The great seers of Ayurveda, the Rishis, expounded the theory of Pancha MahaBhutas, or the five great elements. The five great elements consist of Akasha (Space), Vayu (Air), Tejas (Fire) Apas (Water) and Prithvi (Earth). The Rishis used this theory to explain how all internal and external forces work together and are linked together in the Universe. These Rishis perceived that the world originally existed in an unmanifested state. From the unmanifested state came the cosmic vibration of Om. From this soundless, subtle, vibration the element of Akasha or Space became present in the Universe. Through this medium of Space the element of movement known as Vayu or Air came into being. Through movement and friction, heat was created forming light and the element of Tejas or Fire. When the heat began to dissolve elements it formed the element of Apas or Water. As this element solidified it became Prithvi, or The Earth Element. Through this process the element of Ether allowed all of the other elements to come into existence.
The five basic elements exist in all matter. In fact, another definition for Pancha MahaBhutas is the Five Great States of Material Existence. All five elements originated in the great cosmic consciousness of the Universe and all five are present in all matters of the Universe. Having an understanding of the Pancha MahaBhutas will help us to better understand the building blocks of the world that we live in, and help us to make more
informed choices for how we live our life and how we practice.
The Space element (Akasha) is the idea of connectedness and spaciousness. In the body, Space represents all the cavities and empty spaces of the body. In the mind it represents our consciousness.
The Air element (Vayu) is the idea of motion. In the body, Air represents all movement of nerves, breath, and limbs. In the mind it is the power behind our thoughts.
The Fire element (Tejas) is the idea of light, heat, and transformation. In the body, Fire represents all digestion and transformation. In the mind it represents perception and intelligence.
The Water element (Apas) is the concept of flow and liquidity. In the body, Water represents all the liquids of the body. In the mind it represents loving and compassionate thoughts and emotions.
The Earth element (Prithvi) is the concept of solidity. In the body, Earth represents our physical body. In the mind it represents stability.
According to Ayurveda, the entire universe is a play between the five great elements. These elements are further broken down into three groups of energies that are present in everyone and everything. These three groups are called the Doshas. The word Dosha literally means faulty or to cause harm, but the Doshas only cause harm when out of balance. In a healthy state the Doshas are what maintain good health and guide the body in normal function and processes. These three Doshas are known as Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Vata Dosha is primarily composed of Ether and Air. It is the principle that is responsible for all movement in the body. It governs our breathing, moves nutrients and wastes, retrieves previous data from our memories, stores new thoughts, and controls muscle and tissue movement. Its primary attributes are that it is dry, cold, and light. When in balance, Vata promotes creativity and adaptability. When out of balance, it produces fear, anxiety, and abnormal movements of all sorts. An excess of Vata in our environment can be thought of as a windy fall day.
Pitta Dosha is primarily composed of Fire and a small amount of Water. It is the principle that is responsible for digestion, absorption, assimilation, and metabolism. Its primary attributes are hot, light, and moist. When in balance, Pitta promotes understanding, intelligence, and right judgment. When out of balance, Pitta shows up as anger, jealousy, hatred, inflammatory disorders, and skin and blood disorders. To think of Pitta in our environment imagine eating really spicy Thai food, or being out in the Sun at noon on a hot summer day.
Kapha Dosha is primarily composed of Water and Earth. Kapha is what holds us together. It is the principle that is responsible for the form of the body, lubricating joints, moisture in the skin, and helps to maintain our immunity. Its primary attributes are heavy, cold, and moist. In balance, Kapha shows up as love, calmness, and stability. When out of balance, Kapha leads to attachment, greed, controlling nature, and congestive disorders. To think of Kapha in our environment imagine a cold and wet winter’s day.
It’s easy to look at these basic principles and find a way to apply them to your life. Here are a few examples. If you notice you are feeling anxious and fearful, it might not be a good idea to take an aerobics class where you move constantly to loud music for an hour. Anxiety and fear are traits of Vata, which is composed of Space and Air. Adding more Space and Air to your life might make the situation worse. An easy remedy for anxiety is to do Yogic Asana that are gentle and held for a longer period of time to calm the Vata and reestablish your Earth and Water element. Or, imagine a hot summer day and you are felling angry or irritated. Do you think this would be a good time to go and eat some spicy food? Fire added to Fire just makes more heat. One more example, wintertime is Kapha time, it’s cold, moist, and heavy. If you were trying to balance your excess Kapha qualities this would be the time for your spicy dinner and hot fast aerobic classes.
The following is a list of the classical attributes of each Dosha. See if you can find the connection and how to apply this amazing gift of knowledge to your life.
Cold, dry, light, subtle, flowing, mobile, sharp, hard, rough, and clear.
Hot, moist, light, subtle, flowing, mobile, sharp, soft, smooth, and clear.
Cold, moist, heavy, gross, dense, static, dull, soft, smooth, and cloudy.
Om Namah Shivaya