Many of the fundamental concepts of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are based on observations of nature. One of the best examples of this is five element theory.
The idea behind five element theory is that the five elements of nature (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) are reflected within the human body. As nature relies on a state of balance and harmony between these elements, so does our health and well-being.
Each of the elements has a number of different associations. This includes a season, a color, a sound, an emotion, a time and a pair of organs. These associations play an important role in diagnosing a patient's individual condition and formulating a treatment plan according to the principles of TCM.
Wood is the element associated with spring. It represents birth, growth, hope and vision. Its color is green and its sound is shouting. Its energy is that of bursting forth, like new shoots forcing their way through the ground or buds exploding into leaf. When thwarted, this outward energy can get stuck, resulting in the emotions of anger and frustration.
The organs associated with wood are the gallbladder and the liver. These are at their peak of activity between 11pm and 3am.
Fire is the element associated with summer. Its emotion is joy and it plays an important role in love and relationships. Its color is red and its sound is laughter. The energy of fire is up and down, like the dancing of flames. It can bring extreme happiness but when imbalanced can also result is great sadness and an inability to experience joy.
Fire is the only element to have two pairs of associated organs. The first is the heart and small intestine. They are at their peak between 11am and 3pm. The second pair is the pericardium and triple warmer. These two organs are unique to TCM. In western medicine, the pericardium is the muscular covering of the heart, but in TCM it plays a far more complex role. The triple warmer is responsible for controlling the three areas of the torso and regulating the body temperature. These two organs are at their peak between 9pm and 11pm.
Earth is associated with late summer, a period of change between seasons. It reprsents abundance and the harvest. Its associated color is yellow and its sound is singing. Its emotion is sympathy, but when out of balance this can also manifest as worry and overthinking. Its energy is circular, moving around like the earth on its axis.
The organs associated with earth are the stomach and the spleen. These are the main digestive organs and are at their peak between 7am and 11am.
Metal is associated with fall, a time when, in nature, things are beginning to die off in preparation for winter. Its energy is downwards, like leaves dropping from the trees. Its color is white and its sound is weeping. The emotion associated with metal is grief. However, this can also be positive, allowing you to let go of the old to make way for the new.
It is associated with the lungs and large intestine, responsible for taking in clean air and expelling waste. They are at their peak between 3am and 7am.
Water is associated with winter, a time of stillness, rest and recuperation. Its color is blue and its sound is groaning. It is associated with the emotion fear, but, in balance, this can also lead to wisdom. Water is also strongly associated with the will. It is forceful, like waves crashing against the rocks, or even a slow, steady drip which, over time, can erode the hardest rock.
The organs associated with water are the urinary bladder and kidneys. They are at their peak between 3pm and 7pm.
So by looking at a patient's complexion and listening to their voice, as well as taking into account which organs are manifesting symptoms, it is possible to tell which elements are imbalanced. This means that a disease can be successfully diagnosed and treated from its root cause, as well as relieving the immediate symptoms.