ELEMENTAL ALCHEMY: THE FIVE ELEMENTS IN AYURVEDA AND AROMATHERAPY
All over the world, our ancestors believed that we humans were made of the same elements we see in nature. That we in essence ARE nature. That our digestive fire - our inner warmth - is a reflection of the sun. That our bloodstream and all our fluids echo the rivers and streams on our beautiful planet. That our bones and the denser structures that support us mimic the properties of Earth, the life-giving element that sustains our existence. This theory portends that we as humans are a microcosm of the macrocosmic universe; we are a human representation of all-that-is, from a minuscule sub-atomic molecule to the largest sequoia tree, and everything in-between.
Ancient medical philosophies called this awareness and systemization of understanding ourselves the Five Element System. According to ancient Indian sages that codified the holisitic medical system called Ayurveda, the Five Elements were (and are) Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space (aka Ether).
These Five Elements coalesce in different ratios within each of us and create a genetic blueprint that is uniquely ours. This shows up in a variety of ways. Some of us have more fiery personalities. Some have a tendency to be spacy, some are rooted and grounded while others love to move around a lot like the wind. Our everyday lives and ways of being are echoed in the world around us. To learn more about ourselves and what drives us, we simply need to become quiet and attune to the reflection.
Ayurvedic Medicine uses the philosophy of the Five Elements to create simple ways of relating to ourselves and choosing foods, oils, exercises and other wellness practices that will support our “elemental balance.” The elements are everywhere, and exist in all aspects of our daily lives and activities. Again, it’s about listening. It’s about seeing life through the lens of the elements and connecting with ourselves through this prism. It’s a dance of nature that uses our senses of perception to relate to the world we live in and consider/feel ourselves a part of it simultaneously.
We can witness the elements in a simple vegetable stew. The vegetables themselves embody elements: some are considered Earth element, as they come from or are grown directly in the Earth (like carrots or potatoes). We can also say that Fire and Water are present in the vegetables as the sun is imbibed as warmth and nutrition and water is needed for nourishment and sustenance. Wind (the Air element) is one of the main transporters of the seeds for the plants to regenerate.
Just like our simple vegetable dish above, where we can see the elements everywhere, Essential Oils contain the elements and are created by them as well. An Essential Oil is born when plant material is, essentially, “cooked.” That’s a pretty general way of describing an ancient, intricate and elegant distillation process. So in my over-generalized “cooking” metaphor, the elements are present. The plant material represents Earth (interestingly, the word material comes from Latin’s mater which means mother = Mother Earth.) This botanical material is placed in Water. Fire is needed to warm the Water. Steam rises through the Air and condenses into a more viscous form of liquid.
The result is a concentrated form of the Five Elements, created by the elements. Essential oils embody intelligence from each element and can help us re-establish balance within each element, system, organ, gland and cell of our being, through our breath and our skin.
Aromatherapy and essential oils offer us a very simple yet deeply effective way of receiving the goodness of nature as we aim to experience greater well-being. Weaving in the healing wisdom of Ayurveda and seeing ourselves through the lens of the Five Elements creates a powerful recipe for self-awareness and attaining optimal health.