Seven Treasures Healing Arts
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The Five Elements of Oriental Medicine
Together with the theory of Yin and Yang, the theory of the Five elements (wu xing) makes up the basis of Chinese medical theory. The Yin-Yang theory dates to the Zhou dynasty (about 1000-770 BC) and the Five Element theory dates back to the Warring States Period (476-221 BC).

According to Chinese medicine, every living thing and person is a unique embodiment and combination of the five elements: fire, earth, metal, water, wood. They represent five different qualities of natural phenomena, five movements and five phases in the cycle of seasons. The application of this theory is especially important for physiology, pathology, diagnosis, treatment, and dietary and herbal therapy.

The book Shang Shu, written during the Western Zhou dynasty states, "Water moistens downward, Fire flares upwards, Wood can be bent and straightened, Metal can be molded and hardened; Earth permits sowing, growing and reaping. That which soaks and descends (Water) is salty; that which blazes upward (Fire) is bitter, that which can be bent and straightened (Wood) is sour; that which can be molded and become hard (Metal) is pungent; that which permits sowing and reaping (Earth) is sweet."

There are four cycles among the five elements: generating (creative), controlling, over-acting, and insulting.

Generating cycle: When in harmony, each cycle generates the next one and each element controls another, keeping them in balance: Wood generates Fire (wood is needed to start a fire), Fire generates Earth (burned materials become earth), Earth generates Metal (minerals in the earth are used to make metals), Metal generates Water (, Water generates Wood (water makes plants grow).

Controlling  cycle: Wood controls Earth (tree roots prevent soil erosion), Earth controls Water (dirt absorbs floods), Water controls Fire (water puts out a fire), Fire controls Metal (fire softens and bends metal for tools), Metal controls Wood (a metal axe is used to thin an overgrown forest).

Over-acting cycle:
When an element is out of balance, it can overact on another element: Wood overacts on Earth
(too many trees or plants deplete nutrients) , Earth overacts on Water (dams up and stops it from moving) Water overacts on  Fire (excessive flooding destroys fire), Fire overacts on Metal (excessive heat melts metal), Metal overacts on Wood (excessive axing of trees can damage a forest).

Insulting cycle: Earth insults Wood (a devastating earthquake), Water insults Earth (over-flooding destroys land), Wood insults Metal (over-forestation robs the earth of minerals), Metal insults Fire (weapons of war destroy production), Fire insults Water (excessive heat dries up river beds).

Below is a short description of the elements and a chart that gives further characteristics.

WOOD — Spring— Green — Gall Bladder, Liver — Eyes 
Sour — Shouting — Anger

The wood element is associated with birth, spring, rising energy, vision, organized and orderly growth . Seeds thrust their way and plants burst forth through the earth with astonishing strength
—they contain the blueprint for future growth. This element is associated with the the gall bladder and liver systems and these hours: 11 p.m. - 1 a.m. and 1-3 a.m.

Stiff, tight muscles and joints, visual disturbances, dry eyes, eyestrain, vertex headaches and migraines, especially from excessive computer work are signs of imbalance for this element.

FIRE — Summer —  Red —  Heart, Small Intestine; Pericardium, Triple Warmer (San Jiao) — Tongue
Bitter — Laughing — Joy

The fire element represents joy, passion, love, laughter, growth, summer and their corespondances to warmth, relationships and love. Flowers are in full bloom while fruits and vegetables are in abundance.

This element as two pairs of meridians: absolute and supplemental fire which have different roles. Absolute fire
—the heart and small intestine—governs the physical and emotional heart and the way that people absorb food and facts: They are at their peak from 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. respectivley.

Supplemental fire—the pericardium and triple warmer (san jiao)—protect the heart physically and emotionally, controls circulation and affects the psychological aspects of one's personal and sex life. Their maximum energy is from 7 to 9 p.m and 9 to 11 p.m. , respectively.

Fire imbalances may be indicated by inappropriate laughter, speech problems, sleep problems, jet lag after travel.

EARTH —  Late or Indian Summer — Yellow
Stomach, Spleen — Muscles Sweet — Singing — Overthinking

Earth is the pivot of transformation between elements and between seasons. It represents nourishment, digestion, and nurturing. Late summer is the short time before the fall when there is a transition from the heat and warmth to the chills of the fall. Nourishment and harvest characterize this season. The related organ systems are the Stomach (7-9 a.m.) and Spleen (9-11 a.m.).

Eating disorders (overeating or anorexia), overweight, sweet cravings, poor memory or concentration are examples of imbalances.

METAL — Fall — White — Lung, Large Intestine — Nose
Pungent — Crying — Sadness or Grief

The Metal organs, the Lungs and Large Intestine, are literally gatekeepers, allowing the entrance of fresh qi (breath) and exit of waste matter from the body.  Metal represents harvest in the development stage. The flowers of the summer face away, crops have been harvest and leaves have fallen from the trees. This is a time of decline and death. The death of plant life produces seeds and compost that will nourish the next spring.  Lung and Large Intestine systems are represented by metal and are strongest from 3-5 a.m. and 5-7 a.m. respectively.

Signs of imbalance may be the common cold, respiratory allergies, skin problems or rashes, constipation, shallow breathing, chronic or unexplained sadness and prolonged grief.

WATER — Winter — Blue/Black — Bladder, Kidney — Bones
— Ears Salty — Groaning — Fear

Water represents storage. The winter months are when life seems to have stopped. The days are short and cold and plants are dormant or dead. Underneath the surface of the earth though is the strength of reserves and endurance. The Kidneys especially represent growth, maturity and decline in our lives; they contain the genetic material that we are born with. The Bladder is literally a storage system for urine. The Bladder system is strongest from 3 to 5 p.m. and Kidney systems from 5 to 7 p.m., respectively.

Skeletal, bone and teeth problems; hearing problems or loss; dark rings under the eyes; unexplained fears and phobias; and urinary difficulties are indications of Water imbalances.


   Wood  Fire Earth
 Yin Organ
 Yang Organ
gall bladder
small intestine
large intestine
 Season spring
Indian or
late summer
 Color green
black or blue
 Taste sour
 Sound shouting
 Emotion anger
 Sense Organ
 tongue mouth
 Tissues sinews
 Fluid tears
 Climate wind
 Direction east

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