The world’s most ancient science of healing and medicine is Ayurveda. The elements of life come in five forms. Fire, Water, Earth, Air, and Ether are known as Panchamahabhutas(Pancha meaning 5, Maha meaning big, Bhuta meaning elements). They form the building blocks of life and existence on this planet. The Ayurvedic system analyzes the human body on the basis of the existence of these 5 elements of life. Furthermore, knowledge of the elements of life is essential to understanding the interrelation of the mind, body and spirit. These elements construct the macrocosm which is the universe, as well as the microcosm, that is, our inner worlds.
Each element has its function in the outer world and in our inner body. An imbalance in any of the 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 fragments of the larger cosmos, we can learn a lot about our inner workings from the mechanisms of the outer world.
One needs to know the interplay of these elements to help to understand himself. Practices such as Pranayama, Yoga, and Meditation creates balance within the self and peace with the outer world. It also keeps these elements in harmony.
Here’s a brief introduction to the five elements, along with their effects on the mind and body.
Air (Vayu)- The Energy of Movement
Air represents oxygen, breath, and lightness. It acts as a medium for clear communication and self-expression. It circulates in both the respiratory and nervous systems. Within the human body, it is responsible for movement and breath. When imbalanced, it manifests in high blood pressure, nervous disorder or depression, lung disorder, and muscle pain.
Water (Jala)- The Nurturing Element of Life
Water protects our body. It has the healing essence that cleanses the mind and the body. We define it as the element that flows, adapts and binds substances. Also, it is associated with the tongue, joints, stomach, saliva and respiratory system. Therefore, it formulates all bodily fluids, such as saliva, sweat, blood, urine and semen.
An imbalance in the water element can cause cold, asthma, sinusitis, swelling of glands, and blood-thinning or clotting. It is one of the most important of the five elements of life.
Fire (Agni)– The Element of Change
The Fire element acts as the toxin and impurity burner. It is related to metabolism and creativity. In addition, it is responsible for heat and power. Above all, it drives our needs such as hunger, sleep, and thirst. Excess fire in the body can manifest in anger and hatred. Finally, imbalance in the fire element can manifest in illnesses such as colds or fever, skin disease, diabetes, or mental disorders.
To learn more about how this element affects our metabolism and health in general, read our article on Agni.
Earth (Prithvi) – The Structural Element of Life
The Earth element helps in grounding oneself and induces calmness. It is considered one of the most grounded elements of life. Firstly, it controls our sense of smell and regulates the energy of the bones and muscles. Secondly, it forms all solid structures in the body, such as hair, bones, tissues, flesh and skin. Moreover, imbalance in the Earth element can cause high cholesterol, weakness in the body, weight gain or loss and muscular and bone pain.
Space/Ether (Akasha) – The Spiritual Element of Life
Space or Ether represents all the empty spaces in our body. It is this element that all other elements derive from and return to. It is omnipresent and is the element that holds the other five elements of life within. The ear and mouth are the two parts that are connected with Space. Wisdom and intuition are deeply connected to Ether. Imbalance in the Ether element manifests as throat pain, speech problems, epilepsy, ear diseases and thyroid disorder.
To understand how these energies interplay with each other to form the basis of our life, read our article on doshas