The Five Elements in Ayurvedic Medicine

The five elements represent the most important foundational concept in Ayurveda. More than physical elements, the five elements represent ideas that are fundamental to nature and matter . The five elements are collections of qualities that together form the building blocks of nature. If a person truly understands the five elements, the doorway of knowledge opens to understanding creation itself . In the body, each element is associated with different tissues and functions. In the mind, the elements are associated with personality characteristics. In the medicines, the elements determine their actions. Knowledge of the five elements is part and parcel of Ayurveda. The student who does not properly understand the five elements, cannot properly understand Ayurveda.

The Five Elements: Ether in Ayurveda

Author: Dr. Marc Halpern
Published: Light on Ayurveda Journal
Copyright: California College of Ayurveda.  Do not duplicate or distribute without written permission.

The element ether, called “akasha” in Sanskrit is the first of the five great elements (pancha mahabhutus). It comes first because it is the most subtle of the elements. Often referred to as “space” it is the essence of emptiness. It is the space the other elements fill. The origin of ether is shabda. Shabda is the tanmatra or primordial, unmanifested form of sound. Shabda is the primordial space from which vibration emerges long before it takes the form of sound in the ear. Sound and ether are inseparable. Because of their intimate relationship, the ear is considered the associated sense organ of the element ether and voice (mouth) is its organ of action. Hearing loss and loss of the voice are difficulties that are often due to vitiation of the ether element in the body. Ether has qualities. However, these qualities are based more upon the absence of its opposing quality than on the actual quality itself. For instance, ether is cold. It is cold because it lacks warmth created by fire. Ether is light because it lacks the heaviness created by earth and water. Ether is immobile because it lacks the propulsive nature of air. Ether is subtle because it lacks the profound presence of the more obvious elements. Ether is also omnipresent. It is everywhere. It is the substratum from which all other elements are derived. Ether is a part of all other elements. Within any aspect of creation, ether may be found. Ether is the most expansive of the elements. Without form or boundaries, ether has no limits. Because of its expansive quality, ether is the cause of differentiation. Unrestrained, ether awaits a propulsive force to assist it in moving outward from the center of one-ness. As a result form is able to take shape and differences emerge. In the formation of the embryo, it is ether that is responsible for allowing change and growth to take place. Ether creates the space for the other elements to fill. That which is the most subtle and difficult to perceive is a function of the element ether. The mind is composed of ether. It is formless and nearly impossable to contain. While the mind becomes easily disturbed, ether represents the substratum upon which thoughts and emotions ride like waves upon the ocean. The sattvic or undisturbed mind is an expression of the essence of ether. In the body, ether is expressed within the empty spaces. The hollow of the empty intestines, blood vessels, bladder and the lungs are filled with ether. Vitiation of ether in the body results in an increase of space and a decrease in structure. The result is the destruction of tissue. Parkinson's disease is an example of a condition where space is created in the body where once there was cellular structure. The loss of dopamine producing cells in the substantia nigra of the brain stem creates an increase in emptiness. A similar state is seen in the pancreas due to the destruction of islet cells. Vitiation of space (ether) contributes to the symptomatic dysfunctions that follow. The Vata dosha contains both ether and air. Hence, any vitiation of ether will ultimately result in a vitiation of Vata. Therefore, one method of controlling vata dosha is to prevent ether from increasing. Ether is prevented from increasing by filling the emptiness in our lives. Our lives become full, not by being busy, but by being nourished physically and emotionally. Proper nourishment acts as a container for ether and the vata dosha. Moist, heavy, satisfying foods pacify ether as the empty space of the digestive system becomes full. Emotionally, love is the highest form of nourishment. By taking in the other elements the natural tendencies of ether are pacified. All of creation is made up of the five elements in different proportions. In our diet, the bitter taste contains the most ether, although ether by itself is tasteless. The bitter taste is composed of both ether and air and it is air that provides the uniqueness of the taste. Consuming bitter foods is an excellent way to increase the influence of the ether element. This is wonderful if a person is overly constricted and driven by their routines. However, an excess of ether in the diet, especially the diet of the individual with a vata constitution can result in becoming too expansive. While this increases creativity it also leads to becoming ungrounded. Obviously, a balance is desired. The winter is the season of ether. The season of ether begins after the leaves have fallen and earth is barren. Nature intends for everything and everyone to become lighter at this time. There is a danger of becoming too light at this time if the proper precautions are not taken. Thus, human beings have historically prepared for this season by storing up food and other supplies to see them through this period of emptiness. In the cycle of life, death is the time of ether. The body disintegrates and the elements flee their boundaries. All that remains is the subtly of our spirit. Ether characterizes the elemental make up of the individualized soul while it maintains its separate-ness from the whole of Purusha. Purusha itself however is unmanifested and thus in accordance with the principles of Sankhya philosophy precedes the manifestation of all elements. Hence, it is subtler still than ether and because of this, it is far beyond our ability to capture it in words. Purusha is without attributes. Purusha is the primordial essence of ether.

