mind is involved in flow, which allows you to flow from one task to another in your day and allows you to experience a healthy flow of thoughts. When we have excessive water element in the body, you might experience swelling, or edema, and excess fluid production.
In the mind, excess water element will manifest in excessive emotional flow (ex. excessive tears and even excessively deep feelings of sadness). When water is deficient in the body, we will experience dry mucous membranes and tissues. In the mind, deficient water element will show up as an inability to "flow"--or an emotional "dryness" of sorts. This could be seen in an inability to form emotional attachments.
The Fire Element = transformation/metabolism/clarity
The Fire Element is involved in anything that produces heat. The fire element, therefore, is involved in digestive fire, and metabolism in the body at both the gross and cellular level,
The fire element gives you the ability to transform food into healthy bodily tissue. In the mind, fire element gives you the ability to transform sensory input into clear concepts and to discern and experience clarity.
In excess, the fire element produces too much heat, or inflammation, in the body. This could manifest in your metabolism processing food and energy too quickly. It can potentially "eat up" tissue when it runs out of fuel and cause symptoms like redness, heat/fever, and/or weight loss.
Excess fire in the mind results in angry emotions, intensity around work and projects, and criticism of others. Laci of fire element in the body can cause coldness, sluggishness, and even weight gain. In the mind, deficient fire element will cause lack of clarity and discernment, making deciding things difficult, and motivation scarce.
The Air Element = Motion
The air element is involved in all movement in the universe. It is a unique element in that it is the only element that has innate movement, and can move around the other elements.
The Air Element, like the wind, has a variable nature to it. It is always changing. Becuase of this, the air element is inherently unstable.
The air element governs all the movement in the body: everything from nutrients and wastes moving in and out of cellular membranes, to blood circulating through your veins, to the movement of your limbs, to the movement of your thoughts, and especially the movement of food and waste through your digestive tract.
Excessive air element in the body can result in dryness and coolness (think of air evaporating sweat from your skin and cooling you off), nervous ticks and tremors, and variable digestive symptoms.
Excessive air element in the mind will usually result in agitation, "circling" thoughts, repetitive thought patterns, fear, anxiety, and worry.
If you don't have enough air element you might experience dullness, lethargy, and potentially slow reflexes. Deficient air in the mind will be reflected similarly as dullness, heaviness, and potential difficulty recalling concepts.
The Ether Element = Idea of "connectedness" / Space
The Ether Element is the container in which all of the other elements reside. It is the context within which the other f0ur ayurvedic elements assemble or manifest. You can think of the ether element as the "vacuum" of space. Ether element tends to have a diminishing effect on the other elements.
As an example, the ether element increases in you as you age. Think about the changes aging brings about. Your hair grows thinner, your skin and bones grow thinner/diminish, Your mind becomes more unstable.
It follows, then, when the ether element accumulates in the body, we have weaker and drier tissues; when it accumulates in the mind, we become ungrounded, unfocused, and spacey. When we don't have enough in the body, we become heavy and dull; when ether is deficient in the mind, we have trouble connecting concepts, connecting with others, and connecting with the Divine.
The Five Elements and the Doshas
The five elements come together to make up your unique constitution. They also come together to form the three, Ayurvedic Doshas.
Since we interact with the world and elements around us, it is inevitable that we will accumulate too much of one or more elements or become deficient in them throughout our day, throughout the seasons, and throughout our lifetimes.
Ayurveda seeks to teach us about ourselves so that we can take responsibility for our health and bring ourselves back into balance through diet, lifestyle, daily habits, and remembering that we are Nature--we are Divine.
In your 2-hour Initial Ayurvedic Consultation and 50-min Report of Findings, we will determine the unique combination of elements in you--at birth and in the current moment. We will give you the tools you need to bring yourself back into balance--to heal yourself from the inside-out.
Combinations of all the elements make up all of nature, including our bodies and minds. Each one of us has all five elements in different combinations. The elements make up the three, Ayurvedic doshas, or the fundamental energy in the universe and in our bodies and minds. Each of us has a unique balance of these elements and doshas at conception, or birth. These energies tend to go out of balance at different times in our lives due to environmental factors, such as diet, lifestyle, climate, relationships, daily habits, and even thought patterns.
The Five Elements of Ayurveda Are: Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Ether. Everything in nature that can be said to exist are comprised of these five basic elements. Ayurveda seeks to restore balance to the individual through balance of the five Ayurvedic Elements.
To learn more about the five Ayurvedic Elements, click here for a video by Meghan Hays Ayurveda Salt Lake City.
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My Ayurvedic Morning Routine Can Keep You Well and Healthy:I'll Take Your through My Own Morning Ayurvedic Practices!
