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The Earth Element in Five Element Acupuncture

Updated on March 17, 2011

The earth element, like each of the five elements, has a distinct energy and is said to control certain areas of our emotions and our bodies. Earth has associations or resonances with a certain key emotion, a particular time of the year, a climate, a colour, a sound, as well as control over specific organs and areas of the body. By thinking about these resonances we can gain an understanding of the essence of the earth element and also start to see what might go wrong if the earth element is disturbed.

Chinese charactor for Earth
Chinese charactor for Earth

Key Emotion

The earth element is associated with over thinking, worry and sympathy. It gives us our capacity to care for others and also for ourselves. Even though sympathy and care for others is a good thing, when taken to extremes it can become damaging and negative. Conversely, a constitutional imbalance in the earth element can lead to an inability to receive or accept sympathy and an unhealthy self reliance can result. Similarly craving too much sympathy and care form others can lead to a needy personality with a “poor me” attitude and a tendency to fail to take responsibility for one’s own actions. An imbalance in the earth element can often manifest in a tendency to worry and over think things. I’m sure we have all had times in our life when we are worried about something and the thoughts just seem to go round and round in our heads even when we desperately try to think of something else.


The earth  element is associated with the late summer. Late summer is that time of year after the peak of summer but before the autumn when the leaves start to fall. I think that there is a definite change in the light from the clear bright light of high summer to the hazy yellowish light of late summer. I tend to think of it as harvest time, when the grain crops are harvested and stored. This is important as one of the functions of the earth energy is that of storing and processing food. The ability to provide is an essential part of caring for others and indeed ourselves.



The colour associated with earth is yellow.  Yellow is very much the colour of harvest time. A person with a constitutional imbalance in the earth element will often display a yellowish hue on their face. Sometimes this is around or below the eyes and sometimes it manifests as a sort of yellowish ruddy complexion .


The sound associated with the earth element is singing. When we are trying to soothe or comfort someone, especially a child or baby, we naturally change the tone of our voice to singing. A singing voice is one which varies up and down in pitch much more than usual and it is often quite soft with longer than usual vowel sounds.  A person with a constitutional imbalance in earth may well sound as if they are trying to comfort or soothe just during everyday conversation.



The odour associated with earth is fragrant.  Although the word fragrant implies a pleasant smell, in fact the fragrant which is implies here is actually a sickly cloying sweet smell.  In my experience this odour shows up quite strongly when the earth element is out of balance and is the odour I most often recognise in patients when I am not even attempting to smell them !


The organs associated with the earth element are the stomach and the spleen. It should be noted that the stomach and spleen in Chinese medicine are not the same as the stomach and spleen of western physiology. In Chinese medicine the organs are given certain powers and spheres of influence , the stomach is in charge of rotting and ripening (which is essentially the same as in western physiology) and the spleen said to be in charge of transforming and transporting. Essentially the stomach and spleen are important for our digestion (as you would expect) but also our ability to digest things on a mental level. The spleen is said to influence our ability to think clearly and study.

When Earth Goes Bad !

People with a constitutional imbalance in earth or “Earth types” can have issues around nourishment both on a physical and emotional level. They can develop eating disorders or just have an unhealthy relationship with food. They can also often feel unsupported and unstable. Sometimes the need or desire to help others can become all consuming or else can cross the boundary into smothering. Sometimes the need for sympathy or simply to be understood can lead the earth type person to be quite needy , demanding and difficult to be around. Another common manifestation of an imbalanced earth element is for the patient to feel very stuck in their lives as if their earth has become muddy, their field waterlogged and impossible to plough. As mentioned earlier another common trait for an imbalanced earth element is the propensity to worry too much. One of the classic treatments in Chinese medicine for a spleen disorder is to tell the patient to stop worrying . Unfortunately I have yet to come across a patient who could stop worrying just because I told them to !

Does any of this sound like you ? or do you think you might resonate more with one of the other elements ?



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