From the two, Yin and Yang, a further delineation can be observed into five distinct movements of energy, the five seasons.
“Wait!” you say.
“There are only four seasons!” you say, counting off the familiar cycle on your fingers.
Did you ever notice how very humid and sticky the last month and a half of summer are?
That’s called “late summer” - it’s the time of fruit and humidity. It’s the fifth season - it’s distinct from the high heat of summer (there's another way to hold this, where the fifth season is the time of shifting between one season and the next, a sort of transition season that shows up repeatedly throughout the year).
“Five Elements” is a loose translation of the Chinese phrase wu xing. Wu definitely means five, but a better translation of xing may be seasons, movements, or phases. So you’re thinking, “great, so that’s fall, winter, spring, summer, and now you’ve added this late summer weirdness - that’s the five elements, end of blog!”
Yes and no.
If you read the classics (the really, really old books that tell us the basic principles, theories, and practicalities of Chinese medicine), you’ll see these strange riddles.
“In heaven it is south, on earth it is fire, in the human body it is the vessels, of the viscera it is the heart, of the colors it is red…”
I know, “what…?”
But to a five-element acupuncturist, these are the correspondences of the five elements
Red, scorched, bitter, laugh, joy, blood, vessels, heat, south, summer...
Yellow, fragrant, sweet, sing, sympathy, saliva, flesh/muscles, damp, center, late summer...
White, rotten, pungent, weep, grief, mucus, skin, dry, west, autumn...
Blue, putrid, salty, groan, fear, sexual secretions, bones, cold, north, winter...
Green, rancid, sour, shout, anger, tears, sinews/ligaments, wind, east, spring...
According to five-element acupuncture, if you can determine the primary element of imbalance within an individual by observing these correspondences within and in relation to the client, you will know which element to treat. Next time on my education series, we will begin learning about the channels and organs that correspond with these elements.
The five elements are a fantastic way to begin to understand another person's place on their healing trajectory. Each of us has our own way of seeing the world, and it can largely be understood through the lens of these elements. By observing the elements in my clients, I am able to determine how best to begin treatment so that clients can see improvements quite rapidly. Other forms of acupuncture, which I do use from time to time, treat symptoms and patterns of disharmony more directly, but according to the school of the five elements, these will not resolve fully unless you treat the element that shows up as needing intervention. It could be that someone displays too much, or too little of an element. Each of us needs all five of these elements - no living person is entirely without an element. However, sometimes, one or another needs a bit of a boost (or a “chill-pill”), and that’s where acupuncture can help.