The Five Elements in Chinese Philosophy

Via HolisticOnline.com

Five Elements

The yin and yang philosophy was further refined into the system of the five elements to gain a deeper understanding of how the body, mind and spirit work and acupuncture.

The microcosm of the body is linked to the universe and is affected by the daily and seasonal cycles of nature. (Think about the seasonal affective disorder which manifests itself in winter or when the light is not sufficient). The individual and the world are changing all the time. But Chinese believe that these changes are occurring in certain order and in cycles. (We can think about these like our economic cycles or agricultural cycles. A period of growth is always followed by a period of stagnation or unemployment. In the stock market, a bull market is always followed by a bear market etc.) In the same way, a seed planted in spring blooms in summer, seeds itself in late summer to autumn, dies in winter, and a new seed grows again in spring. It is part of a never-ending cycle and each phase has its role to play in maintaining the balance of nature. The same process of change occurs within the body. Cells grow and die to make way for new cells, and body systems depend upon each other in a similar way to the seasons, working together to ensure the balanced functioning of the body, mind and spirit and the healthy flow of life through the whole person.

Chinese philosophy recognizes five distinct elements of cyclical change called water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. These five elements can be related to our four seasons (with a fifth late summer season) as shown in the table below. The elements can also be related to different colors, emotion, taste, voice and various organs. These can also be related to the selection of food and herbs. Notice the correspondence between the Chinese philosophy and the underlying Indian philosophy, which also classifies everything in the universe under earth, water, fire, air, and ether.

FIRE
EARTH
METAL
WATER
WOOD
Yin Organs Heart &
Pericardium
Spleen Lungs Kidneys Liver
Yang Organs Small Intestine &
Triple Heater
Stomach Large Intestine Urinary Bladder Gall Bladder
Sense Organs Tongue Mouth Nose Ears Eyes
Tissues Vessels Muscles Skin Bone Tendons
Tastes Bitter Sweet Pungent Salty Sour
Colors red yellow white blue/black green
Sounds Laughing Singing Crying Groaning Shouting
Odor scorched fragrant rotten putrid rancid
Emotions Joy Worry/Pensiveness Grief/Sadness Fear Anger
Seasons Summer Late Summer Autumn Winter Spring
Environment Heat Dampness Dryness Cold Wind
Developmental Stages Growth Transformation Harvest Storage Birth
Direction south center west north east
Body Types pointed features
small hands
quick energetic
large features
strong legs
calm generous
triangular features
strong voice
meticulous, strong willed
round features
strong digestion
loyal, enjoy movement
tall slender
strong bones and joints
hard workers

Each person’s physical and mental constitution can be described as a balance of the elements in which one or more may naturally dominate. The proportion of the elements in a person determines his or her temperament. Oriental medicine considers the ideal condition as one in which all the five elements are in balance or in harmony. Wood is said to be the mother of fire and the son of water. (Water allows wood to grow, wood provides fuel for the fire). Using these relationships one can describe all possible yin-yang imbalances within the body. The thrust of five element diagnosis is to isolate and treat the imbalanced element, because an imbalanced element is like a weak link in your energetic chain that can undermine the strength of your mind, body and spirit.

How the Five Elements are Manifested Internally and Externally

Element Universe Individual
Wood Growing, flourishing, rooted yet pushing upward Striving, controlling, flexible strength, self-assured
Earth Productive, fertile Solid, stable, reliable, tenacious, grounded
Metal Hard, structured, symmetric Organized, substantial, strong, durable
Fire Dry, hot, ascending Dynamic, sparkling, enthusiastic
Water Wet, cool, descending Flowing, adaptable, pliant
FIRE
EARTH
METAL
WATER
WOOD
Yin Organs Heart &
Pericardium
Spleen Lungs Kidneys Liver
Yang Organs Small Intestine &
Triple Heater
Stomach Large Intestine Urinary Bladder Gall Bladder
Sense Organs Tongue Mouth Nose Ears Eyes
Tissues Vessels Muscles Skin Bone Tendons
Tastes Bitter Sweet Pungent Salty Sour
Colors red yellow white blue/black green
Sounds Laughing Singing Crying Groaning Shouting
Odor scorched fragrant rotten putrid rancid
Emotions Joy Worry/Pensiveness Grief/Sadness Fear Anger
Seasons Summer Late Summer Autumn Winter Spring
Environment Heat Dampness Dryness Cold Wind
Developmental Stages Growth Transformation Harvest Storage Birth
Direction south center west north east
Body Types pointed features
small hands
quick energetic
large features
strong legs
calm generous
triangular features
strong voice
meticulous, strong willed
round features
strong digestion
loyal, enjoy movement
tall slender
strong bones and joints
hard workers
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