The Five Elements of Ayurveda Introduction to Ayurveda
The Five Elements of Ayurveda
What Are The Five Basic Elements of Ayurveda? They are: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether
Ayurvedic medicine is based on the concept of five, basic elements. The ancient "rishis," or original, Ayurvedic scholars in India, thousands of years ago, observed that everything in nature is made of five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether.
These are not to be taken literally; the elements, rather, are more like ideas, or metaphors. We can see the qualities of the five elements in our environment and in our bodies and minds.
Earth = solidity
You can think of the earth element as anything in our world that has shape and form. In the body, earth represents all the tissues of the body, especially skin, muscles, and bones. Earth gives us form. In the mind, earth represents stability. What is reflected in the body is reflected in the mind, so when the earth element is in excess, we will have too much tissue (weight gain) and dullness/heaviness/lethargy in the mind; when the earth element is in deficiency, we will not have enough tissues (weight loss) and instability in the mind.
Water = flow and moisture
You can think of the water element as anything that has innate moisture. The water element represents all the fluids of the body, especially lymphatic and interstitial fluids, and even byproducts and waste fluids, like mucous, sweat, tears, urine, breast milk, and menstrual fluids. In the mind, water represents flow--the healthy flow of thoughts and our ability to flow from one task to another throughout our day. When water element is in excess, the body will reflect that in swelling/edema and excess fluid production (ex. mucous, sweat, urine, etc.), and the mind will reflect that in excessive emotional flow (perhaps even in excessive tears to express sadness). When water is in deficiency, the body will express dryness/lack of moisture, such as in mucous membranes and sweat glands, and the mind will reflect that in an inability to flow--an emotional "dryness," reflected in an inability to form emotional attachments to or feelings for others, places, or things.
Fire = light/transformation/clarity
You can think of the fire element as anything that has heat and the ability to transform one substance into another. The fire element represents metabolism in the body, from the molecular level to everyday digestion. Fire represents the ability of the body to transform food into bodily tissue, as well as the ability of the mind to transform sensory input into clear concepts and, ultimately, wisdom. Fire in the mind gives us discernment and clarity. When the fire element is in excess, the body produces too much heat (inflammation) and processes food and energy too quickly, possibly even "burning up" tissue when it runs out of fuel. This could cause symptoms like redness, heat, and weight loss. In the mind, excess fire results in anger, intensity, and criticism. When fire is in depletion, the body could be cold or cool, and sluggish; weight gain could occur due to slow metabolism. The mind will lack clarity and discernment; decisions might be hard to make, and one might feel lack of motivation.
Air = motion
You can think of the air element as anything that has movement or animation. Air is the only element that moves. Just like the wind, it has an ever-changing, or variable, nature. Air governs all the movement in the body, from sensory input coming in through the nervous system, to the movement of blood in the circulatory system, to the movement of our thoughts and limbs, to the movement of food and waste material through the digestive tract...ALL movement...even on a cellular level. When air is in excess, the body could show dryness (from air's ability to evaporate moisture), coldness (due to air's ability to cool), constipation, gas, and bloating (due to dryness), and possibly alternating diarrhea with constipation if that air blows the digestive fire too high and then too low (due to air's variable nature). In the mind, excess air will cause too much movement and agitation in the mind, resulting in "whirling" thoughts, difficulty retaining information, agitation, anxiety, fear, and worry. Too little air in the body will cause sluggishness, lethargy, possibly excess moisture, and potentially slow reflexes. In the mind, lack of air will do the same, causing slow-moving thoughts with potential difficulty in recalling concepts.
Ether = very subtle/idea of connectedness/ that which exists in between things/space
Ether is...well...ethereal, for lack of a better descriptor. Ether hard to describe in that it is the very space, or container, in which the other elements exist. It is a vacuum, like the void that is "outer space." Perhaps ether is best understood this way: ether diminishes the other elements, and it accumulates as we age, thereby giving us thinner and drier skin, thinner bones, thinner hair, instability in the mind, etc. as we succumb to the process of aging. When ether accumulates in the body, the tissues diminish as in the aforementioned example. When ether accumulates in the mind, we become ungrounded, unable to focus, and "space-y."
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: vata, pitta, and kapha. You can read more about the Ayurvedic doshas by clicking here. 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.
This is what your first session with me as an Ayurveda Clinical Specialist and Ayurvedic Health Counselor will seek to find. By looking at your physical features, physical tendencies, and lifelong digestive, psychological, and emotional tendencies, we will determine your Ayurvedic constitution, called “prakruti," or the unique balance of the elements and doshas in your body and mind at conception.
We will also determine what is out-of balance in your body and mind. This is called your “vikruti," In finding out what is imbalanced, we will determine which practices, including diet and herbs, will bring you back into harmony with your environment, thus putting your body in its most optimal state for healing.
Summary 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.
Disclaimer; Meghan Hays is not a medical doctor nor is she a licensed health professional in any state. Meghan Hays is trained and certified through the California College of Ayurveda as an Ayurvedic Doctor (aka Medical Ayurvedic Specialist) an Ayurvedic Health Counselor, and a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.