Ayurveda Day 13: The 5 Great Elements

Today we started our next section with our instructor Mary Thompson. In this section we are discussing Anatomy & Physiology from an ayurvedic perspective (I will also be learning these subjects from a western perspective as well down the road).

Five Element Theory states that there are five basic elements which make up all matter on earth. You have probably heard of four of these: air, fire, water, and earth. The fifth element is space or ether.

In Five Element Theory, these terms are not just specific to their names. They have more general meanings and correlate to disease in the body and mind. They are themes that work as follows:

– Air is any matter which is gaseous. It represents movement since air moves freely on it’s own. In the body, it corresponds with movements such as circulation of blood (not the blood itself), or movement of thoughts.
– Fire is any matter which radiates light or heat. It is important to note anything of the fire element generates heat on it’s own. For example, your hot tea isn’t the fire element, but the electricity that heated it is. In the body, this correlates with things such as stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and neurotransmitters (electric impulses).
– Water is any matter which is fluid or in liquid form. Water moves to the path of least resistance and is victim to forces such as gravity. It does not move on it’s own like air. Water is cohesive and tends to stick together. In the body this correlates to symptoms such as taking on too much water.
– Earth is the most solid stable form of matter and probably the easiest to understand. Anything in the body that is solid and stable is of the earth element, like our tissues, organs, bones, etc. We’ve all felt physical symptoms of the earth element.

Ether is a bit more abstract to understand. Nevertheless, since all matter is mostly empty space, it is an important element! The simplest way to explain ether is that it is the space that contains all the other elements. We cannot really detect ether unless there is something filling it. Ether is like a balloon – until it is filled with air, it looks formless. Ether is the space that connects everything together, just as the nucleus of an atom has space between it and it’s electrons. From an ayurvedic perspective, feelings of depression originate from having too much space and losing our connection with things. For example, if one has ever been distant from someone they care about (too much space), we lose our connectivity to them.

We have just scratched the surface on these elements and my mind was reeling in class today with questions. It is important to note that there are always ideas and symbolism behind the terms used to describe nature in Ayurveda. But there are also always tangible, measurable practices behind them as well. As an Ayurvedic Practitioner, these five elements are a fundamental part of understanding disease in the body and mind. Merging these tested and true methods with western language will be an important focal point as I delve into this next section. As we learn more about anatomy and physiology, I hope to explain things in a way that everyone can understand and relate to.

Until next time, as always, I wish you good health.

With gratitude,



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