I'd like to start off by writing that YOUR AYURVEDIC MORNING ROUTINE BEGINS THE NIGHT BEFORE. If you don't go to bed at a decent hour (10/10:30pm) and get a good night's sleep (7-9 hours), you won't have the energy to wake with the sun and perform your morning routine. That being said, let's look at what Ayurveda recommends (and what I attempt to do most mornings...hey, I'm human too!):
1. Wake with the Sun. Okay, I know I've already lost some of you. This one is a tough one for me--always has been, but I can tell you, when I go to bed at an appropriate time (see above), I am WAY more apt to wake by 6:30/7am. Why, you ask, is it important to wake with the sun? Just like animals in nature, humans have circadian rhythms, or "sleep-wake cycles." These rhythms correspond to daylight and darkness and, therefore, affect your hormones, which then affect when you are alert, when you are sleepy, when you are hungry, etc. If you align your habits properly with the day (in a nutshell: wind down when the sun goes down and get going when the sun comes up), your hormones, adrenals, nervous system, and digestive system function properly. Guess what happens when these are functioning properly? Your IMMUNE SYSTEM is also functioning properly to help you ward off disease and fend off pathogens. Mis-align yourself over a long period of time (you'll see this, often, with night-shift workers), and you increase your odds of lowering your immune system and developing chronic disease and autoimmune disorders, or even just getting sick more often.
2. Empty Bladder and Bowels. Most of us wake up and pee first thing in the AM. Some of us are lucky enough to have a bowel movement first thing in the morning too. No worries, if you're not. As long as you're having at least one bowel movement a day, you're considered "regular" in Ayurveda. If you're not having at least one BM a day, you are considered constipated, and you might want to consider a consultation to rectify this (often, a few super-simple changes go a long way). According to Ayurveda, all disease begins in the digestive tract, so having an efficient and healthy elimination pattern is integral to disease prevention. If you have at least one bowel movement daily, your digestive tract (one of your first line's of defense against pathogens) is acting efficiently in moving potentially harmful waste matter out of your body. You can help along healthy elimination patterns with a classic Ayurvedic formula, called "Triphala." It's a blend of three different fruits, which nourish and cleanse the tissues of the body and encourage healthy bowel habits by "tonifying" the tissues of the colon, which then respond properly to elimination urges. I make my own capsules with the powdered formula, but you can also purchase ready-made tablets here from Banyan Botanicals. And you can read more about Triphala here. I often recommend taking two tablets with warm water before bed. Give it a few days to rectify your bowel habits.
3. Tongue Cleaning. This is a classic Ayurvedic practice that improves oral health and stimulates your digestive system. (The tongue is, after all, the first and most visible organ of the digestive tract--one of your first lines of defense against pathogens and disease!) Right after you void your bladder/bowels, go to the sink (wash your hands!), and grab your tongue scraper/tongue cleaner--even before you brush your teeth. Check out the coating, if any, on your tongue. (In Ayurveda, coating on the tongue indicates toxicity, or "ama," in the body.) Gently scrape your tongue from back to front, rinsing your tongue cleaner with water after each pass. I usually scrape 6-10 times, depending upon how much coating I find on my tongue that morning. BE GENTLE--you don't want to damage your taste buds or cause any bleeding. After this, I typically rinse my mouth out with warm water, and then I might do some oil pulling with coconut oil, followed by brushing my teeth with a little baking soda. My mouth feels squeaky clean and hydrated!
You can purchase a tongue cleaner here.
You can read more about tongue cleaning here.
4. Hydrate! I know it looks like a lot, but I've truly only spent about 5 minutes on my morning routine at this point. So next, I'm all about hydration. Theoretically, you've just spent 8 hours fasting (sleeping) with no liquids, so you should be pretty thirsty. Dehydrated tissues are breeding grounds for pathogens, like viruses. (More on this below.) I drink 8-16 oz of room temperature water--NEVER cold--it's too jarring for the nervous and digestive systems, and it diminishes your ability to digest food. If you have a slower digestive system (get gas and bloating after meals or are prone to constipation), you should consider drinking warm water instead of room temp. Add a squeeze of lemon or a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar to stimulate digestion and liver function. This will typically stimulate a bowel movement for those who don't wake up with the urge.
5. Walk/Get Outside in Fresh Air and Sunshine. To put some more perspective on this, I'm still only about 10 minutes into my morning routine, so there's plenty of time to step outside, get some Vitamin D, and enjoy Nature as it awakens...and take Stewie the dog on the first of his multiple, daily walks. (Do you ever listen to the birds as the sun comes up? They're amazing!) This is one of the most "sattvic," or peaceful, times of day, and I highly encourage you to check it out. The lower, less potent angle of the sun still delivers Vitamin D (essential for longevity, disease prevention, and immune system function) without the damaging effects of its angles later in the day. Ultraviolet light from the sun is antimicrobial in nature (kills pathogens, viruses, etc.), so now is a great time to use the literal "force of nature" to improve your health and prevent infection. You could take this time to stroll and breathe and enjoy the peace and calm of this time of day, or you could certainly use it to get your heart-rate up (more on this below).
