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Five Element Healing: Nature's Healing System

The Five Element Theory, also called the five-phase theory, holds that everything in the universe, including our health, is governed by five natural elements: WOOD, FIRE, EARTH, METAL and WATER. This theory underscores the Chinese Medicine understanding that human beings, both physically and mentally, are intertwined with nature. Although it is difficult for Westerners to relate this philosophy to the Western approach to medicine, it is fundamental to the understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In the five element theory, each of the five elements has a season, particular organs, emotions and senses associated with it, such as taste, smell, color, sound. The wood element, for example, is associated with spring, the liver, and the gall bladder. Similarly, the fire element is associated with early summer, the heart, and small intestines; the earth element corresponds to late summer, the stomach and spleen; metal is associated with autumn, the lungs and large intestine; and water is associated with winter, the kidneys and bladder.

Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water are interrelated aspects of energy that are evident throughout nature, including in the human body. An individual's state of health manifests according to the balance between these Elements. In contrast to Western medicine's teaching of a separation between the mind and body, TCM views each organ as having particular body and mind functions, as illustrated in the belief that the liver is involved in planning, and in the storage of anger, while the gall bladder is the organ of decision-making.

We encourage you to read on and learn about your constitutional type, and gain a better understanding of yourself and those around you...



The Five Elements and Constitutional Typing


The WOOD element is associated with new beginnings, renewal and springtime. It corresponds to the Liver and Gall Bladder meridian systems as well as vision, the color green, and the emotions of anger and self-assertion. Wood people excel or have trouble in planning, decisions, and action. The future and their ability to see it can be their strength. When out of balance they may procrastinate or have a sense of no hope.

FIRE element is associated with maturity and awareness, warmth, growth and summertime. It corresponds to the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium, and Triple Warmer meridian systems, the color red, and the emotion of joy.
Fire people love to reach out and be in relationship with all people. They enjoy to  laugh and sometimes they carry a sadness or lack of joy deeper in themselves.

The EARTH element is associated with balance and transition, such as Indian summer. It corresponds to the Spleen and Stomach meridian systems, the color yellow, and the emotions of worry and sympathy. Earth people have the ability to nourish like a mother can nourish and care for a child. Thus sympathy and understanding are important. Sometimes an Earth person can feel a sense of emptiness or neediness in their own life

METAL element is associated with the harvest of the autumn season, of taking in and letting go. It corresponds to the Lung and Large Intestine meridian systems, the color white, and the emotions of grief or Inspiration.
Metal people search for what is pure and spiritual.  They set the highest standards for themselves and others, self-respect is important. Sometimes they live in a sense of what could have been.

element is associated with adaptability, conserving resources and the dormant phase of winter. It corresponds to the Kidney and Bladder meridian systems, the color black/blue, and the emotions of fear or courage.
Water people have a persistence, willpower and determination and will often excel in situations that others find too scary.  Sometimes they may hide a deep sense of being frozen or washed away by their own fear.

Click here for detailed information about Five Element Constiutional Typing. What type are you?
Click here for detailed information about body typing - Chinese, Ayurvedic and Traditional systems

links: Compliments of Holistic Health


Five Element Energy Cycles

The Five elements or phases are most interesting in the way they work together.
They function in a cycle of creation or support and a cycle of destruction or regulation, as shown below.


Generating Energy Cycle (Chi)
Based on Five Element Theory, each elemental force generates or creates the next element in a creative sequence. 

For example:

  • Water generates wood. Rain nourishes a tree.

  • Wood generates fire. Burning wood generates fire.

  • Fire generates earth. Ash is created from the fire. 

  • Earth generates metal. Metal is mined from the earth.

  • Metal generates water. Water condenses on metal. 


Regulating or Overacting Energy (Chi)
Based on Five Element Theory, each elemental force regulates or antagonizes the next element in a creative sequence. 

For example:

  • Water regulates fire. Fire is extinguished by Water.

  • Wood regulates earth. Earth restrained or broken by Wood.

  • Fire regulates metal. Metal is melted and forged by Fire. 

  • Earth regulates water. Water is dammed and absorbed by Earth.

  • Metal regulates wood. Wood is cut or displaced by Metal. 

In the table below we can see how the Five Elements relate to seasons, climate, organs, senses,
body tissues, emotions, color, and taste.


Five Element Table of Correspondences











Late Summer


Climatic Chi






Yang Organ



Sm. Intestine


Lg. Intestine

Yin Organ






Sense Organ






Body Tissue



Blood Vessel





















Click on link for comprehensive, detailed Five Elements Chart. Five Elements Chart


When applying this "supportive relationship" to the human body, we see that each internal organ embodies the energetic qualities of the element it's related to. Each organ is responsible for providing the energy needed by the next organ in the generative cycle

For example:

  • Kidney (water element) supports the Liver (wood element).

  • Liver (wood element) supports the Heart (fire element).

  • Heart (fire element) supports the Spleen (earth element).

  • Spleen (earth element) supports the Lung (metal element).

  • Lung (metal element) supports the Kidney (water element).


When applying this "regulating relationship" to the human body
, we see that each internal organ embodies the energetic qualities of the element it's related to. Each organ is responsible for providing energy to regulate or control excesses or deficiencies in the energy of the organ it's associated with in this cycle.

For example:

  • Lung (metal element) controls Liver (wood element).

  • Heart (fire element) controls Lung (metal element).

  • Kidney (water element) controls Heart (fire element).

  • Spleen (earth element) controls Kidney (water element).

  • Liver (wood element) controls Spleen (earth element).

