Ep 40: The 5 Elements of Nature & You (Part 2 – Fire, Water, Earth) [Show Notes]
This week I bring you Part 2 of my two-part series: The 5 Elements of Nature & You! I talk about the fire, water, and earth elements. Learn how they express themselves in your body, what an elemental imbalance feels like, and what you can do to restore your health if you have an imbalance of one of these elements.
If you missed Part 1 of this series be sure to go back and give it a listen. I share a more in-depth introduction to Ayurvedic understanding of the 5 elements in that episode.
Below is an outline of this week’s episode of the podcast. Please listen to the full episode above or wherever you get your podcasts to hear a more in-depth explanation of each element and the balancing practices I mention below.
What are the 5 elements of Ayurveda?
As we go through life we take in the 5 elements through our senses. Our experiences, thoughts, feelings, and external factors such as the climate, the season, our jobs, our relationships, etc. all affect the balance of the elements within our body. Oftentimes our incredibly intelligent bodies are able to bounce back without our conscious intervention. But when we’re not in tune with our bodies and therefore unaware of how the elements express themselves in our bodies, an imbalance can compound and lead to mental, emotional, or physical ailments.
My goal today is to help you become more aware of how the fire, water, and air elements are affecting you and how to bring yourself back into balance if something in your body feels amiss.
The Fire Element (Agni)
The fire element governs all transformative processes in the body including metabolism. It transforms food into the energy that each of our cells uses to function. Our perception is also subtly governed by the fire element. By this, I mean that it transforms the information that we take in through our five senses (sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell) into useful knowledge and intelligence.
The qualities (gunas) of the fire element are hot, sharp, light, dry, and subtle.
So when this fire element is healthfully balanced in our system we are perceptive, intelligent, and passionate. Someone with a lot of fire naturally present in their constitution is typically a high-achiever. They have a strong ambition, drive, and passion for their life and work. Physically they have strong and fast digestion.
Excess Fire Element Symptoms
When we have an excess of the fire element in our bodies we tend to overheat easily and have a tendency toward diarrhea. Rashes, spotty skin, and other types of inflammation are common.
On the emotional level, when out of balance the fire element can cause us to become easily irritated, angry, and impatient. This excess of fire will eventually lead to burnout!
I talked about the transformative energy of fire on the podcast in my recent episode about Ayurvedic summer self-care because in the summer the fire element is very present in our environment! So if you think you might have an excess of the fire element please give Episode 38: Ayurvedic Summer Self-care (Pitta Season) a listen.
And for those days when you can’t get your bare feet on the ground, try massaging your feet with a seasonally appropriate oil (see above) to draw the energy and heat in your body downward.
Deficient Fire Element Symptoms
I’ll share some ways that you can increase the fire element in your body in just a moment, but first, let’s talk about the last two of the 5 elements – water and either.
The Water Element (Apas)
According to both Ayurveda and modern science, water is the universal solvent. It governs all the fluids of the body and the biochemical functions of the body.
For example, our blood plasma is 91% water and that fluid carries nutrients and other chemicals from one part of the body to another and from one cell to another. Our lymphatic system is also governed by and dependent on the water element.
Overall, about 55 – 60% of your body is water. That number increases to about 73% when we consider just the brain and the heart! The water element, therefore, is crucial to our health.
The qualities (gunas) of the water element are cool, liquid, dull, soft, oily, and slimy.
When in balance those who have a high level of water naturally occurring in their constitutions move gracefully and have pleasant, smooth voices. Water is also commonly known as the element of emotions. So when in balance we tend to be very aware of our emotions and in tune with the emotions of others.
Symptoms of a Water Element Excess
When we have an excess of this particular element we tend to retain excess water. Oedema is a build-up of fluid in the body that causes the affected tissue (either a specific part of the body or the whole body) to become swollen.
Emotionally, this imbalance might cause you to feel that your emotions are all over the place. You feel controlled by your emotions and/or you’ve realized that your reactions often don’t match the circumstances. If you notice yourself constantly overreacting or underreacting then you may want to consider a water imbalance (either excess or depletion).
If you’d like some guidance (in addition to what I share below) about how to reduce the water element in your life please listen to Episode 20: Winter Self-care Practices (Kapha Season). The dominant elements of the kapha season are water and earth, so you’ll find the pacifying Ayurvedic practices that I share in this episode helpful!
Symptoms of a Water Element Deficiency
You also might have a hard time expressing or getting in touch with your emotions. Maybe you tend to repress your emotions.
The Earth Element (Pruthivi)
Therefore, all of the solid structures in our body are derived from the earth element – our bones, cartilage, nails, hair, teeth, and skin.
The qualities of the earth element are heavy, dull, static, dense, hard, and gross (AKA blatant and the opposite of subtle).
When the earth element is in balance in our bodies we have strong bones and muscles. We feel strong and have healthy physical endurance. And on the more energetic and emotional side, we have a stable, nurturing presence.
