How to make sound decisions using the five elements of AyurvedaFeb 01, 2024
Lago Toro, Torres del Paine, Patagonia Chile
Ayurveda says that the world is made up of 5 elements, or energies: Air, Ether, Fire, Water, and Earth. While all of these elements exist in us, we individually will have more of some elements and less of others. Our nature is governed by these combinations.
Our unique combination makes up our individual mind-body constitution, which Ayurveda calls doshas. They are energy principles. They govern our attributes, tendencies, affinities, and vulnerabilities. For instance, if you are high in the Fire element, then you will be more prone to experiencing hot emotions like anger… versus anxiety in those with more Air element. Understanding your constitution, and how your environment influences it, can help you make the right decisions towards wholeness.
The 3 doshas - mind body constitutions - made of the five elements:
- Vata - Made up of Air and Ether, its qualities are cold, dry, and windy. Vata is responsible for movement. In our body, Vata governs blood circulation.
- Pitta - Made up of Fire and Water, its qualities are hot and humid. Pitta is responsible for generating heat. In our body, Pitta governs digestion, metabolism, and assimilation.
- Kapha - Made up of Earth and Water, its qualities are cool, heavy, and wet. Kapha is responsible for providing structure and support. In our body, it provides it for our tissues.
Which do you relate to?
Here are some descriptions of how each dosha can be experienced.
- Vata has a tendency to be cold (think Air & Ether). The body tends toward a slimmer build. Skin is dry. Vata talks and moves fast. The mental state is creative and loves to start things, but may struggle to bring projects to completion. Vata is quick to learn, quick to forget. When a Vata is in balance, energy flows and is the most flexible of the three doshas. Under stress, Vata gets anxious and overwhelmed. An imbalanced Vata might experience joint and arthritic issues, digestive issues, poor circulation, dizziness, and weakness.
- Pitta has a tendency to be hot (Fire & Water). The body is more medium build and typically more toned. Skin tends towards breakouts. The mental state is get-things-done and excels in taking things to completion. Pitta remembers what it wants to remember and forgets what it wants to forget. A balanced Pitta has sharpness, clarity, courage, and intelligence. They have a strong digestive fire and can digest nails. Under stress, Pittas experience hot emotions; they are more likely to get angry and judgy. An imbalanced Pitta can experience excessive thirst, fevers, inflammation, smelly sweat, burning sensations, and irritations.
- Kapha has a tendency to be cold (think Earth & Water). Kapha bodies tend towards a larger, strong, more robust build. Skin is more soft, oily, and smooth. The mental state is take-your-time, tranquil. They are not in a hurry. The tendency is to talk and move slower. When Kapha is balanced, they are anchored like a mountain, supportive, steady, loyal, and patient. Kapha is slow to learn but once they get it, they are like walking encyclopedias. Under stress, they take an it-is-what-it-is attitude. Imbalance shows up as lethargic, complacent, and stubborn with excess bodily fluids, sluggish bowels, and white coating on the tongue.
While it’s normal to relate to a bit of each, you may find that you relate with one more than another. If someone is Pitta-Vata, this means they are high in both, but stronger in Pitta. If they are Vata-Pitta, they are high in both but stronger in Vata. You can also be tri-doshic, which means you are equal in all three.
Humans are not the only ones made up of these elements. The key is in your interaction between you and your surroundings.
Mountains are predominantly Kapha, lava mostly Pitta, and the Sky mostly Vata. Your surroundings impact your mind-body constitution, and therefore your sense of balance and wholeness.
Here are two more helpful Ayurvedic terms. These concern your ideal and your real states.
- Prakriti is the constitution that you were meant to be (the ideal); the makeup of doshas that govern who you are. It is the state in which you are most in balance. It is the state of wholeness.
- Vikriti is your current state, generally perceived by what’s out of balance (the real). Your Vikriti is the state you wish to address to get back into balance; to feel joy.
How do you get to your Prakriti - to wholeness - if you don’t know what your prakriti is?
Once you learn to pay attention inward (rather than outward) for feedback, you can begin to look for an experience of wholeness (prakriti). As you feel lighter, healthier, clearer, more joyous and at ease as a regular state of being, you are moving towards balance (prakriti).
While your Prakriti stays the same, your Vikriti, or current state, is influenced by your environment. By looking at what feels out of balance, you can bring yourself back into balance using the influencers (listed below). Because guess what? Everything else in life contains these doshic qualities, and you can choose accordingly to increase or decrease what’s out of balance.
