Do you live in a body? The Five Elements can help you to live better.

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The Sanskrit word Ayurveda is translated as knowledge of life. Despite its foreign name, Ayurveda can serve as a simple map to live a balanced life. Anyone who lives in a body can benefit from the practices of Ayurveda.

Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth are the five elements as defined in Ayurveda. Everything in the universe is comprised of a combination of these five elements and the qualities they possess.

Within the English language, the elements are used colorfully, especially when describing individuals and their habits. We call reliable, stable people grounded and rooted (earth element). A "stick in the mud" (earth and water) is someone stubborn and set in their ways. When moving (air) away from home, we're uprooted (from earth). Frantic, busy individuals are "all over the place" (air) and when forgetful, we become "spaced out". Some people arehot­ headed, and possess a fiery temper. And there are times we can't make a decision and are  wishy­ washy, or a drip (water).

According to Ayurveda, each individual possesses a unique makeup of the five elements in both body and mind. However, attachment to our personal Ayurvedic constitutions can cause us to over identify with our differences and traits. Therefore, it's also valuable to look at the elements and how they pertain to nature's seasonal changes, as this affects all of us, regardless of our individual Ayurvedic constitution.


Unlike the Western calendar where four seasons begin on precise dates governed by the earth's revolution around the sun, there are no definitive starting times for the three Ayurvedic seasons. Rather, it's the overall quality of the weather, including the temperature, wind and precipitation. Therefore, these seasonal transitions can be highly variable.

Governed by the fire element, summer is filled with long days of hot, penetrating sun high in the sky. When early Fall arrives, it brings cooler temperatures and dry winds, qualities of air and space. The late winter season into early spring remains cool, but moisture rises in the atmosphere as snow and ice melt and water and earth elements dominate.

We cultivate balance in our bodies and minds with knowledge of the elements that dominate the current season, and then integrate the elements with opposite qualities. For example, most of us instinctively honor this principle by shifting wardrobes as winter turns to spring. While dark colors and heavy, tight clothing retain heat, lighter colors and fabrics help us stay cool, so we shift from wool sweaters and coats into cotton t-shirts and light pants or shorts.

What we eat and drink will greatly help us align with nature's seasonal rhythms. By focusing primarily on what's locally grown, we receive the earth's energy, naturally helping us find balance. Local farmer's markets sell produce grown less than a few hundred miles away. In the northeast in springtime, bitter greens, young garlic and asparagus make their first appearances. These foods help lighten our bodies after the cold winter as they have astringent, even naturally diuretic qualities.

Spring greens are followed by berries, melons, cucumbers and tomatoes which are high in water content, and naturally cooling. Heavy vegetables like winter squash and root vegetables, which need to be cooked, appear in the late summer and early fall, a time to begin preparing for the winter climate.

Understanding seasonal rhythms in the natural world can help us live more skillfully. Knowing what elements are predominant in our bodies and minds helps develop our individual gifts so we can thrive. Noticing when we fall out of balance and keeping the five elements in mind, gives us information to which we can respond to find steadiness in our lives.

Even as an infant, I was always super sensitive to sound. In fact, the faint noise made by a light switch turned off downstairs would awaken me as I slept up in my bedroom. I possess a lot of air element, which predisposes me to notice movement and noises. This has always made it difficult for me to sleep through the night.

And yet this sensitivity is also one of my strengths, particularly in my work as a wellness and yoga teacher. I am able to see (and hear) details in my student's practices to help them find ease and balance in their lives, and to learn to live in their body better.

It's easy to discover your dosha, or Ayurvedic constitution via this online quiz. But it's also possible to think about what season you prefer, and if you'd rather be skiing in the snow or swimming at the beach. Do you love to stay at home, or to travel? These are all clues to what elements are predominant in our life, and how we can stay in balance.

Originally published on Ayurveda 101, What You Need to Know About Yoga's Sister Science

LifestyleMarjorie Nass