Skin From an Ayurvedic Lens: Ayurvedic Elemental Approach

Elements are the foundation of Ayurveda

Credits: "​Joshua Earle at Unsplash.com"
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Ayurvedic medicine originated from India and is based on the principles of evaluating the body’s natural balance. Imbalances may cause symptoms and disease. When assessing imbalances, one of the key principles used in Ayurvedic medicine is to understand the balance of the doshas[1] (the physiological energies of the body). While the doshas have many functions they can broadly be categorized as the following:

Vata – This dosha is responsible for movement and action

Pitta – This dosha is responsible for transformation, metabolism, and energy

Kapha – This dosha is responsible for structure and the skin’s defenses to damage

While the doshas are commonly used in Ayurveda, they can be broken down to their elements. The elements of Ayurveda can be used to describe anything in nature and their English translations focus on natural elements.

Table 1. Elements in Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurvedic Element

Translation

What it Contributes in the Skin

Examples

Prithvi

Earth

Structure

Collagen, Proteins

Jala

Water

Lubrication and Protection

Oils, Water

Vayu

Air/Wind

Motion and Movement

Cell division, Skin elasticity

Agni

Fire

Energy

Metabolism, Production of Vitamin D

Akash

Ether

Space

Space

  

Prithvi – Earth 

Earth represents solidity and is typically translated into the earth element. While this evokes images of granite, soil, and trees, the Ayurvedic meaning refers to what earth represents rather than a literal definition. Similar to how the ground and trees make up the structure of the earth, the Ayurvedic earth element in the skin is represented by structural components that given the skin its structure.

steel-tubes; Credit: ludex2014 at Pixabay.com

 

Jala – Water

While the Ayurvedic element water does represent the literal translation in English for water, it also represents other properties of water. Some of the properties include lubrication and the ability to absorb heat. For example, the Ayurvedic concept of water includes the lubricating qualities of the skin’s oils and the antioxidant enzymes that are able to absorb ultraviolet light and other damaging chemicals.

olive-oil-pouring; congerdesign at Pixabay.com

 

Vayu – Air/Wind

The English translation of Vayu to air or wind does not do it justice. Air represents the substance that has the ability to communicate. Without it sound waves cannot travel, and we do not get the oxygen that we need to survive. Wind represents the motion of air and the movement of everything around and within us. In the skin, Vayu is essential for life, as it represents the oxygen that is vital to tissue. It also represents the motion of the skin. At the cellular level, this represents cell division; at the tissue level, this represents the skin’s ability to move (its elasticity).

reed-plants-blowing-in-wind; Credit: TanteTati at Pixabay.com

 

Agni – Fire

The English translation of Agni is fire but Agni represents the energy of the fire rather than the fire itself. Within the skin, Agni is the ability of skin cells to create and utilize energy to carry on its daily functions. When Agni is high, it can lead to overactive enzymes that may increase inflammation or skin damage. When Agni is too low, this can lead to build up of waste products that are not metabolized efficiently. Therefore, it is important to balance Agni from being neither too high nor too low.  

 blue-gas-flame-on-stovetop; Credit: Photo-Mix at Pixabay.com

 

Akash – Ether

Akash is the concept that everything needs space to exist. For example, the tissue takes up space in the skin. The best analogy is when comparing a vacuum tube that has had the air removed from it. The space still exists even if the air molecules are no longer present. Ether is vital for skin to exist but as ether starts to become more and more present, it means that the other elements are less present, a common occurrence with aging. For example, aging skin starts to thin. This is represented by ether taking up more of the original space and the earth element taking up less space.

tunnel-leading-to-sunset-horizon; Credit: Erlend Ekseth at Unsplash.com

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References

  1. Lad VS. Fundamental Principles of Ayurveda. Albuquerque, NM, USA: The Ayurvedic Press; 2002.