The theory surrounds the idea that both human beings, both physically and mentally, are also intertwined with nature. It is somewhat difficult for Westerners to relate this philosophy; however, it is a fundamental understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Within the five element theory, each of the five elements has a season and particular organs and senses, which are associated with it, such as taste, color and sound. For example, the wood element, is associated with spring, the liver and the gall bladder. Similarly, the fire element is associated with early summer, the heart and the small intestines. The earth element corresponds with late summer, the stomach and the spleen. Next, water is associated with winter, the kidneys and the bladder. Finally, the metal element is associated with autumn, the lungs and the large intestines.
Western medicine teaches that there is a separation between the mind and the body. The Five Element Theory is in direct contrast with this because Traditional Chinese Medicine views each organ as having a particular body and mind function. This theory is illustrated in the belief that the liver is involved in planning, in stages of anger, while the gall bladder is the organ of decision-making.
A Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner must first determine the patient’s composition of the patient’s five elements. To do this, he or she will ask the patient details questions regarding the nature of their specific imbalances. Typically, the patient will be asked about his or her occupation and any stress, which is associated with it. He or she may also be asked what types of foods they enjoy eating and if they are experiencing any physical problems.
The patient may be oriented towards a particular element, however, someone who is aggressive, may be described as having a “wood” personality. The Chinese believe that aspects of each of the five elements are present in every person at different times.
The five elements are also referred to as Wu Xing. They represent the processes, which are fundamental to the cycles of nature and correspond to the human body.
Xing is a Chinese term, which means the process of one thing acting upon another. In relation to the five elements, the cycle of processes can be represented as:
- wood feeds fire
- fire creates ashes, which form earth
- inside the earth, metal, which is heated, liquefies and produces water vapor
- water, which is generated, then nourishes the trees or the wood
Below are the five elements of the the five element theory, their characteristics and their inter-relationships with the body:
Fire – Self-expression, emotional extremes, empathy, extrovert, attention-seeking, sociable, talkative.
Wood – Leadership, assertiveness, creativity, planning, decision-making, competitiveness, conflict, anger, frustration.
Water – Solitude, privacy, introspection, philosophy, mystery, truth, honesty, anxiety, nervousness, insecurity.
Earth – Caring, supportive, nourishing, family-oriented, stability, grounding, “mother hen”, worrier.
Metal – Precise, meticulous, logical, analytical, moderation, self-control, morality, tendency to pessimism.