According to ancient Chinese thought, at the root of all creation is the interaction of two opposite forces of energy, Yin and Yang. These can be described as symbols representing two opposing, yet complimentary aspects of reality. They came from the nothingness of an ultimate void known as the Tao. The Tao can be most easily explained as the reason or cause of everything that followed on from it.
Yin and yang literally means sunny side and dark side of the hill. As the sun rises and moves over the hill, so the light and dark sides change. This is an ever-changing cycle, energy constantly transforming from one into the other.
Yin and yang are manifested in all aspect of life. Yin represents earth, female, soft and dark, while yang represents heaven, male, hard and light.
Although everything in the universe can be classified as yin or yang, it is important to know that, whilst they are opposites, they both contain elements of each other and cannot exist without each other.
Order and harmony throughout the universe are maintained by a perpetual state of balance of between yin and yang, which is mirrored in the human body. We are the universe in miniature.
Whilst yin and yang represent everything tangible, chi represents the vital energy or the life force. Everything is composed of chi.
So far, we have seen that from nothing came primordial energy or chi, manifested in the form of yin and yang. Yang energy flowed up to create heaven and yin flowed down to create earth and so the natural world was born.
Yin and yang gave birth to the three treasures Jing, Chi and Shen. Simply put, Jing can be described as essence, it is inherited, and it is finite. Chi, as we have already seen, is energy and Shen can be described as spirit.
Jing can be further classified into pre-heaven, post-heaven and kidney jing. Chi can be classified thus; yuan or original chi being inherited, Gu chi coming from the energy we take in i.e. food we eat. Zong chi from the air we breathe.
Shen the third treasure can be described as human consciousness or personality.
These three treasures are essential components of human life.
With the creation of the Earth came the five elements water, wood, fire, metal and earth. The five elements are manifestations of yin and yang energy on earth and represent the cyclic changes, which regulate all life. They define the seasons and climate, colours and sounds and directions. In fact, each element can relate to everything in the natural world, including human physiology.
The elements are on an endless cycle of creation and destruction. An analogy to show this is; water will enable the seed to grow into a tree [wood]. Wood, as a fuel, will burn to feed a fire, which will produce ash to feed the earth. The earth provides the minerals to make metal. Metal, when molten, is like water.
This is referred to as the creative or sheng cycle, also referred to as mother and son cycle. For example, water would be mother to her son wood.
The destructive or control cycle where wood controls earth, earth controls water, water controls fire, fire controls metal is known as the ke cycle.
The five elements view has a third cycle called the cosmological sequence. This sequence places the water as the most important element at the root, and earth at the centre.
Each of the elements can be mirrored in all aspects of nature and human life. All the elements correspond with different organs of the body. The kidneys and the bladder belong to water. Wood has the liver and Gall bladder. The heart, small intestine, pericardium and triple heater are fire organs. Earth organs are stomach and spleen, whilst lungs and large intestine are metal.
The organs of the body are termed officials in Chinese medicine. They can be likened to a government, with each official having special duties and all working as a team
Each person can be characterized by one of the elements, which may influence everything from personality and constitution, to health and disease.
As we have seen, the elements correspond with the organs of the body, so for instance, someone with a wood influence may develop liver or gallbladder problems, or because the liver is the planner they may have issues around decision-making. Similarly, a person with a fire influence maybe a very joyous person or be completely lacking in joy, and may develop illnesses to do with the heart. This is not to say that a person is only influenced by one element, as many factors need to be taken into consideration.
Wood The Element of Spring
Wood is the element of spring, a time of birth and growth, an awakening after the dormant time of winter. A time to look forward. All around, things are bursting into life. Yang energy is rising. There is frenetic activity everywhere.
The colour associated with wood is green; this makes sense as in nature, spring is a very green time. The direction is east and the climate is wind.
Anger is the emotion of the wood element and the sound is that of shouting.
The odour is rancid and the taste is sour.
The liver and gall bladder are the officials associated with the element wood.
The liver, a yin organ holds the office of planner, it’s responsible for the smooth flow of chi and of storing blood. The liver houses the emotion anger.
