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Chinese Medicine: The Five Elements

Traditional Chinese Medicine TheoryChinese Medicine at a Glance

When people think of acupuncture usually two thoughts come to mind, one being how does it work, and the other being  the idea of using points on the skin to stimulate functions in the body. Well if you haven’t studied acupuncture, you may not even fathom some of the concepts that we use, but do not worry, for that is part of the fun!
I have been trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but there are acupuncturist who study Japanese and Korean forms of acupuncture. It really comes down to the practitioner, not the type of style that they use, that makes a difference.

The Five elements theory was formed in China around 221 B.C.,which was known in China as the Zhou Dynasty, right before the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC–1046 BC) and the Qin Dynasty (221BC). You can wiki or Google to find more information on the different dynasties, fascinating stuff…any ways, it was derived from Natural observations through the hard working life style.

The five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.  They are all connected and work towards promoting and controlling each other. There are many characteristics associated with each element, including certain weather patterns, sounds, foods, body tissues, and even specific diseases. There are multiple theories to explain how the cycle of the elements, but the most basic is that each element promotes the other, thus

Wood –>Fire–>Earth–>Metal–>Water–>Wood–>Fire–>etc

So as you can see the concept of treating the body as a whole comes from the concepts of the five elements. Each body part represents a major organ or major process in the body, and if one system is out of dysfunction, then the rest can follow in disharmony.

As you can see this is a brief introduction into the inner workings of acupuncture through Traditional Chinese Medicine. There are other resources available to you, such as the ones I have listed below:

Sacred Lotus – Information on Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine – General information on Acupuncture.


Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibution, Cheng Xinnong, 1999

4 thoughts on “Chinese Medicine: The Five Elements”

  1. Hi,
    My understanding is that Acupuncture is based on the balancing of energy flows in the body and the main technique is to put hair-like needles into specific access points that exist throughout the human body network.

    The needles adjust the flow of energy to bring it into balance. Too much or too little, too slow or too fast, can cause the body computer system to malfunction – a state of being that we call illness or disease.

    This of course is done using the Meridian lines that go throughout the human body.

    1. Hi Justin, acupuncture is definite about balancing energy and promoting a state of homeostasis within the body and relaxation.

      In Chinese medicine we are big about moving the qi, because qi is energy, and when energy is blocked, slows down, or goes the other way that can be a cause of illness.

      There are different types of ways to affect your qi, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be by acupuncturing specific points. You can do Tui-Na (Acupressure), use herbs, or recommend lifestyle changes.

      That is why acupuncture is very personal because it depends on your body type to find the best ways to move your qi.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. It is interesting how people came up with this idea of acupuncture. When I first thought of needles piercing onto your skin, I felt scared. But it was a great help to me when I was recovering from sickness. 🙂

    1. I’m glad it was of great help. I can’t imagine how of our ancestors became thinkers in this type of medicine. In class I learned that early warriors sometimes would get shot with arrows but they noticed than there was no pain, or that it actually helped them feel better (especially after getting shot in the butt, tons of endorphins!). Through observation and time they developed an acupuncture system. Also, one of my teachers told me that way back when, people would observe color changing lizards, and they wondered, why does this lizard/reptilian colors change so often? So then they postulated the idea that if the lizard changes, then we change to, and so you can see where they get some of these ideas in terms of the I-ching, yin and yang, the horary cycle, etc. Interesting stuff.

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