Ayurveda’s Five Elements: The Pancha Mahabhutas

Ayurveda’s Five Elements: The Pancha Mahabhutas

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Ayurveda’s Five Elements Explained: The Pancha Mahabhutas

In Sanskrit Pancha means- five, Maha means -great, and Bhutas translates to- elements.

Ayurveda acknowledges ALL things in the Universe, including the human body are made

up these five great elements. They differ in combinations and proportions to make up all things seen and unseen.


Ayurvedic Rule #1:
Like irritates like, opposites balance.

The Five Elements are in deep relationship to each other. They build from the most subtle Ether, to grossest, Earth. They are represented externally in the natural world in the seasons, foods and anything material. They are also represented internally within the structure of our body-minds, tissues, bones and demeanor. They manifest physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

We are literally made of these five elements, all in unique proportions that are constantly in fluctuation. Some will be inherently dominant given our elemental makeup at birth, our Dosha type. Others more subtle and passive depending on a variety of ever changing influences.

If we understand Rule # 1, the most important foundational principle of Ayurveda, that like irritates like and opposites balance, than we can apply this skillfully in food and lifestyle choices that will balance our mind -body and ultimately promote the Sattvic quality of peace and naturalness.

Let’s put this in context! Imagine a person dominant in Pitta Dosha, which is primarily composed of Fire and Water. Place them in Pitta season which is Summer, practicing hot power yoga at 12 noon, during Pitta time of day, when the sun is peeking. Top this scenario off by them indulging in spicy Thai food after with your fiery redhead girlfriend and you have a guaranteed recipe for a live wire situation. You follow?!

I’ll share more on specific Doshas, their elemental makeup, tendencies and remedies in future posts. In the meantime the following is a brief breakdown of the Pancha Mahabhutas, what they govern, their qualities-Gunas and examples of food that contain these qualities.

The most subtle of all elements. This is where potential lays. It is the space in which all things evolve from. This is where sound is birthed. Which reminds me of the the Bible reference: First there was sound. Ether governs the space between all things seen and unseen.

Ether Qualities (Gunas)


The element of Movement. It is birthed from the Ether element and contained by it. Air governs movements of the body, both gross and subtle.

Air Qualities (Gunas):

The element of transformation. Created from the friction of air. Fire governs both digestion of food into nutrition and waste as well as the transformation of experience into knowledge.

Fire Qualities (Gunas):

The element of protection. It keeps the element of Fire in check. A conduit for nutrients to move and spread nourishment. Water governs all chemical distribution in the body/mind.

Water Qualities (Gunas):

The element of containment. The densest of all elements, and the holder of Water. Earth governs the physical structure of the body and lubrication.

Earth Qualities (Gunas):

Back to Ayurvedic Rule # 1: Like irritates like, opposites balance.

Now consider that when you understand the Pancha Mahabhutas, the five elements that are inherent in food and lifestyle choices how you might apply this knowledge.

When you understand your Dosha, their Gunas, and take into consideration time of day and how you are currently feeling, you can own your health and balance yourself from within.

Keep in mind that Ayurveda focuses on prevention instead of outsourcing your health and wellbeing once a problem or disease has set in.