In Chinese medicine, the five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These five elements correspond to the phases of nature throughout the year: spring, summer, late summer, autumn and winter.
"Through nature we have direct access to the animating force of life. The same life principle is manifest in all living things; Wood - the flora and everything that grows, Fire - the sun and light, Earth - the landscape, Metal - the mountains, Water - oceans and tributaries. The ways that the five elements express in nature are mirrored in our human nature, traits and behaviour. Each of the five ways express unique characteristics which are all manifestations of the same life energy."
- Cameron Tukapua, Founder of Christchurch College of Holistic Healing, NZ
Wood manifests in grasses and plants. It is about birth and rebirth. It is the Spring. It directs energy for growth, progress, and the activation of a plan. Within a seed is the blueprint of a tree. The Wood element embodies our ability to see and realise our potential. Wood, when balanced, allows us to hatch a plan, get it off the ground, be flexible about changes when necessary, and push it through to completion.
Fire is the pure warmth of the sun. It is about appropriate joy and love. Intimacy and trust require maturity and healthy boundaries. A balanced fire within us allows us to enjoy our surroundings and have rewarding relationships. When Fire is out of balance, we can struggle to connect with ourselves, fail to trust others, or find ourselves unable to relate to our circumstances.
Earth is about ingesting and digesting. The Earth element looks after what we take in physically and intellectually, and transforms this into energy. Our ability to digest food, understand information and sympathise with others is an indication of our Earth element functioning well. When balanced, the Earth element keeps us well-fuelled so we can act with integrity.
Metal manifests in rocks and minerals. Metal is about striking a balance. Knowing what is valuable and important to keep, and what can be discarded. If we are full of clutter, there is no room for inspiration to enter. Our ability to recognise and treasure the truly valuable things in life - while maintaining clarity and space - are functions of the Metal element. When Metal is balanced, we function with healthy boundaries.
Water is about flow, depth, honesty, truth. A healthy, flowing body of water is free of stagnation, bringing clear and life-sustaining water to all. The Water element gives us the ability to tap into our deepest reserves, reflect on what is true in us, acknowledge our ancestry, and summon our will power to move forward. Water, when balanced, will enable smooth flow, clarity of thought, and deep wisdom.
All five elements are in constant, continuous motion, each helping the other to find balance. When an imbalance occurs, it has a corresponding effect down the line upon the other elements. Extended periods of imbalance result in disease. Disease presents itself through symptoms. These symptoms are the elements calling for attention, alerting us to the imbalance and struggle underneath. As we are all unique, your imbalance will manifest in a way unique to your constitution. An imbalance may present as a skin rash in one person, infertility in another, or as an addiction in yet another.
The Chinese Body Clock
As it is without, so it is within. Just as an optimal rhythm is found in nature, in Chinese medicine, too, there is a rhythm to which our body wants to function, in order to maintain optimum balance and performance.
Modern life rarely allows us to prioritise our own well-being. Hence, our bodies are often working to make up the deficit in rest, or recover from being unexpectedly taxed.
Ideally, the majority of your water intake should be before 4pm each day. Drinking large amounts of water later in the day will tax the bladder when it is resting at night. Hence, waking up in the middle of the night urgently wanting a wee.
Here is a formula for calculating your daily water intake:
Body Weight (lbs)/2 = XX fl oz./day
The body wants to eat. Our stomach, small intestine, large intestine and spleen are happiest when there is work to be done. Crash diets can disrupt the healthy functioning of these systems and affect energy flow.
Chinese medicine advocates a hearty meal of fats, carbohydrates and proteins for breakfast, a lighter lunch of carbs and protein, and an even lighter dinner consisting mainly of protein.