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What are the 5 elements of nature?

What are the 5 elements of nature?

The five elements of nature form the basis and foundation of our entire existence in this world. In yoga philosophy, we learn that the five elements exist within us and often govern our health and well-being. Space, air, fire, water and earth form the five elements of life that are recognized in Ayurveda as the building blocks of our physical existence. Ayurveda, in fact, talks of the three doshas (composition) - Vata, Pitta and Kapha - that exist within us. These doshas are essentially made up of the elements of nature. For example, Vata is mainly air and space, while Pitta is fire and water and kapha is water and earth. 

What is the importance of the five elements of nature? 

Yoga teaches us that everything we live with and consume is nature. The five elements are nature. Our ultimate source is nature. Without nature we cannot exist. And, another way of looking at it is that nature exists within us. Existing within us, there are different foods, exercises, routines and other preferences that work well with each element. While certain aspects may aggravate an element too. 

We consume food that comes from the earth. And, eventually, our body returns to the earth we came from. Fire governs our energy. It plays an integral role in metabolic and chemical processes in our system. Interestingly, water makes up about 72% of our total body mass, 12% is earth, 6% air, 4% fire, and the rest is space. However, this constitution can change due to several factors, creating an excess or a deficiency of one element, which leads to an imbalance. 

Air provides oxygen to every cell of the body, and space makes it possible for all the elements to engage and our systems and organs to perform their duties. In fact, a science enthusiast would tell you that the five elements is a scientific theory that states that everything in the universe, from every small atom to the largest animal, contains a combination of the five elements (like the Ayurveda doshas mentioned above), with each element responsible for different functions. This is also a popular theory in Chinese medicine. 

The five elements of nature 

Earth element

When we think of the earth element, the qualities that jump out at us are grounding, stability, nurturing and balance. The earth provides us with a base and structure that can inhibit life. Similarly, with the human body, the earth element forms the solid structure that shapes us. It governs all parts of the body responsible for the structure, that is, teeth, nails, bones, muscles, skin, tissue, etc. When the earth element is balanced, we feel grounded, stable and strong.

In yoga (and Ayurveda), the earth element is associated with the Muladhara Chakra (the root Chakra) and the Kapha dosha. Yoga asanas such as the Tree Pose (Vrikshasana), Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Garland Pose (Malasana) and Eagle Pose (Garudasana), among others, balance and activate the earth element. 

Downward Facing Pose

Fire element

The source of energy, heat and power, the fire element is associated with purification and removal of toxins. Known as Agni, the digestive fire that exists in the abdominal region is responsible for our metabolism, digestion and removal of impurities. When stimulated and activated energy and vitality gets a boost, and creativity, confidence, enthusiasm and courage is in abundance.  

The fire element is associated with the Pitta dosha and the Manipura Chakra (the solar plexus). It governs hunger, thirst and sleep. Yoga asanas such as the Bow Pose (Dhanurasana), Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), Boat Pose (Naukasana), Chair Pose (Utkatasana) and practices like Agni Sar and Kapal Bhati activate and balance the fire element. 

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Cobra Pose

Water element

Flowing, healing, calming and peaceful, the water element is responsible for everything liquid and nurturing in life. It governs saliva, blood, sweat and urine in the human body. It is responsible for regulating blood and keeping the joints lubricated and healthy. It is associated with feminine and yin energy, and is introspective in nature. 

Water element is associated with Pitta and Kapha doshas and the Svadishtana Chakra (the sacral chakra). Yoga asanas such as the Cat-Cow Pose (Marjariasana), the Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana) and Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana) activate and balance the water element. Other practices like the Ujjayi Breath or Oceans Breathing activate the water element. 

Bound Angle Pose

Air element

Air provides oxygen, the basic and most important necessity for survival. It is also a vital energy that fuels life in all living beings around us. It is responsible for all forms of movement, expanding, contraction and vibration. In the human body, air provides oxygen, which is required for breathing of course. This also forms our prana, known as life force, which translates to energy. When prana is free flowing, we feel energetic, when blocked, we feel fatigued and tired, among other things. Oxygen also keeps our organs, cells and systems nourished. It is associated with communication, change and transformation. 

The Vishuddhi Chakra, known as the throat chakra, and the Vata dosha are associated with the air element. Yoga poses such as the Wheel Pose (Chakrasana), the Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), Cat-Cow Pose (Marjariasana), and Bow Pose (Dhanurasana), among many others activate the air element. Diaphragmatic breathing is also related to the air element. 

Bow Pose

Space element

Also known as ether, space is the container of all other elements. It is the most subtle and it is believed to be the source of all other elements. It is present across cells, the nostrils, mouth, ears, throat, lungs and stomach. It is linked to higher wisdom and knowledge, intuition and spirituality. 

In yoga, it is associated with the Crown Chakra, the Sahasara Chakra and the Vata dosha. The Headstand (Sirsasana), Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana), Corpse Pose (Savasana) and higher spiritual practices activate and stimulate the space element. 

Shoulder Stand

Concluding thoughts 

Some individuals have dominant elements and throughout our lives imbalances may occur creating an increase or decrease. That’s what leads to health issues, diseases and disorders. Each element has their own signs of imbalances and there are several practices one can do to constantly keep the elements balanced. One such practice is yoga. Especially if you practice yoga in a live class with an experienced teacher you will automatically find that you will be doing yoga asanas, breathing practices and cleansing techniques that aim to activate and balance all the elements and compositions in the body.

What are the 5 elements of nature?
Shvasa Editorial Team

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