Intro to the Five Elements: In Nature, Medicine, and the Body

Five elements

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the five elements are a dynamic foundational lens through which our bodies and our environment can be viewed. Similar to the theory of yin and yang, the elements are constantly interacting, controlling, and essentially giving life to one another. They are never separate from system of elements as a whole. Just as we are with the universe that surrounds us, the elements alone are just a working piece within the bigger picture.

The five elements are: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Each one has a different set of attributes and correspondences, including seasons, time of day, emotions, color, movement, taste, and sound. Just as with yin and yang, almost everything in the world can be relatively linked to a specific element.

This brings me to diagnosis and the role of the five elements within the body. Within the scope of the medicine, we refer to the five elements as a system of correspondences. Each element is tied to a different pair of organs. As symptoms arise, they’ll often fall into the category of one of the elements/ organ systems. For example, if someone is experiencing blurry vision, fatigue, irritability, and muscle/ tendon pain, this would indicate an imbalance within the wood element. This is where we look at the system as a whole and how each element is interacting with one another. Often the showing signs aren’t even the root of the problem. This is how holistic medicine works. By looking at the system as a whole and how each part is working together, we can see cause and effect more clearly, and treat both. Acupuncture and herbal medicine are of course great at treating these imbalances, but there are also lifestyle changes that can be made once you know where the root of the dysfunction lies.