About The 5 Elements

As super-modern, twenty-first century human beings, we often forget that we are made up of the most basic building blocks of the universe: the elements.  Like all living things, our bodies are made up of a combination of fundamental elements such as oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus.  The idea that we are made up of the elements of nature has been recognized for a long time.  It dates back well over 2500 years, and was recognized very early on by astute practitioners of Chinese medicine.

In the Five Element Acupuncture system, there are five basic elements that are seen to make up people, animals, plants and everything else in nature: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood.  Each element correlates with a movement of Qi or energy in the physical body.  In addition, because the five elements flow with nature’s cycle of the seasons, each element is correlated with a particular season of the year:


These five elements act within us to create the flow of Qi and associated elemental energy.  When a symptom shows up in your body, it is a signal that there is an imbalance in this flow.  Five Element Acupuncture seeks to balance the flow of seasons, of elements, within.  It is this re-balancing that restores the natural state of good health to the patient.

The characteristics of the five elements are described below:

Fire: The energy of Summer.

Fire has warmth, expression, expansiveness, light and joy.  Summer is a time when potentials are realized, and life and activity are at their peak.  In our bodies, the Fire energy manages our temperature and circulation.  Fire with its heat and warmth has the transformative power necessary for physiological processes.  In our relationships, it provides intimacy and compassion.  Fire brings joy, fellowship, equality and passion.  When the fires within burn out of control it may feel chaotic and destructive; and when the fires are low it may feel cold, joyless and unhappy.  At a deep level, the Fire element reveals our capacity to feel warm and connected to all things.

Earth:  The energy of Late Summer.

This is the time of the harvest.  It is a time of abundance, contentment, security and achievement.  Earth’s energy can feel fulfilling or it can feel empty depending on how much care and planning went into our harvest.  Physically, the Earth element is responsible for digestion and distribution of the food and drink we ingest.  It maintains the processing and transfer of information and ideas that feed our mind and spirit.  The emotion connected to the Earth element is sympathy and can manifest as a caring for ourselves and others, generous giving, supporting, sustaining, and embracing unconditionally.  Earth provides stability and grounding and keeps us centered so that we may meet the needs of ourselves and others in a balanced and harmonious way.

Metal:  The energy of Autumn.

Crisp, cool air and brilliant, dying leaves characterize the season of Autumn.  It is a period of receiving and letting go: receiving inspiration and illumination, while letting go of what no longer serves us.  In autumn, the radiance of the leaves can take your breath away.  But the trees are preparing for winter’s season of rest, and in a few short weeks, these leaves wither to brown and die.  The tree must let go, as must we, with what needs to pass.  The Metal element regulates respiration and elimination, giving us the ability to breathe and dispose of waste and toxins.  Pride, vanity, arrogance and filth can contaminate the body, mind, and spirit.  Metal exemplifies quality, purity, precision, brilliance and richness.  The emotion related to the Metal element is grief or longing and as when someone dies or something ends, we must grieve and let go in order to make space for what will come in next.  Letting go of the old is necessary for new energy, inspiration, value and a sense of higher purpose to enter.  The metal element is also related to air and breathing and helps to inspire us.

Water: The energy of Winter.

Winter is a time of storing, preserving and getting back in touch with the seed.  It is a time of quiet, contraction and rest.  Winter’s pause builds up the reserves for the bursting energy of spring.  The ability to endure the Winter season depends on the cache that has been carefully set aside from our previous harvest.  Winter is about our energetic reserves, power and innate potential inherited at birth.  Water energy determines our ambition, will power and drive.  Water can flow easily like a babbling brook or it can freeze like a pond in winter.  Water can have power and a determination to get where it needs to go.  The Water element governs the urinary system and all aspects of the distribution and storage of water; it supplies fluidity, cleansing and rejuvenation.  The emotion associated with this element is fear.  Survival can be threatened by a shortage or overabundance of water, creating fear, anxiety and panic.  Denying fear also can be reckless and dangerous.  A balanced cultivation of one’s resources reassures and allays fear from overwhelming the wisdom, inner calm and sense of safety inherent in this Element.

Wood:  The energy of Spring.

Spring is forceful, bursting forth energy, demonstrating birth, growth, enthusiasm, re-awakening and upward movement.  Imagine a seed busting up through the soil to get to the sunlight.  This upward motion is full of creativity and growth.  It has vision and determination.  The wood element is an organizing force, and it helps with the rhythmic flow of the body and its systems.  This energy focuses on decisions and plans.  Wood’s energy in excess pushes, and in deficiency is pushed.  The emotion associated with the Wood element is anger and it is often the impetus for change.  Wood energy is pushing and can often be seen as frustration, but with proper vision and creativity this energy can find an alternative to the push that may be the correct alternative to the daily obstacles we face.