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 (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.