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Complementary Corner

Acupuncture and the Five Elements

Renee Lehman

The Earth Element, Part 2

The Five Elements is 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). In the first part of the Earth Element, the associations of the season of Late Summer, and the Yin and Yang Organs (Spleen and Stomach) were discussed.

Remember that each Element describes a particular movement and the particular qualities which belong to a specific state of the changing energy seen in the universe. 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 this article on the Earth Element, Part 2, keep in mind that you are reading only about one part of a much bigger picture!

Late Summer is the transition time from summer to fall. The plants’ and trees’ coloring begins to fade and dull, while at the same time the "fruit" from this vegetation is ripening. It is a time to harvest the blessings of nature ("to reap what we have sown"). Apples, peaches, nectarines are ripening, ears of corn and wheat grow full and firm, and we begin to harvest them. The nourishment that we take in from what we harvest relates to the qualities of the Earth element.

Along with being associated with the season of Late Summer, the Earth element is also defined as having other associations. In this article the following associations will be discussed: a body tissue (Muscles/Flesh), an external manifestation (Lips), a sound in the voice (Singing), an emotion (Sympathy), a color (Yellow), a taste (Sweet), a direction (Center), and a climate (Humid).

Body Tissue and External Manifestation Correspondences

The body tissues associated with the Earth element are your muscles/flesh. By flesh, the Chinese meant muscle bulk, not fat. Muscle is a place in our body where glycogen, the storage form of the carbohydrate glucose (the energy source for many of our cellular functions), is stored. When we are well nourished, our muscles will have adequate energy to move, protect us, keep us warm by shivering, and give us a strong "toned" appearance.

The external manifestation of the Earth element is your lips. Dry and cracked lips could indicate that your body is not distributing your body fluids well, and pale lips indicate an overall weakness of the Earth element. Also, sores in the mouth and on the lips can often indicate issues with the Stomach.

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. You may need to "nourish" your Earth element to bring it into better balance.

  1. Have you ever had any eating disorder?
  2. Are you carrying around extra weight?
  3. Do you have problems with your limbs feeling heavy and weak?
  4. Do you notice that you have thin, pale, or cracked lips?

Sound and Emotion Correspondences

What comes to mind when you think about a mother reading a bedtime story to her child? The sound that corresponds with the Earth element is singing. It is not necessarily a "sing-song" sound, but rather a soothing, calming, sweet sound that often draws you closer to someone. The emotion that corresponds with the Earth element is sympathy. When sympathy is given appropriately, compassion and understanding soon follow. Just watch how a young child gives sympathy to a friend who is crying.

When you were a child and hurt yourself, do you remember crying out for your caregiver (mother or father)? Just as you did then, as an adult it is important to appropriately ask for and to receive sympathy. This shows a well balanced Earth element.

Ask yourself the following questions. Think about what shows up for you when you answer each question. You may need to "nourish" your Earth element to bring it into better balance.

  1. Do you whine to attract sympathy?
  2. Do you keep silent and deny "real" needs?
  3. How would you describe your ability to give understanding to others?
  4. How often do you over sympathize with others?

Color, Taste, Direction, and Climate Correspondences

The color correspondence of the Earth element is yellow. The Chinese associate yellow with the color of the earth in Northern China. This rich and fertile silt flows into and down the Yellow River (described by the yellow tint of the silt-filled water). In our region, just look at the farm fields and you will see the color yellow in the ready-to-be-harvested corn. These two examples, although continents apart, demonstrate the nourishing qualities of our physical mother, our Mother Earth.

The taste associated with the Earth element is sweet. "Sweet" foods are not the sugary candies and processed foods which you find in the grocery store. This is an extreme of sweetness that is far beyond the natural sweetness found in nature. Natural sweetness is ripe fruits, and vegetables like carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, peas, and corn, and grains. An imbalance of the Earth element can show up as a craving for sweet, and can lead to addictions to sweet, sugary, processed foods.

The direction of the Earth element is center. Think about how the Earth represents the center of our cosmos. The Earth element Officials, the Stomach and Spleen, are found within the center of our body. They are at the center of the digestion and transformation of the "nourishment" that we take into our bodies and the transportation of this nourishment to every cell in our body. The Earth is the solid foundation that we walk on, and gives us stability. When we feel "off center," it is like the ground moving in an earthquake. It is challenging to obtain solid footing.

The climate of the Earth element is humid. Remember how you felt on the really humid days in August. The dampness in the air was heavy and "close." Just by being outside, even when it was not too hot, you may have started to feel "sticky" and even lethargic. Did you experience your thought processes being a little more sluggish, increased sinus congestion, or increased swelling in your feet/ankles? This was from the excessive "dampness" that your body was challenged to disperse.

Nourishing your Fire Element

So, if you are interested in nourishing and keeping your Earth element in balance, try some of the following things:

  1. On a physical level, stretch your muscles. Also, physically reconnect with the earth (When was the last time that you rolled down a hill or sat on the grass?).
  2. Accept yourself!
  3. Appropriately cuddle or touch a friend, loved one, or pet.
  4. Honor your needs within your different relationships.
  5. Eat foods that are sweet tasting like carrots, squash, red beets, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, fruit, and grains like rice. Separate fruit from meal time, and limit fluid intake with meals (helps with digestion). Rather, eat fruit and drink fluids in between meals.
  6. Create proper amounts of routine and structure within your life. This will help to ground you.
  7. SING, this strengthens the Earth element!
  8. Make your home a comfortable safe haven.
  9. Work on resolving childhood issues that interfere with your ability to have a sense of satisfaction with your life.

To do this, you may need a professional to work with you (a physician, nutritionist, acupuncturist, personal trainer, massage therapist, counselor, spiritual director, or other wellness professionals).

Until then, keep observing your movement through Late Summer, and how well your Earth element is balanced. And remember: It is tempting to say that the ‘Earth is this or that,’ or declare ‘I 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!

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master 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