Archive for the ‘Five Elements’ Category

Water: emotional, mental and spiritual

Monday, August 6th, 2007

This is my take on the other aspects of the water element. I use the division of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual for convenience. This is entirely my own invention and is not a division that is traditionally part of acupuncture.


the emotion associated with the water element in our body (the kidney and bladder) is fear.

Fear can cause us to urinate. (This is a traditional association.)

In my opinion fear can be very useful (this is not part of traditional acupuncture). It can be a warning of danger. Our emotions are one source of information (not infallible of course, but then neither are our thoughts). When we feel fear we should listen to it. We may then decide that there is no danger or that there is. Suppressing our awareness of our fear can lead to bravado and foolish action (“fools rushing in where angels fear to tread”).

How much is fear part of your life?

  • Can you listen to it?
  • Does it control you?
  • Do you feel the need to suppress or triumph over it?
  • How does your fear affect you – physically, mentally and spiritually?


generalised awareness, not intensely focussed.

More like just checking out what is going on, getting the lie of the land. Water takes the shape of its container and this kind of awareness adapts itself to the situation.

  • Are you able to ‘just be aware’ of what is.
  • Your own feeling, desires and thoughts;
  • the things around you; and the qualities in your surroundings?
  • Can you enjoy this awareness of do you try to rush through it?


your gift; what you feel you were put here to do/be in life.

  • Do you have a sense of your own contribution?
  • Your own uniqueness? (This is not to be grandiose but simply to acknowledge that all of us have our own uniqueness.)

This is not part of traditional acupuncture but is part of feng shui (the number one in the magic square that feng shui uses).

The Water Element: kidney and bladder

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

The water element in our bodies manifests physically as the kidney and bladder.

When our kidney and bladder are healthy then the water element in our body is healthy.

The water element is especially effected by cold.

We usually need to urinate more in cold weather.  The kidney channel is the only acupuncture channel that begins on the sole of our feet.  If you walk across a cold floor to get to the toilet you may find, that after walking back across it you want to go to the toilet again.

So how is your urination?  When healthy the flow of urine will be free and without any pain.  You will not be ‘caught short’ – that is find suddenly that you need to urinate urgently.

Any problem with urination will involve the kidney and/or bladder.

  •     Frequent urination.
  •     Waking frequently to urinate at night.
  •     Urine containing things it shouldn’t

– bloody
– cloudy.

This is a brief introduction to the physical aspect of the water element as it manifests in our bodies through the kidney and bladder.  We will go into more detail about the kidney and bladder later on this blog.

The Water Element – jing

Monday, July 30th, 2007

In our bodies the water element manifests physically in the kidneys and bladder

– those organs concerned with the discharge of fluids from our body.  The kidney is the yin aspect of the water element in our bodies because it is more solid.  The bladder is the yang aspect because it is hollow.

The kidney is said to store one of the vital fluids – jing in Chinese.

This is sometimes translated as essence (though there are other translations as well).

The jing is the vitality we are born with.  Birth deformities are jing problems in acupuncture.

In general we are born with a stock of jing at birth and to maintain health we need to maintain this jing as much as possible.  In one sense aging is using up our jing.  The art of life then is to use the energy we get from outside ourselves (food and air) and not use the energy from inside ourselves.  Put as simply as possible this means not pushing ourselves to exhaustion.  Those who do this (even including elite athletes) tend not to live as long.  Major challenges to our health also draw onjing to overcome them – things such as a major illness or shock.  (Those things which age us prematurely.)

The kind of exhaustion that is to be avoided is most easily recognised by feelings of dizziness.

For men jing is lost through excessive orgasms.  This would be approximately 2 or 3 per week in winter and perhaps 3-5 per week in summer.  (Jing has a role in warming the body and so is less used for this in summer).  This leads to ‘Chinese yoga’ practises of inhibiting ejaculation at orgasm.  We will go into jing in more detail when we get to the vital fluids on this blog.

So how are you going at maintaining your jing?

  •     Do you work too hard and get exhausted (or even got to burn-out)?
  •     Do you work, or engage in sex, to the point of dizziness?
  •     Do you feel that you were born with a weak (little jing) or strong (lots of jing) constitution?
  •     Of those you know, who do you think has lots of jing?

– What do they look like, how do they move, what kind of lifestyle do they live?

  •     Of those you know, who do you think has less jing?

– What do they look like, how do they move, what kind of lifestyle do they live?

The Five Elements

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Traditional Chinese Medicine has a quite complicated and useful medical theory.  However it is due to the subtlety with which a relatively few simple concepts are combined that makes it so impressive.

One cluster of these concepts is called “the five elements”
– whether this is a correct translation is much debated.  [Chinese characters are based on pictures and coming up with the equivalent idea in a language like English is usually tricky, and will probably always be debated.]  This post is a brief introduction to the elements.

The five elements are:

  • water,
  • wood,
  • fire,
  • earth, and,
  • metal.

These elements are present outside our body, “in nature”, and in our bodies.  Looking at these five elements in our bodies gives us a ready health check list.

  • The water element covers our ‘constitution’ – what we are born with (some people are born more healthy than others) – and can be extended to include our natural talent or gift.

It also includes our libido, urination, our lower back and our ability to hear.

