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Complementary Corner

Acupuncture and the Five Elements

Renee Lehman

The Fire 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 Fire 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 Fire Element, let's first look at the season that the Fire Element corresponds to: Summer. By examining the season of Summer, you will see how the Fire Element expresses itself in nature and in your own life.

Season of Summer

This is nature's season for maturation and fulfillment. Spring lambs are becoming sheep and apple blossoms are becoming apples. Living things all around us are maturing. It is a time of long daylight hours, warmth, and dryness. Some of the gifts of Summer include joy, love, and warmth (just think of summer love); passion and compassion; partnership and community (don't you just love the picnics and festivals); intimacy and closeness (sitting with a loved one on a swing); spontaneity (Sunday drives in the convertible); and playfulness and lightheartedness (just watch the children playing outside).

Along with being associated with the season of Summer, the Fire Element is also defined as having other associations. For example, some of the associations are Yin and Yang Organs [the Heart and Pericardium (both Yin), and the Small Intestine and Triple Heater (both Yang), respectively], a body tissue (Blood Vessels), an external manifestation (Complexion), a sound in the voice (Laugh), an emotion (Joy), a color (Red), a direction (South), a climate (Heat), and a taste (Bitter).

Organ Correspondences

The paired organs that correspond with the Fire element are the Heart and Small Intestine, and the Pericardium and Triple Heater, respectively. You have probably noticed that unlike the Water and Wood elements, having two organs associated with them, the Fire element has four. Also, only three have a physical structure within the body. The Triple Heater is "all function without a visible form." In Chinese medicine, these four organs have many functions on a body, mind, and spirit level.


It is considered to be the "Supreme Controller". In China 3000 years ago, there was an Emperor who governed his kingdom. The Heart is your Emperor/Empress who controls and co-ordinates all of the Officials within the body (your other organs) and at the same time relies on them for guidance in "running the kingdom". If the Heart radiates virtue, then all will be in harmony, balance, and peace.

On a physical level, the Heart is responsible for circulating blood to all parts of the body. When this is done well, then we feel nourished and strong. When the Heart is in balance, one can fall asleep easily and stay asleep, complexion is clear and radiant, there is a sparkle in one's eyes, and there is appropriate sweating.

On an emotional and mental level, the Heart is responsible for clear thinking, insight, cognition, perception, consciousness, and self-awareness that gives life meaning. When the Heart is in balance, one has the ability to maintain a sense of inner order enabling you to have appropriate behavior in any situation, thus giving you the ability to have meaningful relationships.

On a spirit level, the Heart is responsible for your capacity to feel compassion and demonstrate warmth, joy, and love. When in balance, the Heart allows you to feel calm, serene, and to "just be."

Small Intestine

The Small Intestine is considered to be the "Sorter," giving us the ability to thrive through its ability to sort the pure from the impure.

On a physical level, the Small Intestine receives digested food from the stomach. The small intestine sorts the "pure" from the "impure" substances. The pure gets absorbed into the blood and distributed to the body, while the impure continues to move toward the large intestine or bladder for excretion. In Chinese Medicine, the Small Intestine sorts out the "pure" from "impure" energy, and retains the pure for our body, mind, and spirit. It then protects the Heart by allowing only the purest of the pure essences to "feed" the Heart.

On an emotional and mental level, the Small Intestine is responsible for discernment. It assigns value to different aspects and choices in our life. This gives us the ability to have good judgment regarding wishes of the heart vs. desires of our mind (what is useful for my "kingdom" vs. what is not fit for my "kingdom"). When the Small Intestine is in balance then the words we use will be clean and appropriate, and we will be well-behaved.

On a spirit level, the Small Intestine is responsible for the ability to "know" your proper path regardless of temptations. This would show as healthy intimacy, the right choice of life partner (right for your Heart), and the ability to extract the value out of any situation.


The Pericardium is considered to be the "Heart Protector". It works closely with the Heart, and is responsible for regulating the inner life of the Heart, bringing inner joy. It then carries this inner joy of the Heart throughout the entire body, mind, and spirit.

On a physical level, the Pericardium is a protective sac around the Heart, responsible for being the Heart's "bodyguard", warding off the stresses and strains that may place a burden on the Heart. When you suffer from shock of an accident, insults, or matters of relationships, the Pericardium takes the "blow" to protect the Heart.

On an emotional and mental level, if the Heart is your Emperor/Empress, then the Pericardium is the window that appropriately opens or closes so the Heart is able maintain its purity. The Pericardium allows for the ability to relate to others appropriately, and to experience love, warmth, and joy.

On a spirit level, the Pericardium is responsible for your ability to cultivate your inner joy/spirit and then share it appropriately with the world around you.

Triple Heater

The Triple Heater is not associated with an organ of the body. It is a "function" governing the interrelationships among all of the other organs in the body. The word triple is found in the name because the Chinese classics discuss the three regions of the body as upper, middle and lower. The Triple Heater is analogous to a party hostess making sure that all of the guests are comfortable and have enough to eat or drink.

On a physical level the Triple Heater is responsible for maintaining proper body temperature, circulation of fluids, and homeostasis.

On an emotional and mental level, the Triple Heater is responsible for the ability to assess a situation and then express appropriate love, warmth, and joy toward others. Other words like charisma and friendliness would be associated with the Triple Heater.

On a spirit level, the Triple Heater plays an important role in our ability to be in touch with the world, to enrich our relationships and social ties, and to enjoy groups of people,

How does this relate to you today?

Think about what shows up for you when you answer the following questions. 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).

  • Do you have any problems with your sleep?
  • Are you easily distracted?
  • How would you describe the quality of your relationships?
  • Do you have a tendency to blow hot or cold?

In the next article, I will discuss more correspondences/associations of the Fire Element. Until then, keep observing your movement through Spring, and how your Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium, and Triple Heater are functioning on a body, mind, spirit level. And remember: the Fire 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