What are the 5 Elements, and Why Should I Care? An Introduction to one of our favorite theories

What are the 5 elements, and why should I care?

  • I like to think, why can’t I stop thinking! Do you need anything? Here, let me give it to you.  We don’t need to go anywhere, let’s just sit here and read…Introducing Earth


  • What is the best way to do this? How can I make sure I do it right? Why aren’t they doing it right? Tell me the rules or let me make the rules…Hello Metal


  • Who cares anyway? Nothing matters and life is a mystery. Let’s just sit back and see what happens. Welcome Water


  • Give me a goal and get out of my stinking way. Done is better than perfect. If you stop me I am going to get pissed off….Watch out for Wood.


  • I found a new favorite hobby, career, or art project that I am in love with!   What is this?  Did you see that?  I have an idea that I feel deeply about.  What is that shiny thing over there? I am passionate.  I am Fire.


This is not the way I was taught these elements.  In Chinese medicine school we learned about 5 element theory as fundamental concept in learning how to diagnose and determine a treatment strategy,  a way to categorize points to help us determine a treatment that would bring the body that is out of balance, back into balance.

Five element theory is based on the belief that the natural world is made up of five basic elements:  wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.  The elements are interrelated, constantly transforming into one another and influencing one another.

Working with the idea that if you understand the exterior environment, you can get clues to understand your internal environment, the 5-element theory has been used not only in Chinese medicine, but also in philosophy and cosmology giving us a tool to help understand ourselves and others, as well as a framework to help understand the way the world works.  By using the theory, we can learn how to bring harmony to all parts of our lives, health, emotions, relationships, and even our careers.

This table helps to summarize the key associations of the five elements

The elements have a few different relationships. They support one another in what is referred to as a generating cycle.  A great example is Wood generating fire. Clearly this wasn’t a far reach, you burn wood to make a fire.  Wood is associated with growth, striving, anger, goals, and is related to the season of spring.  Fire is associated with passion, creativity, joy, and summer.  If a wood type personality, as given from the example above, is about striving and wanting to achieve we can easily see how that behavior can generate fire, which would be represented by passion and creativity.   And if you are a fire type of person, who is feeling a bit depleted, bringing in some wood element into your life will help boost you up (generate your energy, put more wood onto the fire!).  You may want to create some new goals, go out into an area with lots of green (like the woods) – you will know you are right because it will feel nourishing.

Here is a little image showing the generating cycle.

There are other relationships too.  Sometimes things fall out of balance, when one element gets a bit too big for its britches and starts to control,  or even overcontrol another, which results in all kinds of mayhem.

In the following months I want to write a bit more in depth about each element. We will be focusing on how it relates to understanding ourselves, how we relate to others, and how this understand can help us grow, find balance, and live with ease.  We each tend to be a combination of a couple of elements constitutionally, and no one element is better than another.  (If you are worried about that, which one is best, that is a metal characteristic, and you can count metal as one of your elements!).  Keep in mind too that the different phases of our lives will naturally bring out elements (like how children grow so quickly, and growing relates to wood and the spring).  There is so much more to tell, and I am excited to share it all with you!

In the meantime, enjoy this fire season, keep yourself creative, be active, and find joy!