Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has long been held as mysterious at best and controversial at worst. Its long standing history however has backed its validity in more ways than one can shake a stick at.
For the last 40 years now, western world has slowly been awakened by the significance and contribution of TCM in the science and arts of healing. More and more cooperation are being forged between the western medicine institutions and those of its sister Chinese medicine counterpart. To be fair, the inroad made by the TCM here in America can no longer be ignored as more and more Chinese herb shops, acupuncturists, Tai-chi workshops, and other forms of Chinese healing modalities are being found in just about every city now.
However, there remains much confusion, lack of trust, and mis-understanding among the public about the Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the few blogs to follow, I will begin an introductory series on TCM so that as a consumer, you may gain understanding of its significance, remove any barriers you may have about the use of TCM methodologies, and open new possibilities for you to experience the true Traditional Chinese Medicine and its herbology.
In this first blog, we will look at the fundamental concept of Wu Xing Elements.
Wu Xing: the 5 Chinese Elements
The Five Elements
The five Chinese elements are water, fire, wood, earth, and metal. These elements create a pentagon or circle when a line is traced from one element to the next. Interactions between the five elements can also be described as a five-pointed star within the pentagon or circle.
Each element impacts the next, whether it is through creationary cycles or destructive cycles.
Representing the most yin aspect of the five elements, water always finds the path of least resistance. It is fluid and flowing but can be solid or gaseous. It can be quiet in its flow, but it can also be violent.
Water is the Winter of the seasons, a time for inward reflection, curling up to keep warm, and when growing things are at rest.
Fire is the most yang of the five elements as it consumes, grows, produces heat, and ascends. Summer is Fire’s season.
Earth stabilizes and harmonizes the other elements, grounding them in a firmness that is not rigid or stagnant. Earth quiets the mind and helps us focus on achieving the desired outcomes of our actions. It is the centering element.
As the Spring season, when yang is rising, Wood represents new beginnings, new growth, and renewed development. Just as trees sink their roots deep in the earth, they also grow tall toward the sky, bending and twisting with the wind but staying firmly rooted in their place.
Yin rises in the metal element, which represents the autumn season. Growing things become quieter and begin to prepare for the long winter ahead. Metal is also harvest and gathering before a period of separation.
The Cycles of the Wu Xing
Each of the elements interacts with the others in specific ways throughout each of the four cycles of Wu Xing.
In the Sheng (Nourishing) Cycle, there is a mother/child relationship as each element generates and nurtures the next: Wood feeds Fire; Fire creates Earth (ash); Earth bears Metal; Metal carries Water; and Water nourishes Wood.
The Ko (Regulating) Cycle describes a father/child relationship, where each element controls and regulates the next. In this way, all the elements are held in balance: Wood parts Earth; Earth absorbs water; Water quenches Fire; Fire melts Metal; and Metal chops Wood.
The last two cycles—Cheng (Destructive) and Anti-Ko (Insulting)—describe imbalance. In the Cheng Cycle, elements exert too much control, effectively destroying each other.
In the Anti-Ko Cycle, the elements act in reverse of the Ko Cycle, turning on their regulating elements and creating excess. It is as if the child has turned to insult his father through rebellion.
How Wu Xing Relates to Health
The five elements and their cycles are used to describe and understand natural processes and relationships. In Chinese medicine, Wu Xing helps create a picture of the physiological processes—from how tissues and organs relate to each other and the body as a whole to the pathology of disease.
When combined with the other core theories of Chinese medicine, the five elements or phases are used to diagnose health issues and create treatment plans. Each of the yin and yang organs are assigned to an element, and diagnosis is achieved when the practitioner identifies the cycle that has become imbalanced and the element (or elements) within the cycle that has been depleted or is flowing in excess. From the diagnosis, a treatment is created that alleviates the depletion or the excess while supporting the weakened elements and their related organs.
Among my resources used for this blog, I acknowledge contributions from Nature’s Sunshine and Steven Horne.