Understanding the elements and doshas of ayurveda

The Elements of Ayurveda

As a nature-based medicine, in order to understand and practice Ayurveda, we must first understand the components found in nature. These are the pancha maha bhutas: the five great elements. These five elements compose the basis of our physical and energetic reality. 

Each element is made up of various gunas, or qualities, that describe its inherent properties and ways of being. These gunas influence the way we experience and interact with the elements themselves. When we gain an intimate understanding of the gunas and the elements, we can truly understand the three doshas, as they are composed of the elements. 

Ether is the holding space, the container, what I call the cosmic womb. It is the space that is waiting to be filled. It is the first element. Ether is our literal relationship to space – do we feel safe or not? How are we holding space for ourselves and others? We understand ether through its gunas, or qualities: dry, light, cold, subtle.  

Air is the first element to fill space. Air is the element of movement. We can sense and feel air, yet not see it. You can feel your breath but not see it; you can feel the wind but not see it; what you can see is the how the breath or the wind impacts what it moves through. Air shares the same qualities as ether, in addition to: rough and mobile. 

Fire is birthed from air. Consider camping and rubbing two sticks together until you create a spark. Fire is the element of transformation and change. Anything that fire comes into contact with will shift in some way, it is impossible not to. Fire governs our physical and experiential ability to digest and process. Fire’s qualities are: dry, light, hot, sharp, spreading. 

Water is formed from fire. Think of how the body perspires when “working up a sweat”. Water is the element of nourishment and life. Water lubricates and protects our bodies, as well as the bodies of land on this planet. We all need water in order to survive, and our bodies are primarily water-based. Its qualities are: cool, liquid, dull, soft.  

Earth is the final element and formed from waves of water. Earth is the element of literally being grounded, of integration. It holds the principles of stability and structure. Earth’s qualities are heavy, solid, stable.  

Each dosha, or body mind type, is a combination of two of these elements. At birth, your parkruti is your unique, individual blueprint based on your particular ratio of elements. This is your most fundamental structure; the part of you that never changes and is always present.

There is also vikruti, the part of you that is influenced by internal and external factors. More often than not, vikruti covers up prakruti. 

Think of prakruti as the magic, or superpower, of each dosha. It’s when the elements of that dosha are balanced and harmonious. Not too high or too depleted. Conversely, vikruti is when the elements and their qualities get aggravated or depleted. It’s the shadow side of the gifts from prakruti. 

 

Ether & Air = Vata dosha 

Energetic, creative, esoteric, movement-oriented. The one who is always on the go, seeking. High levels of insight with an appreciation for the subtle realm. Changeable and fickle. Difficult to make decisions and easily overwhelmed or distracted.  

Physically light bone structure that may be crooked, runs cold and dry with variable appetite and digestion. Long-limbed and harder to hold muscle. 

Prone towards anxiety, fear, insomnia, coldness, dryness, bloating or gas, and dissociation when imbalanced.

 

Fire & water = Pitta dosha 

Driven, precise, passionate, strong, goal-oriented. The leader of the crew; type-A all the way. Loves to plan & organize. High levels of motivation, analyzation, and competition. Enjoys asserting and proving their point of view.

Physically moderate bone structure runs hot and oily with a strong appetite. The dosha most susceptible to getting “hangry”. May have red/pink complexion or sensitive eyes.

Prone toward anger, obsession, inflexibility, and excess competition when imbalanced. 

 

Water & Earth = Kapha dosha 

The earth mamas and papas who are grounded, stable, secure, loving, calm. The one you always want to hug. High emotional intelligence and ability to persevere. Embodies “slow and steady wins the race”. They are steadfast in all they do. 

Physically sturdy muscle and bone structure, and may also be voluptuous. Runs cool and damp with quiet, slow digestion. 

Prone towards lethargy, mucous, depression, stagnation, overeating or emotional eating, and attachment when imbalanced. 

 

Curious about how to practice yoga for your dosha to stay balanced and healthy? Check out next week’s post! In the meantime, check out www.inlokahmotion.com and @inlokahmotion on Instagram for more Ayurveda inspiration!