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The Five Elements & the Cycle of the Seasons

Renee Lehman
Licensed acupuncturist and physical therapist

Last month I explained the Yin - Yang symbol. Along with the use of Yin and Yang to express the "Oneness" of the universe; the ancient Chinese observed a cyclical pattern of expression in nature. They called this the Five Elements. These Elements or energies are felt to be the prime energetic building blocks from which everything in the material world is composed. So, every living thing and every person is a unique embodiment and combination of these Five elements. The Five Elements are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal.

However, the ancient Chinese never saw the Elements as five "distinct things". When describing the Five Elements, it can be easy to forget that we are describing the "Oneness" (just imagine putting a Yin - Yang symbol inside the above circle of the Five Elements). Remember that the Qi (pronounced "chee"), or vital life force that makes up everything and that shapes everything, is in a constant state of change and transformation. The Five Elements express and embody the aspects of this change and movement within the Qi energy.

Each Element describes a particular movement and the particular qualities which belong to a specific state of the changing Qi. Together, the Five Elements help us to understand the process of dynamic harmony and balance in the whole system of energy. Therefore, when it comes to our health, if all Five Elements are in balance within us, then we are at a state of optimal health/wellness.

So, as you read the rest of this article (a general review) and future articles on the Five Elements, please keep in mind that you are reading only about parts of a much bigger picture!

Each Element is related to a different season. You may say, "Wait, there are only four seasons" (Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall). Well, consider the weather and what is happening in nature in late August into September. It is not quite like Summer, but not yet Fall… something you may call Indian Summer. The ancient Chinese called this Late Summer, and that is the fifth season. Related to the season of Winter is the element of Water, Spring is Wood, Summer is Fire, Late Summer is Earth, and Fall is Metal.

In the season of Winter, life seems to stop. The days are shorter and colder, and there are no leaves on the trees. However, life does not stop. The bulbs in the soil are still alive and storing potential to burst through the ground in the spring. The bears are just hibernating until spring arrives. This ability to use inner resources to survive and endure a more "barren" time relates to the qualities of the Water Element. There is will and determination to see winter through to spring.

The season of Spring is associated with the Wood Element. Think about what you see happening in nature during the springtime. It is a time of birth and renewal. There is a surge of energy, as seen by plants pushing themselves through the ground toward the sunlight! This birth and regeneration within a flexible pre-determined plan for growth relates to the qualities of the Wood Element.

When you think of the season of Summer, can you feel warmth and enjoyment? The flowers bloom instead of continuing to climb higher toward the sun, and fruits reach maturity. The days are longer and warmer than in the wintertime. The warmth, joy, fullness and maturity are the qualities that relate to the Fire Element.

The season of Late Summer is associated with the Earth Element. Think about this transition as the heat and warmth of summer begin to give way to the chills of Fall mornings. The flowers' coloring begins to fade and dull. However, this happens so that the "fruit" ripens. For example, ears of corn and wheat grow full and firm, and we begin to harvest them. This nourishment relates to the qualities of the Earth Element.

Finally, when you think of the season of Fall, this is a time of decline and death. The leaves change to brilliant colors then drop to the ground and begin to rot. Everything in nature "lets go" in the fall. Everything becomes quieter and more subdued. Without this "letting go" there would be no new growth in the springtime. Also, by the fruits and leaves falling to the ground and rotting, they bring needed nutrients to the soil. So, this is not only a time of death, but also of enrichment. This "letting go" and inner quality/value relates to the qualities of the Metal Element. We can see how the cycle of the seasons is turning full circle.

Along with being associated with a season, each Element is also defined as having other associations. For example, some of the associations are a Yin and Yang Organ, a color, a sound in the voice, a body tissue, an emotion, a taste, and a climate.

How does this relate to you today?

Think about the details of what happened today and ask, "Was today a good day?" "What was underneath all of your concerns today?" "What was important?" You may get some insight into how your Five Elements were in balance for today.

  • Do you crave sweets? Your Earth Element may need tending.
  • Do you easily flare up with anger? Your Wood Element may need some tending.
  • Do you hate winter time? Your Water Element may need some tending.
  • Are you always hot or sweat too much? Your Fire Element may need some tending.
  • Are your skin, nose, eyes, and mouth dry? Your Metal Element may need some tending.

In future articles, I will discuss in more detail the associations of the Five Elements. Until then, keep observing your movement through the Five Elements, and remember: It is tempting to say that 'Water is this' and 'Fire is that', but this is NOT what the Elements are. They are just a way of describing the ONENESS that is constantly changing and transforming!

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist and physical therapist with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman