Five Element Theory

The relationship between five elements and human body

five elements


The Five Element theory is based on the observation of the natural cycles and interrelationships in both our environment and within ourselves. The foundation of the theory rests in the correspondences of each element to a variety of phenomena. The most common correspondences are listed in the chart below:

The theory of Five Elements rests on the notion that all phenomena in the universe are the products of the movement and mutation of five qualities: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These are known as Five Elements.

In Chinese medicine, like Yin-yang theory, Five Elements theory has had considerable influence in physiology, pathology, diagnosis, treatment, and pharmacology.

The ancient Chinese gained knowledge of the nature of Five Elements through long observation of nature and ascribed certain values to each. Thus:

“Wood is the bending and the straightening,” having the characteristics of growth, upbearing, and effusion.

“Fire is the flaming upward,” having the quality of heat and upward motion.

“Earth is the sowing and reaping,” representing the planting and harvesting of crops and the bringing forth of phenomena.

“Metal is the working of change,” having the qualities of purification, elimination, and reform.

“Water is the moistening and descending to low places,” having the qualities of moistening, downward movement, and coldness.


Within Five Element theory are four main cycles, or ways in which the elements (and their associated emotions, colors, sounds, odors, etc.) interact. The first of these is the sheng, or generating cycle. In this cycle, each element serves as a “mother,” which promotes the growth and development of the following, or “child,” element. Each element provides a generating force or foundation for the element that immediately follows it, i.e., the Fire element provides a foundation for the Earth element, the Earth element provides a nurturing foundation for the Metal element, and so on.

The second main cycle is called the ke, or controlling cycle. According to ke cycle theory, each element is involved in a checks-and-balances relationship that helps keep things in order; each element both controls and is controlled by another element (Water, for example, controls Fire, but is itself controlled by Earth).

The third and fourth cycles in Five Element theory are cycles of imbalance. In the cheng cycle, or overactive cycle, an element overacts, or exerts too much control, over its subordinate element, damaging the element and causing imbalances in the body. For example, the Water element may completely put out the Fire element, or the Earth element may soak up the Water element completely. In the wu or insulting cycle, forces are actually reversed; the subordinate element returns the controlling force generated by the controlling element, again causing an imbalance in the body. Instead of Water suppressing Fire, in the wu cycle, Fire would actually burn up Water.

Courtesy: Acupuncture today






Courtesy: Yin Yang House

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