The 5 Elements in Ayurveda

The 5 Elements in Ayurveda

Posted: 22nd May 2017 by Emma Wall

The basic principles of The Five Elements in

Ayurveda & Yoga

Everything in the universe is made up of the Five Elements. They are the base from which everything is formed. The building blocks of life. However, no one element is ever perceived in its pure state, instead, every entity that exists in our cosmos is made up of a varying combination of the characteristics of the Five Elements.

With the 5 Elements, we experience the crossover of Yoga with its sister science, Ayurveda. Both of these holistic practices interweave and merge in an act of balancing the characteristics of each element in our mental and physical being. Understanding the dominant elements inside a person, substance or environment, allows us to know what influences will be exerted upon the body and mind and then to act under this to achieve balance in life. Asana practice, pranayama, meditation, diet and even the relationships we have with others, can all have an impact upon maintaining this natural equilibrium. The Five Elements are referred to as tattvas in yoga and the panchamahabhutas in Ayurveda.

To learn all about the 5 Elements from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective click here.

Ether/Space element:

The 5 Elements in Yoga and Ayurveda

The Sanskrit term for the most subtle of all the Five Elements is ‘Akasha’, meaning omnipresent or all-enclosing. It is the root cause of all other elements and the space in which all of the objects of the universe exist. Whereas the other 4 elements are defined by the presence of certain characteristics, the qualities of ether are representative of the absence of its opposing qualities. Askar is part of every other element, an expansive formless entity without limits that acts as a container for everything in the cosmos.

Defined as subtle, soft, smooth, fine, light and porous, space governs the sense of hearing. It, therefore, figures that its sense organ is the ear and the sense of hearing. The organs of action related to this element are the vocal cords and the mouth, which produce sound and the subtle vibrations through which ether moves. The throat chakra – Vishuddha – is directly related to this element.

In yoga, we strive to create mental, physical and spiritual space in a disciplined practice of consciousnesses. Creating space through awareness in our practice ultimately leads to transformation, stillness and inner peace. We learn to let go of that which no longer serves us, clearing out the noise occupying and clouding our inner space to make way for freedom and bliss.

The Sanskrit term for the most subtle of all the elements is ‘Akasha’, meaning omnipresent or all-enclosing. It is the root cause of all other elements and the space in which all of the objects of the universe exist. Whereas the other 4 elements are defined by the presence of certain characteristics, the qualities of ether are representative of the absence of its opposing qualities. Askar is part of every other element, an expansive formless entity without limits that acts as a container for everything in the cosmos.

Defined as; subtle, soft, smooth, fine, light and porous, space governs the sense of hearing. It therefore figures that it’s sense organ is the ear, the sense of hearing. The organs of action related to this element are the vocal cords and the mouth, which produce sound and the subtle vibrations through which ether moves. The throat chakra – Vishuddha – is directly related to this element.

In yoga we strive to create mental, physical and spiritual space in a disciplined practice of consciousnesses. Creating space through awareness in our practice ultimately leads to transformation, stillness and inner peace. We learn to let go of that which is no longer serving us, clearing out the noise that is occupying and clouding our inner space to make way for freedom and bliss.

Air Element:

The 5 Elements in Yoga and Ayurveda

As a direct translation from its Sanskrit term ‘Vayu’ equates to wind or air. However whereas the subtle element of ether is formless and indiscernible, air’s subtle effects are observable. Through air movement and kinetic energy begin to happen, which can take on a particular direction or goal.

Within the body, Vayu manifests as movement within the cells of the body and electrical energy in the nervous system, as well as the air we breathe. Vayu is the source of life, the life force of prana that we invite into our bodies throughout the process of breathing. Incorporating pranayama and proper use of breath into our yoga practise helps us to cleanse our body and mind. It helps us to find both lightness and inner power in life reflective of the dualistic qualities of the wind itself.

Air can be described as mobile, dynamic, dry, light, cold, subtle, fine and existing without form. Its sense is touch, therefore it’s sense organ corresponds to the skin. The organ of action for this element is the hand. The heart chakra, Anahata is associated with the element of Vayu. By working with the open-hearted energy of this chakra Vayu moves the hand to give, receive and move things.

Fire Element:

The 5 Elements in Yoga and Ayurveda

Agni, as it’s known in Sanskrit, governs transformation, discipline and inspiration. Relating to the metabolism, the flow of blood throughout our body and the body’s ability to regulate heat, our digestion is also connected to this element.

The saying fire in your belly exists for a reason! Agni resides in the core of us, where our centre of power, self-confidence, intuition and freedom reside. In our yoga practice, we are incorporating the characteristics of this element when we use our core muscles and bandhas, or when we move through an engaging sequence of strong dynamic asanas such as in an Ashtanga practice. The fire that we create in such yoga practices can be very transformative, acting as a powerful cleanser that burns up impurities. It’s through the purifying effects of fire that we can gain deeper insights into ourselves.

Fire is hot, sharp, radiant, fine, light, subtle, flowing and dry. If you think of the mesmerising effects of watching a flame, then we can associate vision and the sense organ of sight with Agni. The feet and their readiness for action are the organs of action. The chakra that resides in the area of the navel, Manipura, is the corresponding chakra.

To read about the Fire Element in Traditional Chinese Medicine click here.

Water Element:

The 5 Elements in Yoga and Ayurveda

Cool, soft, liquid, compact, heavy, moist and flowing, water or Jala represents transportation and acts as the protector of the body. Soothing pain and inflammation in the body, water relates to the lymph system; which transports nutrients to the cells and toxins away from the cells, and to all other bodily fluids such as urine and plasma which move between the cells and through the vessels of the body.

In yoga, the practices that are most associated with the characteristics of water are Yin yoga and Vinyasa flow. In Yin yoga, you work with hydrating the connective tissue known as fascia that runs throughout the body and with promoting suppleness at the joints. In a Vinyasa flow yoga practice, we embody the fluidity of this element by synchronising movement with breath in an open and flowing manner.

Related to the perception of taste, Jala finds its sense organ in the tongue. This element is also associated with the sense organ of the genitals, where its corresponding chakra Svadhistana is located.

To read about the Water Element in Traditional Chinese Medicine click here.

Earth Element:

The 5 Elements in Yoga and Ayurveda

Prithvi is the foundations of our life, our ability to feel grounded, stable and connected to our tribe. The nurturing characteristics of the earth support us and cradle us, giving us a permanent home and a place in which to feel grounded and centred.

In our body, the earth element manifests in our solid structures such as bones, teeth, muscles and fat. The Earth element is hard, dense, rigid, heavy, stable and dense in nature and related to the sense of smell and its sense organ the nose. Our root chakra, Muladhara connects us to the earth, giving us stability in the body and mind.

In our yoga practice, we establish solid foundations from which we can cultivate stability and ease (Sthira and Sukham) In our asana practice. We connect with the downward pull of gravity on our hips and sit bones in seated postures. And at the end of our practice, we surrender our bodies to the earth in Savasana/Corpse pose. Then we rise again reset and reborn from this most nurturing and earth yielding of yoga poses.

To read about the Earth Element in Traditional Chinese Medicine click here.

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