TCM Series Intro Notes – The Five Elements


Welcome everyone to the Traditional Oriental Medicine series. Thank you for coming! If you feel so inclined, please tip. All tips are split between the venue and myself, in order to keep these events going and to enable the growth of the sim. The tip jar is a candle on the table.

Thank you for visiting Peaceful Dragon Oriental Medicine Centre! The centre is currently under construction, but is intended to be an OM learning centre. If you would like to help in setting up the learning centre please contact Xandria Winterwolf or myself.

I just want to remind everyone that none of the information presented here is advice and therefore should not be put into practice without first consulting a professional.

Today we will focus on the five elements and their connection to yin and yang.

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The five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These forces can be used to describe the movement and the relationship between different elements and phenomena in nature. These five elements are all connected by their controlling and promoting cycles, which you can see on the following chart. A good way to explain this is to see that wood promotes fire because it burns, water controls fire because it puts it out, etc. I suggest taking some time to look at this chart to really understand how they all connect.

Characteristics of Wood: “bending and straightening.” These derive from the ability of trees to grow and to branch, which is then abstracted as the ability to bend, to extend, to break free, to rise and to flourish.

Characteristics of Fire: “blazing upwards.” This derives from the upward mobility of fire, which is then abstracted as the possession of heat, and the ability to rise and to give out light.

Characteristics of Earth: “sowing and reaping.” These derive from the planting and harvesting on a farm, which are then abstracted as the ability to receive, to bear, and to nourish.

Characteristics of Metal: “malleability.” This derives from the ability of metal to conform to external forces despite its strength, which is then extended and abstracted as the ability to estrange and to coalesce and its sonority.

Characteristics of Water: “moistening downward.” This derives from the nature of water to moisten and to flow downward, to cool, and to conceal.

As you can see in the chart, each element has associations in season, taste, emotion, and body parts. They have many more associations on both a macrocosmic and microcosmic scale, as seen in the next chart.

Are there any questions so far?

“These five functional systems demonstrate that between the internal environment of the body and its external surroundings there is also a relationship of opposition and unity. Take geographic orientation, for example, the sun rises in the east, thus symbolizing the growth and luxuriance of trees; hence the east belongs to Wood. The climate in the south is blazing hot. It accords with the blazing nature of Fire, hence the south belongs to Fire.

In the human body, the liver belongs to Wood. According to Chinese medicine, the liver governs the tendons and supports the eyes; hence the tendons and the eyes belong to Wood. The heart belongs to the Fire Element. The heart governs the pulse and supports the tongue; hence the pulse, the tongue, etc., belong to Fire. All those with similar properties can all be assigned to the same category.

Are there any questions? Can you think of any other examples of where the elements might manifest?

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“In the theory of the Five Elements, each Element has a direct relationship with all the other elements. For example, Earth is the mother of Metal and the child of Fire, and at the same time it is the suppressor of Water and the suppressed of Wood.

It should be noted that in CM the two relationships of generation and of restraint are inseparable. Without generation things cannot be born and cannot develop. Without restraint things can grow without limit and cause harm. It is necessary to have both generation and restraint in order to maintain harmonious relationships between things, and to assure their normal development and change.”

Paired Meridians: ie. shared energies; if, for instance, the yang organ (stomach) has too much yang, the easiest meridian to transfer the energy to would be the spleen (yin organ of this pair). The fact that the stomach has too much yang can indicate that the spleen does not have enough yang.

Remember, its all relative, so when speaking of paired meridians, if another organ is brought into play the organ that was previously called yin/yang could change.

Yin is passive; yang is action; everything in between that is relative. If we compare liquid to solid, liquid is yin and solid is yang. It’s always dependent on the organ systems (not the organ itself) and the location of the ailment. Although we speak of the “spleen”, “heart”, etc. we do not actually diagnose the organ itself. For instance, a meridian is like a pathway or a street. We’ll use gallbladder for an example. Gallbladder Street has many cars (energies) that travel on it. The main hotel on Gallbladder Street is Gallbladder hotel. Let’s say there is an accident on Gallbladder Street, and a heart surgeon is in a car, backed up in traffic on that same street and cannot get to his heart meridian because of the “blockage/stagnation” of cars (energies). Therefore the heart may palpitate, or other symptoms on the heart meridian may appear. One can lose a gallbladder but still have the street. The point being, every organ is related to each other. Yin and yang are related and dependant on each other in this same way.

An example of balancing: Liver is of the wood element, and kidney is of the water element, so if liver “catches fire” (ie. yin deficiency) then you can tonify the water element (kidney) to put the fire out in the liver meridian. Therefore, yin balances yang.

All the elements have a relationship the same as yin and yang; in other words, they all influence each other and determine the overall balance of the system. If one element is too strong, it will weaken another; or if one element is too weak, it will make another stronger. It’s all part of the cycle of controlling and promoting. This is shown in two charts: ‘Five Elements Detail’ and ‘Cycles of the Five Elements’.

Can you tell from the chart how the five elements in the human body can be governed by herbs? I know we haven’t gone into herbs too much, but can you guess which herbs would affect which organ system and therefore when it would be a good idea to take them?

The same effect is had with all related associations; the seasons, emotions, and tastes (properties of herbs) will all effect the body in different ways, relative to each organ.

For today, we’ll stop there. Any other questions or comments?

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2 thoughts on “TCM Series Intro Notes – The Five Elements

  1. joel says:

    Thank you for your teaching of TCM and for listing us on your blog Chraeloos! Following you now, and have you on our blogroll. Looking forward to your events as I wind down from getting SpiritGate going:))

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