In summary, your internal organs play a dual role in promoting and maintaining your health: generating and regulating energy for each other. Each organ passes energy to the organ it supports, and, when necessary, controls imbalances in the energy of the organ which it regulates.


Five Element Therory, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Life Force (Chi)

The five elements, or five-phase theory, is also grounded in the notion of harmony and balance. The concept of chi, which means something like "life force" or "energy," is perhaps most different from Western ideas. Traditional Chinese Meicine asserts that chi is an invisible energy force that flows freely in a healthy person, but is weakened or blocked when a person is ill. Specifically, the illness is a result of the blockage, rather than the blockage being the result of the illness. 

Acupuncture is the practice that most often comes to mind when thinking of Chinese medicine, but TCM represents a much broader system of medicine that includes herbs, massage, diet and exercise therapy. The underlying basis of TCM is that all of creation is born from the interdependence of two opposite principles, yin and yang (see the Eight Guiding Principles below). These two opposites are in constant motion, creating a fluctuating balance in the healthy body.   Disease results when either yin or yang is in a state of prolonged excess or deficiency.

One of the body constituents is Chi (pronounced "chee"), which is the energy that gives us the ability to move, think, feel, and work.  Chi circulates along a system of conduits, the principle ones being channels or meridians.  There are twelve principle bilateral channels of Chi, each intimately connected with one of the viscera of the body, and each manifesting its own characteristic Chi (e.g. Liver Chi, Gallbladder Qi, etc.).  When the flow of Qi becomes unbalanced through physical, emotional, or environmental insults, illness may result.

Traditional Chinese physicians did not learn about the structures of the human body from dissection because they thought that cutting open a body insulted the person's ancestors. Instead they built up an understanding of the location and functions of the major organs over centuries of observation, and then correlated them with the principles of yin, yang, chi, and the Five Elements. Thus wood is related to the liver (yin) and the gall bladder (yang); fire to the heart (yin) and the small intestine (yang); earth to the spleen (yin) and the stomach (yang); metal to the lungs (yin) and the large intestine (yang); and water to the kidneys (yin) and the bladder (yang). The Chinese also believed that the body contains Five Essential Substances, which include blood, spirit, vital essence (a principle of growth and development produced by the body from qi and blood); fluids (all body fluids other than blood, such as saliva, spinal fluid, sweat, etc.); and Chi.

A unique feature of traditional Chinese medicine is the meridian system. Chinese doctors viewed the body as regulated by a network of energy pathways called meridians that link and balance the various organs. The meridians have four functions:

To connect the internal organs with the exterior of the body, and connect the 
    person to the environment and the universe;

To harmonize the yin and yang principles within the body's organs and Five

To distribute Chi within the body;

To protect the body against external imbalances related to weather (wind,
    summer heat, dampness, dryness, cold, and fire).

To determine a patientís composition of the five elements, a Five Element practitioner asks many detailed questions that will provide clues as to the nature of their imbalances. They will ask about the personís occupation, stress associated with it, what they like to eat, what physical problems they are experiencing, etc. Although a person may be oriented towards a particular element -- a person who is aggressive might be described as having a "wood" personality -- the Chinese believe that aspects of each of the five elements are present in every person at different times.

The Eight Guiding Principles

In addition to the theory of the five elements, Five Element practitioners employ the Eight Guiding Principles to analyze and differentiate the energetic imbalances in the body or the nature of a patientís condition. The eight guiding principles actually consist of four polar opposites: yin/yang, cold/heat, deficiency (xu)/excess (shi), and interior/exterior.


Cold / Heat: This principle is used to determine the overall energy of the patient. A cold condition would be one marked by a slow metabolism, chills, pale skin, and a low-grade fever, while a hot condition would be characterized by a heightened metabolism, sensations of heat in the body, high fevers, and a flushed complexion.


Interior / Exterior: This principle describes symptoms in terms of the location of the patientís problem. Exterior conditions are those caused by the invasion of the body by pathogens, and are usually acute and superficially located with a short duration. Exterior symptoms are those that affect the hair, skin, muscles, joints, peripheral nerves and blood vessels. Interior conditions result from pathogens that enter the interior of the body. Interior symptoms affect the organs, deep vessels and nerves, brain, spinal cord, and bones.


Deficiency / Excess: This principle describes the strength of an illness. A deficient condition would be viewed as a lack of blood (such as in anemia), energy (Chi), heat, or fluids. Chronic illness would fall in this category. An excess condition, by contrast, means that the body has too much of something, such as Chi or blood. An acute condition would be seen as an excess condition.


Yin / Yang: These principles are the generalization of the above principles, and a condition can be categorized in terms of the relative dominance of either yin and yang.  In Chinese medicine, all organisms have both yin and yang qualities and a balance of the two is necessary for good health. In general, yin energy is associated with cold, female energy, and represents the solid organs.  Yang is associated with hot, male energy, and represents the hollow organs. Chronic illness is seen as yin, while acute illness is seen as yang.

According to Five Element theory, the combination of these eight principles determine the nature or quality of the three constituents of the body, which are energy (Chi), moisture, and blood. As described above, Chi is vital life energy.  Moisture is the liquid medium which protects, nurtures, and lubricates tissue, and blood is the material foundation out of which we create bones, nerves, skin, muscles, and organs.

Five Element practitioners analyze health problems using various combinations of the eight guiding principles.  For example, a patient might be diagnosed as having an "internal cold" or "external heat" condition. Used in conjunction with the five element theory, the eight guiding principles give the Five Element practitioner a more complete picture of a patientís energy imbalances and determine the treatment to be pursued through nutrition, supplements, homeopathy, herbology, massage, acupuncture and exercise.







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