The Five Great Elements: A MIRROR TO OUR BEING

Pratichi Mathur

“If you are dominant in the Fire element, the radiant state of matter, you will possess a light but warm, or even a hot body. You will embody the thermal and radiant state of matter, and hence, you will run hotter than most people, digest well or rather too intensely, and this heat in mind will translate as intelligence, sharpness and even anger at times.”

“When we make a conscious effort to understand the Five Great Elements, we see in that ancient wisdom, a reflection of our own being. We begin to know at an intuitive level how the elements play inside us. Their behavior in the macrocosm is a mirror to how they will behave inside us, in the microcosm.”

Macrocosm and Microcosm

Ayurveda is the product of a civilization which is deeply rooted in Mother Nature. The seers knew that all of Nature is part of the individual, since we are all created from, exist in, and return to nature.
A fundamental tenet of the Ayurvedic system of medicine is the principle of similarity between macrocosm and microcosm. We human beings are made of the same “stuff” the rest of the universe is made up of. Ayurveda believes that everything in the universe is made up of Five Great Elements—Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth or Akasha, Vayu, Teja, Aap, and Prithvi in Sanskrit, respectively. These Five Great Elements can be considered as subtle matter states or energy, as matter and energy are interconnected states on the continuum of existence.

The Five Great Elements

The most important or foundational organizing principle of Ayurveda is the Five Great Elements known as the “Pancha Mahabhutas.” The Five Elements represent multidimensional macro and micro existence, expression and ideas. Space for example, represents the expansive and open qualities of the universe/sky, the infinite potential of the mind, and also, the actual hollowed spaces inside the body, as those inside tubes and channels, arteries, etc.

“The most important or foundational organizing principle of Ayurveda is the Five Great Elements known as the “Pancha Mahabhutas.” The Five Elements represent multi-dimensional macro and micro existence, expression and ideas.”

Earth represents the solid state of matter. It manifests stability, permanence and rigidity. The body part which is particularly thick, stable, massive, heavy, coarse and hard; and nails, bones, teeth, flesh, skin, feces, hair, beard and mustache, skin hair, tendons, etc. along with smell and olfactory sense (nose) are Earth in nature. In the mind, Earth endows resolve, power to withstand and endure.
Water characterizes eternal flow and is always unstable by nature. It is a liquid state and is a majority composer of various fluid substances inside our body — blood, lymph, urine, intracellular fluid and even emotions that often possess a liquid and sticky, clingy, cohesive quality. Water flows through our being distributing nutrition, carrying away wastes, regulating temperature by imparting a cooling effect, strengthening and moistening our being by distributing the immune essence or Oja throughout the body, and making our cells hydrated and youthful with fluid. The sense of taste and tongue are Water dominant in nature. Thus, the liquid, mobile, dull, unctuous, soft and slimy aspects of our being are dominated by Water. In the mind, Water creates feelings and emotions.

Fire is the power to transform, burn, and illumine. In the body, all food and substances whether solid, liquid or gaseous in nature, thanks to Fire, get transformed or converted into tissue and energy. In the mind, fiery intelligence and fiery emotions along with passion contribute to a fiery experience of the being. Heat, luster, along with vision and visual sense, are Fire dominant in nature. In the mind, Fire assists passion as well as anger.

“If you are dominant in the Space element, the ether state of matter, then, you will possess a soft, lightweight body. The various openings in the body and internal spaces will be large and well-defined.”

Air is the element that is mobile and eternally dynamic, with no arrest, whatsoever. Its constant motion and speed is its unique characteristic. Respiration, twinkling of eye (all subtle movements including that of nerves), contraction and relaxation, movement, propulsion and retention, along with touch and tactile senses are Air dominant in nature. In the mind, the thoughts and their constant motion is well-represented by Air. So typically, fearful anxiety will manifest if Air element were to unnaturally increase.

Ether is the space in which everything happens. The vacant spaces inside the body, big and small channels, along with sound and auditory sense, are predominant in Space by nature. It is the field that is simultaneously the source of all matter and the space in which it exists. Ether is the distance which separates grosser states of matter (other four elements). The chief characteristic of Ether is sound. Here sound represents the entire spectrum of vibration. In the mind, it creates an expansive potential to meditate and be quiet.

What Is Your Element?

We can benefit from Ayurvedic understanding of the Five Great Elements to not only understand the outer universe, but also our inner universe – our unique mind-body personality. According to Ayurveda, the relationship of the Elements with each other greatly determines our natural constitution and predisposition to health and ill-health; and influences even minor things like our habits, hobbies and spiritual inclinations.

