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Originally published in Seasonal Guide, January 2, 2014
Chinese healing and the Five Elements

Chinese acupuncture and acupressure models

Chinese acupuncture and acupressure uses the five elements and the points along the body’s meridian lines, above, to heal and prevent illnesses. Models courtesy of Marie Arberg.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Chinese medicine, like most Asian approaches to health, focuses on preventive care—keeping the body healthy so illness can’t find a way inside.

“Qi,” or life energy, helps maintain health, and Chinese healing practices rest on the foundation of keeping one’s Qi in balance.

The Five Elements—fire, earth, metal, water and wood— are integral to keeping the Qi flowing through the body.

“There is no linear way to talk about Chinese medicine,” explained Sedgwick acupuncturist Linda Forslund in a recent talk at the Blue Hill Public Library.

Qi flows along 12 meridians, or channels, throughout the human body, with “major pulses” along them that Chinese healing practices use to balance the five elements within each of us.

“It’s all about balancing,” Forslund said. And Qi “is always the substance behind it all.”

The five elements, broken down

Each of the five elements is associated with two internal organs, Forslund explained, a color, a flavor and a time of year.

Of the two internal organs, one is energetic and involved with pumping blood, and one is involved with elimination of impure substances.

The element Fire is of the heart and small intestine. Its color is red. Its flavor is bitter/spicy. Its time is summer.

The element Earth is of the spleen and the stomach. Its color is yellow. Its flavor is sweet. Its time is late summer.

The element Metal is of the lungs and the large intestine. Its color is white. Its flavor is pungent. Its time is autumn.

The element Water is of the kidney and bladder. Its color is blue/black. Its flavor is salty. Its time is winter.

The element Wood is of the liver and gall bladder. Its color is green. Its flavor is sour. Its time is spring.

So how does one balance the Five Elements and all that goes with them?

Acupuncture, acupressure, herbal medicine and Tui na (a manipulative therapy similar to Shiatsu massage) are all Chinese healing practices that work to keep the Qi flowing through the 12 meridians and maintain balance among the five elements.

Unlike the Western approach, Forslund said, Chinese medicine works to diagnose conditions “before they become an illness.”