The Chinese Five Elements include: ﬁre, earth, metal, water and wood. After observing the earth, seasons and elements for thousands of years, the Chinese developed the belief that our bodies contained these same elements and therefore followed similar laws of nature. When one of these elements becomes out of balance, other systems/elements begin to compensate and eventually, after enough time, physical ailments and/or emotional disturbances begin to manifest.
While we each possess within us qualities of all the elements, Classical Five Element Acupuncture believes that each individual has a predominant imbalance in one of the elements. While we may exhibit a myriad of symptoms from various channel and organ systems, we still have the same root/core imbalance.
As this system is a complex medicine, I will attempt to provide you with as simple a description as possible of the ﬁve elements. The description of the elements is in no way exhaustive. The elements are explained as they are in their balanced state–with an emphasis on the distinguishing qualities each one possesses. When out of balance, an individual can display an array of symptoms, which range from extreme aspects of an element to a lack of the qualities/powers that element provides. Each element has corresponding seasons, organ systems, emotions, colors, sounds and other attributes that differentiate it from the others.
The ﬁre element represents the season of summer. It is in this season that nature is in full bloom and in its fullest expansion. Fire therefore symbolizes the power of maturity and is an energy that is expressed through sharing, joy, exuberance, passion and love. It is the ﬁre element that allows us to connect with others, open our hearts and also establish appropriate boundaries in relationships. The ﬁre element represents the organ systems of the heart, small intestine, pericardium and san jiao (translated as triple burner). The color of ﬁre is red, the odor is scorched, the emotion is joy or lack of joy, and the sound is laughter.
The earth element is representative of the season of late summer. This season can also be referred to as the harvest season, when everything has reached its peak ripeness and is at its utmost abundance. This element is related to the mother as it is the earth that sustains and nourishes us. This nourishment refers not just to physical nourishment, but mental and spiritual nourishment as well. If our bodies, minds and spirits are not fed properly, then there is no base/foundation for all the other organ systems to be able to do their job. The power of the earth further lies in its ability to establish a sense of peace within ourselves and balance; it is the mother element that allows one to feel at home and attain a sense of belonging. The organs associated with the earth element are the stomach and spleen. The color is yellow/golden, the odor is fragrant and the emotion is sympathy or lack of sympathy. The sound of earth has a singing, soothing quality.
The metal element represents the season of fall. It is in fall when the air is crisp and all the leaves fall from the trees. One of the main qualities of metal is, therefore, the beauty of letting go. All the leaves must fall for new ones to grow forth in the spring. In addition, it is the richness and minerals left in the leaves that feed the soil to further spur growth in the coming seasons. This correlates to many of our own life experiences in which in order for growth and new experiences to spring forth we must sometimes let go, whether it be of a relationship, job, living situation, etc. The organ systems that correlate with metal are the lung and large intestine. The color of metal is white, the odor is rotten, the emotion is grief and the sound is weeping.
The water element represents the season of winter in which there is a gathering and replenishing of reserves. It is in the winter that one is meant to rest, recharge, and build strength. The water element is associated with the notion of power, cleansing and ﬂexibility, for it is water that ultimately allows everything to move in the body. The organs associated with the water element are the kidney and bladder. The color or water is blue, and the odor is putrid. The emotion is fear or lack of fear, and the sound is a groaning or puttering voice.
The wood element embodies the season of spring. The main qualities associated with this element are hope, vision, growth, activity and exuberance. It is in the springtime that everything springs forth back to life. After the cold and desperation of the winter, life begins anew. It is the fastest energetically moving of the elements upward and out like a tree or a plant. The word “vision” is the most emblematic of the element–as without vision and direction, there would be no growth. It is the ability to “see” into the future, to plan and to have aspiration and hope. The organ systems that lie within the wood element are that of the liver and gallbladder. The color of wood is green, the sound is a shouting or assertive voice or a voice that totally abandons self assertion (lack of shout). The odor of wood is rank and the emotion is anger.