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Five Elements in Chinese Medicine

by Tony Reid

In its essence, the five elements theory is used to describe the different phases or types of activity that occur within a repetitive cycle. A prime example is the cycle of growth and activity that occurs during the seasons of the year. Spring is the time of germination and new growth. This is the emerging Yang and is related to Wood. Summer is the period of active growth and is the mature Yang, related to Fire.

In autumn the harvest occurs and this is the emerging Yin, related to Metal. Finally, in winter there occurs storage and dormancy, which is the mature Yin, related to Water.

In addition there is the period of ripening and maturing of the crops, which occurs in late summer. In this period the activities of growth and decline are momentarily balanced. This period is the fifth season and belongs to Earth.

In this period the activities of growth and decline are Another example is seen in a description of the four cardinal directions: North, South, East and West – a simple division into four. However, a system of co-ordinates must have a reference point, i.e.the center.

In the northern hemisphere the activities that relate to the North are the colder climate from which arise cold winds; in the South there is a warmer climate, sending hot winds; the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Thus East relates to Wood, South to Fire, West to Metal and North to Water, while the center is Earth.