A core concept in Ayurveda is the recognition of the 5 elements present in every single thing. The Ayurvedic system explains how we as human beings, just as everything around us, are made up out of these 5 elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether (space). From the 5 elements you can make 3 groups of elements that are naturally drawn to each other. They are known as the bio forces called doshas. In this blog we explain you a little bit more about these concepts that are at the foundation of Ayurveda. In the next blog post we go deeper into how the doshas express in our body and how you can recognise them.
The 5 Elements
For us it is easy to observe the elements around us. You can easily see how a rock is earthy, the ocean is watery, the sun is fiery, the wind is airy and that space is everywhere around us. Yet it is sometimes hard to comprehend that they also exist within us. They make up every structure of the body, as well as every thought, feeling, relation, expression and so on. Let’s take e closer look at the 5 elements inside our body.
Earth gives structure, density and strength to the physical body. It governs all the hard tissues such as the skeletal system, nails, teeth, flesh, ligaments, tendons, muscles and the minerals within the tissues. It is the Earth element that enables us to uphold our body, giving solidity and mass. Earth governs long term memory, a stable mind and the sense of safety, being grounded and held. The sense perception connected to Earth is Smell.
Water has a cohesive nature, builds, binds and lubricates various structures of the body. It is the lipids and liquids within our body such as plasma, sweat, tears, urine, fluid that protects the joints, digestive juices, saliva, sperm, vaginal fluid. It is the liquids that protects and repairs all tissues in the body. Water makes us experience the feelings of love, nurturance and compassion. The sense perception connected to Water is Taste.
Also called Agni, Fire is the force of transformation. Fire digests food, emotions and thoughts. It governs digestion, conversion of energy, heat management and all change from one form to another. It regulates hormones and enzymes. Within every cell there is this fire of intellect knowing how to run the body. Fire is also responsible for intellectual intelligence, concentration, passion and discipline. Fire is connected to the sense of Sight.
Air governs all the movement in the body. Think of nerve impulses, circulation and motor responses – inhalation, exhalation, heartbeat, extension and contraction of joints, movement and other motor functions. The air elements gives existence to bowel movements, menstruation, giving birth, vomiting, burping, hiccups, sneezing, digestion as well as communication between cells, hormones and organs. Air allows for the sense of Touch.
Ether is the most subtle element. It is the space that everything resides in. Ether brings to mind vastness, openness – space in which one has the freedom to move around. Physically it entails all the (minute) spaces in the body: emptiness of bladder, stomach, spaces in the joints, between every vertebrae at the spine, your ear canal etc. Ether can also be recognised as the spaces between thoughts and having an expansive and open mind. The sense perception connected to Ether is Sound.
From the 5 elements you can form 3 groups where 2 of the elements are naturally drawn to each other. This combination is referred to as Dosha. The Doshas are called Vata (Ether & Air), Pitta (Fire & Water) and Kapha (Water & Earth). You can see the doshas as main systems running the body. When they are in balance they maintain a harmonious body-mind state. Once the doshas, which literally means “fault, impurity or mistake” go out of balance, they bring harm to our body and mind, which in turn will lead to disease.
- VATA is the bioforce of mobility and transport
- PITTA is the bioforce of heat and transformation water.
- KAPHA is the bioforce of growth and nourishment
Doshas are intelligent managers of the life systems, of the 5 elements. They are responsible for the creation and maintenance of all structures in the body and the primary forces behind all physiological functions. Everybody has, luckily, all three managers working inside of us. However the dominance of the Doshas vary from person to person. This expresses as your unique constitution. In our next blog we explain how you can recognise your constitution and what the signs are when the doshas get out of balance. Stay tuned!