Fire, Water, Earth, Air, and Ether are known as the Panchamahabhutas (Pancha meaning 5, Maha meaning big, and Bhuta meaning elements). They form the building blocks of life and its existence on this planet. The Ayurvedic system analyzes the human body on the basis of these 5 elements of life and their balance. Furthermore, knowledge of the elements of life is essential in understanding the interrelation between the mind, body and spirit.
These elements construct the macrocosm (which is the entire universe), as well as the microcosm, that is, our inner selves. Each element has its function in the outer world and in our bodies. An imbalance in any of these 5 elements of life can manifest in a lack of harmony within or outside our system. Ayurveda says ‘as is the macrocosm, so is the microcosm’. Since we are nothing but tiny specks in the larger cosmos, we can learn a lot about our inner workings by studying the mechanisms of the outer world.
The Water Element
Water is the primary element that all rejuvenation therapies are based on. It may be in the form of special healing waters, juices, herbal teas and brews, or in the form of cooling, nurturing energy at a psychological or spiritual level.
Water is the main element upon which life itself depends; it is that essential element from which life emanates and that which sustains it. Our body is predominantly composed of the water element, which makes up nearly three-fourths of its entirety. The maintenance of a proper balance of this water element and its circulation in an appropriate manner is, therefore, of utmost importance to our well being. This balance is mainly reflected in the quality of plasma in the body – our dominant bodily fluid – which is also called ‘rasa dhatu’ in Ayurvedic medicine.
Water is a conduit for Prana or the life-force, which is present in all life forms. For good health and longevity, it is important that the fluids we drink are richly imbued with Prana. Prana is also inextricably entwined with the air (or wind) element and with oxygen, but is also that vital energy that we find in all forms of life.
Rejuvenation therapies, therefore, are best performed in locations that are in close proximity to water; locations near lakes, rivers and streams are often ideal as one is in the vicinity of not only the water element, but also fresh air. Mountain streams carry a powerful balance of water and prana. Natural lakes hold a calm and nurturing energy. Water from natural springs possesses healing properties that have been known to indigenous communities for centuries, apart from the many important and essential minerals that they contain.
Bathing in natural hot springs and mineral springs has long been practiced by such communities and is known to promote longevity. In such natural hot springs, one benefits from the healing powers of both water as well as the earth. Taking a dip in holy water, or even reciting various mantras, especially rejuvenative mantras like Aim, Śrīm, and Klīm while bathing on a daily basis brings a sense of peace and calm and are an excellent way to begin one’s day. There is an urgent need to improve and promote the sanctity of water sources around us and also to empower the water we use with a healing prana for rejuvenation to occur.
The Earth Element
The Earth is the basis of all life and supports us in all that we do. Being grounded and in touch with the healing forces of the Earth, its rocks, minerals, woods, flowers, herbs and foods helps us rejuvenate our energies. The Earth provides rejuvenation through its nurturing energies just as it sustains all other forms of life. Traditional ayurvedic rejuvenation therapies involved extensive periods of retreat and silence in special huts (kutir), where one was not exposed to the forces of nature, such as wind, cold, heat, dampness or dryness, but was protected by the Earth on all sides.
The many constituents of the Earth element, particularly the rocks, have strong healing powers, holding an energy of existence that has endured for millions of years. There are forms of clay that offer special healing capabilities and the soil itself holds great healing energies. Mountains in particular are massive repositories of the spiritual and regenerative power of the Earth. Crystals and gems carry subtle Earth energies as well and one can often benefit by wearing these as jewellery.
One of the most important rejuvenating practices that we can practice is to restore our personal connection with the Earth. We can do this by recognizing that the Divine Mother and Mother Nature are working through Mother Earth. We need a connection to our sacred earth in our daily life; a deep and constant connection with an element that is the basis of our existence. In living a modern lifestyle, we have often moved away from the earth and forgotten how it feels to walk on the earth barefoot.
We need sacred earth in our homes as well, and the presence of special rocks and plants in the rooms where we spend most of our time can help. It is important that we make the earth around us sacred, particularly the place on which we sit, or spend much of our time. Traditionally, yoga asanas were a way of establishing our sacred connection with the Earth and linking us to the ground we chose as our Yoga seat. To do this, however, we must also consider the asana as part of our connection to the Earth as a whole and consecrate it with mantras and chants.