  • The wood element includes: our ability to flex and flow with life, and so includes our sinews (not our muscles).

It is an especially important element for women to have in balance.  It includes our vision – both literally and metaphorically – and can lead us to become hyper if it is not controlled by paying attention to the mundane details of our daily life.

  • The fire element is our ability to see clearly and this extends as far as contemplation and meditation.

A person with enough fire is warm and clear – they aren’t scatty.  Too much fire and we can go beyond scatty to being unfocussed and manic.  With enough fire we are serene but not coldly detached.

  • When our earth element is healthy we take in easily and well the fruit of the earth.

The earth element is our nourishment.  Whatever nourishes who we are is covered by the earth element.  This is not just physical food but helpful relationships and being able to ‘digest’ intellectual ‘food’ as well.

  • The metal element is about us cutting free or letting go.

This applies to excretion and breathing.  A traditional saying is: die 10,000 times a day, ie. with each breath let go of what has happened.  Or, more specifically and on a much longer time span: don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  Are we able to not get entangled with our thoughts, feelings and relationships.  Can we move on to new things?  This is the metal element in our lives.

So here is a quick health check up:

  •     Am I looking after what I was born with (my constitution and gift)?
  •     Do I flow easily or do I get hyper?
  •     Am I warm and serene?
  •     Am I nourished?  Do I get what I need to feed me (in every sense of the word)?
  •     Can I move on to new things?

Acupuncture’s Philosophy

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

The philosophy underlying acupuncture is not terribly difficult. 

There are relatively few concepts to be understood.  Their power and usefulness comes from how they refer to key parts of our experience and how these terms are related to each other.

There are two main concepts that underlie acupuncture:
yin and yang, and
the five elements (sometimes called the five phases).
Here I’ll give a brief introduction to each.

1. yin and yang

yin and yang are the complementary opposites that make up the whole.  Any whole can be seen to be made up of yin and yang aspects.  Thus one day is made up of day and night, humanity consists of male and female, a book consists of paper and ink.  The subtlety of this way of thinking is that yin always contains a little yang and yang a hint of yin.  (This is pictured in the diagram of ‘the fish in the circle’, the ‘eyes of the fish’ being the opposite colour to the body of the fish.)  Thus there is some light (yang) at night (yin) and some shadow (yin) during the day (yang); each man (yang) has softness (yin) and each woman (yin) has resoluteness (yang), the ink (yin) contains some of the paper (yang) and the paper (yang) contains the ink (yin).

A good place to begin to understand yin and yang is the chinese characters.

The characters for yin and yang are of the shady and sunny sides of a hill. 

Yang is the sunny side and yin is the shady side.  So yin can mean: cooler, darker, rest.  Yang by contrast is warmer, lighter, active.

These characters are also a reminder that the same side of the hill can be sunny or shady depending on the time of day.  A person is more yin when resting or sleeping and more yang when awake and active. 

In our human experience the terms are usually relative
– something is more or less yin rather than absolutely yin or yang.
(Absolute yang is heaven and absolute yin is earth, while alive we are a mix of these two – the breath and the earth in the biblical image.)

This quickly becomes complex because each quality or part of a person or object can be classified into yin and yang also.  Thus a bodily organ like our heart has its structure (the muscles and so on which are yin) relative to its function (pumping the blood and so on) which is yang.

I hope this gives some idea of how these simple terms can be used in a subtle and diverse way.

2. the five elements

The five elements are:

  • water
  • wood
  • fire
  • earth
  • metal

These elements are used to classify just about anything, the seasons, animals, parts of our body and much else.

These elements can also symbolise the phases in a process of transformation.  Water symbolises the ability to adapt, and stillness.  Wood symbolises growth.  Fire symbolises full development.  Earth ripeness and metal contraction.  The cycle then begins at water once more.

When the elements are used as a classification system.
Different parts of our body are classified according to the elements.  Examples are: our kidneys belong to the water element, our liver to the wood element, our heart to the fire element, our stomach to the earth element and our lungs to the metal element.

These two systems – one a phase in a process and the other a classification of things – are used side by side.  They are somewhat different.  There is no idea that our kidneys will transform into our liver for instance.  However the flow of energy between these parts of our body does follow this cycle.  The kidney energy (something like libido) supports us taking initiative (wood energy) which leads us to activity (fire energy) which may lead to reflection and learning (earth energy) and then finishing with this experience (metal energy).  This is the cycle of nourishment and growth.

There is another cycle into which the elements are arranged, this is the cycle of control.  In this cycle the elements are arranged in the order:

  • water
  • fire
  • metal
  • wood
  • earth

Thus water controls fire, fire melts metal, metal cuts wood, wood holds earth and earth channels water.  Thus our stillness (water energy) stops our activity becoming manic (fire energy), our activity (fire energy) stops our firmness becoming overly rigid (metal energy), staying firm (metal energy) will stop us taking too many initiatives (wood energy), our initiating (wood energy) will stop us getting stuck in reflection (earth energy) and our reflection will guide libido (water energy).

This is only a very brief introduction to this part of acupuncture’s philosophy.  There is a great wealth of material on the elements and how they apply to all aspects of life (food, exercise and interior decoration to name only three).  But I hope this has been enough to give you an idea of how these simple ideas can be used with great subtlety and power.