PLUS: Daily cardiovascular activity has been shown to reduce the chances that those infected with COVID-19 end up with acute respiratory distress/on a ventilator.
6. Practice Yoga, Pilates, or Calisthenics/Stretching. Speaking of getting your heart rate up: Ayurveda encourages daily movement that brings us to a slight sweat and then brings us back down again. You could certainly count your morning walk as your daily movement, but body-weight-bearing and flexibility exercises, 2-3 times a week will go even further to keep your bones strong, muscles and joints healthy, and prevent age-related issues, like falling. I find that 20-30 minutes of yoga, Pilates, or calisthenics (body-weight training, like push-ups, lunges, squats, and planks), combined with stretching, does the trick for me. This keeps my muscles toned and strong, gets my heart rate into a fat-burning zone, and stimulates my metabolism. You can check out my YouTube channel for some free, workout ideas.
7. Neti (Nasal Irrigation) and Shower The World Health Organization is saying that nasal irrigation/cleaning of the sinuses is just as important as hand-washing in the fight against COVID-19. Why? Your nasal passages are one of the body's first defenses against pathogens and disease. Neti/nasal irrigation/nasal cleansing not only rids your sinuses of potential bacteria, viruses, and pollen (hello, spring allergies!), but it HYDRATES the mucous membranes of your sinuses. If your mucous membranes are dry, pathogens have an easy opportunity to make a nice home for themselves. If your mucous membranes are hydrated and "slippery", the pathogens sit on the surface of the mucous and nasal secretions and eventually drain down your sinuses and into your throat, where you swallow them. There, the hydrochloric acid in your stomach kills them. This is why keeping your nasal passages AND your digestive system strong and hydrated is so important. They are an interconnected defense system against viruses and bacteria.
Here's how I perform neti:
Add 1 cup (8 oz) warm water (about 100 degrees F is optimal) to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (use salt WITHOUT iodine, so no "table" or Kosher salt). I boil my water (for safety--use distilled water if you are worried about the quality of your water or get water from a well system) first thing in the AM, pour it into my neti pot, then allow it to come to body temp while I walk outside. I find it takes about 25-30 minutes to come to the perfect temperature after boiling. I usually set a timer so that I don't forget. (Using water that's too cool is ALMOST as uncomfortable as using water that's too warm/hot.) Dip your pinky finger into it to see if it feels right. Use a candy or regular thermometer to get it just right, especially if you're new to this practice. If it stings, you probably didn't add enough salt or the water is too hot. The water should be salty enough to mimic your body's own salinity.
Place the pot spout at the opening of one nostril, lean FAR forward from your waist, and tilt your head away from the pot, until water runs out of your other nostril. If water runs down your throat, you haven't tipped your head far enough forward--try again--it can take a little practice! I pour half the pot through one nostril, and then I pour the other half through the other nostril. Then I blow my nose over the sink (it's going to be all water--you might see a little mucous) and then into tissues or a towel. I also bend over (like in forward fold) and lean over with my head tilted in both directions to get out any remaining water. DO NOT close one nostril to clear the other while blowing your nose--you could damage your ear drum.
Here's a link to the ceramic (I avoid plastic whenever possible) neti pot I use.
Here's a link to a brief description of and video (scroll down a bit) on how to practice neti/nasal rinsing.
You should also know that the practice of neti brings moisture to the tissues of the body, so for about 10 minutes after you irrigate your sinuses, you'll be blowing your nose and ridding your sinuses of excess mucous. This is a great time to take a quick shower, and some people even perform their nasal irrigation IN the shower.
8. Apply Oil to the Body (Abhyanga) and Sinuses (Nasya)
A huge part of Ayurvedic self-care involves application of oil to the body (inside and out), which keeps us protected from disease and hydrated (think: anti-aging!).
