The 5 Ayurveda Elements Explained: Ether, Air, Fire, Water, Earth

The 5 Ayurveda elements – Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth – not only make us what and who we are but also comprise the entire universe around us.

Understanding the delicate balance of these 5 elements is fundamental in Ayurvedic science and will take your understanding of Doshas, Chakras, Mudras, and more to the next level.

In this article, we’ll explore the following:

  • What Is Panchamahabhuta?
  • Explaining The Elements: Ether, Air, Fire, Water, And Earth
  • The Ayurveda Elements And Mudras

Ready to journey through the Ayurveda elements with us?

Let’s dive right in.

woman stood on a mountain next to a lake with lots of trees

What is Panchamahabhuta?

According to Ayurvedic belief, all living and non-living entities are comprised of Pancha mahabhuta, a Sanskrit concept that translates as ‘the 5 great elements’.

In Sanskrit, the individual elements are referred to as tattvas, a term also meaning ‘reality’, ‘truth’, and ‘principle’.

The 5 Ayurveda elements are:

1. Akash (ether)

2. Vayu (air)

3. Agni (fire)

4. Jala (water)

5. Prithvi (earth)

an infographic that shows the five Ayurveda elements - ether, air, fire, water and earth

It’s also important to understand that each of these 5 Ayurveda elements are derived from panchatanmatra, the 5 subtle essences that relate to our bodily senses.

The tanmatras that make up the elements are:

1. Shabda (sound)

2. Roopa (vision)

3. Sparsha (touch)

4. Gnadha (smell)

5. Rasa (taste)

Each element has a unique composition of these tanmatra essences in different proportions.

During Ayurvedic yoga or meditation, it is possible to connect with the elements – both within your body and in the surrounding universe – by focusing on each of the 5 senses.

NB: Ayurveda elements are complex, intricate and not to be taken literally. For instance, although Vayu translates directly as Air or Wind, it actually describes all forms of movement and motion that occur in the universe and within our body.

Keep in mind that original Sanskrit meanings can become a little lost in translation.

Explaining the Elements

1. Ether (Akash)

Ether is the most subtle and mystic element, the omnipresent space within which all objects in the universe exist. It is both nothing and everything. Some believe that Ether is also present in nuclear energy and all its unseen potential.

blue outer space with lots of stars

This element is connected to the Throat Chakra. The Throat Chakra – also known as the Vishudda Chakra – conducts energy between the lower body and the head. It is responsible for honest communication, self-expression, sincerity, and conscious creativity.

Although the Ether element cannot be perceived by the naked eye, we are able connect to it through shabda – sound. Ether governs the sense of hearing and is associated with the ear organ.

The characteristics of Ether are empty, clear, light, soft and immeasurable. Ether is the dominant Ayurveda element in the Vata Dosha, along with Air. Consequently, the primary features of Vata dosha are cold, dry, and light. 

In summary: when matter is in its most subtle form and only space is visible, it’s Ether.

How to connect with this element:

  • Join the tip of your middle finger to your thumb and practice the Akash Mudra
  • Take regular walks in the sunlight
  • Reset your body clock so that you allow as much light into your day as possible
  • Stimulate the Vata Dosha by eating dried fruits, bitter herbs, and raw vegetables 

2. Air (Vayu)

Vibrations in the Ether create Vayu.

Although Vayu translates directly as Air, this element represents all forces of movement and motion that occur within the universe and within our bodies.

blue sky with clouds and the sun

Gravity, moon cycles, tides, winds, thermodynamics, blood circulation, joint movement, and nerve impulses are all a function of Vayu. Some believe that it also manifests as electric energy in the world around us.

This element is connected to the Heart Chakra which occupies a central place in the Chakra system. It is the energy center for love, compassion, and acceptance in our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives.

When we practice heart opening, we open the gateway to our deepest vulnerabilities.

We can connect with Air through sparsha – the sense of touch. Air governs our ability to feel and is closely linked with the skin organ.

The characteristics associated with Air are mobile, dry, light, cold, rough and subtle. Air and Ether combine to form Vata, the strongest Dosha in the body.

In summary: when motion or movement occurs within Ether, it becomes Air.

How to connect with this element:

  • Practice Vayu Mudra by touching the tip of your index finger to the base of your thumb, placing the pad of your thumb on top of the bent finger, and pressing down gently
  • Reconnect with nature by taking leisurely walks; feel the wind on your face and take deep breaths of fresh air
  • Open your windows as often as the temperature allows and let fresh air fill your home
  • Stimulate and refresh old, stagnant air in your home by lighting incense or sage
  • Stimulate the Vata Dosha by eating dried fruits, bitter herbs, and raw vegetables 

3. Fire (Agni)

Ether and Air create the friction necessary for Agni – Fire.

