According to the ancient life science of Ayurveda, all of creation manifests in a unique combination of the five great elements: earth, air, fire, water, and space. Everything in existence can be broken down into these elemental characteristics, and this diversity determines the flow of life and how the world interacts with itself.
In Ayurveda, understanding these five elements is essential for understanding your own health and well-being. You, too, are made up of the five elements, and the way that these energies interact and counter-balance one another in your body can have a significant impact on the way that you experience life.
Nature of Earth
Did you know that your sense of smell is associated with the earth element? This relationship originates from the subtle creative principle of gandha tanmatra (we’ll discuss that shortly). Earth is the fifth element among the five great elements or the pancha mahabhutas, and it is the most solid and tangible one and contains in itself the essence of all the other four elements—ether, water, fire, and air. But more interestingly, according to ancient Vedic texts it is the earth element that provides structure and solidity to our physical body—bones, fats, muscle, and tissues. How are our bodies and minds related to the earth element?
“It’s what gives you form and weight, what grounds you in the tactile environment. Earth is the primal, animal, the drumbeat in the symphony of life,” says Kimberly Rossi, Director of Shankara Ayurveda Wellness and Ayurvedic Health Counselor.
The earth element is also related to the time when the baby is in the womb, and its body parts are being formed. This is why pregnant women are encouraged to increase their intake of food sources rich in the earth element.
The earth element enters the body through the whole foods we eat; more richly in things like legumes, nuts, or grains, and much less in dairy, fruits, and vegetables.
Earth and Gandha Tanmatra
Ever wondered where our sense of smell comes from? In the Orient, ancient rishis and seers have studied the origin of the five senses in great depth for thousands of years. Tanmatra (tan ‘subtle’ + matra ‘element’) is one of the 24 basic principles (tattvas) upon which the entire creation rests, as mentioned in Sankhya philosophy. Tanmatras are the most subtle energies or potential causes for the five elements, senses and mind to exist. They are root energies of the five elements that you can experience in the manifest world. For example, the origin of the earth element is a tanmatra called gandha, a subtle principle that gives rise to the experience of smell. The tanmatra is present in the form of seed energy in our causal body. The earth element is responsible for creating the structures for you to be able to experience smell.
Earth–Its Nature and Qualities
Cool, stabilizing, dense, hard, rough, dull, heavy-these are the qualities used to describe the nature of earth element. It has a steadying quality to it and is slow, steadfast, and nourishing. The element manifests in us as loyalty, faith, sense of responsibility, and ethics. “Healthy levels of earth can be seen in those who have strong convictions, who work hard without complaint, and who have successful long-term relationships and steady, sensible career paths,” according to Rossi. You need to load up on this element when the body is slanting towards opposite qualities of excessive lightness, chaos, anxiety, restlessness, fluidity, or irritability.
Tridoshas and Dhatus
The earth and water elements make up the kapha dosha. The earth lends structure, grounding, and heaviness while water provides coolness and fluidity to the dosha. The earth element is related to growth and development of tissues, muscles, bones, teeth, and fats.
The earth makes up most of mamsa (muscle), meda (fat, and asthi (bone) of the seven dhatus. But also, each dhatu needs some amount of earth element for its form to hold.
Excess Earth Element
The earth element could be in excess when we overeat or do not fully utilize what we eat for growth and development of the body. The earth element is responsible for growth and structure of body tissues but when it is in excess the tissue structures expand, and get stored as fat in the body. It lends its quality of density and heaviness to the dhatus it governs, to the extent it is in excess in the body.
When earth element is high, it can reflect as
- Thicker skin
- Thick fingernails
- Heavy-set body
- Dense voluminous hair
- Loss of interest in life and action
- Averse to change
- Dullness and despair
- A tendency to overeat.
When you are deficient in the earth element, it reflects as
- Weak structures such as bones and teeth
Lower body fat
- Lower muscle mass
- Inability to regulate body temperature, feeling cold
- Inability to take on challenges or lack of depth
- Feeling unstable, insecure, unsteady, and restless
- Struggling to stay in relationships for long periods
- Excess weight gain
- Jittery and bad at managing stress
When the earth element is balanced, you
- Feel stable, safe, grounded, and unwavering
- Are at peace with life, with all its colors—the good and bad ones; aren’t impacted much by events
Balancing the Earth Element
Earthing or grounding. Grounding practices help you connect more closely with the earth element below your feet. In our day to day lives, we often miss making this essential connection with the earth that provides us the basis for standing on. Exercise: Stand firmly on the ground, or walk outside on the grass and totally connect to the earth. Feel all the negative emotions, restlessness, and anxiety moving down to the earth through your limbs and feet. Feel that mother earth has taken it all into her and you are more grounded.
Stay with nature. Find more ways to connect with the earth element in nature. Maybe go to the beach and stand there or walk on the grass or climb the mountains.
Meditate. Meditation with awareness can be truly grounding for you, especially if you find Vata is high and you are depleted in earth elements.
Color therapy. According to the field of color therapy, each color is associated with specific qualities and color red is related to earth energy or grounded-ness. So you can wear more red or make time to look at or paint in red.
Eat foods rich in earth element. Since food is the main source of how the earth element gets into you, eating earth-rich foods will help. You can have more foods that grow under the earth like carrots, potatoes, legumes, beets, yams, sweet potato or chickpeas, grains and nuts.
Avoid having vegetables in their raw form to balance deficiency of the earth element. If there is too much earth element, eat lighter and energizing foods like seasonal vegetables and fruits.
Gardening. A great way to connect to the earth more intently is to engage in gardening and helping life grow on earth. Touching the soil, tending it, nurturing plants are an incredible life-supporting way to balance the earth element in your body.
Make a checklist. When the earth element is low, you may feel like a scatterbrain. Making checklists will help to keep you focused on completion of tasks.
Drink lots of water. If the earth element is high, try to drink half of your bodyweight in ounces of water daily, spread throughout the day.
Earth-balancing poses. If the earth element is in overabundance, then add a few twists, demanding, and energizing yoga poses to your workout routine. Padma sadhna is a good way to do this.
If the earth element is deficient in your body, then add poses that increase stability, such as paschimottanasana (seated forward bend). Experts also recommend pranayamas like kapalbhati to rekindle digestive fire, improve digestion and detox your body.
Leave your comfort zone. To deal with too much of the earth element, try activities that force you to get out of your comfort zone. If you think dancing or singing in public aren’t your things, just do it—it doesn’t matter how well you do it. You will feel grounded, energized, and uplifted from the experience irrespective of the results.