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Center of Life: the Earth Element in Five Element Acupuncture

Nourishment, Vitality, Harmony

Planet Earth feeds us and heals us.  The ancient Chinese understood that human beings are part of the web of life, and Earth is the source of all nourishment and vitality.   The Earth Element in Five Element acupuncture theory is regarded as the center of the Five Elements.  Everything is born from and returns to the Earth.

As the source of all nourishment, the Earth Element in Five Element acupuncture governs the harvest season, Late Summer, in the seasonal cycle.  It also governs the entire process of digestion on all levels.  This includes not simply the digestion of food, but also the information and life experiences that form our mental, emotional and spiritual diet.  The Earth Element sends nourishment to every part of our being that needs to be fed.

Proper nourishment of body, mind and spirit is vital to internal harmony and well-being.  By understanding how the Earth Element works within us and around us, we can learn to cultivate physical, emotional and spiritual health in a challenging and often toxic world.

Late Summer and the Earth Element

The mellow warmth of Late Summer marks the beginning of the harvest season, the gathering in of nature’s abundance.  This is the season of the Earth Element in Five Element acupuncture.  The days, though still warm, begin to shorten and the heat has lost its punch.  Fruit begins to ripen and plants set seed.  There is plenty of activity in nature, but it has shifted to bringing in the harvest and preparing for the cooler months to come.  The harvest and the Earth Element are vital to storing up enough food and resources to carry us through times of scarcity and harsh conditions.  For more about the Earth Element in nature, watch the video or read this article.

Take Me To Your Feeder

The Earth Element is the go-between.  It’s job is to connect what is outside of our being with what is inside of it.  Strange though it may seem, the entire alimentary canal is literally on the outside of the physical body.  From mouth to anus, the digestive tract is a long tube with sophisticated membranes and structures.  Along with the other organs of digestion, it ensures that anything we take into our mouths is broken down, transformed and distributed properly.  Only what nourishes us makes it through to the inside of the body and goes where it is needed.  In a healthy digestive tract, the rest is successfully eliminated.

Whatever we take in through digestion becomes part of the self, part of who we are. Needless to say, this underscores the critical importance of a quality diet.  On a physical level, that means eating nutrient-dense whole foods, so that the body has available all the metabolites it needs for robust health.  It also means eating quality food in proper quantity and proportion, so that the digestive process is not overloaded.

Equally important is the quality of our mental and emotional diet of information and day-to-day experience.  The Earth Element in Five Element acupuncture governs more than just the physical digestion of food.  It also governs thought process, conscious and unconscious.  Reflect on how you spend your time throughout the day.  Do you make healthy choices that serve you and nourish you emotionally and intellectually?  Are you passively influenced by others around you, social media, news and advertising?  Do you feel overwhelmed with information?

In the modern world, we are bombarded by so much information, much of it negative, that people often feel overwhelmed.  It’s more that the Earth Element can digest.  Information overwhelm leads to rumination and obsessive thinking.  It provokes worry and anxiety, impacting physical as well as emotional health.   Many common maladies – heart conditions, high blood pressure, acid reflux, insomnia – are amplified by the stress of information overwhelm.  So, take a break and give yourself a media blackout once in a while.  Your Earth Element will appreciate it, and you may be surprised how good it feels.

The Chef and the Driver:  The Earth Element “Officials”

The body contains a circulatory system of vital energy flow, called the acupuncture meridians.   Each of the Five Elements governs a pair of meridians, which relate to different systems of the body, mind and spirit.  The meridians of the Earth Element in Five Element acupuncture, which govern digestion, are the Stomach and the Spleen.  (It’s important to understand that these don’t relate one-on-one to the organs of the same name in Western medicine.) 

The ancient Chinese, living in an imperialist society, used government as a metaphor for the body.  The Stomach and Spleen are sometimes referred to as “the official of rotting and ripening food and drink” and “the official of transportation and distribution.”  You can think of them as the chef and the driver.

The Stomach’s job is to take in whatever we give it from the outside, mix it up and transform it into something that can be sent out to nourish various parts of the body and mind as needed.  If we give it better quality ingredients in the right proportions, the Stomach’s job is easier.  Even if the ingredients are not perfect, a healthy Stomach official can still come up with the best possible mix, like a good chef.  It’s like making a stew – the better the ingredients, the better the result.

What if all the ingredients are there and the stew still comes out wrong?  The Stomach official, the chef, may be ailing or perhaps overwhelmed.  If the food isn’t properly cooked, no one will want to eat it.  What this means is that a Stomach imbalance will impact every part of the body, mind and spirit.  All of the “officials” and acupuncture meridians of the body will suffer lack of proper nourishment.

Once we have a good stew, well cooked, how do we get it from the Stomach to where it is needed?  This is not the chef’s job.  We need a transporter who can distribute nourishment where it is needed.  The Spleen “official” is the body’s “Meals on Wheels,” delivering nourishment to each of the body’s “officials” as needed. 

The distribution work of the Spleen is critical to maintaining harmony of body, mind and spirit.  The “officials” work as a team, and everyone must get their fare share.  If one team member gets favored over another, or if anyone goes hungry, jealousy and resentment will result.  If the Spleen official is ailing and food isn’t delivered,  there will be a surfeit of nutrients and energy in some places, and a shortage in others.  The lack of proper movement may show up as mental and physical sluggishness, lethargy and stagnation.

Tips for Healing the Earth Element

A robust Earth Element brings nourishment to each and every part of body, mind and spirit.  The work of the Earth meridians and “officials” in receiving, transforming and transporting nourishment is indeed at the center of our well-being.  Stability, security and harmony depend on the nourishment that we receive through the Earth Element.  Earth is the foundation on which everything rests.

Tending the Earth Element is a cornerstone of all physical, mental and emotional healing.   If the Earth Element is imbalanced or weak, every part of our being will suffer for lack of proper nourishment.  Fortunately, there are many things we can do to support the Earth Element and ensure that we have the best possible chance to heal:

  • Eat a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet, that provides all the nutrients we need for physical and mental health.
  • Avoid information overload by maintaining a healthy “mental diet” and limiting exposure to media and advertising.
  • Shift your consciousness and give the critical thinking mind a break by taking up a creative hobby, such as dance, music or arts and crafts.
  • Practice body-mind wellness methods like yoga, meditation, or tai ch’i, which shift the nervous system away from defensive “fight or flight” (sympathetic) and towards “rest and digest” (parasympathetic).
  • Exercise outdoors and spend time in natural “green space.”  Touch the Earth to support the Earth Element within.


Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee, Spleen and Stomach, Monkey Press, 1990.

J.R. Worsley, Classical Five Element Acupuncture, Vol. III:  The Five Elements and the Officials, 1998.

Inner Works Acupuncture is a Five Element acupuncture clinic in northwest Portland, Oregon.  For more information or to book an appointment, call 503-227-2127.

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