comes to us, in part, from Sankhya philosophy (one of the Shad Darshana, the
six spiritual schools of Indian philosophy).One of its foundations is that all matter, everything in
existence, is made from a combination of the five elements:ether, air, fire, water and earth.
around you.Everything you see is
made of ether, air, fire, water and earth.Your computer, your furniture, the trees, the ocean, the
mountains…all made of the five elements.A rock clearly contains more of the earth element than it does air and
ether but it still contains all five elements.So do you.
how the five elements are represented in the human body and mind:
is present in all the spaces in our bodies.That is, our mouths, noses, digestive tracts, hollow organs
(i.e., lungs, bladder and stomach) and respiratory tracts.Psychologically, ether represents
expansiveness and freedom but is also associated with isolation, emptiness and
fear.It is subtle, mobile and
light (you'll see why this is important in the sections on gunas (attributes)
represents movement.Anything that
moves in the body involves air element.Our heartbeats, the movement of blood in our veins, breathing, blinking,
digestion of food, etc. all require air.Psychologically, air is the flow of our thoughts and desires but is also
associated with anxiety, nervousness and fear. Air is subtle, mobile and light.
represents heat (duh) and movement.It's responsible for metabolism and body temperature.This means digestion of food as well as
information, sensory experiences and emotions.Fire is present in our digestive tracts as hydrochloric
acid, it's the gray matter of our brains where information is processed and
it's also present in our eyes where we perceive light.Psychologically, fire is the light of
intelligence but is also anger, hatred, criticism and competitiveness. Fire is
hot, sharp and spreading.
is easier to see and feel than Fire.Water is present in all liquids in the body.Our blood, mucous, perspiration, saliva, plasma and other
secretions are mostly made of water element. Psychologically, water is love and
compassion but is also slow and lethargic.Water is cool, heavy, liquid and cohesive.
is what makes our bones and muscles strong.It gives us stability and solidity. The minerals in our
bodies are made of earth element. Psychologically, earth is support and groundedness
but is also greed, attachment and stubbornness.Earth is heavy, stable, dense and hard.Compared to ether and air, it's gross
(as opposed to subtle).
The proportion and balance of the five elements is in constant flux--both within our bodies and in our environments. The weather changes, seasons change, time of day changes, moods change, etc. and these changes impact the balance of the elements within us. If change creates an imbalance that is strong and/or longlasting, the disease process is activated. Ayurveda tries to minimize the impact such changes can make on us so we stay balanced and healthy.
In the next section--The Doshas--we'll see how the five elements are combined to form the three doshas, a way of assessing our unique constitutions and discussing states of balance and imbalance.