The Law of Opposites

The principles of Ayurveda are aligned with the laws of nature. One of the Universal Laws of Nature is called the “Law of Polarity.” It states that all Matter exists on a continuum – with opposite qualities at either end.

We’ll use temperature as an example. Temperature is a measurement of heat. All matter exists somewhere on a spectrum between the hottest and the coldest expression of temperature.

“Hot” and “Cold” belong on Ayurveda’s list of ten primary principles, often referred to as the ten pairs of opposite. These ten principles help us to understand and interpret the nature of anything in the material world that can be observed. This is also useful when observing our own imbalances. When we have moved too far in one direction on a spectrum, we can return to balance by inviting in the opposite quality through diet and lifestyle.




1. Temperature: Cold & Hot: Some things are cold by nature, such as high-country streams and underground caverns, and some things are hot by nature, such as geothermal pools and fire. This holds true for people as well, some run colder or hotter than others as a part of their nature. When we develop symptoms of dis-ease or imbalance, they may be described as being hot or cold, and they will improve or worsen in the presence of heat or coldness.

For example, a person with a fever may want to take a cooling bitter tea (like Dandelion Root or Nettle). The Bitter taste is, by its nature, cold. A person who feels cold and is shivering may want to take a warming pungent tea (like Ginger or Turmeric). The pungent taste is, by nature, hot and spicy.

2. Weight: Light & Heavy: Some things are heavy by nature, such as rocks and logs, while others are light, such as feathers and leaves. This holds true for people as well. Some tend to be heavier than others due to the volume and density of their tissues, while others are lighter due to their lack of tissue volume or density. A “heavy” symptom could present as weight gain or as a weighted or stagnant sensation in the body, generally a symptom that improves when pressure is relieved. A symptom of excessive lightness could present as unexplained weight loss or a lighter sensation in the body (such as light-headedness), generally a symptom that is improved when pressure is introduced.

For example, a person who is heavier may be advised to take a light and spicy diet which will support lightening up the body and reducing the bulk of the tissues. A person who is lighter may be advised to take a heavier diet with whole grains and root vegetables to improve tissue volume and density.

3. Moistness: Dry & Unctuous/Oily: Some things are moist by nature, such as milk, while others are dry, such as sand. This holds true for people as well. Some tend to hold greater fluidity in their tissues while others can’t seem to escape deep dryness. Balance is brought to the tissues by applying drying treatments when there is excess moisture and moistening treatments when there is more dryness.

For example, a person with clammy skin may want to take an astringent tea (such as Chamomile) which is, by its nature, drying. A person with dry skin would want to increase oiliness in the diet which supports the body in holding more water in the tissues.

4. Intensity: Dull & Sharp: Some things are duller than others, such as pastel tones or bland foods, while others are sharper, such as neon colors and spicy foods. In people, we may see this in the dullness or sharpness of their tone of voice or in the thought behind it. A dull symptom is one that has a low intensity and longer duration, while a sharp symptom often has high intensity and shorter duration.

For example, a person presenting with a dull headache may be advised to incorporate sharp aromas (like peppermint) and add spice to their foods throughout the day to offset the dull quality. The person presenting with sharp headache pain may be advised to reduce sensory stimulation and take a more bland diet.

5. Texture: Smooth & Rough: Some things have smoother textures, such as satin or polished wood, while others have a rougher texture, such as wool or tree bark. People may also be considered smooth and easy-going, or rough and easy to bristle. An example of a “smooth” symptom would usually be found on the surface of the body – or when an area that usually has an irregular surface becomes swollen. A symptom that is rough might also be found on the surface of the body – such as a rash that roughens the surface of the skin.

For example, a person with a “smooth” symptom, may be advised to take a diet of raw foods. which have a rougher texture. A person with a “rough” symptom may be advised to drink more water and consume more fats and oils to create more moisture and smoothness in the body’s tissues.

