Five Elements Theory 五行

Five elements theory is sometimes known as the Five Phases.
Five Elements theory is one of the most important systems of Chinese medicine. It underpins medical theory and serves as one of the major diagnostic and treatment protocols.

In clinical practice the five elements theory is used in varying degrees depending on the practitioner, however, here at ICOM it is taught extensively throughout all three years of our acupuncture training.

The basic premise of Five Element theory is built on a series of correspondences and the relationship of these to each other to enable homeostatic balance in nature as well as within an individual. If we start with nature first and consider the seasons:

  • The onset of Spring / Wood sees shoots and buds emerging – this is a time of strong upward growth and the potential for life can observed.
  • Summer / Fire sees this growth reach its maximum when everything is in full bloom.
  • Late Summer / Earth is a time of ripening and a period of stillness.
  • In Autumn / Metal, the vitality starts to move inward towards the core leaving the exterior to dry out.
  • Winter / Water is a time for everything to return deep within itself, to nourish itself in preparation for the burst of activity in Spring.

We can see this cycle annually but also daily, each part of the day relating to a season. We can also see this relating to our lives in general starting from birth to infancy, puberty, adulthood, old age. With each season following or feeding the next we can also see that there is a control aspect to the relationship e.g Autumn / Metal controls Spring / Wood, Winter / Water controls Summer / Fire.

Together the feeding cycle and controlling cycle working in harmony to keep homeostatic balance. This is a fundamental principle of five elements theory.


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