The basic principles of Ayurveda
In Sanskrit, “Ayur” means life and “Veda” means science or knowledge, therefore Ayurveda is commonly translated as “science of life” or the “knowledge of longevity.”
Since Ayurveda is inspired by the natural world, we can observe the different seasons, cycles of the day and the natural elements to help us understand our own inner rhythms.
In a sense, the natural world provides the macro ecology, while our own experiences are the micro ecology reflected from the natural world.
What are the 5 elements in Ayurveda?
The five elements in Ayurveda are ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Ayurveda focuses on bringing these five elements into balance, both internally and externally, to bring about superior health. Most simply, we use opposites to balance. For example: if you are frequently hot, you need cooling foods to balance; if you are lethargic often, you need stimulating foods and movement to balance.
As we move through life and the seasons of our own life, we need to change our routines, diet, movement and treatments to adapt naturally to these different seasons. Just as we change wardrobes when the seasons change externally!
Ayurveda believe disease (or dis-ease in the body) starts with an emotional response followed by physical symptoms. For that reason, the primary focus is looking at root causes over just treating outward symptoms.
The root cause comes down to the elements that exist within us and identifying how they are out of balance. For example, if the fire element is out of balance in an excessive way it can show up physically as rashes and redness on the skin, infections, burning, inflammation, headaches, acne or other skin problems. These are all heat related issues linked to the element of fire. In our personality, excess heat will show up as intensity, competitiveness, being highly critical or judgemental, fixations, impatience or frustration.
In the body, each element is associated with different tissues and functions. In the mind, the elements are also associated with personality characteristics.
This element comes first because it is the subtlest of all five. Ether is the space from which a vibration emerges long before it takes the form of sound in the ear. Sound and ether are inseparable, so the ear is considered to be the sense organ of ether. An etheric person demonstrates qualities of imagination, expansion, subtleness, and dreaminess. They can also be elusive and passive at times.
This is the second element because it evolves from ether. When the potential within empty space becomes active, the result is air. It represents the capacity for motion and all forces and movements which occur as a result. Touch and air are inseparable, so the skin which receives the touch is considered to be the sense organ of the element air. People with a strong air element in their constitution are agile and tend to move quickly and easily. By nature, they are cheerful and enthusiastic.
Ether provides fire the space to burn while air provides fire the capacity to burn. Hence, the third element is fire which evolves from ether and air. Just as the sun is the generator of energy for the earth, fire is the generator of energy for the body. Fire is the form of perception, light, and vision, so the eyes are considered to be the sense organ of fire. Fire represents light, heat, energy, metabolism, and the power of transformation. People with a strong fire element in their constitution have leadership qualities and are adventurous, brave, confident, motivated, energetic, and progressive. They are eager in pursuing goals and are full of youthful spirit.
This is the fourth element that comes into existence out of the previous three. Fire causes air to become dense, giving us the element of water. Water is the protector of the body providing its most basic nourishment. Water is the first element that we can taste and the tongue is the sense organ of water. People with abundant water in their constitution show strong traits of compassion and empathy, since water is connected to emotions.
The fifth element of the five great elements is earth, because it evolves out of the other four. The earth element represents the matter of the universe. It gives form to the human body and all creation. Earth enables the experience of smell and the nose is the sense organ of earth. A person who demonstrates a strong earth element is someone who is methodical, reliable, stable, and perhaps stubborn.
The Fire Element in Ayurveda
Fire is the transformational principle; fire converts things into new things. In Ayurveda, fire represents light, heat, luster, energy, understanding, thoughts, metabolism and the power of transformation. Fire can burn hot and quickly or it can smolder slowly and hidden and internalized in the body. Fire lights up our drive, charisma, ambition, intellect, passion, emotions, ideas and sensuality.
The element fire is called “tejas” in Sanskrit. Fire is the generator of energy in the body just as the sun is the generator of energy for the earth. Fire essentially is the process of liberating energy from its source.
In the human body, fire is expressed in five distinct ways:
- The fire that provides our body with the capacity to digest food
- The fire that ignites the intellect, digests ideas, and allows for understanding
- The fire of perception that digests visual impressions into recognizable images
- The fire that energizes and invigorates the body, adding color to the body
- The fire that digests touch and sunlight and gives off the radiance associated with healthy skin
Digestive Fire and ‘Agni’
Tending the fire in the body begins with monitoring the fire of digestion. When the digestive fire is healthy, this impacts the positive wellbeing of the whole body.