6. Movement: Stable (still) & Mobile: Some things are naturally more still than others, such as sloths and toads, while others show greater mobility, such as hummingbirds or dragonflies. In people, we may see this in the rate of their movement, their focus, and direction, or in their ability to sit still – from a range of slow to fast. A stable symptom may be one that is unchanging over time, while a mobile symptom may include radiating pain, intermittent tics, or unpredictable presentation.

For example, a person presenting a static symptom, such as swelling at the ankles without injury, may be advised to move the joint to pump the fluids away from the joint. A person presenting a mobile symptom, such as a pain that appears to move to different joints at different times, may be advised to massage, bind, or rest the joints to support stability.

7. Firmness: Soft & Hard: Some things are soft and give way easily when pressed, such as fur or moss. Others are hard and don’t easily yield to touch, such as bone or metal. A person may also be soft, easily swayed or molded by their environment – or hard, unyielding, and difficult to move. A symptom that is soft, such as a lipoma (fatty tumor) will yield to pressure. A symptom that is hard, such as a bone spur, will not yield to pressure.

A person with a soft symptom like a lipoma may be advised to avoid soft foods in favor of those with a harder texture – or they may be advised to take warming and drying spices to dry out some of the moisture behind the symptom. A person with a hard symptom like a bone spur may be advised to take softer foods and to soften the tissue with something like castor oil.

8. Mass/Compactness: Dense & Expansive: Some things are naturally denser and more compact, such as mud and metal, while others are more expansive and diffusive, such as clouds or gases. This principle is a ratio of size and weight. In people, we typically see this in their build and musculature. Someone of small size with greater weight would be considered dense. Someone that is of large size but lower weight would be considered less dense and more expansive.

For example, a person presenting with a dense symptom, such as a small, compact muscle tumor, would be given treatments and foods that lighten up and release the muscle tissue from its dense state. A person presenting with an expansive symptom, such as difficulty concentrating, would be advised to take dense foods, root vegetables, and whole grains to reduce the expansiveness of the mind.

9. Perceptibility: Gross & Subtle: Some things are more easily perceived with the senses. They are considered “grosser” in their makeup – such as the mountains or ocean. Others are more subtle and harder to perceive with the senses, such as a light breeze or a faint sound. A symptom that is “gross” is easily identified and measured, such as weight gain or a tumor. A symptom that is subtle is harder to identify and defies accurate measurement, such as pain or psychosis.

For example, a person may be considered more “gross” when their attributes are easy to see and identify. They would be advised to take foods that are more subtle and lightly seasoned to offset the gross quality. A subtle person is one who may shift their appearance or personality to suit whims – and they may be advised to take a grosser diet with denser foods that are heavily spiced.

10. Transparency: Cloudy & Clear: Some things are cloudier than others, such as a pond or ocean water. Others are clearer, such as streams and high mountain lakes. A person who presents with more cloudiness may be more difficult to truly see and understand, while a person who presents with more clearness is easy to observe and perceive. A cloudy symptom may be seen in some form of discharge, mucous or urine. A clear symptom may be revealed in these same things. The degree of transparency determines whether the object is considered cloudy or clear.

For example, a person with a cloudy symptom, such as white (non-transparent) mucous discharge, may be advised to take sharper, more pungent foods to create greater clarity in the mucous. A person with a clear symptom, such as a clear, watery nasal discharge, may be advised to take dairy, root vegetables, or other foods that will increase the density and cloudiness of this discharge.

When working with ourselves through the Law of Opposites, we must identify our own nature, the nature of the symptom, and the nature of the treatment – bringing them all together to create balance. A person’s basic constitution determines their typical state, when balanced, for each principle. For example, do they usually run hot or cold? Do they tend towards dryness or moistness? The nature of the necessary treatment should be to apply opposite qualities to the current condition through dietary and lifestyle practices in order to regain a balanced expression.

The law of opposites would state that if we have moved out of balance, we should apply the opposite qualities in diet, lifestyle, or therapy to restore balance.

The Law of Opposites is the application of opposite qualities through diet and lifestyle in order to return a person to an equilibrium between two extremes of a spectrum. There is a place on the continuum where each person is naturally balanced. By applying qualities which oppose the manifestation of a symptom of disease, we can heal it at the root.

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