Five Element Theory: A poetic, holistic and connective way of understanding life.

zennomad five element theory, macrobiotic, meridians, seasons, spring Leave a Comment

Five Element Theory


Five Elements (phases) is a major system of thought, dating back over two thousand years, that is the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is also a poetic, holistic, and connective way of understanding life, energetics and natural law. It helps us see how we are interconnected into the web of life and therefore how our own internal and external energies are affected by and affect the external world around us.


Understanding the five phases/elements can heal our feeling of separateness from the natural world and nurture us back into our place as a part of the whole. Each element has a group of characteristics (such as season, taste, colour, emotions, etc.) that defines them, and informs how they interact with one another in a dance of constant in flux.

The five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal and water and they represent patterns of all natural phenomenaThe theory is that everything in the universe is a result of change, and movement of the five elements and their relationship to each other.

In the human body these elements are each assigned an organ meridian pair. These help us map and understand what is happening in our own bodies, how and why we are affected by things such as environment, food, social and mental influences. No two bodies have the same elemental makeup, because there are so many unique factors to each. So, it is important to treat each individual as a unique eco system, with a unique combination of factors to be considered.


The five elements can generate, control or destroy one another through balance or imbalance.


5 element Theory Creative cycle

5 element Theory Creative cycle



Generation Phase

The generating phase is one where each element mothers the element after it. Water would birth wood, (you could see it as plants or trees need water to grow); then wood births fire, fire needs wood to burn, etc.

The creative/generation phase begins with the birth element of Wood in the time of spring. This is a period of generating growth, and abundant wood and vitality. It is the time of sprouting. Characteristics are the colour green, sour tastes, the emotion of anger, and the direction of the east.

The cycle then moves on to Fire/summer (time of swelling, flowering, burning with fire and energy); then to Earth/ late summer (time of levelling and dampening and fruition); then to Metal/ fall (time to harvest and collect); and then to Water/winter (time to retreat, be still and store).


5 Element Theory - Control Cycle

5 Element Theory – Control Cycle




The Controlling Cycle

The controlling cycle makes sure no phase is too long or too strong; it acts like a balancing force to keep things in check.

In the restraining or controlling cycle, wood parts earth (anger restrains contemplation); earth dams water (contemplation restrains fear; water extinguishes fire (fear restrains over-joy); fire melts metal (joy restrains grief), and metal chops wood (grief restrains anger).


5 Elements - Destructive Cycle

5 Elements – Destructive Cycle


The Destructive Cycle

This is the same sequence as the control cycle but the element is now going into over control, destroying the other element. The destructive cycle occurs when an element becomes too strong from its control element, and uses up all its energy.

TheIn the destructive phase: earth absorbs waterwater extinguishes fire, and fire melts metal, metal cuts wood and wood breaks earth.


As each of the elements are also paired with a season, we are made

aware of the characteristics of the season, and how we can support and attune our bodies to the season with the appropriate and supportive food and activities.


For example some characteristics of wood are the season of spring and the colour green. It is the season of bursting forth; the seeds from the winter are ready to sprout. The stagnant energy from winter is ready to be woken up and  enlivened. Wood also carries the characteristic of wind, to help blow away the stagnations. Wood (spring) is associated with a sour taste, eating fresh sprouts, greens and light foods, drinking water with lemon, spring cleaning and supporting the liver by detoxifying the blood.


As we enliven our wood element in spring to become full of life again, supporting the energetic time of the liver to flow freely, we are preparing for the fire of summer. By appropriately supporting this energetic time of the liver to flow freely, this organ is prepared for summer, will not burn away all our wood.


Each of the elements /meridians are also balanced within the (ideally) subtle flux of yin and yang. . If the yin and yang of any of the elements becomes highly imbalanced, it affects the whole system, (which can happen due to internal or external causes, be it extreme weather, extreme food choices, sleep deficiency, or inappropriate lifestyle over a long period of time), then these systems must be nurtured back into balance.

If the elements are in balance to one another, and if we are conscious and appropriate about how we are eating and behaving, in the environments and seasons we find ourselves in then we can consciously maintain our own eco systems.

By exploring the root imbalance, and working with all the elements we can guide ourselves back into a balanced and appropriate cycle. This is not a band-aid solution to a symptom, but an effort that takes time and care, incorporating appropriate lifestyle, food, environment and social changes. The movement towards balance will support a person’s will to evolve and become more involved in their own well being; this comes naturally as the energetic qualities are coming more into balance.

Somethings that can help one maintain or find balance are through healing arts practitioners such as shiatsu and acupuncture, and conscious food, environment and lifestyle choices.

I look forward to sharing with you tips for each season on how to maintain a sense of balance and connection to our inner and outer worlds through conscious awareness of our place in the greater system of life.



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