The Five Elements

What are the five elements or, Wu Xing (pronounced Wu-Shing) in Chinese. They are  also called the five phases of change or transformation as it represents a constant movement or change in each of the phases. The five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Ancient Chinese observed the changes in nature and were able to transfer this philosophy over into their daily lives.

The creation cycle expresses how one element creates the next one in the circle. Wood creates fire, fire creates earth, earth creates metal and metal creates water. For example, water creates wood by giving life to the tree. If you take a tree and use it for a fire you now have created fire. From the fire you get ash, which represents the earth and from the earth you have all the metals that are sitting within it. If you take the metal and you heat it, it becomes molten like water or if you leave metal outside condensation appears and you have water resting on the metal. It made sense to me.

The control cycle or as some schools of Chinese Medicine call it the destruction cycle. Wood controls earth, earth controls water, water controls fire and fire controls metal. He explained a little deeper, more than likely because of the confused look on my face.

If you think of a large tree – its roots go deep into the ground, controlling the earth around it. By using the earth you can control the flow of water in the form of a dam. Water can control fire since water can put out a fire. Fire controls metal because if you use a hot enough fire you can melt the metal. And finally metal controls wood since an ax is able to cut the wood.

Now what each element represents in terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Wood is associated with the color green, spring time, birth, morning the direction east, the emotion of anger and the sour flavor. The organs associated with wood are the liver and gallbladder.

Fire is associated with the color red, summertime, expansion, the emotions of joy and laughter, the direction of south, and the bitter flavor. The organs associated with Fire are the heart and small intestine as well as the triple warmer and pericardium.

Earth is associated with the color yellow, the time of late summer or Indian summer, introspection, the direction of center, the emotion of sympathy, and the flavor of sweet. The organs associated with earth are the stomach and spleen.

Metal is associated with the color white, the time of fall, the time of harvesting, the afternoon, the direction of west, the emotion of grief. The organs associated with the metal element are the lungs and large intestine.

Water is associated with the color blue, wintertime, the direction north, the emotion of fear, and conserving resources. The organs associated with water are the kidneys and urinary bladder.

The cycles of creation and control must be balanced. If they are balanced the body is in harmony, which leads to health, vitality and longevity. He said it is best to work all of the organs to help maintain this balance. If one part becomes ill then the entire body can become ill.

There is much more to the five element theory as it relates to life, our bodies, our emotions, sounds, climates, and many other types of interactions.