The theory of the five elements in Ayurvedic practices

Conscious TV

June 17, 2021

The theory of the five elements is perhaps the most important part of Ayurvedic practices, as it runs transversally through the entire millenary philosophy that underpins this set of practices. We have already seen that one of the main parts of Ayurvedic medicine is the theory of the three doshas; traditionally considered the main part to be analysed for the elaboration of each individual's personalised plan for self-knowledge, balance and healing. The existence of the three doshas (vata, pitta and kapha) is closely linked to the theory of the five elements, as the categorisation of a person into one or another dosha depends on the predominance of one of the five elements in his or her being.

The theory of the five elements appears as a constant throughout all ancient philosophies and spiritual beliefs. The five basic elements (or Panchamahabhutas) are part of everything and everyone. Thus, the microcosm that represents man is a reflection of the macrocosm that forms the universe, and vice versa. Both man and the universe are formed, integrated and based on the constant relationship of the five elements:

1. Ether/space or akasha: is the space where matter is, the ether that allows the connection between the other elements.

2. Air or yalu: in the air movement is subtle, it is where thought, direction, speed and change are possible. 

3. Fire or agni: manifests the idea of light, perception and movement from one place to another.

4. Water or yala: liquidity or fluid movement, allowing life to be generated.

5. Earth or bhumi: solidity and resistance to movement, it represents the human body and its stability.

The mixture of the five elements in different proportions gives rise to the three doshas. Each of us naturally belongs to one or the other dosha. However, we can be balanced or unbalanced, and it is our task to know ourselves in order to know whether we are balanced or not. Thus, each dosha is determined by the guidance of the five elements as follows:

  • Dosha vata: space and air.
  • Dosha pitta: fire and water.
  • Dosha kapha: water and earth.

One of the aspects where we can best understand the theory of the five elements is in nutrition. Each food is, in turn, a union in different proportions of the five elements, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Thus, the right combination of them can help us to balance ourselves in body, soul and spirit. When we are out of balance, we tend to feel unwell, tired, fatigued or even ill: fever is caused by an excess of the fire element, anaemia by a lack of the earth element or oedema by an excess of the water element in our organism. It is necessary to take this type of imbalance into account when using food in a therapeutic way: after all, we are what we eat.

If you want to know more about this ancient tradition, you cannot miss our course on Ayurveda on our ConsciousTV platform.