10 Pairs of Opposites: Gross & Subtle

10 Pairs of Opposites: Gross & Subtle

This is a 10-part series where I will be reviewing each of the 10 pairs of Opposites (AKA qualities or Gunas) in depth.

Everything in this Universe (man made and natural, physical and abstract) are based off the five elements; Ether (Space), Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. From these five elements, the Rishis (or Ayurvedic Seers) determined that there were 10 pairs of Opposites that are used to view the Universe and restore balance. Through observation, palpation, and questioning an Ayurvedist will see where you have excess or depleted gunas, and work to restore them to their proper ratio.

These gunas impact everything!!

Gross (Sthula) and Subtle (Sukshma) 

Gross and Subtle, aka the big, loud, more noticeable things and the little, soft, passive things. Are you starting to see a theme as we get into the fourth of our series? That these opposites impact the Mind, Body, Spirit, and Environment?

How we eat can be perceived as Gross or Subtle, immediate impact or correlative impact. I have a huge cheese obsession, it’s a little out of hand now, but cheese is a heavy, dense object. And even though my body is primed to eat all this cheese, I can still feel heavy and sleepy as soon as I eat it. That would be a Gross impact. Things that increase Kapha (Earth element) in the body will be Gross qualities. A Subtle impact example would be the patchouli candle I have burning next to me. It will subtly work on calming me down and lowering my Vata (air element).

Physiological / Body – Gross & Subtle

Ah remember the good ol’ days in anatomy and physiology labs? Gross anatomy is the science of the meat and bones that make up our body. The big chunks of you is the gross side (that sounded like a judgment thing, but it isn’t… have you seen how big a femur (thigh bone) is!?). A good rule of thumb, the bigger, heavier, and denser the object, the more one the Gross side of the spectrum it will be on.

The smaller inner workings of our body can be considered the Subtle side of the spectrum. How our body has teeny little gas exchanges in our alveoli, where we get the fresh air into the body and release the used-up air. Or the fine-tuned motion of a neuron sending out information to the rest of the body.

Psychological / Mind – Gross & Subtle 

Ever hear the saying “An Elephant never forgets”, I can’t speak to the truth of how intelligent Elephants are, but they are large animals who are notorious for their long memories. A Gross mind will retain details FOREVER (or at least a long long time). This type of mindset, however, may take a minute to get up and moving. Maybe that individual will be slow to speak their thoughts, or they might take a second longer than everyone else to grasp what is going on conversationally. But when they do, that knowledge is there for a long while.

A subtle mind is one that can quickly move from topic to topic. They don’t hold onto grudges and are often able to let tense moments slide away without comment. Because of that though, sometimes these are some forgetful people. It’s like the facts just don’t want to stay in their mind.

Emotional / Spiritual – Gross & Subtle

Gross emotions can become very stuck. They may get into a rut, thinking the same thing and not being able to see another way around it. These are also people who can become very grounded by Earthy or grounding things. These people should go out in nature, garden, hike, and can do lots of dynamic movement to aid potentially dark and heavy thoughts.

Subtle emotions are super fluttery and always on the move, this can lead to anxiety, fear, and insecurity. To aid with these subtle emotions and feelings grounding meditations where one sits still and focuses on breathwork and grounding images will be beneficial.

Notice that the when we get out of balance, using the opposite will help guide us back to balance. When a person gets too stuck (Gross would be a couch potato and Subtle would be lots of little activities with no depth), add in a dash of the opposite and that person will start to feel better. That couch potato’s depression will be aided by getting up and moving, and that busy bee’s stress will be aided by grounding.

External Environment – Gross & Subtle

We talked earlier about how external foods can be brought into our internal selves and be impactful.

The weather can be thought of as Gross or Subtle. I live in Kansas; in the summer it is triple digits and hot. That would be the Gross approach during the summer, the bigger picture. But that subtle breeze helps to break up the high temps.

Subtle shifts in the weather can always be felt. I have arthritis in my knee, before the big heavy rainstorm (gross weather), I can always tell the subtle changes in pressure because my knee will start to ache.


Ayurveda looks at using opposite qualities to reduce the excess. Please keep in mind that the human body is a complex system. Talk to an Ayurvedist before trying to balance things on your own.

Heightening awareness is always the first step in Ayurveda, and you can do that safely in your own home.  Today we talked a lot about how food can impact our system. Journal about how foods can have an instant impact on your entire body, like how thanksgiving dinner can make you feel sleepy. And compare that to how your body has subtle impacts, for example when I cook with rosemary the smell of it gives me headaches. What other examples can you find where Gross and Subtle interplay in your world?