Ayurveda offers a thorough system of thought and healing that is easily applied by entry level students as well as serious professionals who wish to understand the interconnectedness of all life. This article addresses the pairs of opposites, polarities that include the extremes of hot and cold, dry and moist, light and heavy as well as the numerous other contrasts that serve to distinguish opposites, including sociological and psychological differences, such as progressive and conservative or loyal and fickle.
by Ingrid Naiman
The easiest way to approach this knowledge is by taking very simple pairs of opposites and studying them in a way that illustrates the ramifications of imbalance and the desirability of balance. However, before doing this, it is important to make a connection to the fundamental basis of manifest existence as expounded by Ayurveda.
According to Vedic philosophy, Creation emerges from the Mind of God from whence it materializes into denser and denser substance until reaching the point where it is perceptible through the senses. In turn, each of the sensory organs is specialized to detect a certain vibratory frequency of the world of form. These frequencies are distinguished by nearly imperceptible boundaries that serve to differentiate the elements that are the building blocks of Creation.
As the Divine Idea reaches the level of material existence, a matrix for constructing the physical world is formed in etheric substance. For most people, this webbing is invisible, but many are able to perceive it through slightly extended vision that borders the realm of normal vision and clairvoyance. For those who can see etheric matter, it generally appears as a hazy violet surrounding everything that exists. This etheric substance serves two primary purposes. First, it acts as a kind of scaffolding for containing the form world; and second, it serves as a transmitter of energy from the invisible realms to the physical form. Given the subtlety of this substance, it is sensitive to outer influences and hence quite changeable.
The next element in the scale of subtle to dense is the air element. This element is also, of course, invisible but it can be detected by its action. The airsometimes called the wind elementis light, mobile, and quick. It is the cause of movement so without the air element, everything would be motionless: we would not breathe, blood would not circulate, and muscles would not expand or contract. Air requires space in order to function best. When the ether and air elements combine in a manner that produces physiological symptoms, this is called the vata dosha. The nature of conditions characterized by vata derangement is that they are inconsistent, intermittent, and changeable.
Fire is the third and middle element and the only one that is warm or hot. Its chief quality is that it radiates and because anything that radiates eventually makes contact with something else, fire is not only detected by its warmth but by the various chemical and alchemical transformations that occur when two energies come into contact with each other. Fire is the most dynamic of the elements, but it is also hard for some people to manage the passions that motivate fire so derangement of the fire element causes problems that are called pitta in Ayurveda. These conditions are generally sudden in onset, often caused by impulsivity or accidents, and usually acutely painful and inflammatory.
Water is the near perfect opposite of fire. It is not just cold but it is the only element that is wet so one finds the water element wherever there are fluids and moisture. Interestingly, it is not only our Planet that is roughly two-thirds water, but our physical bodies are also mainly composed of fluids and a handful of chemicals that act as conductors and catalysts as well as building materials for the densest parts of the physical world, the part ruled by the earth element. When water and earth combine in a manner that creates psychological or pathological conditions, Ayurveda calls this kapha, and the main characteristic of kapha is that it is cold and congesting.
Inherent in the system of the elements is the notion that not only does everyone and every thing in Creation have a basic type but every influence tends to change the dominance or weakness of a particular element. For instance, cool weather pacifies excess fire but one could achieve the same result by taking bitter herbs or drinking a lot of water. The premises are so completely logical that even children can embrace the concepts and apply them to their daily lives.
The most important tenet of the theory of the elements is that health is the absence of imbalance. This is not too far-fetched because even contemporary experts who are searching for ways to define health tend to end up with definitions that describe health as a state in which pathologies are lacking. In short, it is very difficult to pinpoint what health is because we only recognize it by contrasting it with illness. Nevertheless, the premise of Ayurveda as well as most Oriental systems of medicine is that health exists when there is balanceand implied in this is the idea that when there is imbalance, disease begins to manifest and that this progression will be reversed when the imbalance is corrected. My personal experience is that the number and variety of symptoms always decreases when the imbalances are reduced so one way to use the teachings of Ayurveda is to implement the strategies that minimize imbalance. This can be achieved through dietary discretion, supplementation with herbs, and various life style adjustments that are harmonizing to the psyche as well as the constitution.
What will probably help most people at this stage of their introduction to Ayurveda is to take a look at the logic and see how easy it is to apply the principles in everyday life.
The air element is described as light, cold, and dry. The chief quality of lightness is that it is quick and easily destabilized by excessive stimulation. This results in a feeling of not being grounded; and the symptoms associated with this are forgetfulness, carelessness, and perhaps something as extreme as disorientation. It is the earth element that offers the heaviness that balances this particular type of lightness. Something very heavy, like a meal of root vegetables, might be rejected by someone who is distracted and unfocused, but cultivating predictability by reducing the variety of stimuli tends to pacify air and increase the influence of the earth element. If one can also submit to a routine where there is rhythm and regularity, the vata derangement may decrease in intensity. Focusing on realities also helps: organize one's space. This means dealing with clutter and chaos. Equally, one could spend more time in the garden or walking the dog or balancing the checkbook. All of this brings one into relationship with reality and reality is grounding whereas lightness is usually attended by nervous preoccupation with imaginary possibilities that may or may not ever come to pass.
If the vata derangement is caused by coldness rather than lightness, it is balanced by warmth, i.e. the fire element. This kind of derangement is usually more fearful than scattered so the courage of fire defeats the panic and terror of deranged air. Sometimes, this kind of balance is achieved by something as simple as a warm bath or blanket, but eating spicy foods or calling a friend who is fiery may have a comparably curing effect.
Finally, if the vata derangement is more dry than light or cold, it is balanced by moisture. In this case, the symptoms are usually detachment, dry skin and hair, creaky joints and brittle nails, and perhaps low libido and fertility. Water supplies the viscosity needed to restore life to ravaged tissues and failing regenerative ability.
What is most interesting about this system is its flexibility because the psychological attributes are as important as the physical onesand they respond to measures that eliminate the factors exacerbating imbalance.
Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2004
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