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What is The 5 Elements Theory in TCM and How Does it Apply to Your Health?

5 Elements of TCM: From the blog

5 Elements of TCM Theory was devised many centuries ago. However, the theories can be used to address many modern health concerns.

If Yin-Yang theory is the foundation for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), then the Five Elements theory is Yin-Yang version 2.0.

Five Elements Theory is used in conjunction with Yin-Yang, but greatly expands upon it. Five Elements Theory predates Christianity and has been used in TCM diagnosis as early as ancient China’s “Warring States Period (5th-3rd century, BCE).” It was during this epoch that TCM became established using both Yin-Yang and Five Elements Theory.

The History of The 5 Elements Theory

Go back in time and picture yourself living in China during the Warring States period. What was the social, cultural and political climate like back then, which may have contributed to the creation of Five Elements theory?

As the name implies, the Warring States period was quite turbulent, with feudal territories battling one another. Out of this chaotic era came the great teacher and ethical reformer, Confucius. Perhaps as a rebellion against the disharmony, disorder, lack of central, functioning government and general upheaval, medical practitioners and philosophers during the Warring States period created a semblance of order to explain the workings of the world, medicine, and the human body.

Ancient Chinese physicians and philosophers had very little distractions (other than avoiding being in the crosshairs of feudal duels). With no TV, internet, social media or other modern-attention-zappers, Chinese physicians and philosophers were able to spend much of their time observing the world and heavens.

From these observations, the genius of Five Element theory was born.

What are the 5 Elements in TCM theory?

Many people are familiar with the five elements on the planet: earth, water, fire, wood and metal. Elements create and destroy other elements: Earth creates metal, which creates water, which creates wood, which creates fire, which creates earth, repeating the cycle. Water destroys fire, which destroys metal, which destroys wood, which destroys earth, which destroys water, repeating the cycle.

Five Element theory goes much further beyond the elements of the planet. Each of the elements correlates to specific organs in the body, time of day, season, emotion, shape, animal, sense, color, etc.

Let’s use Five Element theory for a simple diagnostic example….

Take someone who would be considered in western culture, ‘Type A.’ This person has, what, in western society, we may describe as ‘having a fiery personality’. In TCM, if this person were to seek treatment, this person would need to have their Fire element dampened to come into better balance. Fire dries earth. The earth element relates to feeling grounded and centered. Someone with a fire element imbalance has trouble feeling centered.

Also, people with fire element imbalance may have digestive issues. The organ that represents the Yang (heat) energetic side within the Fire element is the small intestine.

Now, let’s take somebody who has an earth element imbalance. The organs related to the earth element is the spleen and stomach, the former of which is the yin element; the latter, yang. The overarching characteristic of the earth element, as explained above, is to stay centered and grounded. However, when one of the four other elements has too much influence, earth element weakness may occur.

5 elements of TCM: Correcting Imbalances

In TCM theory, to correct earth element imbalance, the Spleen is the dominant organ that governs the imbalance. Specifically, there is Spleen Qi deficiency, especially of Yang Qi.

This might sound confusing to the beginner TCM student. The Yin organ of the earth element is Spleen. However, every organ can be pushed in one direction by either Yin or Yang energy. If someone is feeling ungrounded, the Spleen, though it is a Yin organ of Earth, is Yang deficient. Raising the Yang energy of the Spleen would harmonize the earth element. This brings the patient back to a more grounded/centered state of being.

Other examples of Earth element imbalance may occur if the Fire element has too much influence. A common example would be getting too much sun in the summer. Fire dries earth. Instead of feeling calm, centered and balanced, someone with too much heat will feel lethargic.

Conversely, if someone lives, say, in the Pacific Northwest, in winter, they may feel their Earth element out of balance because of excess moisture. Water element would bring the Earth element out of balance.

Five Element Theory, in conjunction with Yin-Yang theory, has been a guiding philosophy for TCM physicians and philosophers for over 2000 years. If you feel like your life is out of balance, this ancient diagnostic system can help you restore harmony back into your life. Chinese herbs are essential to Five Element theory as part of a healthful protocol to restore vitality and bring back the body to a state of homeostasis.