What a beautiful topic this is to ponder—what is nature’s role in healing our bodies and minds? What does Ayurveda have to say about the role of nature in healing us? To answer this, first, we need to remember that we are part of nature and made up of it.
Nature has five elements—air, water, ether, fire, and space. The three doshas or bio-energies that govern the life processes and give us our unique physical and mental constitution, according to Ayurveda, are made up of these five elements.
Read more about the five elements here.
Ayurveda aims to establish and maintain a harmonious balance between these elements and their roles in human health. Ayurvedic healing emphasizes using natural remedies, such as herbs, plants, and minerals, to treat illness and restore balance and vitality to the body-mind complex. Ayurveda also stresses the importance of a healthy diet, which includes fresh, whole, locally grown, seasonal foods.
Ancient seers and wise ones knew the microcosm was related to the macrocosm—the foundational idea of Ayurveda or the science of life. For example, if the climate is cold and breezy outside, it tends to increase the similar element of air inside you, represented by vata dosha. When the doshas based on these elements get out of balance, knowledge of these elements’ properties can bring a counterbalance by helping to increase the opposite qualities. So, let’s look at each element and its role in our body’s healing.
Element: Akasha (Ether)
The fifth element, ether, is the subtlest and most agile of the five. It is said to be the space in which all the other elements exist.
In Ayurveda, the Akasha element is associated with the throat chakra and is responsible for communication and self-expression. It’s also related to hearing and vocal cords. When the ether element is balanced, individuals can communicate clearly and effectively. When imbalanced, individuals may struggle with communication issues such as stuttering or difficulty expressing themselves.
Ayurvedic practitioners believe that practices such as meditation, a grounding diet, and yoga balance the akasha element. These practices can help to quiet the mind and allow individuals to connect with their inner selves.
Element: Vayu (Air)
Vayu is the driving force behind movement in nature in all life forms. The air element is essential for the proper functioning of organs like the skin—our largest sensory organ. The organ of action related to the element vayu is our sense of touch.
Vayu is also closely linked to the nervous system and is said to govern all aspects of movement and communication in the body. In Ayurvedic medicine, imbalances in vayu can lead to a host of health problems, including anxiety, stress, insomnia, digestive disorders, and joint pain. To balance vayu, Ayurvedic practitioners use various techniques, including diet, herbs, and lifestyle changes.
For example, it’s believed warm, oily, and heavy foods help balance vayu, and cold, dry, and light foods should be avoided. Similarly, certain herbs, such as ginger, cinnamon, and fennel, are thought to help regulate vayu and promote overall health and well-being.
Element: Agni (Fire)
Since ancient times, we’ve known fire is a crucial element for transformation. This same principle applies to the agni, also known as the digestive fire, in our body. It is responsible for converting the food we eat into essential nutrients that fuel our body and help us stay energized throughout the day. The agni also plays a vital role in eliminating waste products and purging the body of harmful toxins.
So, just like fire transforms everything it touches, the agni transforms the food we eat into a source of nourishment and vitality for our body. In fact, Ayurveda says that agni is the key to good health and well-being. If agni is strong and balanced, the body will experience good health; if it is weak or imbalanced, it can lead to various health problems.
The concept of agni is not just limited to the physical body but also extends to the mind and emotions. Ayurveda believes that agni is responsible for mental and emotional digestion and transformation. When agni is balanced, it helps process emotions, thoughts, and experiences, leading to mental clarity and emotional stability. When agni is imbalanced, it can lead to mental and emotional disturbances.
In Ayurvedic medicine, several types of Agni are responsible for different bodily functions. Jatharagni, located in the stomach and small intestine, is responsible for the digestion of food. Bhutagni is responsible for the transformation of various elements in the body. Dhatvagni, located in the tissues, transforms nutrients into tissue formation.
Element: Jal (Water)
Our body is made up of 70% water, which is vital in transporting nutrients and blood throughout your body. Water also helps eliminate toxins from your system, keeping you healthy and fresh. So, whether it’s the tears or profuse sweating after an intense physical workout, water is essential in getting rid of toxins and keeping your body balanced.
Water plays a significant role in maintaining the balance of the vata, pitta, and kapha doshas. It has a calming and soothing effect on the body, mind, and spirit. Therefore, it is frequently used in Ayurvedic treatments and therapies—such as Shirodhara and Panchakarma—to promote physical and emotional balance, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Water’s healing properties also help prevent and treat a wide range of ailments. For example, drinking warm water is believed to help improve digestion and boost metabolism.
Element: Prithvi (Earth)
Do you ever think about how your body connects with the earth beneath your feet when walking outside? Just remembering this connection with mother earth can put us in a state of meditative ease. Just like the roots of a tree anchor it to the ground, the earth element in your body helps anchor you to the present moment.
In Ayurveda, the earth element represents solidity and groundedness and is associated with the kapha dosha. When the earth element is balanced in the body, it provides a solid physical foundation and a sense of security, stability, and nourishment. However, an imbalance can lead to physical and emotional heaviness, sluggishness, and attachment.
Foods that are considered to be earthy in nature include root vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds. These foods—believed to stabilize and ground the body—are recommended for people with a dominant kapha dosha or those who need to balance excess vata or pitta doshas.
In addition to food, Ayurveda also recognizes the importance of the earth element in our living environments. For example, a clean, organized, and clutter-free space promotes stability and grounding.
Yoga poses that involve standing, such as Tadasana (Mountain Pose), are also believed to promote stability and grounding. Meditation and breathing exercises can help to calm the mind and create a sense of inner calmness. Massage with warm and grounding oils such as sesame or almond oil can also help to nourish and balance the Earth element in the body.
Connecting with Nature
Additionally, we must emphasize the importance of engaging with nature in the healing process. Spending time outdoors and participating in activities that promote a connection with the natural world are as necessary as any of your other daily practices.
As a matter of fact, according to Ayurveda, our health relies on harmony and balance with the elements, and a disconnect from nature can risk our mental and physical well-being. Nature, by its very essence, heals us, and the benefits of spending time in nature and becoming attuned to its cycles will come back to you a thousandfold.