Wu Xing

Wu = 5

Xing = ‘movement’, ‘process’

Also translated as ‘the 5 phases’

Similar ideas of 5 (or 4) ‘elements’ is found in many philosophical systems, including Greek philosophy and Ayurveda.

“When the Qi of the elements settles, things acquire form.”  The elements are both qualities of movement, and of substance.

The theory of the 5 elements was developed around the same time as Yin Yang theory.

Element

Yin Organ

Yang Organ

Wood

Liver

Gallbladder

Fire

Heart

Sm. Intestine

Earth

Spleen

Stomach

Metal

Lung

Lg. Intestine

Water

Kidney

Bladder

 

THE 5 ELEMENTS IN NATURE

  • 5 basic processes of nature
  • 5 qualities of natural phenomena
  • 5 phases of a cycle
  • 5 inherent capabilities of change

5 Elements as Basic Qualities

Wood

Sour

Fire

Bitter

Earth

Sweet

Metal

Pungent

Water

Salty

 

“The Five Elements are Water, Fire, Wood, Metal, and Earth.  Water moistens downward, Fire flares upwards, Wood can be bent and straightened, Metal can be molded and can harder.  Earth permits sowing, growing and reaping.  That which soaks and descends (Water) is salty.  That which blazes upwards (Fire) is bitter, that which can be bent and straightened (Wood) is sour, that which can be molded and become hard (Metal) is pungent, that which permits sowing and reaping (Earth) is sweet.”

(1000-771 BC)

Wood

Bends & straightens

Fire

Blazes upward

Earth

Sowing & reaping

Metal

Moldable & hardens

Water

Soaks & descends

 

Wood bends & straightens; it is both solid and malleable.

Fire blazes upward, creating heat, and transforms by combustion.

Earth permits sowing and reaping of food, thus providing nutrition and sustenance.

Metal can be melted and molded, but also becomes very solid and strong when allowed to congeal

Water soaks and flows downward, it is liquid and fluid in movement.

5 Elements as Movements

Wood

Expansion, outward

Fire

Upward

Earth

Center, stability

Metal

Contraction, inward

Water

Downward

 

These qualities manifest in organ physiology and pathology:

  • Wood (Liver Qi) flows freely in every direction.
  • Fire blazes upward causing red face.
  • Earth is in the center, associated with digestion, which is fundamental to all body processes, and affects the abdomen: the center of the body.
  • Metal is associated with the skin, which contains the body.
  • Water flows downward as excretion of fluids.

5 Elements as Seasonal Stages

Wood

Spring

Fire

Summer

Earth

Indian Summer

Transition

Metal

Autumn

Water

Winter

 

Earth is associated with the transition between seasons.  It is often said to be the ‘Indian summer’, but it also corresponds with transitional times of the other seasons.

5 Element Interrelationships

  • Generating Sequence
  • Controlling Sequence
  • Over-Acting Sequence
  • Insulting Sequence

The generating and controlling sequences are physiological.

The over-acting and insulting sequences are pathological.

The Generating Sequence

The generating sequence represents the idea that each element is the generating force for the following element.

The generating element is called ‘mother’, as in “fire is the mother of earth”, and “metal is the child of earth”.

These ideas mimic nature in that wood becomes fire when ignited, water nourishes the trees to become wood, etc…5 Element Generating

 

The Controlling Sequence

The controlling sequence indicates that each element controls, or restrains, one other element.

The controlling element is known as the ‘grandmother’, and the element being controlled as the ‘grand-child’.

In nature, we can see that tree roots (Wood) restrain the soil, preventing it from being washed away, and that water extinguishes fire…5 Element Controlling

The Over-Acting Sequence

The over-acting sequence follows the same sequence as the controlling sequence, but represents a pathological interaction, when one element controls its grandchild too strongly.

One common manifestation is Wood overacting on Earth.  In this case, a Wood excess, such as high stress levels causes an Earth deficiency, leading to digestive issues.

The Insulting Sequence

The insulting sequence is a reversal of the controlling sequence.

In the insulting sequence, the grandchild returns the controlling force generated by the grandmother.5 Element Insulting

5 Element Correspondences

There are many correspondences associated with the elements in Chinese medicine, many of which come from observation of nature.

These correspondences extend to diagnosis and treatment of the human body.

Season & Direction

Wood

Spring

East

Fire

Summer

South

Earth

Indian Summer

Transition

Center

Metal

Autumn

West

Water

Winter

North

 

Color, Taste, Climate, Stage, Sense Organ, Tissue, & Emotion

Wood

Fire

Earth

Metal

Water

Color

Green

Red

Yellow

White

Black

Taste

Sour

Bitter

Sweet

Pungent

Salty

Climate

Wind

Heat

Damp

Dryness

Cold

Stage

Birth

Growth

Transformation

Harvest

Storage

Sense Organ

Eyes

Tongue

Mouth

Nose

Ears

Tissues

Sinews

Vessels

Muscles

Skin

Bones

Emotions

Anger

Joy

Pensiveness

Sadness

Fear

 

THE 5 ELEMENTS IN CHINESE MEDICINE

5 Elements in Physiology

The relationships between the 5 elements form a model for the relationships between each element’s correspondences.  For example, the relationship between Wood and Earth also manifests in the relationship between the Liver and Spleen, or the eyes and mouth.