The main functions of the Fire element are transformation, metabolism and digestion. Agni is also believed to be strongly linked with sources of radiant energy – such as the sun or the light from a candle (or, of course, a fire).

fire with lots of orange flames

The Fire element is connected to the Solar Plexus Chakra, which is responsible for our Agni – otherwise known as digestive fire.

The Solar Plexus Chakra (also known as the Manipura Chakra) is the third energy center in the body and the foundation of strength, willpower, vitality, ego and general go-getter energy.

This element is associated with roopa (the sense of vision) and linked to the eyes. Heat, brightness, shine and sharpness are its primary qualities.

Fire is also one of the main components of Pitta: the combination of fire and water. The Pitta Dosha is responsible for digestion, metabolism and clarity of thought. Similar to the properties of Agni, Pitta is hot, light, penetrating, and sharp.

In summary: when matter undergoes transformation and gives off heat and light, it becomes Fire.

How to connect with this element:

  • Practice Solar Plexus Chakra yoga poses
  • Practice the Agni Mudra by placing your hand
  • Relax in a hot bath, bringing relief to your aching joints and stimulating blood flow
  • Fill your home with warming and spicy scents like juniper, ginger and cloves
  • Find your local sauna or steam room and sweat away toxins
  • Stimulate the Pitta Dosha by eating foods that are hot or heat producing, oily and acidic

4. Water (Jal)

When fire cools, condensation begins to form.

The Water element is mainly concerned with transportation. In the body, it manifests as plasma, lymph, blood, urine, and saliva – anything that facilitates the transportation of nutrients and the expulsion of toxins.

blue sea water with small waves

It is also linked to the act of reproduction and, as one of the world’s best solvents, associated with chemical energy.

This element is connected to the Sacral Chakra, responsible for creativity, emotional well-being, love and sensuality. Just like bodies of water, we are at our best when we are free flowing, not stagnant or blocked.

Water is associated with rasa, the sense of taste, and is therefore closely linked to the tongue.

The qualities associated with Water are liquid, cool, dull, oily and soft. The Kapha Dosha is made up of Earth and Water elements and is characterized by coldness, heaviness, steadiness, softness, and stability.

In summary: when matter becomes cool, fluid and liquid, it is Water.

How to connect with this element:

  • Practice Sacral Chakra yoga poses
  • Practice cold water swimming or take cold showers
  • Practice Jala Mudra by touching the tip of your little finger to your thumb and gently extending your remaining fingers
  • Take a relaxing walk after it has been raining and breathe in the sweet, earthy smell
  • Stimulate the Kapha Dosha by eating foods that are heavy, cold, and oily

5. Earth (Prithvi)

Water dries to reveal the solid particles that make up Earth.

The main function of Earth is to provide structure. In our body, it manifests as bones, muscle, teeth and other hard structures that give us shape and protection. It is also present in food, shelter and mechanical energy.

soil with 4 small growing plants

Earth governs our sense of smell – gnadha – and is linked to the nose. It also influences the action of excreting waste.

This element is connected to the Root Chakra, responsible for instinctual needs such as food, shelter, survival, and sex. The Earth element is directly linked to our ability to dig in and feel firmly rooted – physically, mentally and spiritually.

The qualities of Earth are heavy, rough, dense, hard and gross. Earth combines with Water to form the Kapha Dosha, which has similar properties.

In summary: if matter is hard, rough or in a solid state, it has become Earth.

How to connect with this element:

  • Immerse yourself in nature and pay close attention to everything you can smell
  • Practice Privithi Mudra by pressing your ring finger to your thumb and extending your other fingers gently
  • Stimulate the Kapha Dosha by eating foods that are naturally sweet, heavy, cold, and oily

The Ayurveda Elements and Mudras

A simple but super effective way to ground yourself and connect with the Ayurvedic elements is to practice hand mudras.

statue doing a hand mudra

According to Ayurveda, each finger corresponds with a different tattva (element). As such, when you perform a mudra, your fingertips create an energetic circuit that connects and stimulates the elements.

1. Thumb – represents the Fire element

2. Index Finger – represents the Air element

3. Middle Finger – represents the Ether element

4. Ring Finger – represents the Earth element

5. Pinky Finger – represents the Water element

Final Thoughts

Hopefully you now have a deeper understanding of the Ayurveda elements and their significance to everything that makes us ‘us’ and the universe so incredibly complex.

Check out our Ayurveda catalogue below for more information on Doshas, Chakras, Ayurvedic recipes and more.

Photo of author
Lola is an Ayurveda practitioner based in London with a passion for yoga, nature and people.

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