What is the 5 Element Theory in TCM?
In 2017, music therapy according to the Five Element Theory was administered on post-stroke patients with depression. Along with acupuncture, the Chinese elemental treatment was proven effective in reducing rates of depression.
Modern day, many researchers encourage using Traditional Chinese Medicine as a means to better understand ailments and protections of the body.
The Five Element Theory helps us to understand the fundamental ways our physical body and mind interacts with itself and the environment. Each element of nature is associated with a different organ of the body.
Let’s break down the five elements!
Wood Element Characteristics
Wood elements are ambitious, hard-working, goal-oriented, and often characterized as “type-A”. However, they may be prone to stress or exhaustion from overworking.
The wood element is associated with the liver or gallbladder, which assists with digestion and the elimination of bodily toxins; these organs ensure the flow of Qi throughout the body.
To protect their liver health, wood-spirits may:
- Consume leafy greens
- Avoid caffeine; opt for natural energizers, such as peppermint or hawthorn tea
- Practice low-impact exercises to keep blood flowing: walking, swimming, calisthenics
- Rest the body and mind with adequate sleep and deep breathing exercises
- Cut down on alcohol consumption
Fire Element Characteristics
Fire elements are charismatic, energetic, and extroverted. In general, they tend to be passionate, boisterous, and enjoy the company of others. When out of balance, they may feel anxiety and become quick to anger.
As fire is associated with the heart and the small intestine, it is important for fire elements to regulate the cardiovascular and nervous system. The Heart regulates blood circulation and is known to be home to the “spirit” in TCM.
Fire spirits may:
- Do exercises that encourage stretching the body to increase blood flow
- Stay hydrated, drink enough water to prevent dehydration
- Implement cooling foods into diet, such as bitter vegetables and watermelon
- Balance with heart-health foods: berries, hawthorn, tomatoes
Earth Element Characteristics
Earth-spirits are peaceful, dependable individuals who often act as mediators in conflict. They are empathetic and value meaningful connections. When out of balance, earth elements may struggle with overthinking.
In order for earth elements to maintain their health, they ought to pay extra care to their stomach and spleen. To protect the digestive system:
- Focus on plain foods with mild flavors
- Warm up foods rather than eating cold out of the fridge
- Take probiotics or fermented foods for digestion
- Meditate and practice mindfulness to help with anxiety and overthinking
The Metal Element
Metal Element Characteristics
Metal elements are known for their discipline, rationality, and perfectionism. They carry out tasks meticulously and with integrity. Any disorder within this structured living, however, may throw metal elements out of balance. They may also experience bouts of melancholy or deep sadness.
Metal is the element of the lung and large intestine and is associated with any bodily parts related to breathing, which allows us to take Qi from our surroundings. The immune system is also linked to the metal element, as the lungs are responsible for circulating defensive Qi and protecting our bodies from illness.
- Practice deep breathing techniques
- Eat “white” foods, or foods that have white centers (lung strengthening foods), such as cauliflower, onion garlic, apple, pear
- Maintain active social life, introduce spontaneity to balance rigidity
The Water Element
Water Element Characteristics
Water elements are independent, wise, and introspective. They are generally quiet and keep to themselves but are articulate and clever amongst others. In their wisdom, they are often ones to bring critical questions to the table. Water-spirits have the potential of becoming caught up in their own world, however, and becoming withdrawn. Water is also associated with the emotion of fear.
Water is associated with the kidneys and the urinary function, which regulates the body’s fluids - saliva, urine, and fluid between the joints. The kidney organ system also serves as a home for Jing, or kidney essence. Jing regulates the body’s growth, and is sometimes referred to as “youthful energy”; this energy declines with age.
When the kidney is out of balance, the body may experience frequent urges to urinate, aches in the joints, and reduced libido. In women, a kidney deficiency may also manifest as infertility and menopausal symptoms. To restore the kidney:
- Engage in consistent, low-impact exercise, such as swimming or Tai Chi
- Maintain a balanced diet and incorporate kidney tonics such as goji berry
- Eat blue & black foods, such as dates, eggplant, and plums
- Maintain an active social life, particularly with age
Living by the 5 Elements of TCM enables us to make mindful dietary and lifestyle choices, allowing us to restore balance and live with vitality.
By: Suzie Lee, Student at Cornell
Sources: Healthline, TCM World, Fusion Health, Science Direct