Ayurveda looks at the world through an elemental point of view. There are five elements: Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. These are the building blocks for everything you and I know. They help create the abstract things (thoughts come from the space and air elements) and the help to create the things we can hold (wood table is Earth). The Rishis, the Ayurvedic seers who helped to write the Vedas (Ayurvedic texts) realized that the way we describe the elements is the same way we can look at the entire world.
Space is this vast nothing-ness (and obviously the final frontier). When we think of space it is the holder of anything that could happen. It is a place of pure manifestation waiting to happen.
Air is the next element, something had to come in and fill all that nothing-ness. (Whoosh!) Air is pure thought, creativity, and ideas starting to get put into motion. It can be drying and cooling. It can invigorate you, and it brings life into this world.
Fire is lust, passion, heat, transformation! It is sex and reproduction. It turns the things we eat into nutrients (digestive fire or agni) or it can be the combustion that makes our car go vroom. Fire can be a slow burn or a raging inferno.
Water is needing to cool down that rush of heat, it is the time of quiet reflection and deep contemplation. Water is soothing, a balm, and cleansing. It can be stagnant or moving. It quenches thirst and can bring in emotional thoughts.
Earth is the thing we stand on every day and don’t always think about. It is solid, grounding, dirt and heavy. Earth is that boundaries, the things that help us stop and the how we feel safe.
That can seem all fine and well and poetic, but how does that apply in modern day? Ever order a pizza? First you need to have room in your belly for food of some sort (space). You contemplate this empty space and get the idea that 1) Pizza is rather tasty and 2) you could get it delivered! (air). Ideas are great, but without any passion or action they go no where. So the drive of fire helps us to place the order. During the wait for the delivery person to bring your meal, you think and contemplate how awesome that pizza is going to taste. Your mouth is watering, and you have such great anticipation. (water) And finally, the pizza is here. This material good, this heavy warm delicious pizza is in your hands and ready to be eaten. You sit in the comfort of your home, and are ready to consume (Earth).
So great… now I have made you hungry for pizza and you are probably still wondering why I am talking about the elements?! Because everything in this world is made up of the elements. Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, everything comes from these theories. The Rishis figured out twenty different words to describe these five elements. These twenty different words come together to form 10 pairs of opposites.
When you go to the doctor, they care about what symptoms you are having and then you get a prescription. When you go to an Ayurvedist, they look at your health history, your current history, your environment, your physical, emotional, and spiritual body through the lens of the Gunas (or the twenty qualities listed above). This is what it means to have healing from an energetic or elemental sense. When you are too hot, an Ayurvedist will cool you down. For example, you have diarrhea (a hot digestive tract), the Ayurvedist will find herbs and foods to sooth and cool the track without getting it too cold. When you are too sticky, an Ayurvedist will clear you up. For example, it’s allergy season and you have a head full of snot, your local Ayurvedist will use herbs, foods, teas, and steam baths to help dry and clear up that mucus.