Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending Dr. Vasant Lad’s talk at The Total Life Show. It was one of the most hectic weeks I’ve had all year, but nothing would prevent me from making time to see this wise Ayurvedic doctor speak. I made Ben come along with me to this talk because, as we enter our new lives together, I really wanted to share more about Ayurveda and my belief system with him. Obviously I talk to him about this all the time, but I hoped he would be as moved as I was when I first heard Dr. Lad speak as he has a beautiful, poetic way of putting things on top of being a renowned practitioner. Even when seeing him lecture on areas of Ayurveda I am already knowledgeable in, I always find that he offers interesting new insights.
This weekend, his talk was about Ayurvedic Herbs and Digestion – and while I loved the refresher on the herbal blends and remedies, I especially appreciated how he opened by explaining the five elements within us. This made me remember back to when I first went down to the Ayurvedic Institute and he exclaimed that our bodies had “the universe within them!” And while this concept is similar to that of dosha, it drills down even further. Yes, Vata is air and space and Pitta is fire (with oil), and Kapha is earth and water, but I really liked how he explained each element on their own, and related them to our physiology.
He outlined that according to Ayurveda we are all made up of air, space, fire, water and earth (before you roll your eyes hear him out). These elements manifest in our minds, bodies and spirits.
Air is found in the electrical energy of our bodies. It governs breath, cardiac activity and disphramic movement. This movement also makes air responsible for friction, and sometimes when in excess leads to excess heat. This demonstrates how Pitta alone is not responsible for all heat, but it is the interaction of the elements together that creates this.
Air governs our sensory motor skills, and is also why when we are high in Vata we become more sensitive to sensation. Bright lights become bothersome, we are put on edge by loud noises, and strong smells makes us feel ill (those who are sensitive to perfumes etc.).
Space is characterized by the spaces in our bodies – the space created with the emptying of our organs, the spaces in our bones (and if osteoporosis occurs, it is an expression of excess “space”). But space also allows communication within our bodies. This reminds me of an example a Chinese Medicine Doctor gave me when discussing my muscle tension. When our muscles are overly tense they sometimes are so taut together that they have no space between them. This creates numbness as nerve message cannot run between them. So space relates to communication and consciousness. Dr. Lad spoke about how space creates awareness, and how the expansiveness of space opened up consciousness in our minds.
Fire is related to action. It too has a role in our thought process, and the gray matter of our brain is governed by the fire element, according to Dr. Lad and Ayurveda. Like heat, a catalyst for chemical reactions, fire too promotes movement and assimilation. Our core fire is responsible for digestion as it moves food through our bodies and disseminates nutrients. Fire also governs the blood and is found under the skin, making it responsible for our complexion’s color.
Water too is responsible for blood, but while fire governs its heat and red blood cells, water is found as blood plasma – the water in the blood. We have so much water within our bodies- it is in our saliva, in our eyes, and around our brain. Dr. Lad spoke about how important water was to our well being as it is a giver of life, carrying nutrients and transporting vitamins. This is why the kidneys are so sacred in Eastern Medicine, as they regulate water metabolism.
Kapha Earth (and Water)
And lastly, earth. Earth itself are these nutrients being transported. Earth within us is our minerals – calcium, magnesium and zinc. Earth is our stability and the matter of our tissues. When we lose too much weight, we decrease our earth and this makes us less heavy as well as less grounded.
I have actually heard Dr. Lad go through this philosophy before, and to me, it really demonstrates the heart of Ayurveda. It explains the connectedness of our constitutions along with their similarities to the world around us. If we, ourselves, have “the universe within us”, it is only natural that we understand our context within the environment. Human beings often separate themselves from the natural world, but when we see ourselves this way, it fosters more affinity to nature and in many ways is humbling.
I always feel a little more humble after hearing Dr. Lad lecture – and while I know I sound more devoted than an Iron Maiden fanatic, I am just very thankful that he has been able to offer this gift to me. And this time I had brought someone I loved to share the experience with me – I’m not going to lie, I was afraid Ben would be a buzz kill. He is a natural skeptic – and while he listens to my advice on balancing his doshas, when things get too crunchy granola he gets impatient. This talk was a long three hours, throwing around words like “enlightenment” and “energy”, so I was nervous when I asked him what he thought. “It was great…no… fascinating” he replied – and I feel like we went home with a warm glow of having shared something.