Wu Xing Theory: 5 Elements of Acupuncture

Wu Xing is a theory in Chinese medicine and can be best translated as five elements or five phases. It was developed by the same school that developed the Yin Yang theory, of which the first references date back to about 700 BC. Interestingly enough, the five-element theory was also described in western medicine by the Greek doctor Hippocrates. One can say that this theory was the start of observing natural pauses for diseases instead of blaming everything on supernatural powers. The five elements are fire, earth, water, metal, and wood. They are not five sorts of fundamental matter, but five processes, with each having its movement, season, taste, and so on. All these qualities were observed over time by multiple philosophers and gathered and an ancient book called “The Simple Question”. This table shows you some of the correspondences found in that book, still used by a lot of TCM students and practitioners all over the world. Besides their qualities and phenomena, the five elements are also interrelated with each other through certain cycles. There is a generating cycle that states that every element generates another one. And there is a controlling cycle, which should maintain a certain balance between these five elements. To give you an example, let’s use the fire element. The fire element controls metal. At the same time, metal generates water, which in his turn controls fire. This pattern is found in every element. So if we live a balanced life with enough sleep, healthy foods, and no stress, nothing should be in our way to remain healthy and balanced. Unfortunately, our lives are full of factors that can put our elements out of balance. When someone is angry for a long period, the table tells us that this can eventually lead to the disbalance of our wood element. Since the wood element is related to our liver, our liver energy can eventually become stagnant or turn into heat. Symptoms include short temper, headaches, burning eyes, or insomnia. Relatively speaking, our wood element is accessed which can harm the earth element. We call this the overcontrolling sequence. If the situation continues to exist, the earth element will become repressed, and earth-related symptoms like nausea, weak digestion and tiredness can arise. It can also be the other way around. If you’re someone who is craving sugar and eats too much fast food, this can cause an excess in your earth element in the form of dampness. This dampness will then impair the wood element and its function. We call this the insulting sequence. And just like the overcontrolling sequence, it can happen in every element. Maintaining a proper balance in life will maintain a proper balance in the five elements and prevents a lot of trouble. But when you do get out of balance, no worries. With the right lifestyle adjustments, every balance can be restored.

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