There are 5 Elements in Chinese Medicine: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. These Elements follow the seasons of the year, the time of day, the life cycle, and the creative process of life. The 5 Element system is a system of checks and balances. It is based on the idea that all things in nature will eventually balance themselves. For example, the season of Summer will eventually yield to Fall, the longer days will turn into longer nights, and the excitement of new ideas will eventually turn into precious personal wisdom.
The funny thing about the 5 Elements is that they are undefinable, because the Elements are in constant motion. Can you hold a Springtime flower in your hand and have it bloom the whole year? Could you capture the beauty of a full moon and watch it every night? The 5 Elements teaches to enjoy the present moment because the moment is always changing.
The Water Element
Just as a circle has no beginning and no end, the 5 Elements create a cyclical life. For the purpose of explanations, I will begin with the Water Element because it represents the beginning and the end. The Water Element is associated with the Winter season. This is when the natural world looks quiet from the outsider’s perspective. There are fewer wild animals out and about. The Water represents the beginning of life because it is time before we are born. We are born in water in our Mother’s womb. In the creative process, the Water time is the time for brainstorming, pondering, free thinking. It is the time to look up at the sky and imagine new ways of doing things, new ideas, new projects.
Balance Your Water Element: Take time to sit in nature and relax. Keep a pen and paper nearby. Write down your dreams for your life. Do not hold back. Dream big. The physical properties of water are flexible. Water can be strong like a wave in the ocean or soft like a trickle of a mountain stream. See yourself as someone strong enough to manifest your dreams and soft enough to change your plans when it is useful.
The Wood Element
The Wood Element is associated with the season of Spring. Nature begins to grow the first green grasses, flowers, and sprouts of the year. The natural world begins to wake up! The Wood Element is about taking action on the beginnings of things. Have you ever had a great idea (which corresponds to the Water Element) and then been unable to get started on the idea? That is a Wood imbalance. Nature likes movement, and the Wood Element is about upward movement. The Wood Element relates to the age of the little kid. This is the time when we are new to the world and exploring how to walk, how to talk, and learning what it means to be a little human being. The Wood Element is symbolized by a tree because trees are always moving and growing and finding a way to survive around any obstacle.
Balance Your Wood Element: Are you feeling stuck on any goals, projects, or relationships? Go for a walk, hike, run—any kind of movement outside. Remember, the Wood Element likes movement. While you are moving, open your heart and mind to any action step you can take towards progressing your stuck issue.
The Fire Element
The Fire Element is about the Summer, the time when nature is in its full bloom and the fruits and vegetables are bountiful. The temperature rises, and the natural world beckons us to get out and play! The Fire Element is about enjoying life. In the life cycle, it corresponds to the teenager, the time when romances first begin and close friendships become important. The Fire Element is about love, community, friendships, and joy. In the creative cycle, it is that state of Flow, that enjoyment of getting lost in the process of creativity.
Balance Your Fire Element: What do you remember doing in your childhood that you enjoyed? Did you like painting, singing, or just making up games in your backyard? Did you ride a bike around your neighborhood or play on a sports team? Consider your real joys and passions in your youth: how could you bring them into your life now? Reconnect with the joy of doing something just for the fun of it.
The Earth Element
The Earth Element is associated with the late Summer time of year, also called the harvest season. The Earth Element is about nourishment and abundance. It is the time when the farmer gathers the crops and harvests it to last through the Winter. In the life cycle, it is related to middle age. This is a time when many people are providing for their families, either by taking care of children or taking care of their elders. The Earth Element is also about how we take care of ourselves. The physical earth provides the food and sustenance for us. This metaphor continues with how can we nourish and feed our goals, projects, ideas, to create a healthy and happy life?
Balance Your Earth Element: Take off your shoes and walk barefoot on grass, dirt, or sand. Feel your connection with the soles of your feet and the earth beneath you. Keep a pen and paper nearby. What makes you feel nourished and relaxed? Write down the things you would like to incorporate into your life to take good care of yourself. Instead of completing these tasks out of obligation, fill your being with gratitude that you are your own healer.
The Metal Element
The Metal Element is associated with the Autumn time of year. Just as nature begins to let go of the leaves, it is time for us to let go of anything that is not serving anymore. When a chef creates a syrup, she boils down all the excess to get the essence of the flavor. The Metal Element is about distilling our excesses, to get to our truest wisdom and best self. It is related to the older age in life. After we have lived a good life, it is time to let go of what did not work and share the best parts of ourselves with the world. In the creative process, it is time to evaluate and reassess. What is working? What is not working? What would you like to let go of and what would you like to hold on to?
Balance Your Metal Element: Watch the trees in the Autumn time. If you were a tree and lost your leaves in the Autumn time, who would be left? What are your best qualities? What words describe the essence of who you are? How can you let go of everything holding you back from that essence and trust in your strength?
The Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal Elements are in Nature and within each of us. As you watch the seasons change, how can you see yourself as a part of Nature? How are you flexible like Water? How do you move around any obstacle, like the Wood of a tree? How do you feed the Fire of your passions for life with fun and enjoyment? How do you provide and care for yourself like Earth takes care of its beings? If you were a tree in the Autumn, how do you let go of what you do not need so that only the precious stones and Metal, the most valuable part of yourself is left? The 5 Element theory teaches that you are in relationship with the world around you.