The Fire Element
Fire is more a purifying rather than rejuvenating force. Without the presence of and the purifying power of fire, rejuvenation through the water and earth elements remains limited. While fire is different from the other elements and is often viewed as a destructive force, it has its special rejuvenating powers as well. The energy of fire that we can feel physically and externally can stimulate the inner fires of the mind, the eye and the body. Most of us have experienced how a campfire can stimulate our minds and senses.
Honoring the sacred fire within and around us connects us with the cosmic forces of light and prana. One can light candles (preferably aromatic) and other natural oil filled or ghee lamps to have a source of fire around us. With the advent of modern science and electricity, the practice of having a fire burning as night fell became a redundancy leading to its eventual extinction. Yet, as noted above, we are drawn to bonfires or celebrations around a flame on festivals such as Diwali, that are viewed as opportunities to rejuvenate our spirits and energies.
It is best to keep a flame burning in one’s home every evening. Gazing at such a flame is an important tool of concentration in Yoga practice (trataka). Contacting the flame of awareness in our heart and surrendering to it is an important means of self-enquiry and a way to access and understand our inner being.
The Air Element
Air is the essence that carries the prana or life force upon which our body depends and which stimulates the mind and senses. Air quality is often different at different places and therefore, some kinds of air hold more prana than others. For good health, longevity and rejuvenation we need to breathe fresh, natural air, filled with the energies of the earth, the waters and the Sun.
Air is found to be purest and to possess special types of prana in mountainous areas, near streams and rivers, or by the ocean. We need to avoid the stagnant and polluted air of urban environments, of the concrete jungles that our cities have become, full of offices and houses that produce an abundance of waste and pollutants, leaving us with air in which chemical residues are usually found in high concentrations. It is no wonder that the mind yearns for getaways to locations such as the ones mentioned above, where we find an ample supply of fresh air to recharge our prana.
In order to maintain the healing energies of air, it needs to be free-flowing, open and fresh. Above all, we need this healing air to permeate our homes and workplaces, where we spend most of our time. Even in the winters, we must step outside occasionally and try to access fresh air on a regular basis. Pranayama is the principal technique of working with the air element within ourselves and offers innumerable health benefits. Exercises such as Kapalabhati and Anulom-Vilom give us a greater understanding of our own breathing and help enrich our bodies with greater amounts of prana and healing energy from the air.
Regular access to fresh, free-flowing air accrues many health benefits; it helps prevent colds and flu and keeps many other respiratory ailments at bay. However, we should avoid strong or harsh winds, which can bring diseases into our bodies and disturbances into our minds. The use of incense helps clear the air in our homes and other enclosed spaces, which lack a free supply of fresh air and to transform the air in such spaces into a more rejuvenating force.
The Ether Element
We need space in order to grow and also to develop higher levels of consciousness and a deeper awareness of our surroundings and environment. It is also essential when we want to rejuvenate ourselves; space for the mind to release its narrowness and sorrow and to imbibe fresh energy is of particularly great importance.
Without first creating a sacred space, there can be no rejuvenation. A better understanding of our own existence is gained by taking our consciousness deep within our own inner space that extends beyond purely the body or the mind. For rejuvenation, particularly of the mind, we need space around us; it helps to be in a natural setting that is open – the wide expanse of the horizon, the open sky, the mountains, lakes or beaches are excellent choices of location. We also need a psychological space where we are not entangled in emotional conflicts or dragged down by competition, in which our minds are not cluttered or burdened with thoughts or emotions.
There are many ways to connect with the space element. Looking at the sky during early mornings or evenings and gazing at the stars at night is important, particularly so on dark and clear nights. A good telescope can be a very effective tool when one is interested in stargazing. One can also gaze at the sky and clouds during the day without looking at the bright sun (this can harm your eyes).
Learning to observe and respect the space between objects is another method of connecting with the space element. Above all, we need to create space in the mind for meditation and space in the heart for devotion to develop. This requires letting go of any narrow opinions or judgments that restrict our awareness. Space is everywhere; we are surrounded and enveloped by space, an element that can be used to heal us and to help us expand our understanding of ourselves. Yet, we seldom look at it or open ourselves up to its energies. We must learn to be aware and respect the space around us and place its importance above that of material considerations if we wish to discover our inner self.
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