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Balancing the Five Elements of the Body and Yoga: Panch Tatva

Updated: May 27, 2023

The concept of "Panch tatva" is frequently mentioned in ancient scriptures and civilizations, referring to the five elements that constitute the universe and our bodies. According to Hindu mythology, human bodies are formed from these five fundamental elements, and upon death, the body returns to these elements, blending back into the ecosystem.

Panch tatva

Etymology of Panch Tatva

The term "Panch tatva" originates from Sanskrit and combines "Panch," meaning "five," and "Tatva," indicating elements. These five elements, also known as "Panchamahabhutas," are Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space. Each element embodies distinct physical qualities, energetic characteristics, and biological functions. In terms of density, the elements can be arranged as follows: Earth > Water > Fire > Air > Space.

Panch Tatva as the Foundation of the Cosmos

The entire cosmos is built upon the foundation of these five cardinal elements, serving as the riverbed for this flowing world. Every living and non-living entity in the world is composed of these five elements, forming a diverse and multidimensional existence.

While the composition and proportion of these elements may vary, they coexist inseparably, creating a harmonious and versatile amalgamation. All forms of cosmic consciousness and spirit contain these five elements as integral aspects of their existence.

Structural Formation of the Five Elements

The elements are interconnected in their formation:

  • Air originates from Ether or Space and is omnipresent.

  • Fire derives from Air, making it denser.

  • Water is formed from Fire and possesses higher density.

  • Earth, with the highest density, is derived from Water.

Each atom of an element is derived from these Panch Tatva. Let's explore the characteristics and associations of each element:

  • Akash – Space Element - Akash tatva represents the space that extends beyond the stationary and moving elements of the universe. It can accommodate both proton-like elements and revolving neutrons.

  • Vayu – Air Element - Vayu represents the driving force behind most elements in the cosmos. In the human body, various Vayus exist as the five Pranas (life energies). Air pervades ubiquitously, facilitating the movement of electrons around the nucleus.

  • Agni – Fire Element - Agni represents transformative energy that can convert into other forms of energy. Each atom carries latent energy, which can be released through exothermic reactions or absorbed for endothermic processes.

  • Jal – Water Element - Jal provides the cohesive force necessary for attracting and holding different components of an element together. It maintains cohesion among protons, neutrons, and electrons within the same field.

  • Prithvi – Earth Element - Prithvi provides the foundational matrix for an element. As Earth represents the solid state, it contributes to the structural arrangement of electrons, protons, and neutrons within an atom.

Panch Tatva and Health

As mentioned earlier, all living and non-living entities are composed of these five fundamental elements. Hence, everything surrounding us, including the food we consume and the diverse ecosystem, is interconnected by these Panch Tatva.

The natural substances present in our environment, such as foods, plants, herbs, shrubs, sunlight, air, water, and minerals, share the same underlying structure as the human body in terms of the concept of Panch Tatva. They contribute to sustaining our health and establishing a harmonious connection with the environment, ensuring a balanced interplay between the two.

When these elements are in proper proportion to one another, they promote a robust and healthy physique. It is vital to maintain a state of balance and harmony between the body and nature, as this relationship greatly influences our well-being. Any disruption in this delicate composition can result in bodily dysfunction and imbalance.

Indriyas and Panch Tatva

The perception of the physical world relies on the functioning of sense organs, also known as "indriyas." These indriyas encompass not only the five sense organs but also the five organs of action. The organs of action include the vocal cords, hands, feet, genitals, and anus, while the sense organs comprise:

  1. Sight (Eyes) - Associated with the Fire element (Agni)

  2. Hearing (Ears) - Associated with the Space element (Akash)

  3. Taste (Tongue) - Associated with the Water element (Jal)

  4. Smell (Nose) - Associated with the Earth element (Prithvi)

  5. Touch (Skin) - Associated with the Air element (Vayu)

The five sense organs enable us to perceive reality and acquire knowledge, hence referred to as "jnanaindriyas." On the other hand, the five organs of action facilitate our ability to engage in various functions, earning them the name "karmaindriyas."

The five lower chakras, namely Sundhistana, Muladhara, Anahata, Vishuddha, and Manipura, are interconnected with the Panch tatva. These chakras harmonize with the energy flow occurring in conjunction with the Panch tatva and the associated indriyas.

Representation of the Body through the Five Elements

The human body can be symbolically represented by the five elements. The "Earth element" signifies the bones and muscles, while the vital and connective tissue, such as blood, is represented by the "Water element." The "Air element" corresponds to breath and respiration. The generation and absorption of heat necessary for maintaining homeostasis are represented by the "Fire element." Lastly, the hollowness or empty spaces within the body, where organs reside, are symbolized by the "Space element."

The Five Fingers and their Elemental Significance

Panch tatva on fingers

The five fingers play a significant role in housing the vital life force, known as Pran Shakti. Each finger represents a specific component of the five elements or "mahabhuta."

  • Fire (Agni): Thumb

  • Air (Vayu): Index finger

  • Space (Akash): Middle finger

  • Earth (Prithvi): Ring finger

  • Water (Jal): Little finger

Among these elements, Air is the largest in the universe, encompassing extensive cosmic and intracellular spaces within the human body. Therefore, it is symbolized by the longest finger, the middle finger.

