The Five Elements

According to the Five Element Theory in Ayurveda, the human being is a small model of the universe. What happens in the human body exists in altered form in the universal body. Ayurveda believes that everything is made up of 5 elements, or building blocks: earth, water, fire, air and ether (or space). Their properties are important in understanding balances and imbalances in the human body.


Earth – representative of the solid state of matter (material), it manifests stability, fixity and rigidity. We see around us rocks and soil standing against the wearing forces of water and wind. Our body also manifests this earth/solid state structure: bones, cells and tissue are physical structures through which our blood courses and oxygen is transported. Earth is considered a stable substance.

Water – liquid matter (material) characterized by change. In the outer world we see water moving through its cycles of evaporation/clouds/condensation/rain, we see it moving around solid matter such as rocks and mountains, and we see it eventually wearing away solid, immovable matter as it flows from the mountains to the sea. We see rivers carrying dissolved soil and nutrients, carrying economic trade and exchange of information and culture – we see the earth’s bodies of water nurture life everywhere. Our blood, lymph and other fluids move between our cells and through our vessels, bringing energy, carrying away wastes, regulating temperature, bringing disease fighters and carrying hormonal information from one area to another. Water is considered a substance without stability.

Fire – the power (immaterial) to transform solids to liquids, to gas, and back again. The heat of the sun melts ice into water that becomes vapor under its influence. Fire runs the cycles of water, and it runs the cycle of weather. The sun’s energy is the initiator of all energy cycles on earth – including all food chains and food webs. Within our bodies it is fire – energy – that binds the atoms of our molecules together; that converts food to fat (stored energy) and muscle; that turns (burns) food into work; and that creates the impulses of nervous reactions, of our feelings, and even our thought processes. Fire is considered form without substance.

Air – the gaseous form of matter (material) which is mobile and dynamic. We do not see the air that blows through the tree leaves, but we feel it. We know how material it can be – how it can respond to energy, absorb it, and give it off – when we experience or watch a hurricane, typhoon or storm. We feel air as it courses down our throats and into our lungs. Cut that feeling off for more than a few minutes and we know with our whole being how fundamental air is to life. Within the body, air (oxygen) is the basis for all energy transfer reactions – oxidation. Clean and pure, it is a key element required for fire to burn. Air is existence without form.

Ether – the space in which everything happens. Like outerspace with millions of miles between celestial bodies, or the innerspace of our bodies where our very atoms are only .00001 particle and .99999 emptiness. Space, the distance between things – that which helps to define one thing from another. It may be as thin or thick as an idea, and how do we measure an idea? Sub-atomic concepts are posed in dimensional terminology that cannot be measured, but only thought of in relative terms.