A concept of Ayurveda that intrigues me immensely is the “Panchamahabhutas” (in sanskrit) or, the five great elements. For some reason this overarching frame of reference makes absolute sense to me, and in my eyes provides a beautiful depiction of the interconnection of all things and fluctuation of our various states of being.
According to Ayurveda, all matter in the universe, including our physical body and the food we eat, is comprised of a unique combination of the five great elements. The five elements – ether, air, fire, water and earth – are not matter themselves, but are different types of energy that work with one another in a state of constant interaction and fluctuation. In turn, they are responsible for creating, moving, transforming, connecting, and stabilizing all things. In this sense, these energies and various combinations thereof are responsible for the fluctuations of our physical health as well as our thoughts and emotions.
The following provides just a brief explanation of each of the five elements, which will hopefully provide a starting point for you to begin thinking how these energies work within you and the food you eat. [See also the posts on Body/Mind Constitution
Ether (Akash) – That which creates.
Ether, or Akash, is derived from “nothingness,” it is the essence of what will come into being. It represents the idea state, or quintessence. The qualities of Ether include subtle, light, and clear. Foods with the Ether element include green leafy vegetables, bitter melon, and healing herbs like fenugreek and turmeric. These foods are bitter in taste. Eating such foods helps detoxify the body and cleanse and improve all bodily tissues.
Air (Vayu) – That which moves.
Subtle vibrations create Air, or Vayu, which is responsible for all movement necessary in the processes of conception and creation. The Air element consists of the qualities of dry, light and subtle. Foods prevailing in Air include beans, lentils, and green leafy vegetables. These foods have bitter and astringent tastes. Eating such foods creates lightness and movement in the body and clarity in the mind.
Fire (Tejas) – That which heats and converts.
The friction from movement produces light and heat to create fire, or Tejas. The Fire element is responsible for conversion (metabolic process) and transformation. The qualities of the Fire element include hot, sharp, subtle, dry, and light. Foods predominate in Fire include ginger, black pepper, hot peppers, garlic, and all salts. These foods are pungent in taste. Foods made up of the Fire element help with digestion, maintain body temperature, give glow to the skin, and provide clarity in our thoughts.
Water (Aap) – That which flows and lubricates.
When Fire cools it forms condensation or steam and becomes Water, or Aap. Water is responsible for cohesion, and giving a substance the ability to change shape without losing its integrity or ratio of ingredients. The Water element consists of the qualities of liquid, cold, moist, and mobile. Foods with a predominate Water element include fruit juice, water, buttermilk, and watermelon. Such foods have sweet and salty tastes. Eating these foods helps to maintain fluid balance in the body, moisten the joints and internal passages, and create a sense of contentment in the mind.
Earth (Prithvi)– That which stabilizes and holds.
Water dries and forms particles with shape to create the Earth element, or Prithvi. The Earth element is responsible for giving shape and structure to all things. It embodies the qualities of heavy, gross, and immobile. Foods with a predominate Earth element include all grains (e.g. rice, oatmeal, wheat), root vegetables (e.g. sweet potatoes, carrots, squash), and mangos. These foods are sweet and astringent in taste. Eating these foods provides stability and strength and helps replenish and rebuild the tissues in the body