As a 5-Element Acupuncture practitioner, I always find the Chinese New Year a great time to celebrate and reflect back on my learning. The Chinese (or Lunar) New Year is the switch to the New Year according to the Lunar calendar (we operate according to the Gregorian calendar system). It’s a 15-day festival that incorporates the Chinese Zodiac and is based on the 5-Element theory - the same theory that 5-Element acupuncture is based on. Divination (I-Ching) and feng shui also are based on the 5-Element theory. This is the philosophical theory that everything from the universe down to the smallest molecule (humans included) is made up of 5 elements: metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. It is these elements, and their continual ebb and flow, that allows everything to function as it should.
What is the main element where you thrive?
While we are to have more or less of a balance of the 5 elements in us, it is said that each person has one element that is their ‘home.’ This is the element where the person thrives; conversely, it can be in this element that the person becomes imbalanced the most. This ‘home’ element is known as the Constitutional Factor (CF). The Chinese zodiac uses a rotating, numerical system to classify people as both a specific animal and element (for example, those born in 2021 are a Metal Ox), while 5-Element Acupuncture uses more scientific means to determine a person’s element. A licensed acupuncture practitioner will use the signs and symptoms of a person (i.e. health history and current conditions), their CSOE (dominant color, sound, odor, and emotion), and tongue and pulse diagnosis to hypothesize the patients’ CF.
Of course, humans - like the universe- tend to be quite complicated. It is not always possible to determine a persons’ CF. Fortunately, we can still treat someone based on what element their current signs and symptoms fall under. If you know what element your signs and symptoms fall under, you can treat that element; treating the imbalance element resolves the health condition. In order to help potential patients learn how to complement treatment by a licensed acupuncturist or simply offer themselves some aid at home, I’ve recently done a video series on each of the 5 elements, how they show up out of balance, and some ways that they can be treated at home.
Understanding the Metal Element
Since 2021 is the Year of the Metal Ox, I will start by going over the Metal element. The Metal element consists of the Lungs and Large Intestine in Chinese medicine; therefore, any health issues relating to these two organs can be thought of as “Metal Issues.” Most commonly, we will see someone who is prone to respiratory issues, such as allergies, chronic respiratory infections, or even weakened immune systems. We can also say that someone who has the physical symptoms of being easily winded or short of breath, easily tired, or with a feeling of constriction in their chest or sternum as having metal issues. My video on the Metal Element discusses some points that acupressure can be done on. Acupressure is the use of gentle but steady force on acupuncture points, done either by an acupressure instrument or your pointer or pointer and middle finger. I also discussed how cupping or gua sha on the upper back is great for both helping to open the diaphragm as well help flush mucus out for those with an upper respiratory infection. Dietary and lifestyle recommendations were also discussed.
The Metal Element
Learning about the Water Element
The Metal element moves us into the next element, that of Water. The Water element is said to consist of our Kidneys and Bladder. In Chinese medicine, these organs are not only in control of the physical kidneys and bladder, but also regulate our endocrine system, adrenal system, bones, and reproduction. Some of the main manifestations of the Water Element out of balance include low back pain and knee pain, low energy or tiredness, insomnia, and infertility. Regarding the low back pain, people may experience anything from a chronic, aching back to sharp pain from bulging discs or degenerative disc disease to a slight ache from osteoporosis. Treating any issue of the Water element really comes down to tonifying or strengthening the Kidneys according to Chinese medicine. How do we do this? Acupuncture, acupressure, or even moxibustion of certain points along the Kidney channel, as well as what is known as the Conception and Governing Vessel, are thought to help strengthen the Kidneys. Some of these important points include Kidney 3, Conception Vessel 6, and Governing Vessel 4. Similar to the Metal element, dietary therapy and lifestyle recommendations can also be given for the Water element, which thrives off of more inward activity.
The Water Element
The Third Element, Wood
The Wood Element comes after that of the Water. The Wood element consists of the Liver and Gallbladder in Chinese medicine and regulates the tendons and sinews, manifests in the nails, and is said to control tears (as the Wood ‘opens into the eyes’). Some of the ways that we may see this element out of balance include irritability and stress, tight upper back, shoulders, and neck, trouble staying asleep, and a tendency to headaches or migraines. As the Wood element represents the Spring and controls the tendons and sinews, movement, bodywork and the outdoors are all useful for treating Wood conditions. A lot of the symptoms of the Wood out of balance can come from lack of movement or poor posture over time; hence, why it is important to make sure to have some sort of bodywork, whether it is massage, cupping, or gua sha, and exercise often. Diet and other lifestyle tips can also help to balance or treat the Wood.
The Wood Element
The Fourth Element - Fire
Wood generates the next element, that of Fire. The Fire Element holds a special place in Chinese medicine; it is said that the Heart (which is one of the organs of the Fire element) is like the emperor. Due to this, the Fire element has four organs: the heart, small intestine, pericardium, and what is known as the Triple Heater. While the pericardium is not technically an organ and there is no physical form for the Triple heater, in Chinese medicine, these ‘parts of the body play an important role in the Fire element. The Fire element is said to regulate the blood vessels, manifest in the complexion, and houses what is known as the ‘shen:’ our mental-emotional capabilities. With this said, some ways that an imbalance can show up include depression or manic behavior, anxiety, heart palpitations or angina, trouble falling asleep, and restlessness. Some ways to treat the Fire element include acupuncture or acupressure of the points of the four fire elements, including Pericardium 6 and Heart 7. Upper Conception Vessel points, such as Conception Vessel 16 or 17, are also utilized for treating Fire issues, especially those concerning mental-emotional health. One must also pay attention to the foods that eat and their lifestyle, making sure not to ‘agitate the heart.’
The Fire Video
The Fifth Element Earth
Rounding out the elements is that of Earth; the Earth consists of the Spleen and Stomach in Chinese medicine. It is said that the Earth element controls digestion, the muscles, and body fluids, manifest in the lips, and controls the intellect and the emotion of worry. Some of the most common Earth imbalances that I have recently run across include heartburn or acid reflux, bloating, chronic lethargy or feeling of fatigue, fogginess, and ‘knotted’ brain or tendency to ruminate. Acupuncture, acupressure and moxibustion are all good at helping ease issues of the Earth element, as can be abdominal massage for issues of digestion. As the Earth element is tied to digestion, food therapy is really important for treating this element. However, it is not just about the foods that you incorporate into your diet but also how you eat and when you eat. Eating on the run or while on a Zoom call isn’t the best thing for your stomach when you already have digestive issues! Of course, there are other lifestyle tips, too, that can bring an Earth imbalance back into harmony.
The Earth Video
If you were to take a look at your overall health, notice if you have any of the signs or symptoms above. Do you have trouble sleeping or with anxiety or perhaps you notice that your shoulders and neck bother you? See what elements the majority of your signs and symptoms fall under; you can then incorporate some of the advice for treating these elements at home to help with your wellness.
Of course, more detailed explanations of treating the different elements at home can be found in my video series on the 5 elements. You can watch these videos on my YouTube channel at Dr. Sarah Alemi, Acupuncturist as well as schedule a consultation with me either through my website or contact me at 571-354-6643; what better way to understand the elements than to understand your own underlying symptoms with the help of a licensed acupuncturist.