The 5 Primordial Elements of Ayurveda

A foundational notion in Ayurveda which structures all aspects of life are the five elements.

The 5 elements are listed here with their Sanskrit names, because the sound of Sanskrit is the sound nature itself makes when it is intending to express whatever it is referring to (say the Sanskrit name out loud and perhaps you can feel the onomatopoeia).

The five elements, in order most subtle to most gross are:

  1. Space/Ether (Akasha)
  2. Air (Vāyu)
  3. Fire (Tejas)
  4. Water (Apa)
  5. Earth (Prthvi)

These elements are dominant in everything in the universe. They are present in every human, plant, food, herb, object, season, time of the day and even differentiate in various activities and emotional states. The elements are essentially foundational expressions of evolution that  continuously manifest from a state of primordial stillness, known as the unmanifest field or the Unified Field of Pure Absolute consciousness (Purusa).

In simple terms, everything in the universe manifests from a field of unmanifest nothing-ness. The five elements are one of the early manifestations that arise from this field, which then become expressed in humans, plants, animals, objects and everything that is relative.

The more you can recognise the five elements in any given situation, the greater your ability is to balance them in anyone or anything. Ayurveda has made the science of life even more simple by condensing the five elements into three doshas or bio-energies. By learning about each of the five elements, you’ll further grasp how to recognise them in all aspects of life and utilise them for healing and success.

ONE - Space / Ether (Akasha)

  • The most subtle element. The source element. That which is closest to the unmanifest field of Absolute cosmic intelligence. That which is all pervasiveness.
  • Qualities of the space element: light, subtle, distinction. Expansiveness, limitless, infinite, all-encompassing.
  • The element that is missing in most medical examinations. Even the Romans, Egyptians and traditional Chinese medical system missed akasha.
  • Associated Chakra – Viśuddha (throat).
  • Associated sense – Sound.
  • Foods dominant with space element – bitter foods and herbs. Under-eating or over-fasting creates excess space in the digestive tract.
  • Balanced emotions dominant with space element – intelligence, profound empathy and compassion, ability to access high states of consciousness and enlightenment.
  • Unrefined emotions - ungroundedness, unwilling to participate in life’s activities, unable to relate to people in life, irrelevant to the need of the time, psychosis and mania.
  • Times of the day when the space element is dominant – approximately between 2-6am or a few hours before sunrise, when everything is more quiet and closer to the fields of transcendence. Also between 2-6pm during that afternoon quiet time of the day.

TWO - Air (Vāyu)

  • The air element loves and needs motion/movement.
  • The most critical and pivotal element to life itself.
  • The element which can most easily be converted into Prana (life-force)
  • Qualities of the air element: rough, light, mobile, clear and dry. Impulsion, formation and transportation (of body tissues and biological actions).
  • Another element that is missing in most medical examinations.
  • Associated Chakra – Anahata (heart).
  • Associated sense is touch (sensations travel through the skin and nerves as the wind brushes against your skin).
  • Foods dominant with air element" carbonated drinks, raw foods, dry foods, crackers, crisps, bitter foods. Eating while talking increases the air element in digestive tract, leading to gas and bloating.
  • Balanced emotions dominant with air element: creativity, infinite organising power, ability to detect the subtle in life, sensitive.
  • Unrefined emotions - ungroundedness, anxiety, excessive thoughts and stress, inability to sleep throughout the night. One Eleven Bliss is an effective remedy to ground a mind with too much air and space element.
  • Times of the day when the air element is dominant – approximately between 2-6am or a few hours before sunrise, when everything is moving more in the subtle bodies and layers of life. Also between 2-6pm during that afternoon quiet time of the day where the subtle realms of life can be accessed again. Air also is dominant in the fire times of the day (see below) as the fire needs the air to breath.

THREE - Fire (Tejas)

  • That which transforms, metabolises and illuminates.
  • The fire element is a carrier. It carries desires and intentions to the subtle realms of the life.
  • Responsible for digestion, heat colour and complexion.
  • Qualities of the fire element – hot, sharp/penetrating, light, ascending.
  • Associated Chakra – Manipura/Nahbi (navel – creativity and desire).
  • Associated sense – Vision (light and sensory stimuli is perceived and metabolised by light-sensitive photons in the eyes).
  • Foods dominant with air element – chilli, fermented foods, acidic foods (vinegar, lemon, pickles), sesame, alcohol, meat.
  • Balanced emotions dominant with fire element – bravery, courage, high achiever, gets tasks done efficiently
  • Unrefined emotions – lust and anger.
  • Times of the day when the air element is dominant – approximately between 10am-2pm when the sun is the strongest and 10pm-2am when the body’s inner fire (metabolism) in transforming all the micro-nutrients from the day.

FOUR - Water (Apa)

  • The water element governs anything in nature that flows.
  • It gives juiciness to everything.
  • It provides cohesion in the body (fascia, joint tissue) and in the environment.
  • Water is the only element that is feminine.
  • Qualities of the water element – cold, soft, unctuous and sticky.
  • Associated Chakra – Svadhisthana (sex centre, lustrous).
  • Associated Sense – Taste.
  • Foods dominant with water element – all liquids, fruits, cucumber, okra (ladies finger), warrigal greens (New Zealand spinach).
  • Emotions dominant with water element – softness, ability to be vulnerable and expressive, high organising power, strong adaptation energy.
  • Unrefined emotions - instability and lack of commitment.  
  • Time of the day water element is dominant - approximately between 6-10am or a few hours after sunrise with the earth element, when the bodies waters start to awaken and move more. Also between 6-10pm when heaviness prevails the body, activating lethargy so it can sleep overnight. Water element also accompanies the fire element between 10-2 in the day and night as it helps connect various particles for transformation.

 FIVE - Earth (Prthvi)

  • The most dominant and fundamental element in the human body.
  • Whenever you eat food, you swallow a part of the earth. Essentially, we take in a part of the planet to sustain our body.
  • It provides in cohesion and coherence in maintaining the structure of the body.
  • Qualities of the earth element – heavy, steady, hard/dense and stable.
  • Associated Chakra – Muladhara (root).
  • Associated taste – Smell. (Earthy and dense objects give off smells).
  • Foods dominant with earth element – roots and tubers like potatoes and beetroot, most plants, meat, heavy foods like sweets.
  • Emotions dominant with earth element – grounded, stable mind, resistant to stress.
  • Unrefined emotions - depression and laziness.
  • Times of the day when the earth element is dominant – approximately between 6-10am or a few hours after sunrise, the body is strong ready for exercise but perhaps feeling a bit heavy or sluggish. Also, between 6-10pm when heaviness prevails the body, increasing lethargy so it can sleep overnight.

We hope you can begin to recognise the different areas that the elements prevail in life, which is the first step in balancing them.