The Five Elements: Air in Ayurveda

Author: Dr. Marc Halpern
Published: Light on Ayurveda Journal
Copyright: California College of Ayurveda.  Do not duplicate or distribute without written permission.

    The element air, called “vayu” in Sanskrit is the second of the five great elements (pancha mahabhutus).  It comes second because it evolves from ether. As the potential inherent within space becomes active, the result is air.  The air element represents the capacity for motion or kinetic energy. Air represents all forces and the movement that transpires as a result of those forces.

    The origin of air is sparsha. Sparsha is the tanmatra or primordial, unmanifested form of touch. Sparsha is the potential of the touch experience, expressed in its most subtle form. Touch and air are inseparable. Because of their intimate relationship, the skin (through which we receive touch) is considered the associated sense organ of the element air and the hands (through which we reach out and touch the world) are its associated organ of action.  Hence, disorders of tactile perception and those of grasping are the result of disturbances in the functions of the air element.

    To know air is to know its qualities. Air is mobile, cool, light, dry, rough, subtle, flowing, sharp, clear and hard.  Although air is subtle, its effects are observable and so we have a sense of what it is. We associate the element air with the air we breathe. Thus, the ancient rishis recognized air as the immediate source of life. A lack of air will kill us faster than a lack of any other element. Thus, the concept of vayu (air) is synonymous with that of prana (life energy). In nature, the ancient rishis described air in five forms according to its direction of movement: inward (prana); outward (vyana); upward (udana), downward (apana) and that which balances and stabilizes these movements, a force that pulls to toward the center (samana). These five types of movements are called both the five vayus and the five pranas.

    In the body, air is expressed in the form of motion and life. The force allowing blood to circulate, breath to move, nerve impulses to glide, thoughts to flow and joints to propel our movement through the world are all possible because of the element air. Air is the force behind all motion. Disturbances in the functions of air result in aberrant motion. Air may move too fast, too slow or become obstructed and blocked. Each occurrence produces different effects depending upon the location of the air that is disturbed.

    Excess motion in the nervous system results in hyper-excitability; deficient motion produces sluggishness and dullness, blocked flow results in a complete loss of motion. For example, in the digestive system excess flow results in diarrhea, deficient flow in sluggish motion and blocked flow in either severe constipation or complete obstruction.  In the joints, excess motion results in hyper-mobility, deficient motion in decreased range of motion and blocked flow in a frozen joint. In the circulatory system, excess motion can result in rapid heart rate, decrease flow in a sluggish heart rate or poor circulation, while blocked flow results in catastrophic consequences robbing the affected area of its blood supply resulting in tissue ischemia (lack of oxygen) leading to necrosis (death of the tissue).

    The Vata dosha contains both air and ether.  Any vitiation of air will ultimately result in a vitiation of Vata. Vata remains healthy when motion is controlled but able to flow without obstruction. Control prevents excess flow while freedom prevents stagnation. Balance is they key to healthy vata.

    Control of air is attained through the development of steady routines. Steady, healthy routines subsequently keep the vata dosha from becoming vitiated. A diet that is heavier will also support the development of the stability that controls motion by balancing the light quality of the air element.  Emotionally, surrender leads to the highest manifestations of motion (air) and this requires faith. Thus, air flows freely in through a body and mind that has cultivated an attitude of surrender and faith in both self and the divine.   By taking in the other elements the natural tendencies (qualities) of air are pacified.

