Archive for the ‘Five Elements’ Category

The Metal Element #2 Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

The metal element can be looked at under four headings: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.  These categories are my own (modern and western) they are not traditionally part of acupuncture.  However the things that appear under these headings are traditionally part of acupuncture: it is my arrangement that is new.

The metal element rules letting go of our breath and solid waste.  The lung also rules our skin – this, as well as protecting us is a major organ of discharge (sweat and toxins too).  This process of letting go should be easy and natural.

The emotion associated with letting go is sadness.  When you weep with sorrow you will notice how it involves your lungs.  Our tears usually bring with them a quality of softness: those who never cry are often hard and harsh (to themselves as well as to others), not an attractive quality.

Letting go of out moded ideas and past thoughts can be quite difficult.  Habits and routines can be invaluable in making our lives simpler (we don’t have to re-learn walking every time we get up).  However, they can be a trap to – so that we can, without even noticing it, become stale and dissatisfied.  We can lose the sense that each moment is unique and precious.

The spiritual here means a connection to some sense of cosmic order.  That our lives make sense and are connected.  This may be our connection with nature or a spiritual practice of some kind.

How is your metal element?

  •     Any breathing problems?
  •     Any problems with elimination?
  •     Do you cling to past relationships?
  •     Do you feel sad or try to fight it?
  •     Are you learning new things?
  •     Do you have a sense of connection to spirit in your life?

The Metal Element #1

Monday, September 17th, 2007

The metal element manifests in our bodies as the lungs and colon. 

The lungs (being more solid) are the yin aspect and the colon (being more hollow) is the yang aspect of the metal element.

The lungs do not store a vital fluid.  However the lungs are in charge of qi.  There is one activity (or one type) of qi which is the responsibility of the lung alone.  This is called “defensive qi” – it is the qi that fights off those things from the environment which make us sick.  The lungs are said to rule the skin and this defensive qi is said to circulate just below the skin.  The qi that flows to the rest of our body (and which is usually manipulated by the acupuncture needles) is called “nutritive qi”.

Traditionally defensive qi is said to be “bold as a warrior”. 

Metal can be unyielding.  It can therefore (in some sorts of feng shui) be associated with counsel or divine guidance: our job is to adapt to spirit – the way of the divine.  In christian circles it is said that: you don’t break the ten commandments, you break yoursefl against them.  A secular equivalent would be: gravity is no respecter of persons, you fall far enough onto something hard enough: you die – end of story.

Think of the people you know who seem to never catch cold: most likely they have a quality of boldness about them.  These people have strong defensive qi.  If you picture the lungs position in relation to the other organs in our torso they form a sort of cover over them: this is a good picture of the role of defensive qi.

For another aspect of the metal element picture a sword, scythe or scissors.  Metal can cut through and is associated with letting go.  The colon lets go of the solid waste we no longer require and the lungs let go of the air that we breathe.  To experience this quality in your breathing pause for a moment and note how little effort it takes to breathe in.  Once you have experienced this for a few breaths notice that it takes no effort at all to breathe out.  This effortless letting go is the complement to the boldness of defense qi.

So how is your metal element?

  •     Is your immunity good or do you pick up whatever is going around?
  •     Any constipation?
  •     Are you able to mourn the losses you have had?

The Earth Element #2: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual

Friday, August 31st, 2007

The division into physical, emotional, mental and spiritual is my own.  It is not a division traditionally used in acupuncture.  However the aspects under these heading are covered traditionally in acupuncture.

The physical process of digestion is the food we take in.  So when our wood element is out of balance we may put on excess weight or be underweight.  Our appetite will be unreliable and we may have cravings.

The emotion traditionally associated with the earth element is pensiveness.  If this is not functioning well we can get obsessive – going over and over our experience rather than digesting it.  Some of our relationships nourish us and others can be quite toxic.

Digesting our mental experience is likewise a process of rumination and consideration.  The result of this digestion is that grow in our understanding and expand our knowledge of new areas.

Is your spirit nourished?  Does your life have a sense of meaning?  When we digest our experience spiritually we have a sense of centredness – as the earth is the centre to which all things fall.

How easily do you digest your experience?

Do you crave particular types of food?  How is your digestion?
Do your relationships nourish you?  Which ones are more nourishing and which less?  Are some of your relationships toxic to you?
Do you feel nourished intellectually?  Are you learning new things or do you tend to go over what you have already learned?
What feeds your spirit?  Do you have a spiritual practice?

