The 5 Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal


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In Traditional Chinese Medicine the concept of the 5 Elements is one way to understand how the body functions and its many processes. Each element would correspond to a different organ system, color, season, emotion etc. Much like the precious balance of yin and yang in the body, the balance of the 5 elements is equally as important.

This picture shows the interaction between the elements with each other. The first interaction is the generating cycle as seen by following the black arrows. The way to understand the cycle is as follows: Wood feeds Fire, Fire creates Earth (ash), Earth bears Metal, Metal carries Water (as in a metal cup), Water nourishes Wood.

If there is a disruption within the generating cycle one element may become weak. This causes another element to overwhelm it thus making it weaker. For example, when earth (soil) is weak then wood (roots) overwhelm earth and cause it to become weaker (erosion). This explains the overcoming or overwhelming cycle. Note in this cycle you follow the arrows of the inner star starting at the top. Wood (roots) parts Earth, Earth muddies Water, Water quenches Fire, Fire melts Metal, Metal chops Wood.

Now for my favorite cycle. If you look closely at the overwhelming cycle and change your point of view just a bit. Instead of one being weaker or stronger since ideally we would want everything to be as equal as possible, then the overwhelming cycle becomes the containing cycle. In this cycle each element keeps the other in check. Using the example above, earth is strong enough to withstand the roots and they mutually allow for the healthy growth of a tree.

In Chinese culture the 5 elements concept has had a great influence over many phenomena in the universe over the centuries such as Feng Shui, astrology, music, martial arts, and of course Chinese Medicine.

It is no surprise that our blazing summer and its activities are related to the Fire Element. Chinese Medicine looks at summer as the season of warmth and growth. It is also the time to nurture and manifest our ideas that were sowed in the spring. And of course it is the time to play outside and be active with our bodies. That means during this season the Heart and its paired organ the Small Intestines have taken center stage and their energy is at its strongest during the summer. What better time than now to try an ancient exercise that is simple to do and great for your heart.

Stand or sit facing a mirror. Smile at yourself-don’t let judgment kinder you now-really smile at yourself directly from your heart.

That’s it! So simple but yet it can be so difficult. Often we do not let ourselves express our true self because of fear of what others may say. Smiling from the heart has a profound physiological effect. It promotes the flow of qi and blood throughout the body. Your heart houses your shen or spirit. It provides for all the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual activities of your body. True smiling and laughter creates an emotional qi that heals the body and your heart. Now try smiling at others from your heart.