Shiatsu Five Element Theory

Updated: Jun 12

Five Element Theory:

Elements as Symbols of Energy

Most, if not all, indigenous cultures used the “elements” of nature to symbolize aspects of life and qualities of energy. Following are some examples. The Chinese Five Elements are used in Japanese Shiatsu Therapy. Sometimes the terms “phases” or “transformations” are used instead of the word “elements” because they indicate a more dynamic, alive quality rather than a static image.

Chinese: Five Elements: Wood/Tree, Fire, Earth/Soil, Metal, & Water

Japanese: Five Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, & Heaven

East Indian: Five Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, & Ether

Tibetan: Five Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, & Space/Ether

Greek: Four Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, & Air

English: Four Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, & Air

Early American: Four Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, & Air

Native American: Four Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, & Air/Wood

African: Five Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Mineral, & Nature

The Five Element Correspondences:

________ Wood: Fire: Earth: Metal: Water: .

Direction- Upward Outward Downward Inward Floating

Cardinal Dir.- East South Center West North

Season- Spring Summer Indian Sum. Autumn Winter

Life Stage- Birth Early Adult Adult Elder Death

Plant Growth- Sprout Flower Seed Root Dormancy

Solid Organ- Liver Heart Spleen Lung Kidney

Hollow Organ- Gall Bladder Small Int. Stomach Large Int. Bladder

Tissue- Tendon Vessels Muscle Skin Bone

Orifice- Eye Mouth Mouth Nose Ear

Sense- Sight Touch Taste Smell Hearing

Part of Face- Mid. Brow Nose Tongue Cheeks Under Eyes

Pathology- Wind Heat Dampness Dryness Cold

Foods- Sprouts Leaves Grains Roots Beans

Taste- Sour Bitter Sweet Pungent Salty

Color- Green Red Yellow White Blue

Pos. Emotion- Patience Joy Love Courage Calmness

Neg. Emotion- Anger Anxiety Worry Grief Fear

Diseases- Jaundice Hypertension Hypoglycemia Cough L. Back Ache

Gall Stones High Chol. Diabetes Constipation Fatigue

Shaking Poor Circ. Bleeding Skin Disease Reprod. Issue

Digestive Ill. Growth Prob.

The Control and Nourish Cycles of the Five Elements:

The Nourish Cycle:

Wood nourishes Fire > Fire nourishes Earth > Earth nourishes Metal >

Metal nourishes Water> Water nourishes Wood

The Control Cycle:

Wood controls Earth > Earth controls Water > Water controls Fire >

Fire controls Metal > Metal controls Wood

The control and nourishing cycles help to explain the interconnectedness of the meridians and body functions of the Five Elements theory. When one element is out of balance, it often corresponds to related imbalances in other elements.

Although the star shaped diagram is a visually balanced representation of the elements, the realities of element imbalances are quite dynamic. Each element has its own tendencies for imbalance. The water element, for instance, tends to suffer from deficiency, while wood tends to suffer from excess.

Five Fundamental Substances:

Ki / Chi

Sources of Chi: parents, air, food, environment, thoughts

Chi Deficiency: lack of chi in general or a chi def. associated with a particular meridian

Chi is particularly associated with the kidneys, the lungs, and the spleen.


Blood provides nourishment. Blood deficiency often occurs with Chi deficiency and is the result of poor diet. Nutrient dense foods are emphasized to correct the condition.

Jing – Reproductive Energy / Reproductive Fluids

Jing is responsible for reproduction / procreation. At the moment of conception one receives a certain amount of jing from the parents. It is difficult to nourish the jing through life; it is mostly supplemented by nourishing chi.

Jing controls growth and development, and dwindles with age. Unhealthy lifestyle practices, stress, and the like deplete jing. Longevity practices are aimed at nourishing and protecting the jing.

Jing is associated with the kidneys.

Shen – Spirit

Shen is the spirit or the mind. Mental and emotional imbalances are considered to be “disturbed shen”.

Shen is associated with the heart.


The body Fluids nourish and lubricate the body. Often called “yin”, the fluids are the cooling principle of the body. “Yin Deficiency” refers to dryness, or the lack of fluids.

Fluids are associated with the Kidneys and the Earth element.

Fluids are symbolized by the element water (yin), which is in a complementary and antagonistic relationship with fire (yang). Fire dries water, while water puts out fire – they keep the other quality in check. Too much fire results in inflammatory disease. Too much water results in diseases of dampness.

Defensive Chi

Defensive chi (wei chi) is associated with the immune system. Wei chi defends the system against diseases of an external nature. In herbal medicine diaphoretics (“surface relieving herbs”, or herbs that promote sweating) are used to boost defensive chi at the onset of colds and fevers. Since external pathogens enter the back of the neck, GB20 and GB21 are particularly beneficial for external illnesses. LG1 can also be very helpful. In general the lung meridian should be treated, and probably the spleen and kidney meridians also.

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