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Complementary Corner

Acupuncture and the Five Elements

Renee Lehman

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

Season of Fall

Fall is nature’s season of harvest. It is a time for gathering nature’s crops before Winter settles in. In nature you can see the leaves changing color and beginning to fall to the earth. This will enrich the soil for next year’s Spring growth, along with giving children piles to play in. Sap in the trees drops to the roots, light and warmth of the sun grows scarce, and there is an abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. Can you see how nature’s energy is moving downward and inward?

Some of the gifts of Fall include letting go and pruning (to make room for new growth in the Spring); crisp, dry air that allows us to breathe deeply; acknowledging of nature’s awe; and acknowledging the intrinsic value of everything of creation. How many of the gifts of Fall do you identify with? Can you see the energy of Fall within yourself?

Along with being associated with the season of Fall, the Metal Element is also defined as having other associations. For example, some of the associations are Yin and Yang Organs [the Lungs and Large Intestines, a body tissue (Skin), an external manifestation (Body Hair), a sound in the voice (Weeping), an emotion (Grief), a color (White), a direction (West), a climate (Dry), and a taste (Pungent).

Organ Correspondences

The organs that correspond with the Metal element are the Lungs, and the Large Intestines. In Chinese medicine, the Lungs and Large Intestines have many functions on a body, mind, and spirit level. Overall, they allow for the natural flow of "letting go of the old and taking in the new." They are so interdependent, that if one does not function well, the other will fail.


The Lungs are considered to be the Minister and Chancellor to the Heart. They regulate the rhythm of your life. Think about how your breathing is very rhythmical without you having to concentrate on it.

On a physical level, the Lungs literally receive the pure Heavenly Qi (also known as, air). The Lungs then release the waste product of carbon dioxide to the outside environment (so that more oxygen will then be taken in). We breathe in a very matter of fact way. However, in many world cultures and religions, meditation and prayers are done by being mindful of one’s breathing. The Lungs also regulate the strength of your voice. When the Lungs are in balance, you will have a strong voice, breathe easily, and have no problems with phlegm/mucus.

On an emotional and mental level, the Lungs are responsible for receiving inspiration, the feelings of self-worth, and realizing the richness of life. How many times have you had an "Ah Ha" moment? Suddenly, you "see" the answer or understand something so clearly. That "spark" of inspiration comes from the Lungs. If the Lungs are out of balance, then you may experience life as dull or "cold," feel inert and uninspired, lack respect for and devalue yourself and others, or even strive for perfectionism (instead of excellence).

On a spirit level, the Lungs are responsible for your inspiration that "feeds" your spirit. Since the Lungs are connected with the Heavens, they give our life a sense of quality and higher purpose. We need this guidance from the Heavens to inspire us. Possible examples of this would be religious experiences (visions of saints, enlightenment experiences, and mystical experiences of prophets of all religions), or even your own experience of the connection with the Heavens that brings you joy.

Large Intestine

The Large Intestine is considered to be the "Drainer of the Dregs," and removes the waste products from within us. As it carries away the impurities of the body, mind, spirit, it leaves us pure and brilliant. Letting go of the old and worn out ideas, beliefs, and actions allows for us to make positive life transformations.

On a physical level, the Large Intestine is the "Great Eliminator". It receives the transformed food/drink from the small intestine, absorbs any remaining fluid and minerals, then eliminates the waste, also known as the "mundane qi" (the qi that has lost its value). When the Large Intestine is out of balance, you may have constipation, diarrhea, or find yourself over-collecting things that are of value to you (Beanie babies, baseball cards, jewelry, etc.).

On an emotional and mental level, the Large Intestine is responsible for letting go of impurities of the mind. It judges the value of things that will affect our quality of life and releases the worthless thoughts and behaviors that could keep our life unpleasant. When the Large Intestine is in balance then we are able to let go of the past, impure thoughts, and grudges; while at the same time keeping things of value.

On a spirit level, the Large Intestine is responsible for the letting go of things that no longer serve us. This allows space for new growth and changes in your life. For example, a balanced Large Intestine would allow for you to extract the "gems" from rubbish that you are exposed to daily, and allow you to grieve the loss of a loved one and then move through the grief, allowing space for new growth in that area. It would also give you a sense of quality to your life, because it removes the things that could "contaminate" your spirit.

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/or other wellness professionals).

  1. Do you have any breathing problems?
  2. Do you have regular bouts of constipation or diarrhea?
  3. How would you describe the quality of your life?
  4. Do you have a tendency to be a perfectionist?
  5. Do you hang on to the past long after it is useful?
  6. Do you have a tendency to be pessimistic or disdainful?
  7. Do you have issues with over-collecting?

In the next article, I will discuss more correspondences/associations of the Metal Element. Until then, keep observing your movement through Fall, and how your Lungs and Large Intestine are functioning on a body, mind, spirit level. And remember: the Metal 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 article on well being by Renee Lehman