The 5 basic Elements
Pancha mahabhuta (the five basic elements), form three basic elements in the body that govern the psychological, chemical and physiological activities of the body. These three elements must be maintained in perfect balance to insure health and well-being, as any imbalance will produce various forms of sickness.
Air + Ether = Air (Vata)
Fire + Water = Fire (Pitta)
Water + Earth = Water (Kapha)
These are three basic Ayurvedic medicines. Each element controls a specific bodily functions and produces various psychic activities.
According to ayurveda, the five basic elements are also found in the food we eat. The six types of tastes we experience when we eat or drink are produced by the predominance of one or more of these elements.
Earth + Water = Sweet
Earth + Fire = Sour
Water + Fire = Salty
Air + Fire = Pungent
Air + Ether = Bitter
Air + Earth = Astringent
In the human body these five basic elements are explained in terms of the three tridosa, plus seven constituents of the body (sapta dhatu), plus, excreta (mala).
In drugs they represent the taste (rasa), qualities (guna), potency (virya), and post-digestion and metabolism (vipaka) of a substance. The six tastes can either aggravate or alleviate aggravation of the tridosa.
- Pungent, sour & salty aggravate Fire.
- Sweet, sour & Salty aggravate Water.
- Pungent, bitter & astringent aggravate Air.
- Sweet, sour & salty alleviate aggravated Air.
- Astringent, sweet & bitter alleviate aggravated Fire.
- Pungent, bitter & astringent alleviate aggravated Water.
After digestion, food is converted into a pure portion and a remaining portion which is excreted. From the pure position, eight different constituents of the body are produced: food juice, blood, flesh, fat, bone, bone marrow, and semen. The eighth constituent is an ephemeral end product of spermatic fluid called Oja, the supreme essence of the tissue elements.
The digested products go to the constituents of the body (tissue elements) through various channels, thus providing them with nutrition. It takes seven days for food juice to become blood, and one month for the digested product to be transformed into semen.
The Charak Samhita puts special emphasis on the fact that health is the result of consumption of wholesome food. But then again, wholesome food is also the cause of diseases if not properly balanced as to content and amount. Charak writes: “Life is just food transformed into life.”
The basic purpose of Ayurveda is to help a normal healthy person maintain the balance of the basic elements in the body through proper diet, medicine and regimen of life. The specific quantity of food taken is an important facet in the science of dietetics. The quantity of an edible depends on the individual, the power of digestion, elemental moods and feelings plus seasonal changes.
When taken in accordance with these rules, diet and drinks whose color, smell, taste, and touch are pleasing to the senses are conducive to well-being and actually represent the very life of the living being. Food provides fuel for the fire of digestion, promotes mental as well as physical strength, strength of tissue elements and complexion.
The amount of food intake should not disturb the equilibrium of the seven constituents of the body and the three basic elements. Since light articles of food have a predominance of air and fire, they stimulate the appetite. Heavy articles have a predominance of earth and water and tend to suppress the appetite.
|Element||Quality||Bodily Function||Psychic Activity|
|Controls the cell and
Motor, Sensory activity, respiration
digestion, thirst, hunger
strength and sexual energy in the body
The change of season has an effect on the balance of the three elements, so one must modify dietary intake to adjust the balance and maintain good health.
AIR becomes aggravated during the end of the summer months. It is also thrown out of balance by the intake of dried fruit, pungent, bitter or astringent foods, excessive worry, fear, cold and suppression of manifested natural urges. When food is eaten before the previous meal is digested, one tends to remain awake during the night. It also causes one to speak in a loud voice.
Balance can be returned by the use of oils, drinks, diet, regimen and medicines. One would eat foods that are unctuous, hot, stable, aphrodisiac, strength-promoting, saline, sweet, and sour. Foods should be solid or semi-solid and neither too fatty nor too dry. Exposure to the sun, baths, massages, enemas, as well as inhalation therapy and sliip are also beneficial for correcting this air imbalance.
FIRE becomes aggravated during the autumn. Excessive intake of pungent, sour, alcoholic preparations, saline, and hot foods also aggravate it. Too much sun or fire as well as intake of dried vegetables and lack of a regimented time for meals adversely affects fire. When fire is out of balance, one tends to display anger and to suffer from indigestion.
Wind, shade, evening time, water and moon rays tend to produce relief, as does the intake of bitter, sweet, astringent, and cold foods plus purgation. Especially beneficial are various preparations of milk, sugar cane juice and honey, unpolished brown rice, mung pulse, oil and meat of organic birds.
WATER becomes aggravated during the spring. The winter’s cold has caused the body to store kapha (water) and the increasing heat of the sun results in the body becoming warmer, giving rise to many diseases. Sleeping during the daytime, the intake of sweet, acid, saline, sour and cold foods, fish, meat, sugar cane and milk products can cause imbalance in water and should be avoided.
Exercise, remaining awake, putting pressure on various parts of the body, exposure to heat and sun rays, emetic therapy, errhine therapy, and spitting therapy alleviate water aggravation, as does the intake of rough, alkaline, astringent, bitter and pungent foods. Especially beneficial are barley, mung beans, eggplant, lemon leaves, meat soup and a variety of vegetable soups which contain bitter taste.
During the winter, food juice (rasa) dries up. The use of oleaginous foods is beneficial. Food should not be taken cold, and baths should be taken in tepid water followed by massaging the body with oil.
The approach of ayurvedic medicine is based on the experience of thousand of years of practice. It relates constitutional strength and susceptibility to disease to a “tridosa” analysis of nutrition, digestion and other physiological functions. Ayurveda provides a coherent and systematic approach to understanding the human condition. It is highly effective in diagnosis and treatment of disease.