What are the 5 Elements?


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The Five Elements in Chinese Medicine

The five elements, also called "Wu Xing" represent the processes that are fundamental to the cycles of nature, and therefore correspond to the human body.

The chinese term "xing" 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 liquifies and produces water vapor
  • water generated then nourishes the trees, or wood 

The five elements, their characteristics, and their inter-relationships with the body can be defined as:

Fire

Hot, ascending, light and energy as embodied in the TCM functions of the heart (yin) and small intestine (yang). The fire element also affects the complementary organ processes of the pericardium (yin) and the triple warmer, which is representative of the upper, lower, and middle parts of the body, as well as the circulation of fluids in these areas (yang). Joy (overindulgence) is the emotion which creates imbalance within this element.

Earth

Productive, fertile, growth. The earth element relates to the stomach (yang) and the spleen (yin). The stomach begins the process of digestive breakdown, while the spleen transforms and transports the energy from food and drink throughout the body. Pensiveness is the emotion which creates imbalance within this element.

Metal

As a conductor, this element includes the lungs (yin), which move vital energy throughout the body, and the large intestine (yang), which is responsible for receiving and discharging waste. Sadness, or grieving is the emotion which creates imbalance within this element.

Water

Wet, descending, flowing. The water element represents the urinary bladder (yang), and the kidney (yin). The bladder receives, stores, and excretes urine. Water metabolism dissipates fluids throughout the body, moistening it, then accumulating in the kidneys. The kidneys also store the essence, and serve as the root of yin and yang for the entire body. Fear and paranoia are the emotions which create imbalance within this element.

Wood

Strong, rooted. The wood element represents the liver (yin), and the gall bladder (yang). The liver stores blood, and regulates the smooth flow of qi. The gallbladder is responsible for storing and excreting bile. Anger is the emotion that creates imbalance within the liver, while indecisiveness is relative to the gallbladder.

 

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