After I shower, I apply oil to my entire body, which is an Ayurvedic practice called abhyanga. It is, by far, my favorite Ayurvedic practice--I love it! Traditionally, abhyanga is done BEFORE exercise/applying heat to the body. You apply warmed oil (run hot water over the bottle or check out my method below) in long strokes to the limbs and circular strokes to the joints. This stimulates the lymphatic system AND builds your immune system (called "ojas" in Ayurveda). Put on some old sweats/clothes you don't mind getting a little oil on or designate just for this purpose, then perform your exercise or yoga asana. (Some like to take a warm bath or steam instead.) This increases heat in your body, opens your pores, and the oil "cooks" into your skin, where any herbs or medications in the oil can infiltrate your bloodstream. Then, you rinse off in the shower (preferably no soap or only where you need it--incidentally, ladies, you should never use soap on your genitals, as it imbalances the PH levels, leaving you prone to infection) and then "pat dry" to leave a thin and protective layer of oil on your body (think of it like "armor" for your day!). I prefer to use oil after my shower, when my body is already warm, and I find this more practical for those of us, who are accustomed to applying lotion, etc. after bathing. PSA: skip the lotions! They are chock-full of chemicals and petroleum products. Sesame oil, almond oil, sunflower oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, and olive oil are all better options. Depending upon your doshas/Ayurvedic constitution, you will want to pick an oil that keeps you balanced. Sesame, almond, and olive oils are best for dry, thin skin (vata). Coconut, sunflower, and jojoba oils are best for inflamed, irritated, red, or oily skin (pitta). Mustard seed or a light application of sesame oil is great for thick, naturally moisturized, or itchy skin (kapha). After I apply my oil, I slip on a robe I designate just for this purpose and allow the oil to soak in 20-30 minutes, while I perform my breathing and meditation exercises (below), before dressing. FYI: you will have no problems with oil and your clothing if you choose the right oil for your skin, apply the right amount, and give it 20-30 minutes to absorb.
Here's the herb-infused coconut oil I use (choose the sesame oil version if you have dry skin/vata).
Here's what I use to warm my oil while I'm in the shower--I light the candle just before I jump in the shower.
Here's more instruction on how to perform abhyanga and how to choose the right oil.
Since a neti practice (sinus irrigation above) can actually be a bit drying to some (as it brings moisture to the tissues in the form of mucous, but then as you blow your nose and "cleanse" the tissues, those who are already a bit dry can be left feeling "stripped"), applying a little oil to the sinuses ("nasya" in Ayurveda) can give you back that protective barrier to prevent pathogens from taking their hold on your tissues. I use Banyan Botanicals tri-doshic "Nasya Oil." I truly believe that this has been one of the main reasons (along with neti) I haven't suffered from allergies over the past several years (since I've started this almost daily practice).
Here's the link to an article with a video link on how to do perform nasya.
9. Breathing (Pranayama) and Meditation
Okay! We're in the home-stretch! Keep in mind, I'm still only about an hour into my morning routine, depending on how long I spend exercising. And this next set of practices can only take 5-10 minutes, depending on how much time you have to spend on them.
If you've been getting my Friday Yoga/Healthy Back videos, you'll already be familiar with this breathing exercise, which doctors around the world are recommending to help exercise and clear/expectorate your lungs to avoid infection and keep your immune system up:
I LOVE alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana) and do five rounds of this each morning, which takes about 5 minutes. Here's a link for instructions on how to perform alternate nostril breathing. I use a ratio of 4 counts for inhale, 16 counts to retain/hold my breath, and 8 counts to exhale. FYI: you have to get a full, deep breath on those first 4 counts to be able to comfortably hold your breath for 16 seconds without creating anxiety of panic, so work up to this and be patient or simply eliminate the retention.
There are SO many ways to practice meditation. There are apps, like Calm and MNDFL, and there are many styles, like Zen, Transcendental, felt-sense, etc. It's worth finding a practice that works for you. If you have a "monkey mind" that loves to go all over the place, a guided meditation is probably best for you. In other words, I wouldn't try to just sit down and focus only on your breathing--you'll become frustrated very quickly. That being said, the point is not to STOP thinking--good luck with that. The point is to FOCUS the mind to come into the present moment. When you do that, Ayurveda says, you stop time, and the body ceases to age. I'm sold! There are so many health benefits to meditation, including lowered blood pressure and increased immune function. I also like to do my self-energy/Reiki work at this time, which is another form of meditation all on its own. If you're a beginner, start with just 3 minutes and work your way up from there, just adding one minute at a time every couple of weeks.
At this point, you could dress or have breakfast or whatever you want! Morning routine is done, and I GUARANTEE you will such a better day if you simply choose 2-3 of these practices to work on each month. Don't try to do it all at once; I can also guarantee you'll either become overwhelmed or burnt-out and give it all up. Choose just 2-3 (or one!) that resonate(s) with you, and work on it/them for a good month. It's taken me years to get all of these practices under my belt, and I still struggle with my breathing/meditation--those are the first ones to go if I'm feeling unmotivated or short on time, but they're the ones that make me feel the best. I hope you modify, "tweak," and make these practices work for you.
Feel free to email me with any questions--I hope you found this informative and helpful! I love sharing this information with you!
Meghan Hays is an Ayurveda Practitioner in Salt Lake City Utah, and is Certified by the California College of Ayurveda.
Meghan Hays Ayurveda - Ayurveda Salt Lake City