Understanding the 5 Elements for your health

The Five Elements is an ancient theory used for more than 6000 years to prevent illness and improve health. To this day, it remains the guiding principle behind Traditional Chinese Medicine.

An invaluable resource for health and well-being, the Five Elements enable TCM practitioners to address the root cause of a problem and not just the symptom.

 This image shows the 5 elements: a young spring bud to signify wood, fire, earth, metal, and water

The Power of the Five Elements

To understand the role Five Elements play in our everyday lives, let’s take a deep dive into the theory behind this ancient Chinese philosophy. Also known as Wu Xing (meaning Five Actions), the concept is based on the principles of yin yang and balance.

Believed to be the fundamental elements of everything in the universe - the Five Elements Fire; Water; Wood; Earth and Metal correlate with direction, seasons, foods, colors and major organs in our bodies. 

Understanding the nature and quality of each of the five element and their relationship between each other, is key. The constant interaction between the elements, can either support, weaken or exacerbate, causing imbalance.

The Interaction of the Five Elements and the Five major organs.

The 5 elements shown with 2 cycles. In the generating cycle, arrows point from Wood to Fire to Metal to Water to Earth. In the destructive cycle, elements opposite each other weaken each other.

The Five Elements are interconnected through various interacting cycles.

In the Generating Cycle - when every element generates another element, there is harmony:

    • fire (heart) creates earth (promotes healthy spleen/digestion)
    • earth (stomach) produces metal (supports the lungs)
    • metal (lungs) melts into liquid/water (supports the kidneys)
    • water (kidney)) nourishes wood (supports liver function)
    • wood (liver) generates fire (regulates the heart)

    In the Controlling Cycle - when elements keeps other element in check so it does not become excessive:

    • the right amount of water (kidney) helps keep fire under control (heart).
    • the right amount of fire (heart) refines and creates metal (skin & lung).
    • the right amount of metal (lung) maintains wood (liver).
    • the right amount of wood (liver) can help earth stay intact (stomach).
    • the right amount of earth (stomach) absorbs excess water (kidney).

    Generating and Controlling cycles work together as a self regulating system that keeps things in balance.

    An example of balance: Wood generates fire, which generates earth, At the same time wood controls earth, which at the same time generates metal, which controls wood.

    Imbalance occurs when there is deficiency or an excess of another element. Called the 'Abnormal' Generating Cycle - for example when wood becomes so weak and cannot maintain the fire, it gets extinguished. Or, if the fire flares up into a huge bonfire, the wood gets destroyed.

    'Over Controlling' Cycles can also cause imbalance. For example when wood is in excess, it can over control and repress earth, creating earth related symptoms such as nausea, weak digestion and tiredness

    In the 'Insulting' Cycle, when the control goes in the opposite direction, the element becomes destructive. For example when fire goes out of control it can dry out water, causing water related symptoms such as bladder infections and night sweats.

    Maintaining a proper balance in life can help maintain a proper balance in the Five Elements preventing a lot of health issues.

    The Five Elements and Health

    The nature by which we live can easily put the elements out of balance. For example, being in a constant state of stress can have a bearing on your wood Element. This overload creates imbalance in the liver, causing stagnation and anger. This can create a ripple effect to the other organs. The overworked liver (wood) can go on to affect the heart (remember wood feeds fire). Too much fire (heart) can result in lung and skin issues (Kidney).

    When do you know your 5 Elements are out of balance? Here’s a run down on the sort of symptoms related to each element.

    This chart shows some of the symptoms and moods of the five elements. For example, bladder malfunction can be a symptom of a water element excess.

    Note: We have included a mix of negative and positive (balanced) for the mental qualities.

    As we become more aware of how the Five elements interact with each other, in nature and in our bodies, we can observe and discern how best to take care of our health.

    Imbalance is inevitable. When you are out of balance, know how to make adjustments to your lifestyle, as every balance can be restored.

    Take for example the change of seasons, when Winter (associated with water) goes into the Spring (wood). As the environment changes, our bodies must also adjust.

    • In winter (water) when the environment is colder and there is less activity, our bodies go into a yin state. Our digestion (stomach/earth) slows down. To prevent stagnation and bring the body into balance, we should introduce more yang (fire) foods into our system. Foods like meats, ginger and hearty whole grains help promote heat. To preserve our energy, this is the time to lean into rest and introspection.
    • In the spring months (wood/liver), when the energy picks up and there is more activity, this is the time to pay attention to your liver. Think spring-cleaning when it comes to renewal and energizing your body – this is not the time to overload your system with heavy meats and carbs. Eat lighter foods like greens, seeds and fresh fruits. The liver also controls the eyes (take a break from the computer) and tendons (develop a movement routine, like yoga or tai-chi). 
    An image with two halves. The left half shows a bowl of fruits, which is recommended for a diet in the spring associated with wood. On the right is ginger tea recommended for the winter which is associated with water.


    Overall, we can keep our health in check by maintaining a balanced lifestyle. Get proper rest, keep healthy levels of movement, eat a balanced diet, and manage stressful emotions. Here are some TCM tips to keep in mind:

    • Get quality sleep and wake up and sleep around the same time everyday; your body needs routine to keep chi flowing!
    • Engage in exercise that will benefit the mind, body, and spirit like taichi, meditation and yoga.
    • Take in the energy from your environment. Going for walks in nature is beneficial for absorbing Chi from the environment as well as Vitamin D.
    • Journaling. Keep stress levels down by writing down thoughts and expressions.

    When faced with more serious symptoms of imbalance, consult with a TCM specialist who may suggest acupuncture, herbs or massage to bring the body back into alignment.

    For example, based on the Five Element concept, therapeutic massages such as Tui Nah or Gua Sha accesses numerous acupressure points throughout the body opening up the meridian channels. Dampness caused by stagnation and blockages are dispelled, allowing Chi to flow freely.

    The GingerChi 5 Elements Body Massage Treatment

    The goal of our GingerChi treatments is to bring about balance. Skin conditions can be a sign of imbalance in the kidneys. Sore muscles and tendons, a Wood deficiency.  Whether it’s face or body, each treatment is based on the 5 element theory and is designed to open up the meridian channels - releasing heat (yang energy), removing stagnation, balancing the yin organs and enabling Chi to flow freely to bring the body back into alignment.

    A picture of five bottles. Each bottles is labeled with an element: wood, water, earth, metal, and fire. They are labeled with corresponding organs and positive and negative moods.


    Our 5 Elements Body Massage is specifically targeted to address the issues caused by imbalances in the body.

    After a brief questionnaire and consultation, our trained therapist discerns which element/body organs requires balancing and what areas need more attention during the massage.

    You will also pick one or more of our specially handcrafted massage Five Element Massage oils. Usually the oils preferred by the client matches their imbalance from the questionnaire.

    After this consultation, our skilled therapist proceeds by massaging in the oils and using a combination of hand, palms and elbow techniques to stimulate your body’s pressure points.

    The aromatherapy benefits from the oils, combined with the skilled techniques of our therapist creates a unique experience that not only completely relaxes but works on a deeper level to bring you mind, body and soul into alignment.

     We hope you enjoyed this information on the Five Elements and will find time to incorporate some of it to enjoy more balanced and healthy life!

    Please reach out if you have any questions. We would love to hear from you.

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