Category Archives: Tradtional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Theory of Five Elements

Theory of Five Elements


This lovely image by artist Louis Parsons depicts his version of the five elements, including ether as a fifth substance. But Five Elements in Chinese Medicine has far-reaching applications; everything from acupuncture points to psychological assessment.
I chose Five Elements as my business name in 1998, because I was intrigued by the theory, which I first encountered in a book about Feng Shui. The five elements are a key concept in Eastern philosophy and Chinese Medicine. Once a theory of elements also held sway in the west: those are the four elements many of you may be aware of—Fire, Earth, Water, and Air. The Chinese Five Elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Greek philosophers, and later alchemists and medieval doctors, thought that disease meant the body humors, or elements, were imbalanced. In the Far East, Chinese doctors had similar concepts. Imbalances of the five elements, manifested through associated organs, or emotions, could cause disease, or indicate constitutional weaknesses.
The five elements also have a bearing on the psychology of the individual. Though we have constitutional tendencies, or leanings, towards manifesting a particular type or mix of types, this will also be affected by the stage of life we are in. This is a natural reflection of nature’s cycles. Traditional Chinese Medicine is concerned with the relationships of things with each other, not in isolation. We should ideally demonstrate a certain flexibility as we journey through seasons and decades, our energies ebbing and rising, our interests realigning.



That’s me, Gabrielle, licensed acupuncturist and TCM herbalist,in the header photo. I’m doing one of my favorite things; standing outside somewhere beautiful, enjoying nature.

That is opposed to one of my least favorite things – confinement. Before I was an acupuncturist, I worked as a medical technologist ( a less kindly word would be “lab rat”) in hospitals, starting in 1986. I saw a lot of confinement. By the time the patient reaches ICU and CCU she is imprisoned, both psychologically and physically. The good news is that most of the doctors and nurses (and lab rats) really do care about the patient’s welfare. The bad news is that the sicker someone gets, the more options narrow, until only that hospital bed, IV, oxygen tank, and feeding tube are left, or perhaps, dying at home, if a caretaker is available.

That’s scary. So I think one of the goals of integrative medicine is to keep the patient having options as long as possible. Death is inevitable. Suffering is always present. But suffering can take away your life and replace it with monotony and an impersonal setting, or you can alleviate your suffering, perhaps even eliminate it, if you take steps right away.

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