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Five Element Acupuncture

Updated on August 22, 2011


There is no psychiatry in oriental medicine. Their belief is, as well as with other ancient societies, that the body is the solid part of the mind. Five Element Acupuncture is based on the laws of nature, known as The Five Elements of fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Following is a simplistic explanation of a complex and amazing healing modality.

Unlike Medical Acupuncture, which treats patients according to their symptoms and can bring relief to the symptoms, Five Element Acupuncture goes beyond the symptoms and to the root of the imbalance of Qi (or Chi), the Life Force Energy that flows through all living beings. It is also called prana, mana and Ki. Chi flows through channels called meridians. Meridians have been mapped out thousands of years ago. They are the pathways that can become blocked and is where the Acupuncturist works to replace balance. This imbalance causes illness which in turn causes symptoms, whether physical and/or emotional. Traditional acupuncture looks at the human as a whole, body, mind and spirit. When we are healthy, our Chi is in balance with our environment or nature. When there is imbalance we are out of harmony and become ill. Symptoms are the language of the body/mind that tells us something is wrong and needs our attention. Several classical Chinese models of acupuncture are compatible with modern psychology, physics, physiology and neuropharmacology. Five Element Acupuncture helps the acupuncturist understand and organize complex medical disorders. The easiest elements to understand in an article of this size are fire and wood.

The elements help the acupuncturist understand the patient and her symptoms. The patient fills out a questionnaire and answers many questions while talking to the acupuncturist, not just about the patient‘s symptoms, but also about their personality, their likes and dislikes. In Five Element Acupuncture the practitioner feels the pulse on both wrists to measure the qualities of the meridians which carry the Chi. Rather than feeling the beat of the heart, as in allopathic medicine, the traditional acupuncturist looks at the quality of the pulse, the elements, their strengths and weaknesses, and decides what is blocked and why. The pulse changes rapidly so changes are noted. The tongue is also examined. If the tip is more red than normal it could be a sign of high blood pressure. If it is scalloped along the edges it can indicate long-term stress. A person with these indications may also have insomnia. Altogether this could be a person with excess fire energy. Aside from insomnia, a person with too much fire may have problems with high blood pressure and/or cardiovascular problems.

Balancing the Elements for Health

What the elements are

The elements add description value to organs, their functions and malfunctions, to the meridians and points. Acupuncture points are where the very fine needles go to unblock the energy called Qi or Chi. The disposable needles are only slightly more than the diameter of a human hair. There are general qualities in each element that identifies a person’s predominant constitution. It can express itself as an identifiable disturbance or dis-harmony. Element terms also apply to organs and their functions. For example, when a patient strongly likes or strongly dislikes a color or flavor associated with an element, or shows persistent expression of its psychological characteristics, there may be a disturbance in one of the organs associated with that element.

Wood Qualities are represented by the tree, with roots firmly embedded in the soil, its leaves reaching toward heaven. The tree grows up as well as down, balanced in yin and yang. Though well rooted it is also flexible, cyclic, coming to life in spring, bearing fruit in summer and fall, changing colors and drops its leaves and envelops its sap inside during winter. It is the symbol of the power to come alive infused with new energy and the ability to adapt with creativity and flexibility. Wood people bend but do not break. The season of wood is spring, representing rebirth and new beginnings. The Wood yin organ is the liver, the yang organ the gallbladder. Predominantly wood people tend to like blue green colors and sour and/or citrus flavors.

Fire qualities 

Think of the sunlight. It signifies intense heat, vitality and warmth, excitement, rising energy, and mental brilliance. The constant core of energy in our universe, the sun warms and nourishes. Fire is heating and circulation and maintains and gives physical and emotional warmth, enthusiasm and passion. The season of fire is summer, the season of growth and maturation. Yin fire organs are the Heart and blood vessels. Its yang organs are the small intestine. Fire people generally prefer red colors and bitter or coffee flavors. Its energy expands by involving, consuming, transforming and burning up.

What is Five Element Acupuncture

What is Five Element Acupuncture?

Are They Right?

Everyone is a blend of the elements, but we tend to be predominant in one over others. Too much stress over time interferes with the natural harmony and flow of Chi. Stress can be physical, mental and emotional. Symptoms can be depression, insomnia, chronic pain and other problems, emotional and physical. These symptoms are a signal of distress, that something is not right. From the Chinese perspective, when we do not live in balance, we are out of sync with nature. We are nature too, and when we interrupt our cycles of seasons within, our Life Force Energy becomes imbalanced and illness follows as a sign for us to recreate change. Five Element Acupuncture helps restore the natural balance necessary for good health and longevity.

For a very interesting "correction" on the elements theory that is taught commonly, see this video under the heading "The Elements and How They Affect Us." 

These simple examples demonstrate how the acupuncturist looks at a patient’s whole being, their personality as well as symptoms. Then they balance the vital Chi according to which meridians they have decided are blocked, in order to achieve harmony within the whole person body, mind and spirit. When the body's life force energy is balanced, normal healing will begin. This is different from allopathic or traditional medicine which generally treats the symptoms rather than the source of disease. Symptoms are the mind's way of telling us that something is out of balance and needs attention.

Acupuncture and allopathic medicine can and do work together. Medications can disrupt the Chi even more which can make it difficult to begin healing. Sometimes prescriptions are indicated, at least until the patient's Chi is balanced, which is why your doctor should know you are receiving acupuncture, as it is better the two work together if necessary.

Classic Five Element Acupuncture


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