In the beginning was the Universal Soul, Pure Consciousness. From it came the original, sacred sound of Om. Its vibration created space (akasa). Under the influence of sound, the space began to swirl, creating air (vayu). The swirling air and space rubbed against each other, creating energy – fire (agni) was born. The fire was burning and its heat caused the air to condense – water (jala) was formed. Water mixed with fire, air and space, gave birth to earth (prthivi).
And so, from these five elements, the universe was created, all physical manifestations.
Ayurvedic theory of the five elements (panca mahabutha) allows us to describe every element of physical reality. Elements are treated symbolically as carriers of certain features, and so:
- space/ether is a manifestation of the idea of lightness, delicacy, softness, smoothness;
- air describes characteristics such as lightness, mobility, coldness, dryness, roughness;
- fire, as you can easily guess, symbolizes warmth, dryness, sharpness, intensity, lightness;
- water is moisture, coldness, softness, stickiness, greasiness;
- earth symbolizes solidity, heaviness, hardness, stability, and slowness.
The combination of these five elements, the features they symbolize, allows us to describe ourselves, everything that surrounds us, and our relationship with the world. „The five elements theory explains the similarities between people and the world. Man is a combination of five elements. The universe and the environment also consist of them. In this sense, man is a microcosm of the macrocosm that surrounds him. In our body, space fills all voids, for example, it is in the nose, mouth, ears, throat, lungs, and stomach; air manifests itself in the movement of the lungs, heart, stomach, intestines, and joints; fire participates in the entire digestive process, is in the eyes, intelligence, body temperature; water is part of the plasma, blood, mucus and saliva; earth exists in solid structures such as fat, muscles, skin, and nails.” [translated from Polish, Chauhan, P. Ayurveda. How to care for yourself and be healthy, p. 37]
How does this theory translate into its practical application? The first conclusion we can draw is as follows: if our bodies and the surrounding nature are made of the same, then eating natural food, in adequate quantities, supports our health, which is based on a balance of 5 elements. If we observe an excess of some feature in our body, for example hot, we neutralize it by composing our meals in such a way that we do not provide this fire in excess. For example, when we are suffering from heartburn, we instinctively avoid spicy, highly seasoned and smoked products. When we struggle with a runny nose, the element of water increases, we avoid slimy products such as dairy products or bananas, and we reach, for example, for a ginger drink, which with its fire allows us to return to balance. And all according to the Ayurvedic principle „alike incises alike and the opposite balances it”. Fire and water are opposite to each other, and the earth and air or space are in opposition as well.
These features can also be found in the weather – fire in hot summer, water in spring, dry cool air, in autumn. What happens in nature is reflected in our bodies. And we achieve health through self-observation and constant balancing between the elements to maintain their equilibrium.
The second conclusion – this theory directly answers the question about the reasons for the effectiveness and safety of herbal medicine – using herbs we remain in the area known to our body, our body and the herbal substances have the common features of the five elements. In the case of synthetic drugs, this can no longer be said.
The theory of five elements allows us to define our nature and innate features. In Ayurveda, there is a theory of three doshas, three humors or three biological energies that occur in the bodies of all living beings and whose individual quantitative combination determines our temperament, appearance, preferences, the lifestyle we choose. Doshas are also subject to the theory of five elements, and each of the doshas exhibits the characteristics of the elements from which they originated.
To be continued…