Five Element Theory Wu Xing

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In TCM, natural phenomena can be classified into the Wu Xing, or the Five Phases, usually translated as five elements, five movements or five steps, Metal, Water, Wood, Fire & Earth.

Common Associations of the Five Elements & Table of Correspondences

Element

WOOD

FIRE

EARTH

METAL

WATER

Season

Spring

Summer

Late Summer Change of seasons

(Every third month)

Autumn

Winter

Climatic Qi

Wind

Heat

Damp

Dryness

Cold

Yang Organ

Gallbladder

Sm. Intestine/San jiao

Stomach

Lg. Intestine

Bladder

Yin Organ

Liver

Heart/pericardium

Spleen

Lung

Kidney

Sense Organ

Eyes

Tongue

Mouth

Nose

Ears

Body Tissue

Sinews/tendons

Blood Vessel/pulse

Muscles

Skin

Bone

Emotion

Anger

Joy/Shock

Worry

Sadness

Fear

Colour

Green

Red

Yellow

White

Black

Taste

Sour

Bitter

Sweet

Spicy/pungent

Salty

Direction

east

south

center / zenith

west

north

Planet

Jupiter

Mars

Saturn

Venus

Mercury

Heavenly creature

Azure Dragon

蒼龍 or 青龍

Vermilion Bird

朱雀

Yellow Dragon or Yellow Qilin

黃龍 or 黃麟

White Tiger

白虎

Black Tortoise

玄武

Heavenly Stems

甲, 乙

丙, 丁

戊, 己

庚, 辛

壬, 癸

Phase

New Yang

Full Yang

Yin/Yang balance

New Yin

Full Yin

Energy

Generative

Expansive

Stabilizing

Contracting

Conserving

Development

Sprouting

Blooming

Ripening

Withering

Dormant

Livestock

dog

sheep/goat

cattle

chicken

pig

Fruit

plum

apricot

jujube (dates)

peach

chestnut

Grain

wheat

beans

rice

hemp

millet

Mental Quality

Sensitivity

Creativity

Clarity

Intuition

Spontaneity

Negative Emotion

anger, frustration

over-excitation

worry, anxiety

grief, sadness

fear, lack of will

Positive Emotion

Patience

Joy

Empathy,Love

Courage

Calmness

Body Fluid

Tears

Sweat

Saliva

Mucus

Urine

Finger

index finger

middle finger

thumb

ring finger

little finger

           

Smell

Rancid

Scorched

Fragrant

Putrid

Rotten

Sense

sight

speech

taste

smell

hearing

Life

birth

youth

adulthood

old age

death

Five Element Relationships

It was observed over the years that the Five Elements relate to each other in different ways;

1. Sheng Cycle (Generating/Nourishing Sequence)
2. Ko Cycle (Controlling/Regulating Sequence)
3. Destructive Cycle (Overacting Sequence/Cheng cycle)
4. Anti Ko Cycle (Insulting Sequence/Wu Cycle)

1. Sheng Cycle or Nourishing Cycle

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The Generating Sequence or mother-child relationship. The clockwise sequence on the circle represents the Shen cycle

As in the cycle of the seasons, each element generates another, i.e., one element is the "mother" of the next.

· Wood (Liver) creates Fire (Heart) Wood is the Mother of Fire Liver is the Mother of the Heart
· Fire (Heart) creates Earth (Spleen) Fire is the Mother of Earth
· Earth (Spleen) creates Metal (Lungs) Earth is the Mother of Metal
· Metal creates Water Metal is the Mother of Water
· Water creates Wood. Water is the Mother of Wood

Naturally, therefore, each element is generated by another: Fire is the child of Wood, Earth is the child of Fire, etc. In nature, we see this in the seasonal changes: Winter transforms into Spring, Spring changes into Summer.

Generating
The common memory jogs, which help to remind in what order the phases are;

Wood feeds Fire;
Fire creates Earth (ash);
Earth bears Metal;
Metal carries Water (as in a bucket or tap);
Water nourishes Wood.

Other common words for this cycle include "begets", "engenders" and "mothers."

2. Ko Cycle or Controlling / Regulating Cycle

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The clockwise sequence depicted by the pentagon represents the regulating or destructive cycle.

This cycle might also be called "controls", "restrains" or "fathers". The Ko cycle is also often referred to as the grandmother-son cycle.

Controlling Sequence or father-child relationship. Each element is said to control, check, or regulate another.

· Wood controls Earth
· Fire controls Metal
· Earth controls Water
· Metal controls Wood
· Water controls Fire

Controlling

The common memory jogs, which help to remind in what order the phases are;
Wood parts Earth;
Earth absorbs Water;
Water quenches Fire;
Fire melts Metal;
Metal chops Wood.

This cycle ensures that a balance is maintained between elements.

There are also two Cycles of Imbalance:

  • An overacting cycle (cheng)
  • An insulting cycle (wu).

3. Destructive / Overacting / Cheng cycle

This is the same as the Ko cycle, but in this sequence, one Element is said to "over-control" or "destroy" another, causing the controlled element to become Deficient. This happens when balance breaks down so that one element becomes excessive in relationship to another.


E.g. An excess of Wood energy will over-control Earth, causing Earth to become Deficient.

4. Anti- ko / Insulting / Wu cycle

This cycle is the reverse of the Ko cycle or controlling sequence. In the Insulting Sequence, the element that should BE controlled becomes imbalanced and excessive and controls the element that normally controls it.

Example: Instead of Metal controlling Wood, if Wood becomes excessive, it can "insult" Metal, causing it to become imbalanced. This is akin to the child rebelling and insulting or trying to discipline its father.

Four Possible Pathologies

1. The element in Excess overacts on another (Overacting sequence)

2. The element in Deficiency insulted by another (Insulting sequence)

3. The element in Excess drains from Mother (pathological Sheng cycle)

4. The element in Deficiency fails to nourish Child (pathological Sheng cycle)

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For further details on this topic, to lecture for your group or institution on this subject. or to arrange an online appointment contact Carina This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Carina Harkin BHSc.Nat.BHSc.Hom.BHSc.Acu.

Cert IV TAE. ARCHTI mem.