Updated: Sep 28, 2019
When people ask me about acupuncture, I usually start by speaking about my foundational education in Chinese Medicine, that being Five Element Acupuncture. There are several different modalities or schools of thought when it comes to the theory and practice of Chinese Medicine, and while I respect them all with deep reverence, it is Five Element that I find to be the most magical.
THE BASICS: Five Element Acupuncture is a practice of medicine that involves, obviously, five elements (water, wood, fire, earth, and metal), and how said elements interact with each other. It is a nature based philosophy, with the central theme being that we are nature and what is going on outside is reflected in us. If we live in accordance with the seasons, we can live lives of greater harmony and ease. In our modern culture, a great example of this concept shows up in the winter when so many suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Winter is the most yin time of the year--it is a time for stillness, deep listening, hibernation, and potency to access our deepest wisdom (in preparation for the rebirth and creativity period that is spring). Unfortunately, it is also a time when there are many holidays, parties, overwork, lack of sleep, and general busyness. We are working completely against what our bodies' natural inclinations are, leaving us thinking that we are depressed or don't have any energy. We are trained to be yang all year long but how is that possibly sustainable if we never get proper rest??
A LITTLE MORE: Another theme in Five Element Acupuncture is treating a person based upon their constitutional factor (CF), or the element where they tend to live the most. While all five elements exist in each of us, there is one element (or sometimes two) that tends to predominate over the others. Once this has been diagnosed, treating a person in that element will help align all of the others. Think of it as the line leader at school. Once they are in place and ready to go, the rest of the kids follow suit.
So now that you have a little bit of information on the five elements, you may be thinking--ok, so what is each element about? While there is much more to it than this, here is a reader's digest version to get you started:
WATER: associated with winter, this element is about deep wisdom, listening, potency, and the emotion of fear. In health, there is clever problem solving, skill with numbers and planning, and appropriate caution when necessary. In disease, there is a lack of fear, rash and impulsive (and sometimes dangerous) decision making, overworking, and an inability to be still. (Organs associated with water: Kidneys and Bladder)
WOOD: associated with spring, this element is about birth, benevolence, flexibility, creativity, vision, planning, and the emotion of anger (this does not always mean what we think of as pissed off anger--it is more the energetic rising of energy). In health there is assertion and strong upward movement to create change and get things done. In disease there is either an excess of wood (where there is inappropriate anger or outbursts all the time), or a lack of (where a person is unable to express anything and keeps things bottled up inside). (Organs associated with wood: Liver and Gall Bladder)
FIRE: associated with summer, this element is about warmth, connection, expansion, celebration, passion, and the emotion of joy. In health, there is ease in connection, healthy boundaries, and the ability to speak freely and truthfully from the heart. In disease, there is either an overreaching for connection and desperation for love, or a cold detachment without a desire to be around others. (Organs associated with fire: Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium, Triple Energizer)
EARTH: associated with late summer (that super hot, sticky time between the perfect heat of summer and the beginning of fall), this element is about harvest, grounding in the body, satisfaction, gratitude, understanding, security, nourishment, and the emotion of sympathy and worry. In health, it is grounded and stable with the ability to take in and provide appropriate nourishment. In disease, there is a lack of rootedness, a desperation to be heard and understood, and a whiny neediness. (Organs associated with earth: Spleen and Stomach)
METAL: associated with autumn, this element is about balance, simplicity, inspiration, value, respect, judgment, connection to the physical body, connection to the spiritual body, letting go, and the emotion of grief. In health it is discerning, elegant, connected, and able to see the beauty in all aspects of life. In disease it is judgmental, cutting, cold, and unable to see the value of anything. (Organs associated with metal: Lung and Large Intestine)
Knowing a little more about the Five Elements can be incredibly helpful in understanding ourselves (and our loved ones) better and knowing what our triggers are and how to best care for ourselves to keep that balance and feel our best!