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Five Element Theory

Five Element Introduction

Five Emements -  Earth, Fire, Metal, Water and Wood

The five element theory is relevant to complementary therapists that use acupuncture and Shiatsu to treat medical conditions. Ancient Taoist monks observed the changing seasons and how man was impacted by, and reacted to, the these seasonal changes. They produced a theory through meditation and contemplation that divided the year into five. The seasons can be viewed on a microcosmic and / or a macrocosmic basis. For instance a day, or a year, or even a lifetime can be divided into the five sections in a coherent manner.

The concept of an element should be comprehended in the terms that are intended. Unlike conventional Western science an element should not be viewed as a material object.

Each of the five elements should be viewed as movements or phases of energy. This is a positive attitude to the five elements as the reference to movements or phases suggest that the energy is altering it's state.

Five Element Relevance

The five elements, or phases of energy, are Earth, Fire, Metal, Water and Wood and each has different organs, colours, concepts and sounds associated with them. Each element is related to different parts of the body and the mind.

Based on Five Element Theory, each elemental force generates the next element in a creative sequence.

        • Water generates wood - Rain nourishes a tree
        • Wood generates fire - Burning wood creates fire
        • Fire generates earth - Ash is formed from the fire
        • Earth generates metal - Metal is mined from the earth
        • Metal generates water - Water condenses on metal

Many of the concepts of the five elements concern the idea of sequence. One element must feed the other in the five element theory. The element that feeds the next element is known as the mother element. In the list above Water is the mother element feeding the wood element.

The Sheng Cycle or Generating Cycle

A basic concept for treatment using the five elements is that if one element has become damaged or deficient then the mother element must be treated so that it can nourish the element that feeds off it. For example if a person has become weak in the earth element then by treating the fire element would make the fire element feed more energy to the earth element. This is the Sheng Cycle (sometimes known as the Mother Cycle) of energy flows.

Sheng / Generating Cycle Chart
The Sheng Cycle or Generating Cycle

The Ke Cycle or Controlling Cycle

The easiest way to remember this cycle is to think of the game 'paper, stone, scissors'. This form of relationship prevents one element from becoming overwhelming. There is also ways one element that can be used to address problems with any other element. For example a possible treatment would be to try to control the fire element by treating the water element. This would temper fire and thereby allow the earth element to flourish.

Ke / Controlling Cycle Chart
The Ke Cycle or Controlling Cycle

The Cheng Cycle or Overacting Cycle

The overacting cycle (cheng) is when there is an imbalance within the controlling cycle. This occurs when the grandmother element exerts an inappropriate amount of control over the grandchild element thereby weakening the element. An example can be seen in nature when Water extinguishes Fire however Earth soaks up Water thereby creating conditions for fire to start again.

Cheng / Overacting Cycle Chart
The Cheng Cycle or Overacting Cycle

The Wu Cycle or Insulting Cycle

The insulting cycle (wu) is also a lack of balance within the Ke or controlling cycle. This when the grandchild element insults or returns the controlling force generated by the grandmother element. For instance in nature it can happen that Fire can burn up Water and Water can wash the Earth away.

Wu / Insulting Cycle Chart
The Wu Cycle or Insulting Cycle

The Five Elements are fundamentally important to complementary therapists such as acupuncturists and Shiatsu therapists.

Five Element Theory - Five Element Chart
Wood Element
- Fire Element - Earth Element - Metal Element - Water Element

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