What are the Five Elements?
The ancient Chinese understood that the nature of life is ceaseless change, and that change is cyclical.
The Five Elements are organizing principles which represent patterns, relationships and processes of cyclic change in the natural world. The Five Elements manifest within our being and around us in nature.
The original meaning of the Chinese ideogram xing ( 行) , which we translate as “element,” is actually “action.” The Five Elements could more appropriately be called the Five Actions or Five Phases. The “elements” have no concrete, independent existence of their own, but represent the complex relationships in the flow of life. The Five Elements are aspects of one universal life force, or vital energy, which the Chinese called “qi.”
The individual elements are wood, fire, earth, metal and water. In nature, the qualities and relationships of the elements manifest in the seasonal cycle of the year:
SPRING | Birth & Renewal – Vision & Determination – Anger & Self-Assertion – Planning & Decision-making – Liver & Gallbladder
SUMMER | Maturation & Growth – Warmth – Joy & Love – Communication & Relationships – Heart & Circulation
LATE SUMMER | Nourishment & Harvest – Nurturing & Caring – Sympathy & Understanding – Spleen & Stomach
AUTUMN | Quality & Value – Respect – Grief & Inspiration – Taking In & Letting Go – Lungs & Colon
WINTER | Adaptability & Will-Power – Potency & Reserve – Fear & Courage – Kidney & Bladder
The ancient Chinese understood that the microcosm (the world within us) is governed by the same principles as the macrocosm (the world around us). The qualities and relationships of the elements manifest in the acupuncture meridians, the rivers of energy which flow through our bodies and govern our vital life force. The acupuncture meridians are energetic entities, governing not only our physical organs, but also our emotions and spirit.
The Five Elements & the Art of Living
Five Element theory gives us a way to understand and connect with our place in the cosmos as living beings. We are creatures of the earth, governed by the same cycles of change that influence all life: the growth and productivity of Spring, the maturation and intense activity of Summer, the harvest and abundance of Late Summer, the dying back and letting go of Autumn, the dormancy and inwardness of Winter.
Illness arises when our connection to nature is lost. Sadly, modern society places little value on this connection. We wander through life, split off from wholeness and not understanding who we are.
Each of us has within us everything we need to heal. By simply paying attention, we can begin to align our lives with the universal life force. Health is not a state of perfection, but rather unending movement through phases of transformation. Our healing and wholeness lie in free and unhindered movement through all five phases of the cycle.
The Five Elements & Acupuncture
The art and practice of Five Element Acupuncture is uniquely based on a deep understanding of the qualities and relationships of the elements, how they manifest in the acupuncture meridians, and how these govern the body, mind and spirit. Every person bears a distinct, in-born relationship to the cycle of the Five Elements. Under stress, imbalances manifest in certain phases of the cycle.
The key to Five Element diagnosis is to identify the core energetic imbalances for each person and restore the flow of energy. The goal of treatment is not to eliminate symptoms, but rather to create the conditions for a return of wholeness. Symptoms resolve as part of a larger process.