Concept of 5 Elements - Panchmahabhoot - Tridosha
According to Ayurveda, every thing in this universe is made up of five basic elements in different proportions. These five elements or panch bhutas are Earth (Prithvi), Water (Jal), Air (Vayu), Fire (Agni), Ether (Aakash). The food, the planets and every living and non-living thing are made up of these 5 elements. There is a fundamental harmony at the macrocosm level and microcosm level and our body is a very minute image of the universe. The only thing which differentiates living and non-living things is the Soul.
Characteristics of 5 Elements
Panchmahabhoot and their representation in body as Tridosha
- Space (Ether) - Present in hollow cavities within body and empty areas of cosmos, transmits sound, non-resistant to anything, frictionless or smooth, subtle, soft, abundant. Any diet, food or herbs with similar properties will increase space element within the body.
- Air - Light, dry, subtle, mobile, transparent & rough are the properties of Air. It is responsible for movement, dryness in the body. Any diet, exercise, medicine which has such properties will increase "Vata" or Air element in the body.
- Fire - It is hot, sharp, intense, dry & light. Fire emits light and heat. Any food, diet, exercise & herbs which has similar properties will increase this element in our body. For example - chilies, ginger, garlic & peppers will increase "Pitta" or Fire element "in the body.
- Water – Water is moist, cohesive or sticky, cool, soft and oily (unctuous). It is present in many foods, milk and herbs as well in our body. Excess of water increases the above mentioned characteristics in our body and decreases the opposite. Water intake is useful in diseases caused by 'fire' or 'pitta and 'air' or 'vata'. For example acidity, skin problems, constipation, dryness, excessive breakdown or accumulation of metabolites/endotoxins. In other words it acts as detoxifying agent.
- Earth - It is solid, dense, stable, heavy, hard, dull and slow. Earth constitutes the solid structures in the universe and our body. Any food, exercise, herbs which have similar properties will provide nutrition, support and cause heaviness in the body. It will also improve strength and stability.
These are the characteristics of the 5 elements, out of which this whole universe is made up of. Using these attributes, everything in this world can be classified to be made up of combination of these 5 elements in different ratios and proportions. Even all the natural elements in the modern periodic table in chemistry can be classified under these 5 elements. For example, a steel rod has more earth than wood. Wood has earth and water. Our body has all 5 i.e. Space and Air (Hollow organs and body cavities), Fire (Chemicals), Earth (Bony structures) and Water (Saliva, Digestive Juices and intracellular or extra cellular fluids).
An atom also depicts the combination of 5 elements. The electric charge depicts the fire energy within an atom. Nuclear reaction is also an example of fire energy contained within an atom.
The Earth element is represented by the mass of the electron, proton and neutrons as well as subatomic particles within an atom.
Water is responsible for the cohesion between the subatomic particles. They are bound in an atom because of the cohesive nature of the water element.
The empty Air element is represented by the force which is causing movements of the electrons around the nucleus.
Ether is the empty space between space in and around an atom.
The balance of these Energies, particularly Vata (Air), Pitta (Fire) and Kapha (Water) keeps the atom and prevent it from becoming an atomic bomb. Similarly these energies are moving this whole universe.
The example of planets and galaxies moving around in space also fit into the example of tri-energy module.
Similarly this analogy is also useful in case of cellular function and structure. The metabolism occurring in mitochondria within the cells and also other intracellular organelles is an example of fire energy. Oxygen represents the air and the water represents the water. The structure of plasma membrane and other solid things within the cells represent the earth element. Empty space in vacuoles is presented by the space element.
The balance of these elements fluctuates in different environments and one element can transform into another. For example, the water element can change into the earth element if it is stored in a very low temperature. Similarly, same water if heated turns into steam and evaporates and becomes space.
Similarly if we burn something, it changes its form. Suppose we burn a piece of paper, parts of it evaporate by becoming space and air and it changes from earth to Air and Space.
Representation of Elements in human beings
The five elements are present in various living and non-living things in various ratios and proportions. Living things have five elements and a soul whereas non-living things have only 5 elements in their composition.
These 5 elements represent themselves in the form of 3 energies in humans called 'Dosha' or Tri-Dosha. These dosha can also be called Tri-Energies.
The "Tridosh" Principle or Tri - energies
Another fundamental theory of Ayurveda is the "Tridosh" principle or the tri-energies theory. This can also be understood as combination of panchbhutas (Five Elements) into 3 the 3 biological or physiological and physical forces that cater to the metabolic functions and structural composition of our body. The balance of these tri-energies is known as a state of health and their imbalance is disease. Anything which restores this balance is good for health. So any diet, exercise, behavior or medicine can be recommended to restore this balance and provide health. The tri-energies are
|Tridosh||Energy counterpart||Elementary Composition|
|Vata||Kinetic energy||Air + Ether|
|Kapha||Potential energy||Earth + Water|
Relationship between Vata, Pitta, Kapha and 5 Elements
This is the physical elementary composition of 3 basic energies that act in synergy to maintain the health of the body. Their balance is responsible for health maintenance at the physical level. However there are many more principles of Ayurveda in further chapters of this book which lay strong emphasis on balance and coordination between senses-body-mind-soul axis for complete physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being.
Ayu (Life) is not merely life span measured in chronological years but it is union of mind-body-senses and soul. So there is a great importance of mind and soul in Ayurveda.