Symptoms of an Earth Element Excess
If you think you may be experiencing an excess of the earth element please check out the Kapha Season podcast that I mentioned above (episode 20).
Symptoms of an Earth Element Deficiency
When we’re lacking an appropriate amount of the earth element we feel ungrounded. Back when I was struggling significantly with this imbalance I often describe it as feeling like I was floating through life. When we’re deficient in the earth element we lack stability, structure, and routine in our lives. We feel scattered.
According to Ayurvedic wisdom, when this element becomes really depleted you may experience loss of tissue in the bones, nails, hair or teeth. For example, when someone suffers from osteoporosis their bones become brittle and fragile due to a loss of tissue.
I’ve talked about how to increase the earth element in your body in a few past podcast episodes. I often refer to these practices as “grounding.” Check out these episodes (and the suggestions below) to help yourself come back into balance.
Ayurvedic Practices to Balance the 5 Elements
Now that we’ve discussed all 5 elements and you have a greater understanding of how each elemental imbalance expresses itself in your body, I want to invite you to ask yourself two questions:
- Which of the 5 elements feel in balance in my body?
- What element(s) feel depleted in my body?
- What element(s) feel in excess in my body?
- Considering the balancing practices that I’ve learned, what lifestyle shifts do I want to commit to in order to bring balance to these elements in my body and my life?
And once you have an idea of what’s going on with the elements in your body you can use the balancing techniques that I mentioned in last week’s episode and the practices I share below to bring yourself back into balance.
If you (like many people) feel that something is off but you can’t pinpoint what, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . As an Ayurvedic Health Counselor, I help my clients identify their imbalances, reconnect to their true selves, and heal.
Foods and Drinks to Balance the 5 Elements
As I mentioned before, we are constantly exposed to the 5 elements in our environment. We take them in through our five senses. Some of these external factors, like the climate and the weather, are beyond our control. But, we can be intentional about the food and drinks that we consume.
Each food and drink is also composed of the 5 elements. So if you feel an element is either in excess or lacking in your body you can use food and drinks to help rebalance yourself.
Think back to the qualities of each element that I mentioned above. To increase a certain element in your body you’ll want to eat foods that share that element’s qualities. On the flip side, to decrease that element in your body you can eat food with the opposite (i.e. balancing) qualities.
Balancing the Fire Element
First, let’s revisit the fire element. Remember, the qualities of the fire element are hot, sharp, light, dry, and subtle. Therefore in order to increase the fire element we want to eat spicy, pungent, and sour foods. Fermented foods such as yogurt, sour cream, kombucha, and sauerkraut are great examples. Use warm oils such as sesame and almond for cooking and your self-care practices. Sour fruits such as grapefruits, other citrus, and berries can also be great additions.
To decrease the fire in your system you want to eat foods with the opposite qualities. Avoid spicy and acidic foods while increasing the sweet taste. Balancing foods include dairy (milk, butter, ghee) and cool and neutral oils such as olive, coconut, and sunflower. Sweet fruits such as grapes, melons, cherries, coconuts, avocados, mangoes, and plums are balancing. As well as sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes, corn, beets, carrots, and butternut squash.
Balancing the Water Element
Next, think back to the cool, liquid, dull, soft, oily, and slimy qualities of the water element, we want to focus on foods and drinks that share the qualities to increase the water in our bodies. First off, we want to drink lots of water. And including minerals (like a pinch of pink sea salt) and other demulcent herbs helps our bodies better absorb the water. For food think wet and oily. For example, eat soups instead of salads and be generous with the oil when you’re cooking.
We want to focus on the opposite qualities in order to decrease the earth element. Dry food and dry saunas can start to balance an excess of water. Prioritize salads instead of soups and astringent foods and herbs that help reduce excess water.
Balancing the Earth Element
Lastly, let’s remember the heavy, dull, static, dense, hard, and gross qualities of the earth element. In order to increase the element in our bodies (AKA become more grounded) we can eat heavy, dense, and highly nourishing foods. Root vegetables are a great way to connect with this element. Think potatoes, carrots, beats, onions, turnips, sweet potatoes, and parsnips. To increase the earth element we want to relax and rest rather than do really intense exercise.
To pacify the earth element we can focus on light foods and herbs. Exercising regularly and brining a lot of movement into your life will naturally balance this element. Get outside, get social, and follow any hits of curiosity that get your bain and body moving.
We could talk about the elements for days (years!) but this two-part series is a robust starting point. Have fun playing with the elements, connecting to them, and connecting to these different parts of yourself.
This is the last episode of Season One, so I’ll be taking a three-week break before starting Season Two on Tuesday, July 11th, 2023!
In the meantime, please email me if you’d like deeper support bringing balance to your mind and body.
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Featured image: Photo by Luz Mendoza on Unsplash