Panchamahabhutas and the Pancha Tattva – The 5 Elements Within
The five elements are the cosmological foundation which makes up our bodies, the world, and the entire universe. Without these elements, everything around us and within us will cease to exist. These five elements are referred to as the panchamahabhutas in Ayurveda and the pancha tattva in Yoga. They do not only make up the fundamental constituents of our bodies, but the subtle aspects of our internal spiritual being as well. Thus, through the purification of these five elements, we are able to balance ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
- “Pancha” = Five
- “Mahabhutas” or “Tattva” = Element or reality
What are these five elements?
These five elements are the fundamental building blocks that make up our ultimate reality. Everything, living or non-living, are a physical combination and manifestation of these five elements in the relative world. In addition, each element represents a state of matter (Solid, liquid, gas, and space).
These five elements are:
- Aakasha – Ether
- Vayu – Air
- Agni – Fire
- Jala – Water
- Prithvi – Earth
Based on their organic nature, each of these elements possess a certain relationship with each other. These relationships and combinations of elements are what makes up nature as a whole. Some elements conflict with one another while others complement each other in a synergistic relationship.
Through conscious awareness and a cultivated sensitivity to these five elements, we will be able to learn how to maintain a healthy body and mind. If any of these elements are unbalanced and impure, they may cause disease, sickness, and other unnatural disturbances within our bodies and minds. Yoga and ayurveda can help us purify these elements within us when they fall out of balance. In addition, yoga and ayurveda can help us unlock hidden capabilities and abilities within each element.
This element is associated with our connection to Mother Earth and represents the Muladhara (Root) Chakra. This element is also a representation of the framework which holds our bodies together – Tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles. Being able to tap into the Earth element enables us to ground, center, and reconnect with the earth beneath us. Within our asana practice, we are able to connect with the earth element by establishing and stabilizing our foundation, the part of the pose which comes in contact with the ground below us. For example, in a balancing posture such as Vrksasana (Tree pose), you press the four corners of the foot you are balancing on into the floor to re-establish your foundation within this asana. The Earth element helps build a firm base of support by cultivating calmness, equanimity, and stability within our postures and also in our daily lives.
This element is associated with fluidity and flow and it represents the Svadhisthana (Sacral) Chakra. This element is also a representation of the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems within the superficial body. Such systems aids the transport of oxygenation and nutrients to all internal organs within the body. Wellness and health is stabilized and maintained organically only when liquid continues to flow within the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems. During our asana practice, we may connect with the water element by creating a sense of flow by moving the body fluidly from one pose to the next. This method of connective movement with the breath is called Vinyasa. The element of water can be tapped into and expressed mindfully flowing fluidly from one asana to the next.
The element of fire is the representation of internal warmth, will power, and volition. It is also the element which is associated with the Manipura (Solar Plexus) chakra. Relatively, fire is hot, warm, invigorating, and stimulating. Since fire is the transformational force which feeds our inner drive and helps turn our intention into steadfast volition. Because of the heat it provides and it’s association with the Solar Plexus, this element is what stimulates our appetite, digestive processes, and metabolism. Is is also associated with the brain and nervous system. The element of fire is what transforms food into energy, and our thoughts, feelings, and emotions into impulses. Within our asana practice, we can tap into the element of fire through the activation of the bandhas – the body locks within the energetic body in Hatha Yoga. By learning to control our bandhas, we will be able to release and lock our energetic life force or prana at will. With the activation of the bandhas during our asana practice and vinyasa flows, we will be able to cultivate internal heat within the body.
Here is a short description of the bandhas in an anatomical sense:
- Mulabandha – Contraction of perineum
- Uddiyanabandha – Contraction of abdomen into the rib cage
- Jalandharabandha – Slightly tucking the chin to the chest
- Mahabandha – Combining all three of the above bandhas in practice
The element of air is associated with the breath and it is a representation of the Anahata (Heart) chakra. The breath is our basis and foundation within our yoga practice. The element of air is essential because it is what carries prana or life force energy throughout our energetic bodies, the relative world, and the universe. When it comes to our bodies, air controls our breathing processes, it helps carry oxygenation to all our essential organs, and helps provide space and movement to our internal biological functions. We can connect ourselves with the element of air in our asana practice by being aware and mindful of our breath. Pranayama (the control of life force energy with the breath) is another essential way we can connect ourselves with this element. Through the practice of Pranayama breathing techniques, we are able to refine our quality of breathing. The element of air is what helps aid our journey within ourselves by creating a peace, quiet, calm, and stable mind.
This element is a representation of connecting with our intuitive sense of being, relating to Vishuddha (Throat) chakra It is associated with sound, vibration, and consciousness and is also described as light, spiritual and ethereal. It is also known as the space in which all matter in the relative world exists. Connecting our inner selves with this element helps us realize that everything within and around us is in constant change. The ethereal essence of being that comes with this element enables us to accept, adapt, and flow with the rhythm of life. Within our yoga practice, we enable ourselves to tap into the ether element by becoming mindful and aware of our current state of being during an asana (posture). Balancing, purifying, and connecting with this element in our practice helps maintain a sense of calm, peace, and tranquility within. We become conscious and aware of how we feel and come to understand that the yogic sense of being transcends beyond what happens on our mats.
By balancing the elements within our bodies in our yoga practice, we will be able to connect with our inner selves, our environment, and the energetic vibrations of the universe.
- Yoga and the Five Elements (space, air, fire, water, and earth)
- The Five Elements of Ayurveda and Yoga