THE FIVE ELEMENTS (WU XING)
1 - The Five Elements
The five elements are water, wood, metal, fire and earth. The world consists of these five elements and they have a mutual promotion and restraint between each other. They have a relationship between the five major organs of the body. The mouth is linked to the heart which represents the element fire. The nose is linked to the lungs which represent metal. The eyes are linked to the liver which represents wood. The ears are linked to the kidneys which represents water. The philtrum is linked to the spleen which represents earth. The heart is fire, move the heart, generate power. The lungs are metal, move the lungs, make sounds like thunder. The liver is wood, move the liver, the fire comes out. The kidney is water, move the kidney, you move as quickly as the wind. The spleen is earth, move the spleen, you attach with great power.
The five major organs are like five entrances to the body, we have to guard our own entrances and restrain your opponent from attacking them.
2 - Cycles
The five elements are not isolated; rather they work closely together and have their own internal orders and patterns. The rules that govern the five elements include a mutual generation cycle, a mutual restriction cycle, over restriction, reverse restriction and balance between generation and restriction.
2.1 - Mutual generation cycle
One element (serving as parent) enriches, nourishes, strengthens, promotes growth and development of the following element (serving as child). Generating: Wood feeds Fire - Fire creates Earth (ash) - Earth bears Metal - Metal (trace elements) collects, enrich Water - Water nourishes Wood
Interpretation: (supporting, helping)
- Wood is the supporting element of Fire. Fire can release the power of Wood.
- Fire is the supporting element of Earth. Earth can release the power of Fire.
- Earth is the supporting element of Metal. Metal can release the power of Earth.
- Metal is the supporting element of Water. Water can release the power of Metal.
- Water is the supporting element of Wood. Wood can release the power of Water.
2.2 - Mutual restriction cycle(overcoming)
Wood parts Earth (such as roots; or, Trees can prevent soil erosion);
Metal chops Wood;
Fire melts Metal;
Water quenches Fire;
Earth dams (or muddies or absorbs) Water;
This cycle might also be called "controls", "restrains" or "fathers".
2.3 - Over-restriction cycle
The Chinese word for restriction, "ke" means "inhibition" or "winning over". In nature, wood controls the earth. (See figure 3.) In the body, the liver (a wood element) controls the spleen (an earth element) and inhibits its functions in a balanced manner. If the liver's function becomes excessive, there will be over-restriction of spleen function causing an imbalance in the body. This happens because excessive liver function produces fire, which in turns affects the smooth flow of qi. Without good qi flow to start, the spleen cannot successfully transform food into more qi.
2.4 - Reverse restriction (weakening) cycle
If the enemy is too strong, the controlling element itself becomes controlled in a reverse manner. When wood is too strong and its controlling metal axe is too blunt, the axe cannot cut the wood and may even break as a result of the rebound force if an attempt is made to chop it. This illustrates reverse restriction because the wood is able to restrict metal, which is not usually the case. In our body, if the spleen functions excessively, its
controlling liver will also be restricted in a reverse manner. The excessive spleen function will produce heat and dampness, which doesn't have a sufficient release in the body. The constrained damp heat will heat up the liver and the gall bladder. When this occurs, the gall bladder can no longer properly regulate bile secretion, and disease occurs.
Reverse restriction (weakening) cycle :
- Wood insults Metal (axe cannot cut metal, can even break)
- Metal insults Fire (can extinguish fire)
- Fire insults Water (fire evaporates water)
- Water insults Earth (water overcomes dam)
- Earth insults Wood (earth too dense, roots cannot part it)
2.5 - Balance between generation and restriction
A famous Traditional Chinese Medicine physician Zhang JingYue (1563-1640 AD) said, "The mechanism of creation cannot do without promotion. Neither can it do without control. If there is no promotion, there will be no development and growth. If there is no control, the unbalanced excitement will be harmful. It is necessary to have control inside promotion and to have promotion inside control, so that everything can operate continuously, in both a complementary and opposite manner."
Balance between generation and restriction is important for normal transformation of the five elements. Each element is under the influence of the other four in some way. Wood generates fire and water generates wood. On the other hand, wood inhibits earth, but itself is inhibited by metal. In this way, all five elements establish an intricate homeostasis in nature. This wisdom has also been applied to TCM by incorporating the theory of the five elements into health maintenance strategies, which have been successful for thousands of years.