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Five Elements Theory in TCM

Anxiety disorders are one of the most frequently diagnosed mental health disorders in teens. One study in Germany indicated that about 10% of children and adolescents suffer from anxiety disorders (Robert Koch-Intuit; BELLA-Studied). The primary anxiety disorders are: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Phobias, and Separation Anxiety.

Origin of the Five Elements Theory

The Five Elements theory came from observing nature. Thinkers and philosophers in China and in the West analyzed natural phenomena and relationships in the environment several hundreds of years ago and tried to find logical patterns. Western philosophers such as Aristotle classified four elements (fire, earth, wood and water) and identified them solely as material elements of nature. Whereas the Chinese named five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) and went a step further in thinking of the elements as energies and patterns that are found throughout the natural environment.

In the Chinese system for example, the elements belong to specific development phases in nature such as birth (wood), growth (fire), maturity (earth), harvest (metal) and retention (water). Also, the seasons are categorized according to the five elements: spring (wood), summer (fire), late summer (earth), fall (metal) and winter (water). Climate is similarly categorized: wind (wood), heat (fire), humidity (earth), dryness (metal) and coldness (water).

Five Elements in TCM/The Human Body

The processes of the five elements were also taken further and applied to other systems, including the human body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the human body is seen as a small microcosm that is not only interconnected internally but also with the world around it. This means that emotions are important, as is the interrelation of organs and interaction with the environment.

The five elements are matched with organ systems that have a specific effects on each other. In the so called “production cycle” it is said that the elements generate themselves: wood produces fire, fire creates earth, earth brings out metal, metal produces water and water again creates wood. When you think about nature it makes sense and that is why the ancient Chinese doctors made use of the system within the body with relevant relations to the organs liver (wood), heart (fire), spleen (earth), lung (metal) and kidney (water).

A second important cycle in nature and TCM is the “controlling cycle” that guarantees the balance between the elements and the self-regulation of the human organs. Here, wood controls the earth but the earth creates metal that again controls wood. In medical terms, the equivalent would be that the liver controls the spleen, whereas the spleen is the mother of the lung and the lung again controls the liver. What might sound complicated at first is actually very logical in the correlation with the organs’ processes and functions.

To learn more about TCM basics and the Five Elements theory, attend Doris Rathgeber’s upcoming talks at Community Center Shanghai (CCS) with “Healthy Eating with Five Elements Cuisine”.

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Doris Rathgeber
Doris Rathgeber
TCM Doctor & Founder of Body & Soul – Medical Clinics

With more than 20 years of experience as a TCM Doctor and internal medicine specialist, Doris treats a vast array of acute and chronic diseases by expertly combining Traditional Chinese Medicine with Western Medicine. She also hast extensive experience addressing women’s issues as well as infertility problems.