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 be made lighter and spicier until digestion normalizes.
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 it is the most naturally active time of year. It is the time of year to work diligently to fulfill your dharma whilst ideas and action work hand in hand.
In the cycle of life, 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 your dharma or life purpose. Each person’s capacity for work and service is greatest during this phase of life.
In Ayurveda, the feet are the organ of action associated with the fire element. It is through the feet that we react – our feet allow us to change direction based upon perception and experience. Not only may the direction be changed, but also the intensity of progress. When our inner fire burns bright, we have the clarity and energy to move towards our goals and dreams.
Agni: Meaning fire, spark, digestive fire. Both “ignite” & “agni” have the same linguistic root.
Qualities: Hot, Light, Dry, Sharp, Penetrating, Pungent, Luminous, Transforming.
Functions: Absorption, assimilation, metabolism, digestion, perception, taste, touch, hearing, vitality, clarity, alertness, regular appetite, combustion.
- It includes the digestive function, sense perception, cellular metabolism and mental assimilation, linking mental well being and digestive health.
- It gives immunity, a sparkle in the eyes and luster to the skin.
- When agni is balanced, it causes emotions that are beneficial to health: courage, cheerfulness, lucidness, intelligence.
- When agni is out of balance it causes emotions that are destructive to health: fear, anger, confusion, idiocy.
Signs of a weak Fire Element:
- Feeling unfocused and indecisive
- Feeling a lack of motivation and inspiration.
- Weak digestion and stomach pain, slow digestion, constipation.
- Excessive mucus and congestion, that won’t seem to dry up.
- Feeling cold, rough, heavy and damp.
To increase deficient fire element
- Eat foods that support healthy digestion
- Trataka (candle gazing)
- Exercise/sweat (physically build heat in the body)
- Find passions
- Dance to connect to heart and belly
- Pranayama to connect head and hear
To decrease excessive fire element
- Cool, cleanse and calm down
- Avoid excessive sun, spicy foods, alcohol, nightshades, sugar, exercise
- Abhyanga with cooling oils
- Eat cooling foods
- Increase hydration
- Focus on long exhales thru the nose, sitali/sitakari pranayama
- Reduce tasks, say no more, take on less
- Rest eyes with Trataka (candle gazing)
- Stay away from excessive technology and communication
Contemplative Questions of the Fire Element in Ayurveda
- Where/who/how do I burn out?
- What is my process around breaking down and assimilating challenging emotions?
- How is my digestion? Does it feel strong or weak? What affects it?
- Where do I direct my fire? (Inwardly, externally, toward work, family, etc)
Why experience a Luxury Bali Ayurveda Retreat?
Our Luxury Ayurveda Retreat is one of our most popular Bali retreats and guests who join the Ayurveda programme always have very healing and transformational journeys. Not only does the Ayurveda retreat offer a space to unwind, relax and restore, the information and wisdom shared enables you to carry Ayurveda and the Ayurvedic practices into your daily life back home too.
Learning your unique ‘dosha’ or Ayurvedic type enables you to adjust your diet, exercise, self care routines, lifestyle practices, communication and seasons so that you can easily find balance in all areas of your life. This wisdom is so valuable and will last you for life.
We’ve explored the fire element in this article as fire is the symbol of transformation in Ayurveda. Also, when our inner fire is strong, we are creative, strong, confident, ambitious and enthusiastic. A retreat journey very much ignites that inner fire within you and helps you to not only gain clarity and perspective, but the energy and motivation to follow through with your dreams and goals and leap into a new chapter.
Join us for a Luxury Women’s Ayurveda Retreat in Bali!
If you’d like a blissful and healing week to really unwind, restore and explore all the vast benefits of Ayurveda, join us on a Bali retreat!
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We invite you to experience our award-winning Bali retreat. If it’s time to fill up your cup and reconnect with yourself on a deeper level, we’d love to help you rejuvenate, unwind, reawaken and experience the very best of Bali. Dive into transformational yoga and meditation classes, exhilarating surf lessons in the warm waters of Bali, fun fitness classes and restorative healing sessions. How much or little you do is all up to you.