    All of creation is made up of the five elements in different proportions. In our diet, the bitter taste contains the most air. . The bitter taste is composed of both air and ether and it is air that provides the uniqueness of this taste.  Consuming bitter foods is an excellent way to increase the influence of the air element. This is wonderful if a person is sluggish or lazy. However, an excess of air in the diet, especially in the diet of an individual with a vata constitution can result in too much motion. While this increases activity it also leads to a loss of stability and dryness. A proper balance in accordance with a person’s constitution and current state of health is always preferred.

    Autumn is the season of air. The season of air begins as the leaves begin to fall. The weather becomes cooler and there is a sense of transition or movement in the weather.  Air represents the gradual weakening of nature as it moves away from its full bloom and moves forward to face the dormancy of winter. Nature intends for everything and everyone to become lighter at this time.  There is a danger of becoming too mobile and light at this time if the proper precautions are not taken. To live in harmony with this time of year means to spend time reflecting on the activities of the past spring and summer. While motion is natural at this time, excess motion may be perceived in the body and mind as an increase in anxiety, restlessness or sleeplessness. While it natural to become lighter at this time, excess lightness may be experienced as depletion. Once again, a proper balance in accordance with a person’s constitution and current state of health is always preferred.

    In the cycle of life and death, air represents the transitional period between being our most productive and the last years of our life. Women go through the transition of menopause at this time while men find themselves desiring retirement. The idea of motion is reflected in the transition. To live in harmony with this time it is necessary to spend some time reflecting upon the decades of our lives. While motion is natural at this time, excess motion makes the transition more difficult and may be perceived as anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness, palpitations and in the transient hot flashes many woman experience.

    Dr. Marc Halpern is an inspiring teacher of Ayurvedic medicine. An internationally recognized expert, he is the Founder and director of the California College of Ayurveda and co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association and the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. He received the All-India award for “Best Ayurvedic Physician” from the Hakim Ajmal Khan Memorial Society, presented to him by the Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. A. Ramdas. He sits on the advisory board of Light on Ayurveda Journal.

 

The Five Elements: Fire in Ayurveda

Author: Dr. Marc Halpern
Published: Light on Ayurveda Journal
Copyright: California College of Ayurveda.  Do not duplicate or distribute without written permission.

    The element fire, called “tejas” in Sanskrit is the third of the five great elements (pancha mahabhutus).  It comes third because it evolves from ether and air, containing the essence of these elements within it. Ether provides fire the space to exist within. Air provides fire the capacity to burn. It is because of air that fire will never be still.  The fire element represents the capacity for heat and light. Fire is the generator of energy in the body just as the sun is the generator of energy for the earth. Fire represents all sources of energy in the world including solar, hydroelectric, nuclear, fossil fuel and bio-diesel.  Fire is the process of liberating energy from its source.

    The origin of the fire element is the tanmatra of vision called rupa. Rupa means form or color. Both form and color are the result of perception. Rupa is the tanmatra or primordial, unmanifested form of perception, light, vision and thus the fire element.  Fire and the visual sense have a special relationship. Fire provides the light for perception. The eyes are the vehicle through which light is digested and perception takes place. Hence, disorders of visual perception are primarily those of the element fire.

    The feet are the organ of action associated with the fire element. It is through the feet that we react to what we see. Use of the feet allows a person to change direction based upon perception. Not only may the direction be changed but the intensity of progress. The choice of direction and the intensity of action are functions of the fire element. 

    To know any element is to know its qualities. Fire is hot, light, dry, rough, subtle, flowing, sharp, clear and soft. Fire is neither stable nor mobile. Fire neither stands still nor generates motion. Inherent within fire is air and it is the air that provides fire with its mobile quality.   Although fire is subtle, its effects are clearly observable and so we have a clear sense of what it is. It is the heat of fire that is most recognizable. We associate the element fire with the fires we can see. The ancient rishis idea of fire was more comprehensive. Fire represents light, heat, and luster, the power of transformation, energy, understanding and metabolism.

