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Complementary Corner

Acupuncture and the Five Elements

Renee Lehman

The Earth Element, Part 1

In January, I began a series of articles on the Five Elements, the cyclical pattern of expression in nature, as observed by the ancient Chinese. These Elements or energies are felt to be the prime energetic building blocks from which everything in the material world is composed, and were never seen as five "distinct things". 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 (see the figure below). Together, they 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.

As you read this article on the Earth Element, Part 1, keep in mind that you are reading only about one part of a much bigger picture!

To explore the details of the "essence" of the Earth Element, letís first look at the season that the Earth Element corresponds to: Late Summer. By examining the season of Late Summer, you will see how the Earth Element expresses itself in nature and in your own life.

Season of Late Summer

Late Summer is the period of transition from Summer to Fall, and is thought of as "Indian Summer." Think about how nature is changing during August and September. The grass is beginning to lose its lush green brightness. The afternoon air feels sticky and clammy, as the sunís rays are not as intense as Summer. There is a feeling of heaviness in the air and even in our bodies. There can be alternating warm and cool days. There is an energetic change as we move from growth (Spring) and activity (Summer) to an inward focus (Fall and Winter). Fruits and vegetables are fully ripened and flowers are abundant. We are reaping the harvests of the earth (peaches, apples, squash, potatoes, etc.). How many of you will be canning, freezing, and storing vegetables and fruit for use over the winter?

Finally, the gifts of Late Summer include nourishment, harvest, abundance, thoughtfulness, and centeredness/grounding. It is from "Mother Earth" that we receive physical nourishment that helps us to replenish and invigorate the energy (Qi) that we are born with. "Mother Earth" also gives us mental and spiritual nourishment: thus giving us a feeling of centeredness, groundedness, and stability that creates a solid foundation for us to build our life upon.

Along with the season of Late Summer, the Earth Element is also defined as having other associations. For example, some of the associations are a Yin and Yang Organ (the Spleen and Stomach, respectively), a body tissue (Muscles/Flesh), an external manifestation (Lips), a sound in the voice (Singing), an emotion (Sympathy), a color (Yellow), a direction (Center), a climate (Humidity), and a taste (Sweet).

Organ Correspondences

The organs that correspond with the Earth element are the Stomach and Spleen. In Chinese medicine, the Stomach and Spleen have many functions on a body, mind, and spirit level. Their functions are very closely related, almost like a "functional yoke." They are responsible for digesting and transforming the "nourishment" that we take into our bodies and then transport it to every cell in our body.


The Stomach is considered to be the "Official of Rotting and Ripening." It is considered to be a granary or storehouse that receives liquids and solids from the food that we eat. It breaks them down (transforms them) into a "soupy mix" from which nutrients are absorbed into our blood stream.

On a physical level, the Stomach is responsible for a good appetite, the receiving of nourishment that we give ourselves, and for proper digestion of this nourishment. The Stomach can only work with what we put into our mouth, so quality food and water will allow the Stomach to work most efficiently. When the Stomach is in balance one will have an appropriate appetite, the ability to "taste" food, good digestion, and have no issues with acid reflux, burping, or eating disorders.

On an emotional and mental level, the Stomach is responsible for digesting and assimilating thoughts and ideas. How often have you used any of the following phrases: "I am digesting this information; That was tasteless; I need to chew this over; Iím having a hard time swallowing this; I have an insatiable appetite for ____; or I canít stomach this anymore?" These phrases demonstrate how the Stomach gives us the ability to savor our thoughts, experiences, and family life. When the Stomach is in balance one can digest ideas and experiences, then assimilate them into your "being".

On a spirit level, the Stomach is responsible for a sense of groundedness/centeredness and satisfaction with oneís life. When the Stomach is in balance one has a solid sense of self, can ask for assistance when needed, be considerate of self and others, and be altruistic.


The Spleen is responsible for transporting nourishment, energy (Qi), blood (other forms of nourishment), urine, lymph, and other fluids. It is also responsible for supporting and holding things in place.

On a physical level the Spleen is likened to a fleet of delivery trucks carrying extremely important packages to customers 24/7, 365 days a year. Just imagine how important it is for a distribution center and its delivery trucks to deliver produce to your grocery store! No transportation can occur if the bridges along the roadways are not supported properly to keep them from collapsing, even if the delivery trucks are full and ready for delivery. If the Spleen is weak, then it can act like a delivery truck driver who is tired and wants to go home to sleep so he ignores the stops near the end of his route, or like a bridge that has collapsed so deliveries cannot be made. This can show up as weak, or cold hands/feet (nourishment not making it to the ends extremities), general weakness and lethargy, sinus congestion, accumulation of fluids in the extremities, or prolapses of organs and or vessels.

On an emotional and mental level, the Spleen is responsible for the ability to move "information" where it needs to go and then "hold this information". In other words, the Spleen is responsible for the capacity to think, memorize, and concentrate.

On a spirit level, the Spleen gives us the ability to "deliver" an abundance of love, nurturing, compassion to oneself and to others. A Spleen that is in balance will show up as one being grounded, being appropriately thoughtful, having a generous spirit, and having a good connection to Heaven and Earth.

How does this relate to you today?

Below is a list of questions that I would like you to ask yourself. Think about what shows up for you when you answer each question. Are there any answers that surprise you? See if you are able to accept yourself fully while processing your answers. Is there anything that you would like to compassionately change about yourself so that the answer would be different in the future? To do this, you may need a professional to work with you (a physician, nutritionist, acupuncturist, personal trainer, massage therapist, counselor, spiritual director, and other wellness professionals).

  1. How would you describe your appetite for food and life?
  2. Have you ever dealt with an eating disorder?
  3. How close are you to your ideal weight?
  4. Do you have any problems with heartburn, burping, etc?
  5. How often does worrying interrupt your sleep pattern?
  6. How grounded or centered do you feel?
  7. How would you describe your ability to concentrate?
  8. Have you ever had hemorrhoids, or other organ prolapses?

In the next article, I will discuss more correspondences/associations of the Earth Element. Until then, keep observing your movement through Late Summer, and how your Stomach and

Spleen are functioning on a body, mind, spirit level. And remember: It is tempting to say that the ĎEarth is this or thatí, or declare ĎI am only Earth, but this is NOT how the Elements are meant to be described. There are aspects of the Earth Element that resonate for each individual, and it should! The Earth Element is an integral piece of describing the ONENESS of the universe (including our own body/mind/spirit) that is constantly changing and transforming!

Read other articles on well being by Renee Lehman