Like Yin/Yang theory, the 5 Elements (or Wu Hsing) are a founding principle of Chinese medicine. Each of the 5 Elements (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water & Wood) describes the natural dynamic flow of Qi through the correspondences for season, flavor, organ, climate condition, sound, time of day, and emotion—just to name a few. By understanding the 5 Elements we can use them to both prevent and treat many imbalances. Here’s a (very) brief overview of the 5 Elements.
Wood is the element associated with the season of Spring, dawn and youth. It means new growth and is represented by the color green. The energy is expansive, moving up and in all directions. Wood rules the Liver and GallBladder organs and is affected by emotions of anger and frustration. The climatic factor associated with the element is Wind, which can appear as disharmonies in the body like Bell’s palsy, ticks and epilepsy. The flavor is sour like lemons and vinegar. Find out more about eating in Spring.
Fire is associated with Summer, noon time, when we are most active. The energy is at its peak before calming. Fire moves upward and hot and it rules the Heart, Pericardium, Small Intestines and the Triple Burner. Its emotion is joy and elation. It represented by the color red and heat. Disharmonies may appear as nervous agitation, excessive sweating, thirst and fever. Its flavor is bitter such as, dark greens, olives and roasted seaweed. Find out more about eating in Summer.
Earth represents a state of neutrality or balance. Although often called Late Summer, its season is actually the transition from one to another–the equinoxes and solistices. It symbolizes rebalancing, transformation and the ability to nourish ourselves. It corresponds to Stomach and Spleen organs and pathologies often appear as digestive disorders. The emotion associated with Earth is rumination and worry. Its color is yellow and its flavor is sweet, like pumpkin, whole grains, and yams. Read more about eating in Late Summer.
Metal is associated with Autumn, the season of decline after summer’s activity. The energy moves inward and begins to gather in preparation for winter. It corresponds to evening, when you come home and rest with your family. Metal rules the Lungs and Colon and is affected by grief and dryness. Disharmonies may appear as asthma, weakened immunity, bronchitis or lower bowel issues. Metal is represented by the color white and its taste is pungent such as onions and spices. Learn more about eating in Autumn.
Water’s season is Winter, when functions have reached maximum decline and are about to turn in the direction of growth (spring). The movement is downward–moving deeper in. It is a time of storage for reflection. Water rules the Kidneys and Bladder. It represents the deep resources of our body and disharmonies may appear as impotence, early aging, problems with bones and extreme exhaustion. Its climatic condition is cold. The emotion associated with water is fear, its color blue/black. Its flavor is salty like soy sauce, seaweed and salt. Learn more about eating in Winter.
The 5 Elements have two major flows of energy between them–Sheng and Ko Cycles. In balance, these cycles support each other, out of balance they destroy, overpower or rob from the other–translation–they create disharmony or disease. These relationships help show how organ systems interact according to CM. Each organ or element supports and helps keep another in check. If one is overly weak or strong, imbalance will arise.
The generating sequence (Sheng), follows the circle. Fire burns and creates earth, earth gives rise to metal, metal enriches water, water nourishes wood and wood is necessary for fire. This is also called the mother-child law. For example Earth is the mother of metal. If the earth element (Stomach and Spleen) are deficient, the metal element (Lung and Colon) will not receive adequate nourishment and energy. This cycle can be out of balance in two ways. First, the mother can fail to nourish the child and secondly, the child demands too much of the mother.
The control cycle (Ko or Ke), follows the star within the circle. Here fire controls metal by melting it, metal cuts wood, wood controls earth by covering it and water controls fire. This cycle can be out balance if one element is in excess or deficiency relative to another. Here’s a common example– Liver (wood) must assist the digestion in the middle burner (Stomach and Spleen) through its function of free and easy flow of qi. If this is harmonious, the digestion is good and the diaphragm is open. A common disharmony of this relationship is wood overacting on earth. When liver is excessive in energy it will become overbearing and invade the stomach causing problems like acid reflux, gerd, indigestion and tightness of the diaphragm.
A little understanding of how the element interact can go along way to keeping you healthy and harmonious or pulling you out of disease.
Here’s to harmony,