Written by John Immel,
Observe the Natural WorldIn every corner of the globe and every ecological niche, plants and animals have adapted to life in the natural world. Humans have also adapted. Our health is directly correlated to our ability to withstand the seasons. Some of us feel strong in winter, others in summer. The body evolved in nature, and to an Ayurvedic practitioner there is no separation of medicine and nature.
Ayurveda's origins come from observation of the natural world. The ancient founders of Ayurveda watched how other species defended themselves against dampness, heat, wind, dryness, and other basic qualities of nature. From them, they learned how to strengthen the body's defenses. Thus, Ayurveda begins with the basic five elements in nature.
The elements are the basic characteristics of all reality. In Medieval times as in modern, all cultures believed the world around them was made up of elements. But in Medieval times, people believed the form (characteristics of something) was more important than the matter (atoms, protons etc). So they classified matter as earthy, watery, fiery, airy, or etheric.
Can you identify which elements might be increased or decreased in your body from the following?
The Five ElementsTo Ayurveda, the elements of nature are not forces in themselves, but rather states. The five elements are the most common qualities one encounters in nature. They include ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Chinese medicine also adds metal and wood elements. Our five senses have evolved in the context of the natural world. Thus, our bodies are well attuned to interpret and assess the environment using the concept of these five elements. The body uses the elements to interpret the seasons and determine the appropriate foods to eat. Modern materials, such as concrete, may be confusing to the senses.
EtherEther correlates with form, nature, or shape (as in Plato's 'ideas' or 'forms'). Objects have both substance and shape. When this shape disintegrates or is reformed into another shape, there is a change, not in substance, but of ether. For example, reshaping clay from a statue of a bird into a bust of Napolean is a change in ether, not in substance.
Excess ether correlates to identification with things out of proportion to one's nature / form or shape. An etheric person spends too much time in the dream world, imagines they are something they are not, is disconnected, or has a distorted perspective on reality. On a physical level, excess ether could include everything from excessive weight loss, to excessive weight gain - any departure from one's true nature is an excess of ether.
Balanced ether in the body can look like:
Ether is characterized by nonresistance, space, and receptivity. It is subtle, soft, and light. Weight loss increases ether element. Isolation, loneliness, drugs, and/or spiritual practices that increase spaciness have ether element. It is associated with the spirit, sound, and the ears.
AirAir correlates with movement, direction and the process of change (of ether). It is light, dry, subtle, cold, and dispersive. Substances that increase air include caffeine, pungent spices, exercises, and mental stimulation. It is associated with thoughts, nerve impulses, breath, touch, peristalsis, and the musculo-skeletal system. Air is linked to Vata dosha.
In the body, balanced air can look like:
FireFire correlates with energy, visible light, and the appearance of things. It is hot, penetrating, subtle, light, and dry. Alcohol, pungent spices, and analytical activity increase fire. It is associated with the eyes and brightness of the skin. Fire prioritizes truth and clarity over relationships.
Fire is generally linked to Pitta dosha and transformation in the body. It helps break down and process everything we come into contact with. Healthy, balanced fire element looks like intelligence and balanced heat:
WaterWater provides cohesion and relationship. It is fluid, sticky, and soft. It is associated with sweetness, emotion, and fertility. Water sacrifices righteousness for relationship. It is associated with tastebuds, the heart, reproductive organs, and fat tissue.
Cool, heavy water is linked to Kapha dosha, while hot acid and bile are more Pitta-type fluids. Healthy, balanced water element often looks like:
However, excess water can present as:
EarthEarth is heavy, solid, and dense. It gives our body substance and solidity. All solid parts of the body are an expression of the earth element. Earthy people are grounded, stable, stubborn, and hard. It is associated with smell, muscle, the base of the spine, and the soul.
Earth is a Kapha element, giving stability and grossness. Balanced earth element will look like:
READ MORE ON THIS TOPIC
BROWSE SIMILAR ARTICLES BY TOPIC
About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.
John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 6 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.
Questions, Comments & Impressions of 'the five elements of ayurveda'?Is there something else you'd like to know about 'the five elements of ayurveda'?
23 likesSign in to review this article