TCM: The Five Elements theory

TCM believes that the human body is a microcosm of the universal macrocosm. Therefore, man must follow the laws of the universe to achieve harmony and health. The theory of Yin and Yang and Five Elements are, in fact, observations and descriptions of the universal law, not concepts created by man. In ancient times, practitioners of TCM discovered these complex sets of interrelationships that exist on the energy levels deep below the surface of the material. Over time, these ideas were developed in an unified body of wisdom and knowledge of the TCM theories, which were applied to a way of life and healing the human body. Today TCM practitioners use these essential theories to understand, diagnose and treat health problems.

The Five elements theory is the foundation of TCM. It developed as a way of naming and systematizing modes of perception related phenomena, ranging from something as tangible as the weather to things as rare such as emotion and character abilities, into five major groups named for universal elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. According to the Five Elements theory, the five major organ systems (liver / gall bladder, heart / small intestine, spleen / stomach, lung / large intestine and kidney / bladder) are each associated with a particular item for a broad category of correspondences or classifications: from the season of the year to a time of day, to particular colors and foods, etc.. Both the theory of Yin and Yang that the Five Elements theory reflect all of the universal law in a comprehensive and understandable system of related categories.

TCM does not consider the Five Elements themselves as inert substances. These are fundamental energies living in the nature and always moving. The Five Elements theory includes two dynamic relations: the production and control, which explains how the five major organ systems are interrelated. Each element generates or provides energy to another. These pairs of elements are known as mother and child. Each element also holds or controls another. The appropriate amount of control retains all the elements in proportion. With control, an organic system acts as a feedback loop to its opposite pair, and allows its associated body to continue its proper functioning smoothly: neither too much nor too poor, neither too strong nor too weak. These dynamic interactions allow all organ systems work in a harmonious system. If their relationship is good, a state of well-being prevails, if not, relationships become unbalanced and health problems follow.

The Five Elements theory gives an experienced TCM practitioner a range of options to solve health problems. For example, when a patient presents skin problems, the TCM practitioner understands that the system of organs lung and large intestine are involved because the skin is the “fabric” of the lung, according to the Five Elements. Therefore, it may decide to heal one or two organs to treat the root causes, not just the symptom of skin problem.


TCM: The theory of Yin and Yang

TCM understands that everything is composed of two complementary energies, one is Yin and Yang is the other. They are never separated, one can not exist without the other. This is the principle of Yin and Yang of the interconnection and interdependence, there is no opposition. The relationship is reflected in the interlaced black and white classic Yin and Yang. No matter how you might try to divide the circle into two, the two sections always contain both energies. The energies themselves are indivisible. From the viewpoint of TCM, it is the simplest and most profound universal law.

The theory of Yin and Yang contains no absolute. The designation of something as Yin or Yang is always on, or in comparison with something else. For example, the sun and day are considered Yang versus the moon and the night, which are Yin. However, early in the morning is considered Yang compared with the late afternoon, which is more Yin. According to the theory of Yin and Yang, all that is masculine is Yang and all that is female is Yin. Everything in the body is also under the control of the binary system of Yin and Yang. Because Yin and Yang have an inseparable relationship, if there is a problem with one, the other will certainly be affected.

Ideally, Yin and Yang must always be in harmony, not only in equilibrium. Understanding harmony is an important aspect of TCM. Often, understanding in the West of complementary and alternative medicine, the term “balance” is described as the desired state, however, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, “harmony” is the ultimate goal. Although the words “balance” and “harmony” are sometimes used interchangeably, in TCM theory they are very different: the balance is simply the first step toward harmony. Two things can be balanced, they can be of equal proportion, or have equal weight, and yet still be separated. This has to do with the relationship between two separate entities: for example, the relationship between the heart and kidneys. First, a relationship must be balanced, the next step is to achieve harmony. When two things are in harmony, their energies are not only as proportionate, but blended together into a coherent whole. When two elements exist in harmony, this is an ongoing process, an unconscious dance between them that occurs naturally. When one dominates the other retreats, internal harmony is a dynamic state. In a healthy system, harmony occurs naturally in the body itself and between the body and the external forces of Nature and the Universe. Thus, when the Qi of nature is changing, as is the case for seasonal variations, the internal Qi of a person will respond automatically. If for some reason he can not make a smooth transition to the energy of the next season, TCM understands that this will cause the disease.

In Western medicine, this lack of harmony can be seen in patients with hot flashes. Those who suffer from this condition during the day have a Yang Qi or energy deficiency, those who suffer from hot flashes at night are experiencing a shortage of Yin Qi. If a woman is experiencing hot flashes at the two times, the two energies are weak and need strengthening.

TCM: The Theory of Qi

The true foundation of TCM is the Qi, which is translated as vital energy. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Qi is considered to be the force that animates and informs all things. In the human body, Qi flows through the meridians, or energy pathways. Twelve main meridians run throughout the body, and it is through this network that Qi flows inside the body and the various organs of the body send messages to each other. For this reason it is imperative to keep the meridians healthy so that the body can regulate itself. By training, one can develop the sensitivity to feel the flow of Qi.

While it is often described in the West as energy, or vital energy, the term Qi has a deeper meaning. Qi has two aspects: one is the energy, power or strength, the other is conscious intelligence or information. Each organ system carries its own Qi, allowing it to perform its unique function, both physical (which is described by Western medicine) and energetic (as Oriental medicine identifies it). This function also includes the energy relationship of a system of organs with other organs. (There is a conceptual difference, in TCM, a system of organs and its functions from the Western concept of the physical body.)

TCM often references several major problems of Qi, or energy function. One is a set of “Qi deficiency”, which is often described in Western medical terms by the chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). TCM has the knowledge and the ability to identify which organs are deficient in energy. Another important condition is described as “Qi stagnation”, which means that energy and information can not pass smoothly to or from their appropriate locations. TCM considers for example pain, headaches and stomach pain as the result of stagnation of Qi.

According to the TCM theory, blood and Qi are inseparable. The blood is the “mother” of Qi, carrying the Qi and provides nutrients for its movement. In turn, the Qi is the “commander” of blood. This means that the Qi is the force that causes blood to flow throughout the body and provides the intelligence that guides to places where it needs to be. Blood and Qi also impact on each other and have the ability to transfer various dynamic properties back and forth. For example, after labor and delivery, a woman may develop a fever. TCM understands this fever as related to blood loss, and not as an infection. Losing too much blood causes a general deficiency of Qi. When there is a lack of Qi, the body can not function properly and therefore has a fever.