The 5 Elements for Living Well by Emily Reed
Hi, my name is Emily Reed. I have been studying ancient eastern wellness (mainly Ayurveda & Yoga) for over 15 years and teaching for a decade. More specifically, I have been learning and experiencing how and why Ayurveda (the ancient science of health and wellness) can reduce and alleviate suffering for the individual as well as communities and society overall.
The principles of Ayurveda (Ayur- literally meaning life/living and Veda- science/wisdom) are simple and effective, time-tested frameworks that have been around for thousands of years. And yes… ancient in their roots, their wisdom is very applicable to life in the twenty-fast- century. They are not some new fad that has been conjured in the last decade or century.
Why is it effective?
Ayurveda is based upon the science of nature.
The science of nature is based upon the science of the 5 great elements (pancha maha bhutas).
Why on earth (water, fire, air and ether) the 5 elements?
Ancient Eastern sciences and philosophies (which includes Ayurveda, Yoga, Vastu, Jyotish etc) are founded upon the 5 elements theory. This theory stipulates that all people, places and things in this universe, are made up of different combinations of 5 elements. From an ancient scientific point of view, even the most complex of structures and theories can be broken down into 5 elements.
These elements are most prominently seen in the cycles and rhythms of nature. These rhythms of nature exist and still affect everything and everyone whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
What are the 5 elements?
• Earth (prithvi: solid, dense, firm, heavy);
• Water (jala: cooling, smooth, less dense, flowing);
• Fire (agni, tejas: hot, sharp, light, mobile, penetrating);
• Air (vayu: dry, cold, mobile, light, rough, subtle);
• Ether (akash: subtle, omnipresent, cold);
I wasn’t very interested in sciences at school.
I first came across Ayurveda in 2006 when on a solo, mini “Eat-Pray-Love” foray in Kerala (a story for another time). A key seed was sown by a five foot tall, Hatha Yoga teacher and 3rd generation Vaidya (healer/doctor) called Ullas Kumar.
“Why is Ayurveda the ‘science of life’?” he rhetorically asked during class.
“…Because it is rooted in the science of Nature herself. Nature is what we are all part of. We are all biological organisms. We live, breathe, sleep, eat food, excrete waste, procreate. The science of Nature is founded upon the science of the pancha maha bhutas…the 5 great elements”.
I had become a regular at his sunrise and sunset yoga sessions during my 3 week stay in Varkala, Kerala. His shala was perched on the cliff top overlooking the ocean. Quite often I was the only person attending. One morning as he and I sipped chai after the early morning practice, he shared something with me that I still recall to this day:
‘Ayurveda is a key to living free of pain and misery” he said.
“It is a wisdom every cell in your being recognises and understands. You already know Ayurveda. You know it in the cycles of nature. If you follow nature’s cycles – you will release yourself from much if not all of your suffering”.
I can’t say I had a profound life shift when I returned home from that trip in 2006/7. But curiosity and intrigue had been sparked. There was something about the concept of the 5 elements, nature’s cycles and Ayurveda that I knew to be true. I somehow intuitively knew it could bring balance to my overall state of health and approach to life.
How did I begin to apply it?
It began with adapting 5 elements to my:
Sleep and meal patterns.
Over time it impact my work behaviours.
And the relationships behaviours I had with myself and others.
This is where the key life shifts came.
Here’s an example
I recognised if I engaged in activities in the evenings (like chatting late or socialising at a drinks or dinner; doing a lot of activity/ a strong yoga practice; doing a lot of screen-work; watching drama on TV) I would find it hard to wind down. This resulted in poor quality sleep. I decided to make a concerted effort to try and keep evening social occasions to one evening a week and weekends. I also decided that if I was doing an activity in the evening after work, I would opt for gentler practices- like slow yoga/restorative or tai chi. I would also curb the desire to chat on the phone after 8.30pm. These were the kind of things that would get my brain whirling. These little adjustments began to bring positive results for my sleep.
It was the same with meal patterns. I usually went to bed around 10/10.30pm. Often I would be having dinner from anywhere between 7-8.30pm. 8/8.30pm was too late for me. I realised I felt better when I ate earlier… in fact MUCH earlier! Like 6pm. I felt energised and was more able to have a replenishing sleep. I felt clearer and better in my body and mind.
What do the 5 elements have to do with creating wellness?
Check out the next blog post from Emily on how the 5 elements guided her to a healthier, more balanced and sustainable way of living.
Want to learn more about how” 5 Elements” can transform your Yoga practices AND Life?
Keep your eyes peeled for Emily’s workshops coming up later this year.
Learn to observe how the elements are behaving in your body and mind.
Discover simple, top tips for balancing the elements and creating better wellness.