Wood, fire, earth, metal, water — you are no doubt familiar with these elements in a variety of contexts. But did you know that these five substances together make up the foundation of traditional Chinese medicine? Understanding this ancient health tradition requires knowledge of how these five essential substances underpin everything from the universe to the human body.
Associations with the elements
The five substances are aspects of qi, or the life force energy, that flows between acupuncture points and throughout the body via meridians, or channels of energy flow. Each element has associations with seasons, organs in the body, colors, senses and emotions. These concepts inform the understanding of the body and its relationship to nature and the world in the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine. On an individual level, they help us understand who we are, what illnesses we might be prone to and how to stay healthy.
How imbalances create health problems
Unlike traditional Western medicine, this philosophy treats the mind and body as inexorably combined. Each person is made up of a unique and individual blend of these five essential substances. A person in good health will experience a harmonious balance of the elements. However, an imbalance will create both mental and physical health problems, according to traditional Chinese medicine philosophy, and those are what the practitioner aims to address through holistic rebalancing therapies.
Learn about some of the characteristics of and associations with the five essential substances and what health problems might arise with an imbalance of that element.
Characteristics: Forward-thinking, clear headed, decisive
Associated organs: Liver, gall bladder
Potential health problems: Addiction, digestive issues, migraines, eye problems, sinus ailments and menstrual problems in women
Season: Early summer
Characteristics: Charismatic, social, warm
Associated Organs: Heart, small intestine
Potential health problems: Hypertension, heart irregularities, anxiety, insomnia and other sleep disorders
Season: Late summer
Characteristics: Empathetic, compassionate, grounded
Associated Organs: Stomach, spleen
Potential health problems: Digestive issues, heartburn, food allergies and sensitivities, eating disorders, fatigue
Characteristics: Disciplined, organized, principled
Associated Organs: Lungs, large intestine
Potential health problems: Asthma, allergies, eczema and other skin issues, bowel diseases
Characteristics: Adaptable, courageous determined
Associated Organs: Kidneys, bladder