The fire element corresponds to the Heart and Small Intestine, but it also corresponds with two other organs, the Pericardium and Triple Burner (San Jiao).

Yin

Yang

Emperor Fire

Heart

Small Intestine

Minister Fire

Pericardium

Triple Burner

 

Generating and Controlling Sequences

The 5 element sequences can also be applied to the organs.

The Liver is the mother of the Heart:

The Liver stores the Blood and Blood houses the Mind, which is associated with the Heart.  Liver Blood deficiency often leads to Heart Blood deficiency and both affect sleep and dreaming.

The Spleen is the mother of the Lungs:

The Spleen has digestive functions and provides food-Qi to the Lungs.  Food-Qi combines with the breath to form Gathering-Qi, which circulates through the body.  Deficiency of Lung and Spleen Qi often occur together.

The Kidney is the mother of the Liver:

Kidney Yin nourishes Liver Blood.  Kidneys are associated with bone, and Liver with sinews.  The sinews and bone are inseparable, and together have a clear correspondence with the musculo-skeletal system.

The Liver controls the Spleen and Stomach:

The Liver controls the flow of Qi, and free flow of Qi helps the Spleen and Stomach to digest food.  Liver Qi flows upwards, while Stomach Qi flows downwards.  A proper balance between these two is required for food to pass through the digestive system at the proper rate.  Liver over-acting on the Spleen is a common pathology, where the Liver Qi becomes excess (stagnant) and in turn interferes with Spleen function.

5 Elements in Pathology

In 5 element terms, the over-acting cycle and the insulting cycle are pathological.  The generating and control cycles are physiological.  When out of balance, the generating cycle can also cause illness.

There are four basic patterns of imbalance:

An element is excess, and over-acts on its grandchild element.

An element is excess, and takes too much from its mother element.

An element is deficient, and fails to nourish its child element.

An element is deficient, and is insulted by its grandchild element.

Over-acting Sequence

This pathology occurs when the controlling sequence is out of balance.

The Liver over-acts on the Spleen and Stomach

A stagnation of Liver Qi can ‘invade’ the Stomach and Spleen.  This prevents the Stomach Qi from descending as it should, causing nausea, and prevents the Spleen from ascending as it should, leading to diarrhea.

The Spleen over-acts on the Kidneys

An excess accumulation of Dampness in the Spleen can ‘overflow’ and obstruct the Kidneys’ function of transforming fluids.  This may appear as a full, heavy feeling in the abdomen (Earth) and frequent copious urination (Water).

Insulting Sequence

This pathology occurs when the controlling cycle is so imbalanced that it becomes reversed, and an element insults its grandmother.

The Liver insults the Lungs

Stagnant Liver Qi insults the Lungs, preventing them from properly taking in air Qi.  This may cause a feeling of tightness in the chest or an inability to take a deep breath.

The Kidneys insult the Spleen

If the Kidneys do not properly excrete and transform fluids, they can accumulate in the body, and obstruct the Spleen with Dampness.  This could manifest as cloudy, scanty urine (Water), and full body edema of (Flesh =Earth).

The Generating Sequence

If the generating sequence becomes imbalanced, there are two possible pathological scenarios:

The Mother element fails to nourish the Child element

The Child element takes too much from the Mother element

The Liver fails to nourish the Heart

The Liver stores blood, but if the Liver blood becomes deficient, it may fail to nourish the Heart.  When Liver blood is deficient, the nails and eyes can become dry, and deficient Heart blood may cause insomnia and heart palpitations.

The Spleen takes too much from the Heart

The Spleen is responsible for making blood, and the Heart requires a strong supply of blood.  When the Spleen is weak, there may be poor digestion and diarrhea and when the Heart doesn’t receive sufficient blood, there may be insomnia, poor memory, and heart palpitations.

5 Elements in Diagnosis

The story of a clever doctor

There once was a newly elected mayor who came to a village to help the people. Being new, he met many challenges in governing the village and was overwhelmed by his tasks. Soon, he experienced profound pensiveness and felt very sick. One day, he invited a renowned village doctor to his house to help cure him. The doctor felt his pulse and then thought for a while. Suddenly, he had a crazy idea and said, “Congratulations, mayor! Your symptoms are signs of pregnancy. Don’t worry too much. You will get better soon.” No sooner had the doctor spoken, the mayor shouted angrily, “Get out! I am male. How can I be pregnant? How ridiculous you are!” A short time later, the mayor’s illness disappeared, just as the doctor had predicted.

How was the mayor cured? The answer lies in the generation and restriction abilities of the five elements. According to TCM, the mayor’s sickness belonged to earth disharmony, because pensiveness is part of the element earth. Excessive pensiveness harms the spleen, which is also part of the element earth, but wood restricts earth. While anger is the emotion of liver and wood element, sudden and excessive anger can easily inhibit the excessive earth. Therefore, the renowned doctor deliberately made the mayor angry and effectively neutralized his pensiveness. By controlling the mayor’s excessive earth element, his body’s harmony was restored and he was cured.

%d bloggers like this: