Chinese medicine and this ancient form of correcting imbalance in the body through acupuncture, diet and practices such as Qi Gong can be better understood when we study the five elements and their relation to certain organs and systems in the body.
As with all holistic practices, Chinese medicine aims to create harmony in the body, and ailments such as allergic asthma, skin conditions and kidney stones.
As well as more common but reoccurring problems such as urinary infections, sore throats and the build up of wax in ears can be better understood and healed if we address the root of the illness and the source of imbalance in the body.
These imbalances may be caused by lifestyle, but are invariably the result of when emotions have not been sufficiently released, instead remaining lodged in the body for long periods of time until the individual no longer even realizes they’re there.
The result will be bad posture and aches and pains, unexplained emotional reactions to certain triggers, and of course those annoying and reoccurring ailments that can directly affect our confidence and daily lives if we merely ‘heal’ them with the quick fixes that Big Pharma fobs us off with.
Having understood which element in your body may be out of balance, you can then seek out the best cure although I highly recommend acupuncture and Qi Gong as a way to release blockages and further reflect on what state your body’s Qi is in.
Your general state will often provide clues to what is out of balance right here and now.
Are you affected by wind, feeling battered and bruised after just 20 minutes outside on a blustery day? Perhaps you are lacking in Earth and Wood. Or maybe you have trouble digesting foods (particularly Dairy and Meat) and are often constipated.
Perhaps you need more fire in your body. All of the elements can also become harmonious with a few simple lifestyle changes such as working outside, joining groups that honour your passions in life or delving deeper into your past to dislodge unexamined feelings of guilt or grief.
Water is based in the urinary system – the bladder and kidneys and it can be where we hold onto fear. As various yogic poses that open the hips allows us, releasing old fears can be, well, scary. If you have a taste for salty foods and urinary tract infections including cystitis, or feelings of being cold around your kidney area then you may have an imbalance in Water.
The fear found in Water can often be to do with the grander facts of life such as the cycles of impermanence; life, death and rebirth. When we are imbalanced in Water we hold onto our fears, and like any reoccurring tension or unaddressed suppression of emotions can escalate into more serious diseases.
To balance Water try becoming more grounded by working on your Earth element and spending time with more welcoming forms of water such as warm baths and Hamams. Eat warming foods such as Fenugreek, Black pepper and Ginger, anything from the onion family and things like lamb, trout and salmon.
Avoid ‘colder’ foods like cucumber, salads and most fruits. When we are perfectly balanced in Water we become Philosophers and are able to accept the wintery depths of our shadows and the darker, more destructive side of nature.
The springtime element of Wood rules long buried feelings of anger and can cause problems in the liver and gallbladder. There’s a reason why the abuse of alcohol often relates to unresolved feelings of anger and imbalance in Wood can lead to jaundice and problems with the solar plexus and out confidence and sense of self worth. The taste of Wood is sour, so if you desire sour foods in an addictive fashion then it may mean you have an imbalance there.
As well as the liver and gallbladder, an imbalance in Wood can also lead to menstrual problems in women, back and joint problems and feelings that everyone is against you. Wood types are extremely stubborn, and it can take a lot to soften them. Rather than being a stiff and unyielding tree, we may seek to balance and heal old feelings of anger by eating fresh, young green plants such as alfalfa and mints and avoiding ‘heavy’ and processed foods. Fluid bodywork such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong keep us solidly connected to the earth yet able to be flexible and keep the Qi flowing.
The element of joy… but also rage and hatred, it’s no surprise that the Mediterranean diet and personality type is often linked to the element of fire. Fire types will be able to digest ‘difficult’ or heavy foods such as meat, Dairy and breads, and can also display optimal health and healthy teeth, nails and skin. Having said that, the heart can be affected if there is an overabundance of fire in the body and can lead to problems such as palpitations and sores on the mouth and tongue.
When people have too little fire in their bodies they may often laugh nervously, appear bland or without a love for life and suffer from insomnia and restlessness. Bitter coffee can satisfy the taste connected to fire but can aggravate the heart and cause nervousness and anxiety. Healthier options include dark bitter salad leaves and vegetables.
Balance the fire element in the body by eating cooling foods if there is an overabundance of fire, or attend parties, dance, sing and generally try to reignite the joy in your life if you are lacking in this element. As well as passion and joy, the fire element also brings us trust and maturity, so it’s well worth the investment.
Earth relates to the Stomach and an excess of worry. If you have a sweet tooth and a lot of dampness in the body (stools lined with mucus, Candida, coughing and build-up of phlegm in the body – they say that the Earth element creates dampness but that the Metal element; the lungs contain it,) then you will probably have an imbalance. Dampness can lead to Chronic fatigue, allergies and environmental illnesses.
Poor diet is usually the main attributor to dampness and imbalance in the Earth element, and unfortunately it can be pretty grueling to regain harmony and a very strict dietary plan as well as sitting meditation.
Raw foods, ‘white’ processed foods (white flour, sugar, milk etc) and various vegetables including mushrooms, peppers and fermented foods cause an increase in Candida. To absolve the problem all of these foods and more need to be cut out, and those that reduce Candida include rye and various herbs, but for a full-ish guide try this link for the various types of dampness that can occur.
Metal is the respiratory system and links to asthma, allergies, throat problems as well as skin problems such as eczema. Sadness is the root emotional and those who have experienced grief often have ailments that affect this system. Dampness caused by Earth imbalance can also get lodged here; with phlegm sitting on the lungs and taking years to clear out. Metal imbalance heralds frequent colds, a difficulty with letting go and often depression as they are literally submerged in sadness.
To heal an out of balance Metal element you really need to go through and experience all stages of the grief process. This will include forgiving yourself and creating a kinder daily routine for self love as well as starting that initial journey through counseling or an intense period of self reflection. Eat sour foods such as olives, pickled, yogurt and citrus fruits. And finally, use acupuncture or meditation to break old habits and have a new start.