The five elements influencers
Times of day and how to leverage their qualities (refers to both am and pm)
- 2 to 6:00: delivers the positive qualities of Vata - light, etheric. This time supports expansive thinking and creativity. This is a good time to minimize external sensory input - don’t turn on the t.v. Instead, meditate, do yoga, write, watch the sunrise without music or conversation, otherwise you may increase the negative qualities of Vata.
- 6 to 10:00: increases Kapha - sluggish, heavy. It’s a good idea to wake up before 6 am to pick up positive Vata qualities to bring into this window of time and leverage the positive Kapha quality magic: steady, patient, gounded.
- 10 to 2:00: increases Pitta - sharpness, metabolism. This is the ideal time to have your biggest meal of the day when your digestion is strongest.
- Fall/Winter: the cold and windy of this season increases Vata
- Summer: the heat and sun increases Pitta
- Spring: the rain and coolness, and the pollen, increases Kapha
Knowing what dosha each season increases tells you to use the other influencers - the ones you can control - to find balance. And, it may be that a particular season moves you towards balance. For instance, a Pitta feels more balanced in cooler weather.
- City, anywhere bustling with speed and movement increases Vata. If you have a Vata imbalance and live in this environment, you’ll want to find all the ways to decrease Vata.
- Anywhere hot increases Pitta. Pittas are happiest in cooler, dryer climates since Pitta is fire and water. If you’re a Pitta and you live in a hot, and especially humid climate, this can make you more prone to aggravation (hot emotions are in the Pitta doman). You’ll want to find other ways to decrease Pitta.
- Warmer, dryer climates increase Kapha. If you’re a Kapha and live in a Kapha climate, this increases Kapha. Find other ways to decrease and balance Kapha (i.e. move, include more spices in your food, wake up before 6 am).
Time of Life
- Vata is increased in the twilight years.
- Teen to adult years bring on the Pitta energy necessary to build their life.
- Kapha is childhood. They’re not in a rush, they stop to smell the roses, to check things out. They are happy-go-lucky, on their own time.
A Pitta child will display the childlike kapha quality of smelling the roses but may be more willful than a Kapha or Vata child. A Pitta adult whose childhood Kapha qualities have decreased may need to watch their hot emotions and take care not to overexert.
- Vata: avoid foods that are dry and cold - cereal, granola, bread, and pasta, raw veggies. Avoid long fasts. Cooked, hearty foods and healthy oils are great for Vata. So is eating on a schedule.
- Pitta: avoid spicy and fried foods. Cooling, unprocessed foods, and carbs work for Pitta.
- Kapha: avoid oily and heavy foods. Foods that create more mucus - wheat, sugar, dairy, bananas - are not ideal for Kapha. Do have herbal teas, soups, spices, and foods that are light and easier to digest. Kaphas benefit from fasts to balance the heavier mountain energy.
- Vata: Vatas are super creative and great at starting things but prone to running around and taking on too much. Long brisk walks, too much fasting and excessive workouts increase Vata. Prescription: keep to a schedule (you’re more likely to eat and do things whenever), learn to say no, choose gentle, low-impact exercises (running is tempting for Vatas but hard on Vata’s joints).
- Pitta: Pittas are great at keeping a schedule and routine, prioritizing and delegating, but prone to judgment, criticism, intolerance, and impatience. Prescription: approach challenging exercises in a relaxed manner anytime outside of the Pitta time of day (10 and 2 pm), taking care not to overexert yourself. Practice meditation.
- Kapha: Kaphas are great at slowing down and making space. Naps increase Kapha, so they can aggravate Kapha. Prescription: daily, strong, intense or competitive exercise, wake up before 6, seek adventure.
- Meditation calms every dosha
Know thyself: it makes sound decisions super easy
As you make the connections between your surroundings, your choices, and your sense of wholeness, making decisions that are right for you will become increasingly intuitive. We all want to make sound decisions so that we can thrive in our authenticity. The way to achieve this is by understanding your nature and how you interact with the world around you.
You are unique in that there is no other person like you. Even if another person has the same constitution, they experience an entirely different life and see through a different lens. This makes one person’s medicine another person’s poison. There is no across-the-board prescription for everyone.
You are the expert of you and how you feel in your body. Coaches and professionals who understand this will not tell you what to do; instead, they guide you to your inner wisdom and point them out to you. At the end of the day, it’s up to your own sense of adventure and desire to get there. Follow your nature. It’s easier and more fun than you think.