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Complementary Corner

Acupuncture and the Five Elements

Renee Lehman

The Metal Element, part 2

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.

In the first part of last month’s article on the Metal Element, the associations of the season of Fall, and the Yin and Yang Organs (Lungs and Large Intestine) 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 Metal Element, Part 2, keep in mind that you are reading only about one part of a much bigger picture!

Fall is a time in which the cycle of energy (that you have been reading about all year) begins to decline and turn inward, thus demonstrating how nature is coming full circle. We have gone through the seasons of growth (Spring), maturity (Summer), and harvest (Late Summer), and now we see the leaves beginning to change color and fall to the earth. This will enrich the soil, and will allow for new growth in the Spring. The beautiful colors of the leaves also give us the opportunity to acknowledge nature’s awe.

Along with being associated with the season of Fall, the Metal element is also defined as having other associations. In this article the following associations will be discussed: 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 taste (Pungent), and a climate (Dry).

Body Tissue and External Manifestation Correspondences

The body tissue associated with the Metal element is your skin. In Chinese medicine, the skin is considered to be the "third lung." The skin has pores through which your body "breathes." The appropriate opening and closing of the pores allow for perspiration to leave the body, to excrete waste products from the body, and to provide a defensive barrier to the external environment. Finally, in western medicine there are diseases where someone has both skin and lung problems. For example, scleroderma, lupus, and infantile eczema that progresses to asthma.

The external manifestation of the Metal element is your body hair. The body hair is just an extension of the skin pores. It increases the surface area of your skin to help with evaporation of perspiration. It helps to keep you warm, and is also part of the first line of defense against the external environment. Just think about how your body hair protects you from the sun and rain, and how it "stands on end" when you may be scared or in danger.

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 Metal element to bring it into better balance.

  • Do you have any skin diseases like eczema, psoriasis, or acne?
  • Do you have excessive or minimal body hair?
  • Do you have "thin skin" when dealing with people and situations around you?

Sound and Emotion Correspondences

The sound that corresponds with the Metal element is weeping, and you can hear this when someone is expressing grief, the emotion that corresponds with the Metal element. Can you hear how when someone has experienced the loss of a loved one or is speaking about death, they may sound like they are going to cry? Have you ever gotten a "lump" or "catch in your throat" when witnessing something awe inspiring? Also, when experiencing grief have you ever felt heaviness in your chest/lungs?

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

  • How often do you get stuck in grief and say "If only...?"
  • How often does your voice become weak?
  • How clear is your voice?

Color, Direction, Taste, and Climate Correspondences

The color correspondence of the Metal element is white. It symbolizes spirituality, brightness, perfection, and purity; things associated with the "letting go of the rubbish" and "taking in the pure energy of the heavenly qi." Finally, unlike the Western Cultures, the Chinese associate the color of white with mourning and death.

The direction of the Metal element is west. Buddhists associate the direction of west with enlightenment. In Ancient Egypt, the west was the portal to the afterlife. English pilots during WWII would use the euphemism "gone west" when a pilot died. You can see how in many cultures the direction of west is associated with death. Finally, think about how the sun sets in the west to mark the end of a day; thus, giving you a chance to slow down, move your energy inward, and fall asleep.

The taste associated with the Metal element is pungent. Pungent foods are acrid, bitty, and sharp. Aromatic foods like garlic, green onion, ginger, chili pepper, black pepper, radish, and mustard all are pungent. Think about how your sinuses open up after you have eaten garlic or used black pepper. These types of foods can open up the pores of the skin and cause sweating to release toxins. Extra hot, hot wings, anyone?

The climate of the Earth element is dry. Take a walk in the woods right now and under your feet you will hear the twigs snapping, and the fallen leaves crunching. Weeds that were lush one month ago are now lackluster. The Autumn air is drying out the vegetation, giving them a chance to decompose and provide nutrients to the soil.

Nourishing your Metal Element

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

  1. On a physical level, BREATHE! Consciously bring your awareness to your breath. Practice diaphragmatic breathing (see article on Breathing from July 2009).
  2. Perform exercises the open the chest, for example, stretching and singing.
  3. Brush or scrub your skin. This can help to remove the dead skin cells, clean your pores, and leave your skin smooth.
  4. Clean out the "stale corners" of your life and house. This will give room for new growth.
  5. Eat foods that are pungent flavored foods/spices like onions, ginger, horseradish, and cayenne pepper. Decrease rich, fatty foods and processed foods because they create phlegm in your respiratory system.
  6. Learn to value yourself and respect yourself.
  7. Create rituals with eating, like creating a family dinner night at home, or have a prestigious position at the table for an elder in your family.

8. Make your home aesthetically pleasing. Even better, create an aesthetic life for yourself.

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 Fall, and how well your Metal element is balanced. And remember: It is tempting to say that the ‘Metal is this or that,’ or declare ‘I am only Metal,’ but this is NOT how the Elements are meant to be described. There are aspects of the Metal element that resonate for each individual, and it should! 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!

Renee Lehman is a licensed acu¬puncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care ex¬perience. 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