One of the foundational concepts of Chinese Medicine is the 5 Element Theory. By way of this theory, a person can understand and categorize natural phenomena, health issues, behavior patterns, and relationships. Essentially, 5 Element Theory encourages a person to look to nature to understand themselves and others. The 5 Elements are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each one comes with its own set of characteristics and attributes.
Wood holds the energy of growth, expansion, warming, multiplying. Its energy is found in the rising sun and the season of spring. In the body, it is the nervous system, responsible for growing and working constantly to sustain life. The energy of wood in the body resides in the liver and gallbladder. Thus, wood energy affects liver function, nerve function, ability to deal with toxins, ability to think clearly, and eyesight. In the mind, wood is observation, research, problem-solving, planning, strategizing and vigilant clarity.
Fire is bright, hot, consistent, substantial, loud, and obvious. It's energy manifests directionally in the south and in the season of summer. In the body, fire is found in the heart and small intestine. It governs the cardiovascular and endocrine systems. It houses our spirit and harmonizes our qi. Fire affects our ability to communicate with ourselves and with others. Fire brings our enjoyment in life, and guides us on our path of purpose.
Earth is. It is stillness, harmony, presence, nurturing, and support. It is the mid-point of balance, and therefore can be found in all places, and between each season. Earth energy's influence is at its peak during harvest season, a plentiful and fruitful time of peace and comfort. Earth energy holds and harmonizes everything, from the molecules in the body to the stars and planets of outer space. In the body, Earth is the flesh, and the digestive system. It affects metabolism, nutrient transport and absorption, and the beginning of the body's "composting" process.
Metal is everything that shrinks, retracts, freezes, conserves, and condenses. It's energy is alive in nature in the fall, and the western direction. It is present in the energy of perfecting, polishing, cutting, separating, and refining. Metal energy in the body is found in the skin and connective tissues or fascia. It is a connecting force between all the body's tissues. Metal energy resides in the lungs and is directed by the large intestine. Therefore, it affects our ability to breathe and to eliminate. It helps us discern what is needed from what is not.
Water is our essence. It is found in the energy of sinking, fluidity, softness, and dormancy. It is found in the northern direction, and the season of winter. Water energy is gentle and flowing, yet powerful. It provides no resistance, so nothing can resist it. Water energy is the power of creation and life-giving force. In the body, water holds our DNA, and manifests in the kidneys and bladder. It affects the health of our kidneys, bones, marrow, brain, urinary and reproductive systems. It also governs our ability to hear and listen. Water energy is found in dreams, instincts, hope, and foresight.
These elements are continuously interacting with each other on all levels. When one of these elements become energetically deficient or excessive, a certain set of symptoms will arise within the physical body. The more we understand the 5 Elements, the more we can understand our body's state of wellness/unwellness and adjust our lifestyle accordingly. This type of healing is subtle, natural, effective, and nourishing.
In the weeks to come, I will be writing a series of blog posts on different aspects of 5 Element living. Feel free to comment with questions or requests for new information, as this helps me share the content that will benefit you the most!
This past week, during the Thanksgiving holiday, I got to experience something I had never felt before...severe sciatica. In the middle of my 31st week of pregnancy, baby decided to snuggle herself right up onto my sciatic nerve! After spending Thanksgiving limping, and even crawling at times due to intense pain, I decided I should practice what I preach, and initiate some self care. I asked for help from my friend and fellow acupuncturist, and was just amazed at the results!! We began treatment with the intention of encouraging the baby to reposition herself so she was not pressing on my sciatic nerve. After putting in a few needles to activate the meridian that affects the uterus, my friend left me alone to rest. Within just a couple of minutes, I felt the baby start moving!! By the time I got up off the treatment table half an hour later, my pain had decreased by more than half. Baby continued moving the rest of the evening, and by the morning I could walk normally again. Even though Chinese Medicine has been a part of my life for many years, it just never ceases to amaze me when I feel the results firsthand. My hope is that by sharing these stories, I'll encourage and inspire others to step out of their comfort zone and give acupuncture/Chinese Medicine the chance to change their lives too!!
The change of seasons can be a tough time health-wise for lots of people, if they are not prepared and proactive about their self care. In Chinese medicine, the season of Fall is related to the lungs energetically. This means that physical issues relating to the lungs, such as colds, cough, weak immune function, or even bronchitis can arise. This also means that emotional releases of grief or "letting go" may come up for us as we shift into Fall energy. From a Chinese medicine perspective, the chilly winds that blow the leaves from the trees can also carry pathogens into our bodies, and cause chronic pain to worsen, or new aches to arise. The beauty of knowing these things, is that we can prepare and support our bodies to ensure a more graceful and easeful transition! First of all, an easy and important tip: protect your neck!!! In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), the neck is called the "wind gate". If not protected with a scarf, hat, coat, and/or hood, the neck is vulnerable to winds that carry pathogens into the body. We have all experienced this at one time or another, where we have been outside in windy weather without a coat, and afterwards feel achy or "chilled to the bone", and then wake up sick the next day! So, remember your scarf when you head outside!
Here are some self care practices to consider this fall for immune system support and maximum health:
*Keep in mind, this list is a great place to start, but there are TONS of other ways to support your body that are specific to your individual needs. I would love to assist in this process in any way that I can!
As an acupuncturist, by far the most common question I am asked is "What can you use it for?" The answer is, truly, just about everything. Acupuncture is a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine which uses a completely different medical model to diagnose and treat disease than Western medicine. A basic concept of TCM is that physical disease, pain, and emotional/mental disharmony can be attributed to an imbalance of the body's natural healing energy that flows through pathways within the body. For example, sciatic pain can be caused by a blockage of energy in the pathway, or meridian, that runs through that area of the body (the hip/buttock area). Acupuncture uses hair-thin, sterile needles to direct the flow of this energy through the meridians of the body. It assists in restoring balance, which allows for the body's natural healing ability to work as it's meant to. In the example of sciatic pain, acupuncture needles would be inserted strategically to rebalance the meridians that are blocked or out of balance. Another way to look at this concept is by referring to the energetic flow in the body as electricity (which it more or less is). In an electric circuit, if a blockage is present, the flow of electricity will be altered. Removing the blockage to restore the flow of electricity will allow the circuit to perform as it was intended to.
Acupuncture is widely known to be effective for conditions such as insomnia, infertility, PTSD, body pain, IBS, GERD, migraines, PMS, neuropathy, nausea, depression, anxiety, and so many more. Even more exciting news is that all of this healing can be achieved without surgical intervention or prescription medication!!!
I invite you to begin your journey of working WITH your body's natural healing abilities, and look forward to guiding you as move into a space of empowered mental, physical, and emotional wellness.