    In the human body, fire is expressed in five distinct ways. The fire that provides our body with the capacity to digest food is called pachaka agni. The fire that ignites the intellect, digests ideas and allows for understanding is sadhaka agni. The fire of perception that that digests visual impression into recognizable images is called alocaka agni. The fire that energizes and invigorates the body adding color to the body is called ranjaka agni.   The fire that digests touch and sunlight and gives off the radiance associated with healthy skin is the light provided by bhrajaka agni. Because fire has a destructive quality, in the body it is always mixed with a small amount of water to keep it from destroying the tissues. The container of fire and water is Pitta. Hence, the five agni’s are also called the five types of pitta.

    Excess fire in the body results in a build up of heat. Naturally, deficient fire results in a feeling of being cold. There are other ramifications. As heat builds up in the body, there is a need to eliminate excess. Hence, the body sweats and urinates more and the stools become looser and more frequent.  The luster of skin increases and the eyes shine brighter. The mind becomes sharper, more focused and the intellect strengthens. If fire increases too much, there are negative consequences. The skin may erupt in red rashes, the eyes become blood shot, the mind becomes intense, the tissues of the body may become inflamed and there may be fever. A lack of fire in the body results in a loss of luster as the skin takes on a gray or pale tone and metabolism slows down. In the digestive system food is poorly digested, in the mind it becomes difficult to digest new information. As the body tries to hold on to heat; sweating, urination and bowel elimination all decrease.    

    The pitta dosha contains both fire and water but it is fire that plays the more dominating role.  Hence, any vitiation of fire will ultimately result in a vitiation of pitta.  Pitta remains healthy as the fires of the body are well tended. 

    Tending the fire in the body begins with monitoring pachaka agni or the fire of digestion. When the digestive fire is healthy, there is little gas and elimination is regular occurring on a daily basis 1-2 times per day.  The digestive fire is increased primarily by hot, spicy sour and salty foods and is decreased by both heavy and cold foods.  Hence, if digestion is weak and the fire low, the diet should made lighter and spicier until digestion normalizes.

    All of creation is made up of the five elements in different proportions. In our diet, the pungent, sour and salty tastes contain the most fire. Of these, the pungent taste will increase fire the most rapidly but it is the sour taste that has the greatest long term effect.  Pickled foods, yogurt and foods marinated in vinaigrette are example of sour foods.

    Summer is the season of fire. At this time of year, the rotation of the earth around the sun results in longer daylight hours as the fiery sun plays a great role in our lives. The air is warmer, the light is longer and the activity of the people and plants reach their peak. Summer is the most naturally active time of year. So long as the weather does not become unbearably hot, summer is the time to do all of those things you planned for during the late winter and spring. It is the time of year to work diligently to fulfill dharma. Care must be taken however because if a person becomes too focused and intense, fire will increase too much and pitta will become vitiated. Thus, it is important to keep one’s fire in check and spend some time by the cool water while maintaining a diet that is cooler and less spicy.

    In the cycle of life and death, fire represents our most productive years. Having been well prepared for this cycle of life during one’s youth, these years are for the fulfillment of dharma. Each person’s capacity for work and service is greatest during this phase of life.  Regardless of constitution, from puberty through the transition into old age, the fire burns bright inside of us. For those with a naturally fiery nature, it burns brightest and these individuals must be careful not to work too hard and burn themselves out.

    Dr. Marc Halpern is an internationally recognized expert in the field of Ayurvedic Medicine. He is the Founder and director of the California College of Ayurveda and co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association and the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. He received the All-India award for “Best Ayurvedic Physician” from the Hakim Ajmal Khan Memorial Society, presented to him by the Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. A. Ramdas. He sits on the advisory board of Light on Ayurveda Journal. Contact him through  www.ayurvedacollege.com.

 

The Five Elements: Water in Ayurveda

Author: Dr. Marc Halpern
Published: Light on Ayurveda Journal
Copyright: California College of Ayurveda.  Do not duplicate or distribute without written permission.

    The element water, called “apas” in Sanskrit is the forth of the five great elements (pancha mahabhutus).  It comes fourth because it evolves from ether, air and fire containing the essence of these elements within it. Ether provides water the space to exist within. Air provides water with the ability to move and flow.  The relationship between fire and water is more esoteric. Air creates the friction that generates the heat of fire. Fire moves in a fluidic or flowing manner. In each evolution from one element to the next, nature becomes denser.  As fire becomes denser it cools and takes greater form. This is the form of water.

