Fundamental to life, to the study of Chinese Medicine is the iconic 5 elements. We’ve all heard of Earth, Wind, and Fire; the band. Many of us have seen the Nickelodeon show Avatar, The Last Airbender; complete with nations water, fire, earth, and metal. To me the elements feel as close as my feet to the earth on a barefoot hike, yet as f ar off at times as studying an entire textbook on the subject.

At the beginnings of the most basic texts for acupuncturist in school is usually lots of the information on the 5 elements. What they are, and how they can be broken down in multiple ways. Besides an abstract concept that organizes our daily world, there are practical uses of the yin and yang theory that can be used in clinical settings and for self-care at home. Each phase of life corresponds to one of the elements, and everyone has a little bit of each in them; yet it’s key to know that everyone has the tendency to one major type in the Chinese system.

Fire Element – Heart and Small Intestine

Season: summer

Color: red

In summer flowers are in fragrant full bloom. Light and heat are at their peak for the year, and people are naturally in their excitement. The heat forces us to slow down and results in vacations and blissfully taking in the sights. Think of fireworks bursting!

Fire type people are characterized by being gregarious, brightening up a room, and energetic. When imbalanced and out of touch with their needs they can feel unable to slow or calm down, be impulsive, and experience mood swings.

Earth Element

Organs: Spleen and Stomach

Season: Late Summer

Color: Yellow

In ancient times referred to as the ‘5th Season,’ it was considered a time in the middle of the other season; in the same way the earth is the center of our daily life. The time of day for earth is the middle of the day, lunchtime. In some cultures a siesta honors this time of day. The harvest time in late summer is dedicated to celebrating, think of Thanksgiving and the nourishing root vegetable that grow deep in soil.

An earth type of person loves to foster connections, nurturers, sustainers of community, peacemakers. At times when relations are not running smoothly, they can meet with feelings of indecisiveness, worry about if others are ‘mad’ at them, and become disorganized in planning and with personal items

A metal type of person loves to foster connections, nurturers, sustainers of community, peacemakers. At times when relations are not running smoothly, they can meet with feelings of indecisiveness, worry about if others are ‘mad’ at them, and become disorganized in planning and with personal items

Metal Element: Lung and Large Intestine

Season: Autumn

Color: White

Metal is the sharpness and clarity reflected in a sharp metal instrument, it distinguishes one from the other. It reflects where borders are, removes obstructions, and reveals. It’s the end of the season where you may reflect on what memories you’ll hold for that summer, or at the end of the day feeling a twinge of sadness as you say goodnight.

Metal types tend to flourish with a predictable and routine schedule, and to prefer organizational systems such as math or architecture. They can be too rigid when imbalanced, unable to relax and overly focused on details.

Water Element

Organ: Kidney and Bladder

Season: winter

Color: Black

When the potential of many living things seems to be on hold. Think of the holiday festivals, the sacred holidays celebrated, this is when the deeper meaning is celebrated.

The sages and philosophers are the watery human beings around us. Leonardo DaVinci, for example he was prolific in his studies, drawings, and creations even when they were never to be shown to the public. He was fulfilled by private studies and creations.

Wood Element

Organ: Liver and Gallbladder

Season: Spring

Color: Green

Wood reflects the energy of springtime, that is ready to get going. The image is of a plant growing through cracks in the sidewalk. Plants, birds, and people can all feel the powerful surge of energy that comes in the springtime. When a wood type is suppressed from moving and growing as they need and desire to, and their nature is ignored they likely protest. Their propensity to raise their voice and become frustrated when their needs are ignored.

Adventurous and athletic, in tribal times they would have been the hunters. America is a wood nation, known for the pioneering spirit. Exploratory figures like Meriweather Lewis, or Teddy Roosevelt remind me of the wood spirit.

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