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5 Element Theory

Five Element Theory

Oriental Five Element Theory uses analogies natural elements. The Five Elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water have their own characteristics that correspond to energies of the individual. Understanding the relationships of the elements in an individual provide clues for better health.

There are two cycles in Five Element Theory: creation and control. The creation cycle is nurturing and is also referred to as the “mother-son” relationship. Each element corresponds with a season, thus we experience the creation cycle with the passing of each year. The Wood element is associated with spring: birth, new beginnings, and rapid growth. The Fire element is associated with summer, the peak of heat and activity. The Earth element corresponds with late summer, a period of transition. The Metal element corresponds to autumn, a time of harvest of summer activities and letting go of what was created during the summer. The Water element corresponds to winter, a time of rest and storing. The energy stored during the winter makes for a successful spring when the creation cycle begins again.

Anything we do can also be seen as a cycle of seasons. Something as simple as cleaning the garage starts as an idea, when we are physically inactive (winter), we start the job in earnest (spring), usually work up a good sweat in moving things around (summer), move from chaos to order (late summer), sort, organize, clean, and finish up (autumn), and rest before our next project (winter). These cycles can be seen in projects, lifespans, games, countries, etc.

The relationships of the Five Elements in nature demonstrates the creation cycle: Water helps grow Wood which feeds Fire which creates Earth from decomposing ashes where Metals are formed which enrich Water.

The control cycle, also referred to as the “grandfather-grandson” relationship is one that helps balance excess. Water reduces Fire. Fire melts Metal. Metal cuts Wood. Wood penetrates Earth. Earth channels Water.

The Five Elements have correspondences to vocal quality, body fluids, emotions, tissues, sense organs, meridians, times of day, tastes, and areas of the body. By observing the individual and ourselves, we can determine which element is asking for help.

You and the Five Elements: So how can knowledge of the Five Elements help you today? Simply look at the chart below and see what applies to you. Tone of voice is difficult to determine yourself, but someone may be able to help you determine some of your vocal qualities. But you do know things like your favorite taste. What is your least favorite? What are the significant times of day for you? What are your favorite and least favorite colors? What are your predominant emotions? Are there any sense organs, body tissues, or body fluids significant for you?

Usually there will be one or two elements that are more significant for an individual than others. With this knowledge you can use acupressure points and eat foods that support the elements you need (see “Healing with Whole Foods”).

Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Yin Organ Liver Heart & Triple Warmer Spleen Lungs Kidneys
Yang Organ Gall Bladder Small Intestine & Pericardium Stomach Large Intestine Bladder
Vocal Quality Shouting Laughing Singing Weeping Groaning
Time of Day 11pm-3am 11am-3pm and 7-11pm 7-11am 3-7am 3-7pm
Body Fluid Tears Sweat Saliva Mucus Urine
Emotion Anger Joy Worry Grief Fear
Tissue Tendons and nails Blood vessels Muscles Skin and hair Bones
Sense Organ Eyes Tongue Mouth Nose Ears
Sense Sight Speech Taste Smell Hearing
Color Green Red Yellow White Blue/Black
Taste Sour Bitter Sweet Spicy Salty


Real Life Examples:


I first spoke with “Sally” over the phone. Her voice was clear and direct, her pitch moving up and down corresponding to an obvious singing vocal quality. Some may say she had a sweet sounding voice. In fact she often used sweet words to describe someone “she is so sweet,” “my sweetheart, and “hun.” During a personal meeting, I saw she was wearing red and she said it was her favorite color. I found she also had a sweettooth, was most active in the morning and felt she needed a second cup of coffee (with sugar, by the way) by lunchtime. She said she “feels” for her friends and worries all the time, often interfering with her ability to sleep. She was diagnosed by her physician as having Idiopathic Thrombopeanic Purpura, a low platelet count of unknown cause.

Interpretation: If we look at the Five Element chart, we see the singing, time of day, taste, and emotion directly correspond to the Earth element. Her preference for the color red may be indicate that she is using the Fire element to feed a weakened Earth element. The Spleen meridian is associated with the Earth element. The Spleen meridian is considered to “unify the blood” and points are often used on the spleen meridian to address blood deficiency conditions. Her medical diagnosis of a low platelet count is consistent with other Five Element observations.

Session: During the session, I held several points along the stomach, spleen and fire meridian. When I held Spleen 10 also known as “Sea of Blood”, she felt as if her collar was too tight, and she tugged on it as she swallowed hard. The same behavior was seen a few minutes later while acupoint Spleen 10 was held on the opposite leg. After the session, she said she felt an upward movement in her body that prompted her to loosen her collar and swallow.

Session Interpretation: It is possible her Spleen meridian flow was reversed. Holding points in series, with the key point being Spleen 10, she felt the flow of her Spleen meridian flowing upward for the first time in a while.


“Janet” was exhausted and felt like doing very little. She was recently divorced and was having a very difficult time with the loss of her relationship. She found it difficult to take the necessary actions to care for her child. She wore all white. Her voice was shaky, with a weeping quality. She found it difficult to smile and breathe deeply. She expressed no preferences for food or times of day but stated she could never get enough sleep even with long hours of sleep.

Interpretation: The change in her life was stressing the energy of her Metal element. The predominance of weeping in the voice, preference for white, and the associated emotion of grief, all correspond to the Metal element. The depletion of the Metal element energy may affect her ability to nurture the Water element, as indicated by her inability to get rest. The lack of joy in her life may also indicate a Fire element weakened by controlling the Metal element.

Session: I held Lung 1 “Letting Go” and Pericardium 2 “Celestial Spring” (a.k.a. “Sea of Joy”) paired with several Bladder points. Her breathing became more calm and regular, and she fell asleep during the session. Upon awakening, she still felt refreshed and her emotional pain was significantly less. She smiled and said she felt more clear-headed about dealing with the “practical stuff” of life.

Session Interpretation: As with any significant change involving loss, the Metal element energy will be drawn upon. Adjacent elements in each cycle (Fire and Water) will also benefit from attention. Falling asleep on the table and her willingness to take action on the practical matters of life indicate an increase in energy of the Water and Fire element.

Five Element Recommendations

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