    The water element represents fluidic matter and the cohesive principle of physics. . Water is the protector of the body. It provides the body with its most basic nourishment. Water protects against the dissolution of the ether element, the roughness and motion of the air element and the heat of the fire element. The water element sooths all pain and inflammation in the body.

    The origin of the water element is the tanmatra of taste called rasa. Rasa in this context is the primordial causation of the experience of taste. Rasa is the causal energy that provides the potential for the experience of taste to occur. It is not the taste itself. However, since taste depends upon the water element for its manifestation, disorders of the ability to taste are due to an imbalance of the water element.

Water: Sense Organ and Organ of Action
    The tongue is the vehicle through which the rasa tantatra manifests. The tongue is the sense organ of water. Through the tongue we taste the world around us. It is interesting to note that the taste buds of the tongue only work, when water or saliva is present. No water, no taste.  The urethra is the organ of action. Through the male urethra, highly potentized reproductive fluid is expelled from the body. Through the male and female urethra, water is expelled in the form of urine. Imbalances of the water element in the body can be observed by monitoring changes in a person’s experience of taste as well as through alterations of urine or seminal fluid.

The Qualities of Water
    To know any element is to know its qualities. Water is cool, stable, heavy, moist, smooth, gross, flowing, dull, cloudy and soft.  The water element is the antidote to symptoms that have the opposite qualities in the body. It is important to take in the qualities of water when you are feeling too warm, ungrounded, emaciated, dehydrated, rough, lacking in self-esteem, obstructed and immobile, irritable with a sharp tongue, transparent and vulnerable or if your heart has become too hard. 

The Five Waters of The Body
    In the human body, water is expressed in five distinct ways known as the five types of kapha. . The water that protects the mouth against the actions of chewing and against the enzyme that begins the breakdown of carbohydrate (salivary amylase)  is called bodhaka kapha.  Bodhaka kapha is the salivary fluid and also the mucous membrane secretions of the lips, checks and pharynx.   The water that protects the mucous membranes of our stomach against the acids that aid digestion is called kledaka kapha. The water that stablizes the flow of neurological impulses  and protects the nerves of the brain is called  tarpaka kapha. The water that protects the joints from the friction of motion is called sleshaka kapha. Sleshaka kapha is found in the synovial fluid  that moistens joint surfaces and in the burse that allow tendons to glide smoothly over each other. The water that protects the respiratory system from the movement of breath (A drying process) is called avalambaka kapha. Avalambaka kapha keeps the mucous membranes of the bronchi and lungs healthy and also provides the fluids that support the pleura and pericardium. .

Water and the Kapha Dosha
    The kapha dosha contains both water and earth. It is water that is responsible for most of the protective and healing aspects of the kapha dosha. As water is the foundation for earth in the body (water supports earth’s heavy, stable qualities) an increase in the qualities of  water will result in weight gain and sluggishness.  

Consequences of Excess and Deficient Water on the Dhatus
    Tending the waters of the body begins with caring for kledaka kapha in the stomach. The stomach is the home of the kapha dosha. If the qualities of water increase too much, they overflow from the stomach into circulation and flood the tissues of the body. When food is taken in that is too moist or oily, water builds up and reduces the strength of the digestive fire. Digestion becomes impaired and food moves slowly through the digestive system. The accompanying reduction in appetite and a sense of heaviness in the abdomen are among the earliest signs that kapha is increasing and out of balance. As water overflows from the digestive system, it often settles in the watery tissues of the body.
These tissues are the rasa (plasma), medas (fat) and shukra (fluidic reproductive tissue) dhatus. The quantities of these tissues increase resulting in edema, obesity and an increase in genital waste secretions (smegma). Secondary watery tissues increase as well resulting an increase in menstrual flow in women and in breast milk supply. Unfortunately, the quality of the increased breast milk and menstrual fluids are of poor quality and are often mixed with mucous.

