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The Five Great Elements: Akash, Vayu, Agni, Jal, and Prithvi

According to Vedic science, when Spirit (Purusha in Sanskrit) takes form as life it is called Prakriti. Prakriti is made up of five elements from finest to grossest: space, air, fire, water and earth. In Sanskrit they are called Akash, Vayu, Agni, Jal, and Prithvi, respectively. Every individual is a microcosm of nature and therefore contains all five elements. Let us examine each.

As Spirit takes form it passes first through space or Akash. The Akash element corresponds to awareness itself. It is the layer beyond the other four gross elements and is responsible for the transmission of sound, including mantra. It is the home of potential and possibility. Akash animates Vayu or air, which allows for movement and thought, and it connects us to the sense of touch and the all-important breath. Akash and Vayu combine to form the Vata dosha in Ayurveda.

Fire comes next and is responsible for heat, desire, motivation and the sense of sight. It allows us to want something, see where we are going as we get it, and digest it once we have it. Agni allows for transformation and Agni alone forms the Pitta dosha.

Fire then animates water or Jal, permitting flux, emotion, cohesion and the sense of taste. Excess Jal will lead to unnecessary emotional and sensory dependence. Lastly, physical form corresponds to earth or Prithvi. Anything we can smell contains Prithvi. It is the seat of stability when balanced. Jal and Prithvi together create the Kapha dosha.

The spiritual path is walked in reverse, however, from gross to fine. Prithvi allows the body to become stable, followed by the balancing of Jal, emotion and senses. The stable body and emotions vanquish the struggle of Agni, desire. With deep breathing, Vayu, we connect to present moment. Finally, experiencing the Akashic realm, one rests in his true nature. The Yogic Masters tell us that God-consciousness is beyond all of it.

The Three Gunas: Tamas, Rajas and Sattva


The word Guna means “that which binds” in Sanskrit. According to Vedic science, all matter and energy that make up the manifest world consists of the three gunas in different quantities. They describe the qualities of nature and states of awareness, and are likened to strands, that when woven together, form the rope of Maya or illusion.

Tamas provides the stability of physical forms and the physical body. Its direction is downward. It is heavy and maintains inertia, particularly for solid objects at rest. Mentally, tamas binds through attachment and can be seen in our tendency to cling to situations. The tortoise has a preponderance of tamas. Potential energy corresponds to tamas and excess leads to ignorance and delusion.

Rajas expresses itself through activity and desire, in a side to side fashion. It gets us moving as a result of need and preference. Mentally, rajas binds through the desire for pleasure, changing emotions, and emphasis on others. Worldly pursuits are mainly rajasic in nature. Kinetic energy corresponds to rajas and excess leads to exhaustion of all kinds.

Sattva looks after growth, love and the higher mind. Its direction is upward. It is responsible for equilibrium, harmony, peace and knowledge. Spiritual practices aim to cultivate sattva, binding us to wisdom, which is the bond that breaks all other bonds. Sattva dominates in scripture, for example, although excess can lead to a disruption of worldly duties for the householder.
Each guna has a necessary and proper function. The true Self exists beneath their attributes.

Yoga Sutra 1.4


Building on the first three sutras, yoga sutra 1.4 states, Vritti sarupyam itaratra: When one is not in Self-realization, the Seer takes on the identity of the fluctuations of mind (thought patterns). That is, when we are wrapped up in our thoughts, unable to stay present, we become our thoughts.

This is most easily understood by considering an energetic action. Consider that when you become wrapped up in negative thoughts, those thoughts consume you. Your emotions take on a negative tone. Your words and actions often follow suit. You become the physical manifestation of those thoughts. Likewise, when you become wrapped up in happiness, your emotions, words, and actions follow. While you might think that becoming wrapped up in happiness is a goal, happiness, too, is finite. It comes and goes.

Instead, by not attaching to your mind chatter, you can effectively take a step back and observe them for what they really are—fluctuations. This practice can help you to notice your thoughts, and to notice when you are attaching to your thoughts and getting wrapped up in emotions, words, and actions. By becoming the Seer, or observing these patterns in yourself, you will become less affected by the day-to-day happenings in your life. You will be able to see them with more clarity.

Yoga sutra 1.4 tells us that when we are not in a state of yoga, the mind is attracted by the external world, the root of all suffering. It lays out the consequences of not practicing yoga, as defined in yoga sutra 1.2.

Yogi of the Month—Teresa Pamer

Teresa Palmer

I have been married to Dave, the love of my life, for 23 years. My children Jack and Olivia are simply amazing. I was put on this earth to be a teacher. I teach fourth and fifth grade gifted at Neil Armstrong Elementary School.

I first began yoga three years ago, and it has changed my life! I began to practice because it was on my “bucket list” of things I wanted to do. Running is my first love, and in order to keep running strong, I needed to stretch things out. However, yoga has changed my life and overall outlook, and I strongly encourage everyone to give it a try. I practice about three times a week. It has become somewhat of a religion for me. I love to attend mixed level classes and up. I love any pose that challenges me. The challenge of yoga is one of the things that keeps me coming back.

I did not have any particular physical challenges, per se, but mentally I have learned to slow down and take a breath. I say this to the students and colleagues I work with all the time. The greatest benefits of practicing yoga have been the daily reminder to be aware and celebrate mind, body, and spirit connection. The idea of a daily practice resonates with me, and I transfer this idea into many aspects of my daily life.

My yoga practice has changed my life in so many ways. The practice empowers me to focus on the here and now and on being present in whatever I am doing. At times, this can be an immense challenge for me. Staying present is something that I am always working on. I keep coming back to yoga because the teachers at TYS inspire me in some way every time I come to practice.

Outside The Yoga Sanctuary I love to run, walk, and bike. I am a Girls on the Run coach, and that is one of my most favorite things.

Favorite quote: “You will never regret being kind.”