The Five Elements and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine is rooted on Taoist beliefs, which are centered on man being in harmony with the universe. The Taoists took the basic elements of nature that are fundamental to the world’s natural cycles and associated them to the human body, developing what is known as Wu Xing or the Five Elements.

The Five Elements

These elements are: Water, Fire, Earth, Wood and Metal. All things in and outside of ourselves belong to one of these elements. Each element has a distinct characteristic that defines its relationship to the human body.

  • For instance, the element of Fire is hot and flaring and is also associated with energy and light. Fire corresponds to the following: summer, heat, the color red, anxiety, joy, the heart, vessels, and small intestine. The Fire element loses balance if there is too much joy or a person is being overindulgent.
  • The element of Earth connotes growth, fertility and production. Its color is yellow and also corresponds with late summer, fragrant odors, and a center direction. In relation to the body, it corresponds to the stomach, the spleen, mouth, and muscles. Pensiveness is the dominant emotion of this element and causes imbalances.
  • The Wood element is described as strong and rigid, just like a deep-rooted tree. It corresponds to the color green, the East direction, and the spring season as well as the virtue of kindness and the emotion of anger. It relates to the eyes, tendons, liver and gall bladder.
  • The element of water, being wet and flowing, corresponds to the urinary bladder and the kidney. Fear is the emotion that is said to cause this element to be out of balance.
  • The element of Metal, which has conductive properties, relates it to the lungs and the large intestine. The emotion of sadness or grief leads to imbalances in this element.

Each of the Five Elements act upon each other, creating a cycle that nourishes each element. In this cycle, wood feeds fire, fire creates ashes that become earth, and the earth produces Metal, which when liquefied generates moisture or water that then nourishes the tree or wood. This cycle has an opposite destructive sequence where metal is melted by fire; fire is put out by water; water is absorbed by the earth; the earth contained by wood and the wood cut by metal.

Because Traditional Chinese Medicine is all about achieving balance, both internally and externally, a person can attain good health and prosperity when there is harmony among the Five Elements and their nourishing and destructive cycles.