Panch Tatva
The relationship between individual fingers & the Five Elements in Shingon Buddhism. The diagram is reproduced from 'The Art of Japanese Tantrism‘ (1979). In this case, the fingers and hands also represent several other attributes.

The Importance of Elemental Balance in the Body

All these elements are vital for the existence and proper functioning of the body. The removal of any of these elements can lead to a collapse of the body. The presence of various forms of energy, such as electrical, chemical, electromagnetic, and bioenergy, collectively known as the Vital force or Pran Shakti, is essential for physiological functions. Any imbalance in these vital forces can negatively impact health.

Human Organs, Chakras & the Five Elements

Understanding the association between the five elements of the body and its organ systems can contribute to improved health.

  • Space (Akash) - Organ of Hearing The first element, Space or Akash, is associated with the sense of hearing. It stimulates the sense of hearing and is connected to both the mouth and ears, serving as the organs of action (karmaendriya) and perception (jnanaendriya) respectively. It is linked to the Vishuddha chakra.

  • Air (Vayu) - Organ of Touch The second element is Air or Vayu, representing mobility and movement. It corresponds to the sense of touch or Sparsh and is associated with the hands as the organ of action (karmaendriya) and the skin as the organ of perception (jnanaendriya). The Anahata chakra is related to the air component.

  • Fire (Agni) - Organ of Seeing The third element is Fire or Agni, which is connected to energy flow. It stimulates the sense of sight or vision (Rupa). The eyes represent the organ of perception (jnanaendriya), and the feet serve as the organ of action (karmaendriya). The Manipura chakra is associated with the fire element.

  • Water (Jal) - Organ of Taste The fourth element is Water or Jal, which guides the force of attraction for living beings. It stimulates the sense of taste or Rasa. The tongue represents the organ of perception (jnanaendriya), and the genitals serve as the organ of action (karmaendriya). The Swadhisthana chakra is related to the water element.

  • Earth (Prithvi) - Organ of Smell The fifth element is Earth or Prithvi, representing the solid matrix of the body. It corresponds to the sense of smell. The nose represents the organ of perception (jnanaendriya), and the anus serves as the organ of action (karmaendriya). The Muladhara chakra is associated with the earth element.

Diseases Caused by Imbalances

  1. Imbalance of the Water Element - An imbalance in the water element can affect the blood and its components, resulting in various conditions. It can lead to blood thinning or clotting disorders. Additionally, it may manifest as sinusitis, colds, asthma, urinary problems, swelling, and disorders of the reproductive system.

  2. Imbalance of the Earth Element - When the earth element is imbalanced, it can have effects on body weight. This imbalance may manifest as obesity or weight gain, as well as weight loss. It can disrupt the lipid profile by increasing cholesterol levels. Furthermore, it can contribute to bone and muscle disorders and overall weakness.

  3. Imbalance of the Fire Element - An imbalance in the fire element disrupts the flow of energy within the body, resulting in a loss of vital energy. It can also lead to disturbances in gastric fire, resulting in symptoms such as acidity. Imbalances in the fire element may contribute to conditions like diabetes, temperature irregularities, skin disorders, and mental illness.

  4. Imbalance of the Air Element - Imbalances in the air element can cause disorders related to the nervous system and impact blood pressure and lung function. This may lead to conditions such as ataxia, deformities, pain, and depression.

  5. Imbalance of the Space Element - When there is an imbalance in the space element, it can affect speech and contribute to various diseases. It may result in ear disorders, thyroid issues, epilepsy, speech disorders, throat problems, and mental illnesses.

Balancing Tatva through Yoga

Yoga, an ancient practice that harmonizes the mind, body, and spirit, recognizes the significance of the five elements in achieving balance and well-being. Through specific asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), Mudras like Vayu Mudra, Akash Mudra, Mritsanjeevani Mudra, Prana Mudra, etc. and meditation, yoga aims to balance and purify the elements within the body.

Earth element (Prithvi)

It is enhanced through grounding asanas like Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and Vrikshasana (Tree Pose). These postures promote stability and strength.

The water element (Jal)

It is balanced through practices that cultivate fluidity and relaxation, such as forward bends like Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) and Balasana (Child's Pose).

Fire element (Agni)

Agni is ignited and regulated through dynamic and heating practices like Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) and Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath).

Air element (Vayu)

It is harmonized through expansive and breath-focused practices such as Anulom Vilom Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing) and Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose).

Space element (Akash)

It is balanced through practices that cultivate spaciousness and openness, such as meditation and Shavasana (Corpse Pose). By consciously working with these elements through yoga, one can restore balance and promote physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Understanding the concept of Panch Tatva and its significance in our lives allows us to connect with the fundamental elements that shape our existence. These elements serve as the building blocks of the universe and our bodies, influencing our health, perception, and overall well-being. By embracing the balance and interconnectedness of these elements, we can cultivate harmony within ourselves and establish a harmonious relationship with the world around us. Yoga, with its holistic practices, provides a pathway to explore and align with the five elements, leading to a more balanced and fulfilling life.

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About the Author

Namaste! My name is Pooja Chauhan

I am a Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Teacher and a practitioner. Diving deep into the realm of my own heritage to create a significant impact in preserving and sharing my culture with the world.

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