The Elements & Their Qualities
The five elements are the foundation of everything in Ayurvedic medicine, so it’s a good idea to understand them.
• Ether is empty space, a void.
• Air introduces the quality of movement.
• Fire is what gives heat and light.
• Water moistens.
• Earth solidifies and stabilizes.
While this concept of the five elements is abstract, we are able to apply these principles to the physical realm. This is particularly important in relation to the human body since we will be drawing on these concepts to make Ayurveda relevant. Once we understand these basic units of nature—and how they function and influence the functions of our beings—we can more easily implement Ayurveda in our daily lives.
• Ether is representative of the empty spaces in our body: an empty stomach or bladder, the chambers of the heart, the open areas within bones;
• Air expresses any type of movement in the body: the conduction of nerve impulses, the pulse of blood in the blood vessels, the movement of thought in the mind;
• Fire is the process of transformation and metabolism: the digestive system transforms our foodstuffs into the building blocks needed to build and maintain bodily tissues, the ability of our eyes to interpret the visual field;
• Water comprises 70% of our body: lymph, mucous, saliva, interstitial and intracellular fluids;
• Earth refers to the solid masses within our bodies: bones, tendons, and muscles that support us and hold us upright in gravity.
Ten pairs of qualities can define the five elements. It is through these qualities that we are able to understand and make sense of the elements for ourselves directly. These ten pairs of qualities are more than simply polar opposites. Each aspect of these pairs of qualities fades out while the other fades in. To take the qualities of hot and cold as an example, we see that cold exists at one end of the continuum, with hot at the other end. In between cold and hot are many varying degrees of warmth.
Applying the Elements + Qualities
There are two fundamental rules in Ayurveda:
• Like Increases Like
• Opposites Reduce each Other
These two rules work hand-in-hand and mean that:
• more of any element or quality increases that element or quality;
• the application of an opposing element or quality decreases that element or quality.
This is as complicated as Ayurveda gets. Once you know the quality and/or element that is in excess, you can apply the opposing quality and/or element to restore balance.