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Five Elements Philosophy for People and Places

Updated: Feb 26, 2018

In Chinese thought (or Wu Xing) there are essentially five elements which provide a philosophical and practical approach to assessing human wellness on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level.

This unique classification system helps to explain patterns of behavior and how our own energy levels mirror the transformational cycles in the natural world and all phenomena whether those are plant, animal (including people!), mineral, chemical or movement.

Anyone who has any awareness of the Feng Shui approach to rebalancing the energy of our physical environments (such as homes or offices) may have already discovered references to these five elements and been interested to gain a better understanding of their meanings and origins. These elements are used as a mnemonic (memory-guiding) device rather like a five-faceted circle to explain the natural world, its life cycle and all that exists around us They may be supportive and generative (i.e. life enhancing) or controlling and overactive.

Many other ancient philosophies or religions such as Wicca/Paganism, Greek and Hindu philosophy have adopted belief in a classical set of four elements which are:- earth, water, air and fire.


The historical and medical fundaments of the belief system as it applies to Classical Five Element Acupuncture share much with modern practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, Five Element Acupuncture is very different in theory and aim encompassing more than the commonly taught five phase theory. In modern clinical practice it is used to varying degrees in diagnostic and treatment protocols and is helpful where there are conflicting symptoms depending on the practitioner and style of acupuncture that they practice. Within Classic five Element Acupuncture there is a relative standard protocol which practitioners follow - some of which will be unfamilliar to TCM or Japanese style acupuncturists.

The Five Elements:-

Fire: A fire element will want to relate and be equal with you. They may lack joy or have it in excess. Their colour can range between ashen grey to quite red and will manifest under skin at the level of their blood flow and their odour may be scorched to be. The voice will have a sense of laugher even when discussing grave topics.

Earth: An Earth element carries a deep sense of emptiness. The chief emotion is sympathy whilst they may convey a sense of neediness. They will either be the type of person who really wants you to understand all they have been through or expresses that they do not need anyone. The voice will have a singing quality to it, their odour is fragrant the colour of the face will range from gray yellow to a bright colour.

Metal: The metal person wants respect. The emotion of metal is grief caused by a sense of loss and feeling for what might have been. The colour of metal is white and will be manifest on the skin. The odour is rotten, like the smell of the large intestine. THEY WANT TO KNOW YOU ARE NOT GOING TO FEEL BETTER THAN THEY DO.

Wood: Wood is the element of determination and the assertion of anger. Their main emotion will range between frustration to hopelessness. They need feel that you are in control before they can relax. They may feel ‘pushy’ and provoke you to ‘push’ back. The voice will have a shout or sense of assertion to it. The colour green will be exuded almost above the skin like a glow. Their odour is rancid, similar to that of stale oil as though the body is not digesting fat.

Water: Water is the element of Fear. These people will either be frozen like ice or raging like an over flowing stream. They are either driven - even manic - or quite still like a pond. Their skin colour will show as a ruddy red/blue. The odour is putrid as with that of the kidneys and bladder. A water person lives on the edge of fear having a love/hate relationship with that emotion. Their voice will groan and have a continuous, maybe monotonous, feel to

Classical 5 Element Acupuncture

It is thought that there is one main or root cause for patient symptoms (called a ‘Causative Factor’). This has become established in the patient’s early life and develops throughout adulthood to a point where the body’s energy-flow or Qi (pronounced “chee”) is impeded leading to the condition with which they now present. When a professional practitioner of TCM takes a full diagnostic case history (which may last longer than an hour) many factors are noted and considered in additional to lifetime health history, psychological/emotional state, such as skin, sleep patterns, appetite, alcohol, nutrition and lifestyle, voice, odour and body language. These may all point during diagnosis to the establishment of an elemental type.

Interaction between the elements is also of fundmental significance in deciding how to treat by looking at many aspects like the mother/child elemental relationship. Parental style may also point towards the CF. For Example:- Parents who over parent, enmesh or abandon can contribute to the Earth element. Parents who control the child's behavior with fear can contribute to Water element. Interaction is also key in the determination of where other imbalances may rise in the cycle e.g. poor diet and overwork have weakened an Earth type so more nourishment is requested from the fire element and the metal element may also be affected.

Once a person’s classic five element are decided upon, the acupuncturist may begin treatment removing – where necessary - any blockages in the Qi which exhibit themselves.

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