When we consider the 5 elements from the Ayurvedic perspective we tend to focus on the elements that dominate us and set about bringing them into balance.
However, an important point that is often missed is to bear in mind the individuals state of maturity.
Infancy and Childhood
An infant is predominately water and earth, having most of the Kapha-like qualities. This is very apparent when you observe a baby or toddler with their adorable rolls of “puppy fat”, coupled with that super soft skin on the one hand and the runny noses and endless supply of tears they seem to produce when they cannot express what they are feeling on the other. They are watery little beings, that crawl on sit or lie on the ground (safest place!), close to the earth.
During adolescence the hormones rage, stoking the fire element. Rapid changes take place within the body as the child develops into early adulthood. Fire is dynamic, creating heat in the system. The red angry rashes of acne, the feisty testosterone-fuelled bravado displayed by young men, the fires of passion as young love is experienced often with the sharp pain of heartaches are part all of becoming an adult. Later during this phase of life, we continue to feel the heat of ambition and drive in our developing careers, and the surge in desire to become parents as the hormones again drive our instinct to reproduce and continue our line of existence. For all of these to happen the fire within us needs to be burning brightly. It is the bright light that shines from within us, that potential partners are attracted to. Its heat, draws admirers, like moths to a flame.
As adulthood turns to middle age, the elements can again be observed in the older person. The increase in air element causes a drying of the tissues. This is evident in the wrinkling of the skin; the loss of fluid around the joints, leading to their degeneration; the greying of the hair and the drying out of the eyes resulting in many eyesight conditions. You can see the increase in the space element too most particularly in the mind as the memory fails and the elderly person feels confused or easily overwhelmed.
The elements are visible, tangible in us throughout our lives. Being aware of this in relation to our phase in life, as well as our naturally dominant elements helps us to create a fuller picture of the best way to find balance again.
Through infancy and childhood, the water and earth elements should be supported because this is a naturally healthy state for a young child. The excessive mucous we often witness in little ones is a natural way of cleansing their respiratory systems as they learn to cope with the pathogens in their environment. As they mature and these resistances develop the mucous production slows and only occurs when the respiratory system experiences a pathogen that it needs to clear from the body. e.g. a virus or allergen. The mucous production is a healthy, cleansing process and should never be suppressed with medication.
If the mucous becomes infected, then steps need to be taken to manage the rate of the infection so that the immune system can deal with it, and it doesn’t overwhelm the growing child. The ways to do this are through supporting the immune system with specific nutrients and treating the infection with medicines and/or herbs.
Apart from understanding how the water element is crucial in a child’s early life, we need to ensure their environment, lifestyle and diet all support it, and its earth counterpart. Children need to be outside exploring nature as much as possible. Fingers in the earth, crawling on soft grass, paddling in the shallows of the sea. They need to be eating sweet juicy fruits, whole milky custards, and easy to digest grains such as rice. This is the type of nutrition young children need, as opposed to crispy, dry foods like potato chips, corn crisps or deep fat fried foods or stimulating foods like hot spices, or caffeinated fizzy drinks ( fire and air). Apart from the well-known health risks these type of foods proffer, they also place the child’s elements in a state that is non-conducive to their health.
Through the dynamic phase of young adulthood, our fire element rages with passion, motivation, and drive. We are enthused, as our desire to succeed in our chosen path is at its highest. We feel strong emotions of jealousy, attraction, anger, frustration. We are competitive in all we do from our jobs to our appearances; our outward image being all important as we aim to attract a partner, all a natural part of our survival instinct.
However, being aware of the fire element especially during this phase of life is really important. It can become very easy to let the fire get out of control, and become destructive to the persons health. Emotions of anger, jealousy and resentment are all firey emotions that can have negative effects on our health. An excess of the fire elements causes inflammation in the body. Hot swollen joints, hyperacidity in the digestive system, increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Keeping the fire in check, will help to keep us healthy through this phase of life.
This means watching our intake of heating foods, hot spices, coffee, alcohol, processed foods. It also means although we are going to be attracted to competition in our life from engaging in competitive sport to getting the most “likes” on a social media picture, we need to balance this with non-competitive pursuits and mindsets. Once again taking time in nature just to observe, listening to calming music or taking time to meditate helps us to find calm and coolness within. If we honour these principles the transition into further maturity will be easier and healthier. If we arrive into our later life, already `burnt out´ then the air and space elements have a great basis to grow from. However if we have supported water and earth, keeping fire in check, the air and space elements will not get a head start!
The senior years are naturally dominated by the elements of air and space increasingly during this phase. To support the “drying out” of the tissues its important to increase the water and earth elements. Staying hydrated not only with water, but the right mineral balance to enable good hydration. Watching ones intake of diuretics (substances that draw the water out of our tissues and cause its excretion), such as coffee, tea and alcohol, is really important in managing hydration. Once again fresh sweet fruits are natures little hydration packages, offering us sweet, nourishing fluids packed with vitamin, minerals and enzymes. Along with fresh fruits (water element ) the aging body requires a good supply of fats and whole foods ( earth element). The elements of air and space are light and mobile. The earth element is heavy and grounded.
We can also support this element through our diet by including fats. Some still believe that fats are bad for us and advise the elderly to choose low fat, or skimmed products. But this will only hasten degeneration. The type of fat to avoid are unnatural trans fats. These are the type of fats found mostly in processed foods and commercially baked goods. They are vegetable or nut-based oils which have been hydrogenated (heat-processed) to act like saturated fat. For example margarine, acts like a solid butter, but isn’t naturally. Therefore, inside the body it also tries to mimic the role of saturated fat (such as for cell messaging) but fails to do so properly. Over time these functions breakdown.
They need real butter, ghee, lard. Full fat milk and cream. Beneath the skin we store a layer of fat. Elderly folk have “thin skin” because they lose this fat layer, which begin as wrinkles. The consumption of whole, saturated fats and adequate complete hydration are both vital in the support of an ageing constitution.
Support the balance of the elements within your body, throughout the phases of your life and you will be healthier, happier and enjoy a better quality of life.