    Water deficiency results in many of the opposite qualities. The rasa, medas and shukra become too dry resulting in dehydration,  dry mucous membranes, dry skin, weight loss and weakness in the reproductive tissues respectively. A dry rasa also results in a decrease in urination, sweating and in the formation of dry, hard stools. In addition, the lips and eyes become dry.

Water in the Diet
    In our diet, the sweet taste is the main source of water. Cooked grains, non-fermented dairy, oils, nuts and fatty meats are foods with ample water element within them.
The proper intake of these foods supports healthy water element in the body. Excess intake results in the symptoms of excess noted above. Deficient intake results in the symptoms of deficiency.

Water and the Seasons
    Spring is the season of water. It is the season in which the water stored within the snow begins to flow from the mountains into the rivers and streams. Water is the source of life and the container of prana. As the water begins to flow, life grows in its wake. Spring is sweet and its sweetness nourishes all of life. During this time, the water element in our bodies naturally increases and flows . It is important to keep the water from overflowing in our bodies at this time by making sure that we do not over indulge in sweets, meats and oils.

Water and the Cycle of Life
    In the cycle of life and death, water represents the years of our learning in preparation for performing dharma. Our water years are the years of cohesion. These are the years of schooling and training as we attract and draw in the  knowledge and information we will later use during our fiery pitta time of life.

    Dr. Marc Halpern is an internationally recognized expert in the field of Ayurvedic Medicine. He is the Founder and director of the California College of Ayurveda and co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association and the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. He received the All-India award for “Best Ayurvedic Physician” from the Hakim Ajmal Khan Memorial Society, presented to him by the Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. A. Ramdas. He sits on the advisory board of Light on Ayurveda Journal. Contact him through  www.ayurvedacollege.com.

 

The Five Elements: Earth in Ayurveda

Author: Dr. Marc Halpern
Published: Light on Ayurveda Journal
Copyright: California College of Ayurveda.  Do not duplicate or distribute without written permission.

    The element water, called “prithvi” in Sanskrit is the fifth of the five great elements (pancha mahabhutus).  It comes fifth because it evolves each of the other four elements (ether, air, fire and water) containing the essence of these elements within it. Ether provides earth the space to exist within. Air provides earth with subtle movements seen on a subatomic level.  Fire (energy) is latent within earth, bound by the chemical bonds of nature that hold structure together. Einstein quantified the relationship as E=MC2. E (energy) represents the fire element. M (mass) represents the earth element. C (Speed of light) represents the air element. Water is also inherent within earth. Water is the bridge between the gaseous state of mater and the solid state. As matter becomes denser, gas (air, ether and fire) coalesce into water (fluidic matter). The process of densification continues until matter becomes solid. Earth is the elemental representative of the solid nature of matter.  .

    The Earth element represents solid matter and the structure of the universe. Earth gives form to the human body and to all of creation.  The structure provided by earth is the conduit through which the other elements flow. All elements are born of ether and contained within earth.

    The origin of the earth element is the tanmatra of smell called gandha. The state of the earth element in the body and the capacity to smell are deeply connected. Gandha tanmatra is the primordial cause of the experience of smell. It is the seed energy or potential, emerging from the causal body that sprouts into the earth element. The earth element then builds the potential for the experience of smell in the subtle body and the structures through which smell can be experienced in the physical body. Thus, the Gandha tanmatra is not the smell itself but smell is dependent upon it. Disorders of the ability to smell reflect an imbalance of the earth element.

Earth: Sense Organ and Organ of Action
    The nose is the vehicle through which the gandha tanmatra manifests. Through the nose we take in the scents of creation. These impressions enter the body, mind and consciousness deeply affecting us physically and emotionally. The rectum is the organ of action. Through consumption and defecation, the balance earth element in the body is regulated. If too much earth is released as occurs in diarrhea, body structure weakens. If too little earth is released as occurs in constipation, the body remains strong for a while but becomes more and more toxic. Because the earth element and smell are intimately connected, both diarrhea and constipation negatively impact the ability to smell. Excess earth element can obstruct the sense of smell while deficient earth element can weaken the structures responsible for smell. Thus, healthy elimination is essential to the balance of the earth element, the sense of smell and the over-all well-being of the body.

