The Five Subtle Elements of Ayurveda

The Tanmatras

Ayurveda presents a fascinating way of describing our perception of the world. Just as we can organize the material universe into the Five Great Elements (Space, Air, Fire, Water & Earth), we can organize our internalization of the universe through the five Subtle Elements: Sound, Touch, Sight, Taste & Smell. We metabolize every single experience we have through our five senses. 

The First of the Five Subtle Elements is SOUND, the Sanskrit word is Shabda. This is the subtlest element.  Sound is the first vibration that stirs from the field of silence. Sound can be used to balance our doshas, through music, chanting, toning, listening to the sounds of nature.

The Second of the Five Subtle Elements is TOUCH, the Sanskrit word is Sparsha.  Perception of touch is a function of both the receiving apparatus and our attention. The use of touch to nurture and heal can be demonstrated through loving touch from one person to another, contact with another being, and even through daily self massage, or abyanga. 

The Third of the Five Subtle Elements is SIGHT, the Sanskrit word is Rupa. This is our ability to perceive electromagnetic radiation with our eyes.

The Fourth of the Five Subtle Elements is TASTE, the Sanskrit word is Rasa. Our nature has coded information about nourishment or toxicity in the form of taste. Ayurveda recognizes six tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, pungent and astringent. These tastes can also be used to balance the doshas. 

The Fifth of the Five Subtle Elements is SMELL, the Sanskrit word is Gandha. Smell is a primitive sense that allows us to sample our environment at a distance. Think aromatherapy and how we can balance ourselves through the sense of smell. Think also of scents and smells you may associate with a special place in your childhood, such as a grandmother’s home.

Thus concludes a series of posts to explain the Ayurvedic explanation of Consciousness, the three vital principles or Gunas, The Five Great Elements or Mahabutas, and the Five Subtle Elements the Tanmatras. These are orchestrated together in a way that personalizes our Universe through the DOSHAS.


The pinnacle of accomplishment within the world-renowned Chopra Center is to be certified to teach all three pillars of Ayurveda which includes Yoga, Meditation and the Lifestyle Principles of Ayurveda. Proficiency in—and mastery of—these three disciplines conveys a special designation known as the Chopra Center Vedic Educator. This coveted triple certification represents the highest level of commitment to exploring the depths of Vedanta, Ayurveda and Yoga.

Kay Rice, M.Ed.

Certified Vedic Educator, Chopra Center for Wellbeing

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