The gall bladder is the yang organ, whose role is that of decision maker. The gall bladder controls the bile.
As the liver plans and the gall bladder decides, so the person with planning decision-making difficulties may have an imbalance in the wood element.
Fire The Element of Summer
Fire is the element of summer. Yang energy is at its peak at this time of year. Maturity is associated with the element fire; everything in nature is in full bloom. The emotion of joy and the sound of laughing are obvious links with fire at this time of year. `
The climate associated with fire is heat; the odour scorched, the colour red, and the taste bitter.
The fire element has four officials under its influence. The heart and the pericardium are both yin organs, the yang organs being small intestine and triple heater.
The heart holds the office of emperor, at the head of the government. The heart governs the blood and controls the blood vessels. The heart is responsible for the transformation of gu chi into blood.
The Pericardium is the protector of the heart; its role is to protect the heart from insult and injury. Like a gatekeeper letting some things in, joy, happiness and keeping out others, grief, sorrow.
The small intestine has the role of sorting and separating the pure from the impure, not just the food we take in, but also the mental and spiritual aspects of our lives.
The triple heater is the regulator of the waterways. Unlike the other eleven officials, the triple heater is not really an organ, more like a thermostat. It controls the heat in three places on the torso, with the upper burner controlling the heart pericardium and lungs. The middle burner controls the stomach, liver, spleen and gall bladder. While the small and large intestine, kidneys and bladder are under the control of the lower burner.
Earth The Element of Late Summer
The earth is the element of late summer. It is a transitional period between summer and autumn. During this time there is a sense of time standing still. People can be described as going round in circles at this time of year. This is a time of maturity and ripening, no wonder the odour associated is fragrant!
The climate dampness, the colour yellow and the sound of singing correspond to the earth element.
The officials of earth are the yin organ spleen and the yang organ stomach.
The spleen and stomach work very closely together. The stomach is the controller of rotting and ripening and the spleen is the transformer and transporter. Together they are responsible for processing all of the food and fluid in the body.
The spleen’s job is that of transforming food processed by the stomach into usable energy. The spleen houses thought.
Metal The Element of Autumn
Metal is the element of autumn. The yang energy of summer is diminishing, gradually turning to yin. Leaves and unharvested food fall to the earth to rot. This is a time of letting go.
There is much activity in the animal world, gathering and getting ready for hibernation.
Grief is the emotion associated with metal, and the sound is weeping. The odour is rotten, the colour is white and the climate is dry.
The officials of metal are the lungs, a yin organ and the large intestine, a yang organ. Together, they are organs of exchange.
The lungs hold the office of prime minister. They are responsible for taking in the breath and receiving the chi from heaven. The lungs control the body fluids, and they open into the nose. Grief is the emotion housed by the lungs.
The large intestine is the rubbish collector, responsible for the storage and elimination of waste.
Water The Element of Winter
Water is the element of winter; it is the most yin time of year. A dormant time, everything has closed down conserving energy. However it is also the time of preparing for new growth. Blue is the colour associated with water, could this be why people tend to be blue at this time of year?
The direction is north and climate cold, if health is to be maintained then protection from a cold north wind could be important.
Groaning is the sound associated with water. The emotion is fear; can this be a fear of things to come, the New Year, or new cycle? The smell is putrid like stagnant water. The taste is salty, an obvious link to the sea.
The officials that correspond with water are the kidneys, a yin organ and the bladder, a yang organ. The kidneys hold the office of the controller of the fluids.
The kidneys regulate the amount of water in the body and purify the blood.
The kidneys store the jing or life essence and therefore, are responsible for growth and development. The kidneys regulate fluid function, as we age we lose moisture. As jing depletes with age, your muscles weaken and you grow stiffer, your hair falls out and you get wrinkles. These are all signs that the strength of your kidney energy is diminishing. We are water.
The kidneys produce the marrow and open into the ears. Fear is the emotion controlled by the kidneys, and they house the will.
The yang organ of the water element is the bladder. The role of the bladder is to control the distribution of the fluids and is responsible for the transformation of the chi. The function of the bladder is the elimination of waste.