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The Five Elements of Ayurveda

Observe the Natural World

In every corner of the globe and every ecological niche, plants and animals have adapted to life in the natural world. Humans have also adapted. Our health is directly correlated to our ability to withstand the seasons. Some of us feel strong in winter, others in summer. The body evolved in nature, and to an Ayurvedic practitioner there is no separation of medicine and nature. Ayurveda's origins come from observation of the natural world. The ancient sages watched how other species defended themselves against dampness, heat, wind, dryness, and other basic qualities of nature. From them, they learned how to strengthen the body's defenses. Thus, Ayurveda begins with the basic five elements in nature.

The Five Elements

The five elements are the most common materials one encounters in nature. They include ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Chinese medicine also adds metal and wood elements. Our five senses have evolved in relation to the elements. Thus, our bodies are well attuned to interpret and assess the environment using the five elements. The body uses the elements to interpret the seasons and determine the appropriate foods to eat. Modern materials, such as concrete, may be confusing to the senses.


Ether correlates with the Western concept of a vacuum - a volume of space that is void of matter (including air). Ether is characterized by nonresistance, space, and receptivity. It is subtle, soft, and light. Weight loss increases ether element. Isolation, loneliness, and drugs or spiritual practices that increase spaciness have ether element. It is associated with the spirit, sound, and the ears.


Air correlates with movement and direction. It is light, dry, subtle, cold, and dispersive. Substances that increase air include caffeine, pungent spices, exercises, and mental stimulation. It is associated with the mind, breath, touch, and the musculo-skeletal system.


Fire correlates with energy, visible light, and the appearance of things. It is hot, penetrating, subtle, light, and dry. Alcohol, pungent spices, and analytical activity increase fire. It is associated with the eyes and brightness of the skin. Fire prioritizes truth and clarity over relationship.


Water provides cohesion and relationship. It is fluid, sticky, and soft. It is associated with sweetness, emotion, and fertility. Water sacrifices righteousness for relationship. It is associated with tastebuds, the heart, reproductive organs, and fat tissue.


Earth is heavy, solid, and dense. Earthy people are grounded, stable, stubborn, and hard. It is associated with smell, muscle, the base of the spine, and the soul.

About the Author

John Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. His online course Balance Your Ayurvedic Diet in a Week provides tools for gracefully healing with Ayurveda to thousands. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.

John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.

John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.

Introduction to an Ayurvedic Diet
The Six Tastes
The Three Doshas
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What is Joyful Belly?

Browse recipes and hundreds of other ingredients on this extensive educational website. Joyful Belly helps people confidently choose food that restores their healthy glow, using the ancient technique of Ayurveda. Our extensive collection of online recipes, ingredients, and articles makes health easy. To get started, take the free dosha quiz to find your Ayurvedic body type.

What is Ayurveda?

Learn about Ayurveda from the author of this article and founder of Joyful Belly,
John Immel.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information and products on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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