The five elements as defined by Ayurveda are Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. All life requires a combination of these to survive and this combination of the five elements gives rise to the doshas.
The term dosha is used to describe physiological function, ie. the function of the body. The three doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha and each dosha is made up of a combination of the five elements:
- Vata is a combination of space and air and has no fire, water or earth. For this reason, the properties associated with Vata include dryness, coldness, mobility and lightness. Vata is responsible for the nervous system, the respiratory system and movement in the body. When it is balanced in the body it gives energy, clarity, enthusiasm and creativity. In excess it commonly causes nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and constipation.
- Pitta is comprised of 90% fire and 10% water. Its properties include heat, sourness and acidity, sharpness and the ability to spread. Pitta is responsible for metabolism, the endocrine system and temperature regulation in the body. In balance it gives energy, fluency in speech, determination, good digestive capabilities (mental and physical) and a sharp intellect. In excess it commonly causes anger, irritability, impatience, frustration and skin conditions.
- Kapha is a combination of water and earth and its qualities include coldness, stability, heaviness, and oiliness. Kapha is responsible for the immune system, lubrication and the structure of the body. When balanced it gives strength, stamina, good immunity, patience and mental stability. Out of balance, Kapha has a tendency towards depression, inertia, lethargy, stubbornness and weight gain.
All living beings have a combination of the three doshas and their elements in varying degrees and this is what forms Prakriti or genetic constitution.