The Earth Element #1

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

The earth element manifests in our bodies as the stomach and ‘spleen’.

Please note: the ‘spleen’ in acupuncture is usually taken to include what in western medicine is called the pancreas.

The spleen (being more solid) is the yin aspect of the earth element and the stomach (more hollow) is the yang aspect.

The earth element has to do with our digestion – our taking in and using the fruits of the earth.

In acupuncture the process of food digestion has two main stages:
the stomach is said to ‘rot and ripen’ the food we eat, and
the spleen is said to ‘transform and transport it’.
‘Rotting and ripening’ is the first stage of digestion.  It is digesting our food to the stage it is still recognisable food.  When our stomach is upset and we vomit what we expel is still recognisable as food.  The second stage is ‘transforming’ the food into qi (other organs as well as the spleen are involved in this) and ‘transporting’ this throughout our bodies, so that all parts of us are nourished.

The earth element is easily damaged by dampness.  In humid weather we often don’t feel hungry.

When our earth element is healthy we have good muscles and our limbs are healthy.  The wood element is more associated with two vital fluids – qi and blood – than storing one in particular.

Do you feel nourished by what you take in – whatever the aspect of your experience?

In what areas do you feel nourished?
What do you feel starved of?
What do you tend to take in too much?

The Fire Element#2

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

The fire element is particularly affected by heat.

For example, during heat waves those who are weak (the sick and elderly) may die of heart attacks.  When we do vigorous exercise and get hot our heat beat is quicker.

Heat tends to ‘scatter’.  We talk about people being ‘hot and bothered’ or ‘all the place’ or ‘all over the shop’.  At these times we are unfocussed and ‘scatty’, not ‘cool’ and certainly not ‘cool-headed’.

Fire provides illumination and warmth. 

When our fire element is healthy we will be warm, not cold-hearted.  There will also be a clarity in our perceptions – we won’t be confused and scatty.

The fire element is associated with the ‘vital fluid’ called ‘spirit’.

The heart is said to store the spirit.  This does not mean the same as western notions of ghosts or disembodied entities.  In acupuncture ‘spirit’ has the notion of an energy that has both clarity and warmth.  

How is the fire element in your life?

    When you are stressed do you get scatty or go cold?

    Are you cool headed or do you tend to be over-excited?

    Do you have a clarity about your self and your circumstances?

    Would you describe as being warm-hearted? 

The Fire Element#1

Monday, August 20th, 2007

The fire element manifests in the human body in four ways. 

It is different to the other elements which only have two manifestations in our bodies.  Two manifestations of the fire element have rough western equivalents, two have little equivalent in western medicine.

The four manifestations of the fire element in the human body are: the heart, the small intestine, the pericardium and the triple heater (sometimes called the triple burner, triple warmer or even the three burning spaces.  The chinese name, the san jiao, is also sometimes used).

A brief digression on the small intestine and triple heater channels.  These are two of the three arm yang channels (the other one is the Colon – sometimes called the Large Intestine – channel).  These points on these channels are rarely used to affect the organs they are named the same as.  This is strange but ‘just one of those things’.

The hearts controls the flow of blood throughout the body.  The traditional saying is that:

the heart rules the blood (and the vessels it flows in).

The small intestine separates the pure from the impure.  This applies to both bodily fluids and the judgements we make about our experience.

The pericardium has the job of protecting the heart (it is sometimes called the ‘heart protector’).  We westerners speak of opening our hearts or being closed, in acupuncture these are the functions of the pericardium.  

The triple heater is both a division of the body into three and the distributor of fluids throughout the body.  The three body divisions are the upper heater (concerned with respiration and being above the diaphragm – heart and lungs), middle heater (concerned with digestion and being in the middle of trunk – spleen and stomach (and perhaps liver and gall bladder)), and lower heater (concerned with elimination and being located below the navel – the kidney, bladder and colon).

The Fire Element#3 Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

The division into physical, emotional, mental and spiritual is not traditional in acupuncture. It is one that I have used for convenience. However the parts named do correspond to traditional divisions. Thus for the fire element: joy is traditionally associated with the heart, as are the four organs and spirit. Also some of the functions ascribed to spirit are covered by our term ‘mental’.


The fire element manifests as the four organs and their channels (heart, small intestine, pericardium and triple heater). The heart stores the spirit and rules the blood (the red liquid and the vessels it flows through).

Someone with a healthy fire element has energy and will have a healthy glow about them (if they have too much fire then their complexion becomes permanently eg through excessive consumption of alcohol, which is warming).