“Being a part of Nature, we are ourselves, an expression of these five attributes. It should be noted that each of us contains and expresses the qualities of all five elements, but our particular constitution, or nature, has the dominant elements.”

Space Ether Potential energy/matter All emptiness and lightness in the body/mind communication, exchange between mediums
Air Gaseous Kinetic energy /matter All movement and action in the body/ mind speed, direction, velocity, time
Fire Radiant Thermal energy/matter All burning and transforming in the body/mind perception, heat, light, radiance
Water Liquid Cohesive energy/matter All liquidity and stickiness in the body/mind flow, filling, softness, liquidity
Earth Solid Static energy/matter All solidity and heaviness in the body/mind stability, resistance, form

“If you are dominant in Earth element, the solid state of matter, you will possess a welldeveloped and perhaps well-endowed body, displaying naturally large bones and well- defined muscle structure.”

When Elements combine, they form bio-psychic forces called Doshas – and while Dosha-based constitution is a standard in Ayurvedic tradition, the great teacher of Ayurveda, Rishi Sushruta, also elaborated upon the Five Elements based constitution, and in this article I shed light on that.

Being a part of Nature, we are ourselves, an expression of these five attributes. It should be noted that each of us contains and expresses the qualities of all five elements, but our particular constitution, or nature, has the dominant elements.

Space Dominant Constitution – Akashiya

If you are dominant in the Space element, the ether state of matter, then, you will possess a soft, lightweight body. The various openings in the body and internal spaces will be large and well-defined. You will possess great understanding of sound and its multiple shades and tones. A Space element dominant individual will display expansiveness, a love of cleanliness, light body weight, etc.

The mind may be expansive and unattached naturally, and in Sanskrit we call this quality – Sattva, and this will make you from birth, a lover of all things spiritual; lightness, refinement, truth and expansiveness will be your essence. You will seek Space in your relationships, inside your home, closet and even inside your body (no congestion permitted). On bad days you may feel “spacey,” but if you understand yourself, you will enjoy the uninterrupted quality of your self expression.

Your body will embody mildness, softness, subtleness, lightness and looseness (of joints, ideas, etc). After all, your body is weaved with oodles of ether, that ever so subtle matter in the universe that effortlessly flows and connects and holds, but is barely there and yet everywhere.

Watch out for an excessively fragile body by feeding yourself well and with intention. A mind that does not ground enough, and emotions and thoughts that do not hold or cohere long enough to create a decisive state of mind are other challenges. Otherwise, enjoy your spontaneous ability to meditate and channel; connect with cosmic ether and embody being and non-being at the same time.

“After all, what is Air? Grab a handful and you get a non-substance in your palm, but lots of sensations on the skin of your palm. Motion without substance describes you, and also describes some of your projects in which you may turn your wheels for not much substantial gain.”

Air Dominant Constitution – Vayavya

If you are dominant in Air, the gaseous state of matter, you will possess a wiry, light, rough and clear body type. You may find that you get excited easily and are mobile, always on the move, physically or mentally, or both. Also, you will possess a sensitive skin with a welldeveloped sense of touch. Even the ever so subtle wind, as it moves in creation, will stroke your skin and alert you to its divine existence.

Your constitution will embody dryness, subtleness, lightness, looseness, lack of compactness, easy extensibility, coolness, roughness and ability to perceive touch excellently. In the mind, there will be an overflow of quick thoughts as the thinking process is really a play of the Air element. The quality of Rajas or excitement dominates the mind, creating non-stop mental activity, frequent agitation, mood swings and sometimes even turbulence in the mind.

After all, what is Air? Grab a handful and you get a nonsubstance in your palm, but lots of sensations on the skin of your palm. Motion without substance describes you, and also describes some of your projects in which you may turn your wheels for not much substantial gain. Like wind, you can blow harmoniously and creatively; but the mood changes can also destruct like enraged winds uprooting trees and homes. Watch out for depletion from too much action, exhaustion of body and mind, thinness, skipping meals or sacrificing normal sleep hours in favor of excitement – as that also aggravates Air. Enjoy the spontaneity, quickness and unparalleled imagination and visions, which are your gifts from Nature.

“The Water manifesting as emotions possess your being often, and in floods of feelings and loyalty, memory and attachments, you dwell in a landscape that is romantic, sentimental, old world and special.”

Fire Dominant Constitution – Agneya

If you are dominant in the Fire element, the radiant state of matter, you will possess a light but warm, or even a hot body. You will embody the thermal and radiant state of matter, and hence, you will run hotter than most people, digest well or rather too intensely, and this heat in mind will translate as intelligence, sharpness and even anger at times.

You may be easily impatient, and burn out quickly with a mediocre endurance capacity. The spark that enlivens you, may also burn you in summers; or if you consume excessive fiery foods or lead a fiery hot lifestyle. Your skin may have a deep pinkish to reddish hue naturally; you may possess excellent vision and an eye for details. An excellent digestion, if taken for granted, may lead to burning sensations.

Your body embodies fiery qualities such as sharpness (tongue, temper, appetite), hotness (body and mind), dryness (due to over heating and parching), subtleness (of mind), lightness (body weight), and clearness (in mind and complexion). In your mind, both Sattva and Rajas qualities dominate, so you may seek spiritual solitude (Sattva) and at the same time, make a list on how to obtain it (action-tinged quality of Rajas).

Watch out for burning the body as well as bridges in professional life. Enjoy your natural leadership potential, your sunny cheerful temperament, and your ability to find solutions and achieve mastery of life and health through sheer force of transformation.

“When we make a conscious effort to understand the Five Great Elements, we see in that ancient wisdom, a reflection of our own being. We begin to know at an intuitive level how the elements play inside us. Their behavior in the macrocosm is a mirror to how they will behave inside us, in the microcosm.”

Water Dominant Constitution – Jaliya

Water dominant individuals are dominant in Water or liquid state of matter. If you have mostly this element dominant in your body type, you will possess a soft, smooth, somewhat heavy and even flabby body. You will feel cold easily and your appearance will show your skin to be wellmoistened, soft and smooth, with an almost oily sheen.

Your joints will be welllubricated and hair, nails, etc. will have a fluid, soft quality. Your body fluids (including sexual ones) will be abundant, endowing you with fertility and beauty. Your body embodies watery qualities such as liquidity, coolness, heaviness, slowness, gentle mobility and stickiness (yes, everything glued together).

The Water manifesting as emotions possess your being often, and in floods of feelings and loyalty, memory and attachments, you dwell in a landscape that is romantic, sentimental, old world and special.

Look out for water retention—you may be quick to accumulate body fat, because fat is predominantly made-up of the Water element. Watery, introspective quality of your mind may sometimes slip into a sad, weepy depression. Enjoy your natural nurturing and healing ability; appreciate your soft beauty; and dwell in your flowing body, with grace and artistry. Embrace what comes naturally to you.

“Born from the womb of nature and destined to return to nature, we human beings are indeed weaved by the same five threads that intertwine and compose the rest of the universe.”

Earth Dominant Constitution – Parthiva

If you are dominant in Earth element, the solid state of matter, you will possess a well-developed and perhaps well-endowed body, displaying naturally large bones and well-defined muscle structure. Your well-built body will display sturdiness, heaviness, largeness and compactness (density) of Earth. You may have a tendency to put on weight too, which is not flabby but hard, more muscle buildup than fat. Your bones may be heavy too.

Often, Earth dominant individuals possess a more earthy complexion (darker than usual), and even newborn babies that are dominant in Earth are large enough to look older than their age, or look really well-nourished when compared to the Air and Space or Fire dominant babies.

Your body embodies earthy qualities such as hardness, slowness, compactness, bulkiness, and steadiness. The Earth in you makes you capable of tolerating heavy odds, doing hard labor and demonstrating patience and remarkable enduring power. You may find that you are often courageous and easily forgive others. Yes, you are the down-to-earth, rooted, solid, stable and dependable one in this Five Element universe.

Watch out for excessive Earth creating blockages, growths and a stubborn mind. Flexibility and ease should be your mantra even as you enjoy the divine gifts of calmness, sturdiness and resolve in body and mind.

A Mirror to Our Being

Born from the womb of nature and destined to return to nature, we human beings are indeed weaved by the same five threads that intertwine and compose the rest of the universe. Though we contain all five in every atom, every cell, every particle of our being that makes us, yet often a single element truly rules our show and dictates the genetic script of our being. It also dictates our personality, its weaknesses and strengths, as well as what will balance us and what will imbalance us. When we make a conscious effort to understand the Five Great Elements, we see in that ancient wisdom, a reflection of our own being. We begin to know at an intuitive level how the elements play inside us. Their behavior in the macrocosm is a mirror to how they will behave inside us, in the microcosm.

“Born from the womb of nature and destined to return to nature, we human beings are indeed weaved by the same five threads that intertwine and compose the rest of the universe.”

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