Welcome to Exploring the Elements—our 5 part series devoted to describing the power of the 5 elements which Ayurvedic tradition believes to be the foundation of life: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Space. Transform your view of the world around you, and your own health, with a new understanding of the elements!
Nature organizes itself into 5 modes or elements: Space, Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth. The combination and interaction between these modes give all things their unique expressions.
The elements provide the building blocks of our experience. Yoga and Ayurveda can be thought of as practices of “purifying” the 5 elements.
When the elements are “impure,” you have a sort of cramp in your perception. Something in your mind or body tenses around the flow of communication that is the element in its pure form. In this case, “purifying” just means any process that relaxes those cramps—such as tuning into your senses, eating real food, and aligning your lifestyle practices with the changes of the seasons.
When these cramps are relaxed, a free-flow expression of natural rhythms follows.
Everything contains all 5 elements at once, but the predominance of one or more elements determines the characteristics that will be expressed.
We’ll start with Earth element. Plant your feet firmly on the ground and sink in some roots.
Earth element expresses as stability. The qualities of Earth element are cool, stable, heavy, dry, rough, gross, dense, dull, and hard. In the body, this emerges as growth, accumulation, and support; the muscle tissue, fat tissue, and hard part of the bones depend heavily upon Earth element.
When you express clarified Earth element, you feel stable and rooted. Emotionally you are grounded and confident, but flexible. You make well-considered decisions, and you don’t doubt yourself in carrying them out.
Earth element supports committed, long-term relationships and career paths. With the help of Water element, it insulates your body with a healthy layer of fat. It produces sturdy bones and muscles, and a good capacity for physical work.
Sound familiar? That's right, kapha dosha is made up of primarily Earth and Water elements.
A lack of Earth element can leave you ungrounded and undependable. You may become anxious, emaciated, and flighty. A deficiency of Earth element makes you “spacy” and unreliable and can make you lose touch with basic reality.
A surplus of Earth element can make you feel dull, stubborn, depressed, or despondent. The hard, dry quality of Earth element may block the channels of your body, resulting in poor digestion and an inability to perceive the world clearly.
What To Do?
Remember that Earth element is essentially about stability. Finding more stability in your life mostly boils down to regularity. When your schedule has a regular rhythm, your body and mind can anticipate the movement of the day without fear. Your nervous system expends much less energy just getting through the day.
If you discover that you experience too much Earth element in your day-to-day life, creating rhythm in your schedule will still support you—as long as you make exercise part of your daily routine. In its simplest form, a daily routine includes a regular waking time, regular mealtimes, and a regular bedtime.
For deficient Earth:
- Grounding foods such as healthy fats and root vegetables
- Forward-bending postures like wide-legged forward bend
- Sticking to a regular schedule
- Self-massage (Abhyanga)
- Yoga Nidra
- Making commitments (and keeping them) is a great practice for increasing the energy of Earth element
For excess Earth:
- Exercise—particularly working up a sweat so the channels become unblocked
- Warm, light foods—you might also consider a kapha-pacifying diet
- Cooking with herbs—ginger, white and black pepper, clove, cumin, coriander, and fennel (these last 3 also make a great digestion-stimulating tea)
- Inducing a light sweat in a steam room
- Twist postures—like revolved chair
- Digestion strengthening postures—like leg-lifts and plank pose