By Jennifer Troyan & Maria Chah, DOM, AP

It is helpful to understand your body in conjunction with nature. A good way to do this is through the 5 elements in Chinese Medicine: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water & Wood. These elements correspond with 5 “flavors” as well: Bitter, Sweet, Spicy, Salty and Sour. We’ll break this down easily for you.

The 5 elements theory is about the relationships between the different elements in nature and the life force (or “qi”) that flows through them. There are a couple of handy charts below in this article so you can “see” what we are talking about.

The main point of the 5 elements is about creating (or generating) and conquering (or overcoming) favorable processes - the yin and yang if you will. By doing both, you can harmonize and maintain balance in your systems.

The elements also play a part in your organs. Elements are subject to climatic influences as well. The idea is everything is connected and when you learn or know more, you can better manage your body, mind, and heart processes.

How do the elements work together or against each other?

Each of the five elements has a certain relationship with the other elements, based on their nature. These relationships form the laws of nature. Some elements are enemies, in that each blocks the expression of the other. Fire and water, for example, will “destroy” each other if they get the chance. To co-exist, fire and water need to be separated. Too much fire in the body will create inflammation, while too much water can dampen fire and cause indigestion. Go back to the image above and you can see the green and red arrows showing the associations or connections to each and how they work together to generate or overcome opposing elements. This information can be a guide for you to keep in mind. The awareness of this will help you learn to stay in balance, plus it will help you honor the elements and remain harmonious.

Within these elements are characteristics that can be a guide for understanding as well - how everything flows together. There are tastes or flavors associated with the elements.

The 5 flavors are:

  • Bitter (Fire)
  • Sweet (Earth)
  • Spicy or Pungent (Metal)
  • Salty (Water)
  • Sour (Wood)

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) these 5 flavors correspond not only to the actual taste but to the properties of those flavors and how they interact with the body.

How to balance your life through the five elements:

Cleanse and clarify an imbalance using this key.

1. Fire - Joy. Be Grateful. Embrace the attitude of gratitude and this will right your joyous emotional element.

2. Earth - Worry. Release worry. Know your strengths and weakness.

3. Metal - Sadness. Release perfectionism.

4. Water - Fear. Recognize danger.

5. Wood - Anger. Adjust your attitude.

How do you know your element? It’s very simply about your natural inclinations. Your tastes (life preferences or tastes in certain foods), response to taste, smells, your five senses, your thoughts, etc. Look at the table below and see what resonates with you.

Here’s a couple of examples:

Your parents wanted you to be a lawyer, but you know being a musician is your path. This may be a sign to embrace the Earth element. There are a couple of others that may help as well such as Fire and Metal. Honor who you are and what your body, heart and mind are telling you. You can still know and appreciate that your parents want the best for you.


You were raised vegetarian, yet you want to eat meat. You can tap into the Earth element and let your sensory organ of the mouth guide you in addition to the Direction of Center (staying centered in this example).

It’s about what your body naturally and instinctively gravitates is and how you find your element(s).

We found a nice explanation from a blog article written by Fercility Jiang titled, Chineses Five Elements Philosophy and Culture on China Highlights regarding generating and overcoming interactions that breaks this down for you:

Generating Interactions

The generating interactions of the five elements are like the conception, gestation, birth, and nurture relationship between a mother and a baby. Such element pairs are deeply attached, and together imply success and luck.

The five generating interactions are fueling, forming, containing, carrying, and feeding:

  • Wood fuels fire.
  • Fire forms earth (volcanoes, ash, etc.).
  • Earth contains metal.
  • Metal carries water (buckets, pipes, etc.).
  • Water feeds wood (trees, plants, etc.).

Overcoming Interactions

The overcoming interactions of the five elements are like the acts of hostility between two sides in a war.

The five overcoming interactions are melting, penetrating, separating, absorbing, and quenching:

  • Fire melts metal.
  • Metal penetrates wood (chopping, sawing, drilling, nailing, screwing).
  • Wood separates earth (tree roots breaking up soil/rock).
  • Earth absorbs water.
  • Water quenches fire.

We like to mention our pets in this as well. You can use the 5 elements to help them be in balance too. They want to be in harmony, just like we do. A small example is this, in the Summer the Fire element is strong and it is Hot so we want to give them Water because it quenches Fire.

There are many ways to think about and use the 5 Elements. We figured we’d start with this introduction article and stay tuned for more to come on this topic as well as others pertaining to TCM, Acupuncture, Detoxing and more.

Image courtesy of rawpixel. Table & Chart courtesy of Jennifer Troyan.

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