What are the 5 Elements in Ayurveda?
The Hindu philosophy of Ayurveda is known as the “Science of Life”, understanding that all things in nature are made up of the 5 elements. The 5 elements of nature are air, water, ether, fire and earth, with everything that we know to be made up of a combination of these elements. For those who practice Ayurveda, human beings are also seen to be a sum of these 5 parts, with each person having a unique combination and balance within them.
How the 5 ayurvedic elements interplay with each individual is not something that can be quantified or measured in numbers, it is simply an art form that can be observed once truly getting to know someone’s personality. An individual's balance of the 5 elements will determine who they are as a person, how best to understand them, and how they should be treated.
The philosophy of Ayurveda centralises itself on finding harmony and balance between all of these 5 elements. When these elements fall out of balance it can have a negative effect on both your mental and physical well-being. As each individual has a unique balance of the elements, each person will have a tendency towards one, with this being the most prone to imbalance.
The 5 elements of Ayurveda…
Air is one of the vital elements of life and is something that runs through each of us, present in our nerves and respiratory system. In Ayurveda air represents lightness, motion, breath and oxygen.
When the ayurvedic element of air is out of balance it can either cause hyperactivity when it is in excess or fatigue when it is deficient. The imbalance of air can also affect the health of your joints, digestive system and the heart too. To regain harmony when air is out of balance, consume foods that have a bitter taste and maintain a steady routine.
As humans we are made up predominately of this element, closely related to the other elements of air, ether and fire. The ayurvedic element of water is also closely related to the blood, respiratory system, the joints, nerves, stomach, the tongue and saliva.
When the ayurvedic element of water is knocked out of balance it can result in obesity, stomach and digestive issues when in excess, or alternatively weight loss, dry eyes, dry skin and reproductive issues when it is deficient. To regain harmony when water is out of balance, consume foods that are sweet, cooked grains, nuts, oils and fatty foods.
Closely linked to the element of air, ether is the element of space or ‘emptiness’. This abstract element is one which other elements fill. The mouth and ears are particularly associated with this element, however, all empty spaces in the body are in some way connected to ether.
As ether is known as the element of space, this is related to any issues that fill these spaces within the body, particularly the ears and hearing. When ether is out of balance, seek to consume bitter tasting foods but in moderation to regain harmony.
Fire is a powerful element in Ayurveda, closely related to ether which provides the space for it to burn, and air which provides the fuel. This element is one which is closely linked to the mind, expressing itself in obsessions, thoughts and emotions. Fire is also linked to the physical, expressing itself in the eyes and the body’s heat.
When the element of fire is deficient it can result in feeling cold, digestive issues, skin problems and inflammation. Conversely, when fire is in excess you may have issues with overheating, frequent urination and sweating. To regain balance, seek to keep your digestive system healthy with the consumption of spicy, hot, sour and salty foods.
Earth is the last of the 5 ayurvedic elements as it is the summation of all of the other 4 elements. Earth expresses itself in the form of our sense of smell, teeth, bones and nails.
When the element of earth is inharmonious it can result in a weak body, a sense of insecurity, lack of muscle and a tendency to feel the cold more easily. As the element of earth is the summation of everything else, all foods have a connection with this element. However to regain harmony, foods that can particularly help are grains, nuts, legumes and meats.
You can read our blog ‘What is an Ayurvedic Body Type?’ to learn about the three doshas and how each of the 5 elements interact with these.