The Fire-Water Balance

by Ingrid Naiman

Today, I wanted to try to help people with only one toe in the door to use the theories of Ayurveda in a practical way.  I have often said that learning Ayurveda is something like learning a language and you can use the parts you know right away without waiting several years to become proficient.


Since Ayurveda puts enormous emphasis on digestion, I want to discuss the fire energy, especially in relationship to water.  Everyone should learn to recognize his or her basic constitutional type as well as the factors that cause doshas to arise.  The word "dosha" means fault so it is actually nicer to think of oneself as a fire type than as a pitta type because the fire type is someone with a tendency to favor the adventure and lust for life typical of fire types; but someone who is angry and reckless is in a pitta mode and this is a problem.

Fire and water are nearly perfect opposites.  If we study the basic polarities of hot and cold, dry and wet, and light and heavy, we see instantly that fire is hot, dry, and light whereas water is cold, wet, and heavy.  These forces work in every body to maintain equilibrium and good metabolism.

In Western medicine, one learns that metabolism has two sides: anabolic and catabolic.  Loosely translated, this means that we eat in order to nourish ourselves.  When we eat just what we can digest and utilize, we are metabolically balanced, and we do not gain or lose weight.  If we eat more than we need, we store some energy for future use; but if we burn up a lot of calories in strenuous activities, we overwork the catabolic forces and risk becoming deficient unless we replace the energy that was squandered.

The temperament and constitution are not too separate matters; they are expressions of the energy that is operating the body.  You might say that some bodies are run by more fiery personalities and some by more watery ones.  Think of it almost like you would a software program.  You get your computer to do different things depending on what software you are running.  Likewise, your body functions according to individual at the helm.

Curious as I am, it intrigues me that people with multiple personalities experience different medical conditions depending on which alter is in charge.  For instance, one alter may be diabetic whereas another is not.  Once someone understands this, one realizes immediately that there are countless ways to shift even the most obstinate physical and emotional issues from imbalance to harmony.

Hot and Cold

Depending on what system of elements you use, there are three, four, five, or perhaps even seven elements; however, only fire is hot.  Water is ice, liquid, or steam depending on the ratio of water to fire; likewise, the temperature of anything, anything at all, a person, animal, object, lake, or plate of food is determined by the presence of fire.  In the body, fire rules the caustic secretions of the gastrointestinal system as well as the ability to perceive light.  Every element is related to a chakra and a sense and fire rules the solar plexus and the sense of sight; thus, anything one does to improve the functioning of the solar plexus or the digestive system has a secondary benefit for vision.

Fire is farsighted and water is nearsighted.  Fire rules insulin and water rules glucose.  Fire is alert and active, water is relaxed and passive.  Fire is progressive and risk taking; water is conservative and concerned for safety.  When something happens that "should not" happen, fire becomes angry, water becomes tearful.  Fire depends on the force of arousal to transform injustice to justice so a high-minded fiery person can be an activist or force of change.  Water takes in the feelings and when personal pain merges with global suffering, compassion can arise giving water the power to nurture and protect.  Fire defends; water protects.

In the body, fire produces harsh chemicals to kill bacteria; water produces thick membranes to make them less penetrable and vulnerable.  In an ideal situation, the two forces would cooperate like husband and wife, father and mother, lover and the beloved.

I have studied energetics for so many years that I can say I am blessed to see exactly how this works.  For instance, we can subdue fire with a little ice cream.  In moderation, this is called pacification; but in excess, it can vanquish fire and leave a person feeling drowsy and washed out.  Add some ginger and cardamom to the ice cream and the dessert is more balanced; make the ice cream with carrots and cream instead of milk and it's more balanced yet.

If you understand the principles, you can overcome even the worst fever (excess fire) or nausea (usually low fire) with precisely the right food for that particular moment in life.

In Ayurveda, the king of fiery formulations is probably Trikatu.  This is made of black pepper, which is considered to be tridoshic, long pepper, and ginger.  People with poor digestion and circulation may benefit from Trikatu.  It burns kapha and helps to get rid of the excesses of an anabolic constitution.  It is not detoxifying, just "kindling."  A softer approach would be a formula like Digest Ease which contains both carminative and hot spices as well as some fruit and the anti-allergic herb, guduchi.

Both Kanchanar and Gokshuradi Guggulu have deeper effects and help when a condition has been ongoing for some time.

When the fire is too strong, it is brought into balance either by cooling bitters or sweet and moist foods and beverages.  In either case, the effects are much more pervasive than one imagines because when fire is subdued, it is less capable of action, focus, and the sustained motivation it takes to achieve what it feels is important.  This leads to countless short- and long-term problems, but since fire is antidoted by sugar and cold, you can imagine how much imbalance there is from going from a per capital consumption of 12 pounds of sugar per year in 1900 to that much per month now.  Add refrigeration and air conditioning and snack foods to the mix and many people are unable to generate the fire it takes to digest, not to mention the reserve it takes to feel dynamic and purposeful.


Introduction to the Pharmacology of Taste and its Effect on Constitutional Balance



Sacred Medicine Sanctuary
Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2006

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