The Qualities of Earth
    To know any element is to know its qualities. Earth is cool, stable, heavy, dry, rough, gross, dense, dull, clear and hard.  The earth element is the antidote to symptoms that have the opposite qualities in the body. It is important to take in the qualities of earth when you are feeling too warm, ungrounded, chaotic,  emaciated, fluidic, lacking in self-esteem, feeling insignificant, irritable with a sharp tongue, vulnerable or if you can not withstand stress.

Earth and the Kapha Dosha
    The Kapha dosha is made up of earth and water. Water with its cool and soothing properties provides the primary protection of the body against the factors of heat (pitta) and movement (vata). Earth provides underlying structure and foundation that allows for the growth and development of tissues. As kapha dosha increases in the body, there is a general increase in both fluid and structure, though one can increase less than or without the other. Increases in the earth element results in a thickening of the structures of the body.

    Of the seven dhatus of the body, earth is found in significant quantity in the mass that makes up the mamsa and medas dhatus. It also makes up the solid structural component of the ashti dhatu. These three dhatus are immediately dependent upon a healthy earth element in the body. While the other dhatus do not have large amounts of earth contained with them, they could not hold their form without it. Thus, earth provides the basic structure of the rasa, rakta, majja and shukra dhatus as well. Thus, the entire body is dependent upon the earth element for its health and well-being.

Consequences of Excess and Deficient Earth on the Dhatus
    Earth enters the body through the foods we consume. While the earth element provides the structure of all food, is found in the largest amounts in grains, nuts, legumes and meats. It is found in moderate amounts in dairy products and in small amounts in fruits, vegetables and spices. When an excess of the earth element is taken into the body, as occurs with over-eating, the tissues of the body are provided with an excess of raw material for building new tissues. Existing structures become larger where an increase in size is possible and thicker / denser where the potential for longitudinal growth is limited. Excesses of earth that exceed the bodies’ capacity to convert it into other structures are stored in the body as a part of the medas dhatu (fat). An examination of a patient with large amounts of the earth element in the body reveals thick skin, strong finger nails, large muscles and coarse, dense hair.

    Deficiencies in the earth element in the body result in a weakness of body structures. Lacking in the raw materials to build solid tissues, the bones become weakened and osteoporosis places the bones at risk of fracture. Muscle mass is reduced and body fat decreases. As one function of the earth element is to retain heat, the bodies’ ability to regulate internal temperature decreases and an individual easily feels cold. Lacking in substance, a person with a deficiency of earth is unable to stand up against the challenges of the world and is easily pushed aside by stronger forces.

Earth and the Seasons
    Earth is prevalent in the seasons of late winter and early spring. In the late winter, the earth element is most predominant as the environment is dry, static, solid and relatively dormant. Water that has fallen in form of snow is locked up in a solid state and unable to flow. In the early spring, as water begins to flow, the earth element provides the substance that will be utilized to begin building new structures as evidenced in the budding of trees.  During the winter, it is important to make sure that the quantity of earth element is properly proportioned in the diet in accordance with prakruti and vikruti of the patient. In general, due to the seasonal influence, less earth element should be consumed than at other times of the year. However, too little of the earth element in the diet at this time will make it difficult to maintain strength and body temperature.  Thus, fasting and strong purification should be avoided during the excessively cold winter months. As the waters begin to flow in the early spring, purification is more optimal. If a great amount of the earth element is taken in excess during the dormancy of the winter, there can be a great increase in body fat.

Earth and the Cycle of Life
    In the cycle of life and death, earth represents the gestational period inside the womb where the basic structure of the body is formed. During this time, proper maternal nutrition providing the necessary earth element is essential for proper growth and development. A lack of earth element at this time can permanently cripple a child.  The earth element continues to play an important role in the development of the child until growth is complete.

    Dr. Marc Halpern is an internationally recognized expert in the field of Ayurvedic Medicine. He is the Founder and director of the California College of Ayurveda and co-founder of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association and the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. He received the All-India award for “Best Ayurvedic Physician” from the Hakim Ajmal Khan Memorial Society, presented to him by the Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. A. Ramdas. He sits on the advisory board of Light on Ayurveda Journal. Contact him through  www.ayurvedacollege.com.