What Ayurveda Can Teach Us About Our Emotions


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Most of us have difficulty accepting our emotions, especially the uncomfortable or embarrassing ones like anger or envy. Our reaction to feeling these emotions rise up is often to bury them, reject them, or quickly try to reframe them. But emotions are the greatest truth-tellers our body has and we would do well to listen to what they have to say.

If emotions are messengers, then Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, is the emotion-whisperer, teaching us how to recognize, address the underlying message, and bring ourselves back into balance.

Ayurveda is often known as an approach to healthy eating for our “dosha”, or unique constitution. But it offers so much more than that. Ayurveda’s underlying philosophical statement is that each of us is made up of the Five Great Elements (Pancha Mahabhutas): Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether. These are the same elements that comprise the entire universe, and build our earth. This includes the stars, the trees, the oceans. It also includes our bodies, our thoughts, and, of course, our emotions.

Once we have this framework, then we can note how each element breaks down into specific qualities which can become either supportive or disruptive. In the right amounts, these elements offer positive qualities to help keep us balanced, inspired, and open. But, just like in the outer world, too much or too little of any one element can create minor imbalances all the way to chaos.

  • Earth: Manifests the idea of solidity, stability. Can become resistant, stubborn, or stuck.
  • Water: Manifests the idea of liquidity and flowing action. Can become an unstoppable flood.
  • Fire: The idea of light, perception, clarity, vision. Can burn or become dangerous if untended.
  • Air: The subtle movement of ideas, velocity and change. Can get ungrounded, anxious, fearful.
  • Ether: The idea of connection and interchange between all material mediums, communication, and self-expression. Can become “lost in the ether,” confused, or feel disconnected.

If emotions are messengers, then Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, is the emotion-whisperer, teaching us how to recognize, address the underlying message, and bring ourselves back into balance.

As you revisit common emotions from this elemental/qualitative perspective, try to see them as nothing more than temporary expressions of the combination of elements within us.

1. Sadness is made up of the elements water and earth. As such, it is primarily a cool emotion that can eventually stagnate if not moved/stirred/cleansed. In its healthy and balanced form, sadness allows for flow and movement from one state to another. It carries, holds, and nurtures us.

Whether our emotion names itself sadness, grief, disappointment, loneliness, depression, we are working with an over-expression of the water/earth elements. To bring this back into balance, we need to draw into our lives the lightness of air (thinking, dreaming, imagining) and the hot movement of fire (exercise, good conversation, spicy foods).

2Fear is an emotion created by too much of the air element. As such, it is not “grounded.” It is “caught up” in the winds and movements of the mind. Like a kite set free, it is at the mercy of its environment. Whereas sadness is a cool emotion, fear is actually cold. Whereas sadness has a heaviness to it, fear is light. Hence, the “shivers up the spine” sensations.

But air is also the element of ideas and imagination. If we have the possibility to imagine all the horrible outcomes of a situation, we also have the ability to imagine all the possible benefits and positive outcomes. It is the same mind, simply guided in a different direction. Synonyms of fear include anxiety, nervousness, worry, paranoia, panic, etc. They are all derived from a mind hungry to envision, create, and/or manifest new ideas. Now, the question becomes, how to put that air element to better use.

3. Anger is an emotion almost purely derived from fire. As a fire emotion, anger is hot, mobile, and unpredictable in its movement. Yet, it can also help light the way forward. Fire has the power to clear both the stagnancy that can happen with water and earth, as well as the cloudiness that can occur with air and ether.

When anger shows up at your doorstep, it could be for many reasons. Learn to heed its message. It could be that boundaries have been violated, or something needs to shift in a relationship. Give your anger a safe boundary and an outlet, and suddenly, it’s not so dangerous anymore.

4Envy Like anger, envy has fire as part of its makeup and becomes laser-focused on another individual or another circumstance.

But, it also has a muddy (water/earth) component that keeps us believing we are stuck where we are. So, rather than being inspired by what we witness, which is the possibility, we are kept at a distance from our dreams by no one except ourselves.

When envy comes knocking, it’s important to ask questions about why we think we are not deserving or capable enough to attain what we want. Envy’s message is that it’s time to re-prioritize our life. We need to name what we want and move toward it daily in such a way that we can feel happy for others and their successes rather than envious.

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