The emotion of the fire element is joy. Too much fire and we become manic, over-excited. At the extreme people can die of heart attacks from being over-excited.


The mental aspect of the fire element are some of the functions of spirit. Clarity in our perceptions and consideration arise from a healthy spirit. However the spirit in acupuncture has more feeling of contemplation. The digestion and analysis of experience is more a function of the earth element. The spirit in acupuncture has a bit of a ‘zen feeling’ – of just letting things be as they are.


Fire ascends to heaven. In this sense the acupuncture notion of ‘spirit’ does cross over with the western notion of spirit. When we know spirit is with us we can be both warm and clear. We will have a stillness that is compatible with activity and a sense of our purpose. We will experience a sense of joy that has the flavour of calmness, closer to bliss than excitement.

How is the fire element in your life?

Do you have a healthy heart?

Can you open and close your heart to others?

Do you find it easy to gain clarity about your circumstances?

Do you have an abiding sense of joy?

The Wood Element #3

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

The wood element manifests in our bodies as the liver and gall bladder.  We will go into more depth about the liver and gall bladder later in this blog.

Just like the trees and plants in nature our wood element is affected by wind. 

Ask a school teacher about the effect of windy days on children – they get ratty and are hard to manage – they don’t flow easily from one thing to the next.

Wind moves and changes.  So symptoms that come and go or move around the body are called ‘wind’ in acupuncture.  We will go into wind in more depth when we deal with the causes of disease, “the devils” later in this blog.

For women the liver, which governs the flow of qi and blood, is especially important. 

The menstrual flow should be easy and painless.  When it is not it is often associated with feelings of frustration, anger and ‘rattiness’.


How healthy is your wood element?

    How do you find being out in the wind? 

    Do you chop and change or are you able to move steadily to where you want to be, accommodating changes in circumstances without being blow off course?

    If you are a woman do your menses flow easily?  Do you feel emotionally disturbed when menstruating?

The Wood Element #2

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007



The wood element in our body manifests as the liver and gall bladder.

Wood is a picture of resilient growth

– trees and plants can bend and flex with the wind and not break.  In our bodies the wood element, the liver, is associated with the tendons (not the muscles.  The tendons have a role in allowing us to flex and bend).  When we grow steadily (as pictured by the wood element in nature – trees and plants) then we are flexible and can bend and flex with changes in circumstances.

The wood element also is a picture of the beginning – of growth just starting. 

Wood can be pictured as the seed sprouting (it also corresponds to the season of spring where new growth begins.  This is more true in China and other countries than in Australia where there are plants that flower in every season – though still predominantly in spring in Australia too.)  This leads to the wood element, especially the gall bladder, being associated with stepping out.  The yin aspect of this process, the liver’s part, is the planning or visionary aspect.  In acupuncture the liver is said to rule the eyes physically as well – eye problems are a liver disorder. 

How healthy is your wood element?

    Are you physically flexible?

    Can you bend and flex when circumstances don’t go according to your plan?  Of do you get frustrated and angry?

    How are you at being in touch with your vision?

    How are you at flowing easily from your vision to action?

    Are you long or short-sighted?

The Wood Element #1

Monday, August 13th, 2007

In our bodies the wood element manifests as the liver and gall bladder. 

The liver is the yin aspect because it is solid and the gall bladder is the yang aspect because it is hollow.

The liver is said to store one of the vital fluids – the blood.

What is meant by ‘blood’ in acupuncture is slightly different to what is meant in western medicine.  In acupuncture it does mean the red flood which comes out if we are cut and flows through our body.  It also has a very important functional meaning in acupuncture – ‘blood’ has the job of nourishment, building us up.  (Another vital substance, ‘qi’, gives us the energy to do; blood is the restoration of ourselves from the expenditure of qi.  Thus qi directs how the energy is used and blood ‘produces’ qi.)

A traditional saying is:

qi is the commander of the blood, blood is the mother of qi.

We will go into the blood in more depth when we cover the vital fluids on this blog.

Wood symbolises steady growth. 

In our bodies the liver governs the flow of blood and qi – in health we flow with life: we have a bouancy and flow easily from activity to rest and from one activity to another.  When this flow is blocked we become frustrated and angry (the emotions associated with the wood element in our bodies).

So how is the health of your wood element:

    Are you nourished?

    Do you restore yourself after exertion or do you have a residual tiredness?

    Is your sleep refreshing or do you wake tired?

    How much of your time are you frustrated and angry?

    Do you find ways to flow past or grow through meeting obstacles in your life?