Discovering Your 5 Elements
In 200 BC, the Neijing -- basically the Chinese Medicine "bible" -- explained how the natural forces of QI (pronounced chee), yin and yang and the 5 elements (Earth, Wood, Fire, Water and Metal) could be understood to achieve balance in life and to ward off disease. Five Element Theory describes these elements as the basic elements of the material world and our bodies helping to form our personalities, how we communicate, what ailments we were more likely to suffer and much more. These elements are continually evolving and changing within you. Based on different stages in life or times of the even the time of year; some elements become stronger and more dominant. Each element has unique characteristics that are associated with a season, an organ or organ system, an emotion, and a weather influence. Understanding the correlations and connections gives us an entry point to a deeper understanding of how to better align our lives with nature's flow and live our best life.
Understanding the 5 TCM Elements and How to Live Attuned to Them
Not only understanding the elements within us but understanding how the elements are always shifting and changing around us—and how our unique compositions respond to those changes—helps us better achieve and maintain our inner balance. Knowing what to look for when each of our elements is weakened or out of balance and how to bolster or support those elements, helps us live full-circle, in tandem with the energy in and around us, unlocking new levels of health and vitality.
Organ System: Kidney/Urinary Bladder
Weather Influence: Cold
When our water element is out of balance, the kidneys and urinary bladder can become susceptible and the influence of cold weather can restrict our healthy blood flow. The short winter days call for greater rest and internal reflection, and when ignored, can lead to heightened levels of fatigue. Finally, the presence of fear can become more prominent and consistent, leading to thought spirals and more frequent fear-based reactions.
Restore balance by slowing down and embracing the recharge-mentality the winter season requires. Shift movement activities away from high-taxing exercises and toward slow and deliberate practices like yoga, Tai Qi, or Qi Gong. Face your fear by writing down your biggest triggers and outlining your perceived worst-case scenarios, crossing them out deliberately in order to replace them with thoughts of positivity. Finally, eat lots of berries to help prevent the release of cortisol, reducing unnecessary taxation on the adrenal system and kidneys.
Organ System: Liver and gallbladder
Weather Influence: Wind
When the wood element is out of balance the liver and gallbladder can become compromised, creating difficulties with stress management, clear and concise decision making, and might manifest as pain in the body. Wind invading the body can cause headaches, migraines, twitching, and restlessness, and heightened irritability can lead to a general sense of anger and brashness.
Correct for Wood imbalance by using Castor Oil packs 2-3 times a week, especially to mitigate PMS symptoms. Eat dark, leafy greens as green is the color associated with wood and cruciferous vegetables help nourish and support healthy liver functioning. To further support the liver, reduce or eliminate your alcohol intake, as damage to the liver can result in increased anger, irritability, and general inflammation.
Organ System: Heart & Small Intestine
Emotion: Lack of Joy
Weather Influence: Heat
When our fire element is out of balance, the health of our heart and small intestines can suffer. This lack of balance may manifest as insomnia or unconsolable anxiety, as a high level of summer heat can position itself too high in the body (around the heart). This concentration prohibits the heart from relaxing, causing discomfort, a racing feeling, or general exhaustion. Feelings of apathy, or a general lack of joy, may present themselves, as your heart may not be as present in the things you usually love.
Restore balance by eating cooling foods to combat excess heat, like watermelon, cucumbers, bananas, or a raw veggie plate. Practice earthing, or the act of walking barefoot on sand, soil, or water, to help return heat energy to the earth, alleviating many of the symptoms consistent with fire energy imbalance. Finally, foster joyfulness by spending time with loved ones, leaning into family connections, and seeking activities that make you happy, just for happiness’s sake.
Season: Transitions Between the Seasons
Organ System: Spleen & Stomach
Emotion: Worry or Overwhelm
Weather Influence: Dampness
When our Earth element is out of balance, our spleen and stomach become more vulnerable, opening the door to digestive discomfort, loose stool, and brain fog. Dampness can also sit in the body, causing excess weight and general lethargy. Additionally, feelings of worry or overwhelm may be heightened, causing more emotional volatility and discomfort, and we can easily grow depleted by constantly giving of ourselves without receiving proper nourishment.
Correct for Earth imbalance by bolstering your pre and probiotic intake, choosing fermented foods like kimchi, tempeh, miso, and sauerkraut. These foods will help support a healthy gut microbiome, and prevent dampness from wreaking havoc on the digestive system. To further combat dampness and support the gut, reduce or eliminate your intake of dairy, processed foods, and sugar, as they are common culprits in digestional distress and lethargy. To help with anxiety and overwhelm, make a to-do list and prioritize the biggest items on that list–reclaiming control of and releasing tension from the things that would otherwise weigh on you. And finally, remember to prioritize self-care, nourishing the body, mind, and spirit, especially during the times when a lot is being asked of you.
Organ System: Lung & Large intestine
Weather Influence: Dryness
When our Metal is out of balance, our lungs and large intestines become more susceptible, often resulting in a lowered immune system and higher prevalence of the cold and flu. Dryness can invade the body, manifesting as constipation, coughing, skin dryness, and skin aging. Sadness and grief can take up more space in your life, with the large intestine (the organ of letting go) encouraging you to grieve the losses in your life.
Restore balance by prioritizing hydration, combatting the dryness that could otherwise present as psoriasis, chronic coughs, or premature aging. Staying hydrated is a proactive method of ridding the body of excess dryness. Support the lungs by practicing deep belly breaths, strengthening and massaging them, while bolstering the immune system and releasing any stagnant sadness or grief. Continue this effort by letting go of the things no longer serving you, eliminating any toxic build-up in your body, your spirit, and your life.
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