Through the Lens of Ayurveda: What are the pancha maha bhutas? And why should we care?


Spring boarding off our last post, if something doesn’t need to be from India to be Ayurvedic how can we approach and understanding of Ayurveda? What are its most foundational components? Over the next couple posts we’ll discuss two very helpful ways to begin thinking about Ayurveda: the 5 elements (pancha maha bhuta) and 10 pairs of qualities (gunas).

In Ayurveda as in so many traditional medical systems, humans are viewed as a microcosm of the universe, and therefore we say that the 5 basic elements exist in all of matter and our in individual bodies. When we begin to understand the elements, we begin to understand our bodies and the environment, and how we can start to make changes to bring balance.

All 5 elements exist in everything, though one or more elements will predominate:

elementstupaEARTH (prthivi): In nature, the earth element provides us with structure and a firm place to stand. Similarly, in the body the earth element provides the attribute of stability and is found primarily in structural tissues like bones, hair, teeth, nails, muscle, skin, and tendons. It also exists as mineral constituents such as calcium, magnesium and zinc.

WATER (apas): In nature, the water element is the liquid state of matter and provides the attributes of unctuousness, softness and flowing movement.  In our bodies the water element manifests as the digestive secretions, cerebrospinal fluid, blood, cytoplasm and provides lubrication and nourishment to the tissues.

FIRE (agni): In nature, the fire element anchors the qualities of luminosity, heat and light. Its transformative power allows matter to move from a solid to a liquid to a gaseous state. In our bodies, the fire element transforms food into energy in the digestive system, and governs the cognitive processes of recognition, comprehension and discrimination.

AIR (vayu): In nature, the air element is a gaseous state of matter and provides the attribute of movement. In our bodies, the air element governs all movement and communication, and is present in the pulsations of our heart,  expansion and contraction of our lungs and movement of food and waste through our gastrointestinal tract.

ETHER (akasha): In nature, ether (or space) appears as the distances that separate matter. In our bodies, space exists in all cavities, and between every cell, every atom.