The Five Elements in Chinese medicine are aspects of Qi (chee) or the basic life force. They are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Health is considered a harmonious balance of the five that shifts and remains dynamic. Imbalances in the five elements cause disturbances and illness.
In Chinese medicine, the environment is also believed to contain the five elements. Consequently, the human body and the environment share characteristics. In harmony, our energetic balance cycles, for instance, with the seasons.
The five elements give practitioners a method of identifying different energies, symptoms, and traits in people. These are evident in the energetic, emotional, and physical body. The proper balance of elements results in health and a sense of well-being. Understanding and working with the 5 Elements is a complex endeavor best done by a practitioner of Chinese medicine, but a brief and cursory discussion of these elements can familiarize you with the concepts.
The Spirit of Fire
On a deep emotional level, the element of Fire can be understood as passion, love and joy. It reaches out into the world through expressions of enthusiasm, expansiveness and the drive for warm connection and interaction. An image for this element when balanced is the flower in full bloom, or in full expression of its nature. It is related to the summer season when the world is in full bloom, too. Consequently, the positive force of Fire brings things to mature fruition. With regard to our interactions, our maturity allows us to engage with others and the world in deep and meaningful ways.
The Fire Element and the Human Body
In the human body, Fire manifests in the heart (The Utmost Source), pericardium (the protective membrane around the heart–The Protector), the triple heater (regulator of internal temperature) and the small intestine (Heavenly Window). Here we will briefly discuss just two of these to acquaint you in a cursory way with the levels of meaning in the elements in Chinese medicine.
The Heart–The Utmost Source or The Supreme Controller
The heart in Chinese medicine is known as the Utmost Source or the Supreme Controller. It is likened to a benevolent and healthy emperor as it leads and guides the rest of the body. When there are disturbances in the Supreme Controller, distress and symptoms arise such as fear, panic, internal chaos, uncertainty, feelings of abandonment, depression, an inability to love him/herself or others, meaninglessness, purposelessness, isolation and loss of energy, drive, enthusiasm and passion.
The Small Intestine–The Heavenly Window
The small intestine in Chinese medicine is known as The Heavenly Window. It sorts the pure from the impure. This is done physically as the organ sorts food nutrients from wastes, but the sorting function of the Heavenly Window also occurs on other levels. It works on the mental and emotional levels, for example, to help us discern what is useful and important and what is not.
The Heavenly Window optimally helps us experience the fruits of balanced fire–light, joy, passion, and enthusiasm–those ‘nutrients’ that nourish a vibrant and healthy life in which we find purposeful, joyous and meaningful activity. We are able to dispel the ‘pollution’ or ‘toxins’ of life in order to claim its treasures. With imbalance, we become toxified. We experience negativity, hopelessness and meaninglessness.
Deficiency or Excess
Disturbances in the Five Elements occur in deficiency or in excess of the element. Deficient Fire can manifest as chill, poor circulation, congestion, sluggishness, poor digestion, numbness and low libido, for example. Emotionally, we may be ‘cold’ to others or inhibited, empty and craving connection.
An excess of Fire is present in inflammation, infection, and the drying up of natural fluids. We might become stuck in an overly expansive expression of excessive fire such as hyperactivity, hypersexuality or intense emotion that doesn’t relent.
Other Symptoms of a Fire Imbalance
There are many symptoms of a Fire imbalance. Here are some not mentioned above, but this is not an all-inclusive list.
Inappropriate laughter, joking, ‘clowning’
Hot-cold, love-hate emotions or relationships
Neediness, yearning, dependency upon others
Excessive talkativeness and gregariousness
Irregular or fast pulse
Cravings for mood-altering substances
Aches and pains
If you are interested in discussing any of these symptoms or issues and how Chinese medicine may help, in the Louisville area acupuncture and Chinese medicine is available at Abacus Chinese Medicine. Jeffrey Russell practices acupuncture, Chinese herbalism and auricular medicine there. You can reach him at 502 299-8900.