This is the nature of Five Element Theory. A connection to the outer world that also lies within you. Learn how Shiatsu can help keep you connected and in balance with the rhythms of nature leading to maximising your health.
The Five Elements in Oriental Philosophy describes Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire and how they relate to the human body. The elements are a reflection of the natural world that is held within our body. Each element represents the cyclic rhythm of nature. And just as nature flows through the seasons, humans also have a cyclic rhythm.
Our rhythm closely aligns to the rhythm of nature and when we are in harmony with nature we feel in balance and healthy. The five elements are often represented as a circle to demonstrate the cyclic nature of the elements and the relationship each has with the other. Each element affects another and transforms into the next, highlighting the dynamic nature of the elements individually and as a whole unit. Check out this article on the Cyclic Nature of the Five Elements and Your Health
Just as the elements in nature are dynamic, the inner workings of the elements in the human body are also dynamic. The body is constantly changing and in a state of perpetual motion, even when we are sleeping or resting. This is its nature.
What we observe in the Five Element Theory, we are also able to observe in our own body. Therefore Five Element Theory becomes a way to describe our own connectedness to ourselves, others and the greater world around us.
Why is Five Element Theory Important in Shiatsu?
Each element represents a characteristic and is associated with a season, emotion, personality, colour, taste, part of the body and can even represent a state of disharmony or dis-ease within the body. The 12 meridians recognized in Oriental Medicine are also connected to the Elements. I have created a table describing the characteristics of the Five Elements
Meridians are understood to carry the expression of energy for the element and characteristics it is connected. The energy may be in excess or in deficient. In Shiatsu we work along the meridians to affect ease of flow and to rebalance excess or deficiency. At any given time, due to the natural ebb and flow of life, the energy flow within the meridians can be in disharmony. Regular shiatsu treatments aim to rebalance and align our energy systems to bring about the wholeness of our beings.
Understanding the Five Element Theory in Shiatsu provides the practitioner with a diagnostics tool to establish the best possible treatment plan for the client. Often any disharmony of the elements will have a specific expression within the body. This might be something like feeling emotional or could be expressed in skin colour or discomfort or pain.
Here is how disharmony might be expressed in correspondence with the Five Element Theory:
Earth is the foundations of our physical existence. It gives us structure and a matrix for our sense of security, support and grounding. The Earth Phase of the elements represents our capacity for reflective thought, nourishment and for its ability for strength in stillness. The organs associated with the Earth Element is the Stomach and Spleen. These organs are responsible for the transformation and distribution of nutrients and subsequent Ki energy from food. If a client presents with excessive mind chatter particularly relating to excessive worry or digestive disturbances, the practitioner may direct treatment towards the meridians pertaining to the Earth Element.
Metal represents the body’s ability to let go and the value we place on something and ourselves. The Metal Element within us gives us a sense of self-worth. If someone has a lack of self-worth, they will pursue external forms in various ways to fill this void, seeking material possession, accolades from the outside, and unhealthy attachments that leave them feeling no more valued than when first started on their journey towards fulfillment. Metal is able to change its state of existence and acts as a conductor of information. This leads us to move back within ourselves as we learn to let go of the things that do not serve us, to erect solid boundaries between that inner and outer world when we are in harmony and balance, bringing us back to a sense of value. The organs and meridians associated with the metal element is the Lungs and Large Intestines. In Shiatsu the Lungs and Large Intestines have the functions of intake and elimination along with the ability to sort the impure from the pure. Skin disorders, excessive grief and respiratory disorders may direct a practitioner towards treating the Lung and Large Intestine Meridians.
Water is a powerful element, with its amazing ability to exist in three states – solid, liquid and gas. Water is the essence of life and we observe this in Oriental Medicine by the connection to Jing, our Life Force which is housed within the Kidneys. Just as water can be deep, the Water element governs our deep inner workings including our bones, their marrow and our spinal cord. Back pain, a lack of will power, irrational fears and disturbances to the reproductive and urinary systems may indicate imbalances in the Urinary Bladder and Kidney Meridians which in Five Element Theory is associated with the Water phase.
Wood seeks growth and expansion. Heralding the beginnings of new life the Wood Element is like Spring time with its beautiful ability for self-expression, adaptability and organised existence. The characteristics of Wood in harmony lead to being an anchor for decisive yet flexible strength and sound judgement. When in disharmony Wood can be indecisive, hasty and seemingly emotionally out of control. Resentment and frustration may prevail. Stress can be a trigger for Wood leading to imbalance. Liver and Gallbladder rule the Wood Phase. Muscle tension, moodiness, headaches and blood deficiency may indicate deep treatment of the Liver and Gallbladder Meridians.
Fire is transforming, warming, responsive and often a symbol of spiritual essence. For centuries the element of Fire has been associated with divine power and with its capacity to light, cook, burn and warm it is easy to see why Fire is revered by many cultures. Its ability to bring people together is often offset by its destructive nature. However in Five Elements Theory we acknowledge that Fire can not be looked in isolation and therefore its destructive quality may well be a result of its relationship with other elements. The dynamic interrelationship of the elements culminates at the Fire Element due to the connection of the organs and meridians. The Fire Element is represented by two pairs of meridians with the Heart being at the centre of the Fire phase. Each other aspect of the Fire meridians have a role in protecting the Heart. According to Oriental Philosophy the Heart houses our Shen or awareness, giving us a seat for our soul’s purpose. Troubles of the mind, mental health and physical conditions that affect along the individual meridians or affecting organs may indicate imbalance with the Fire Element.
Shiatsu Practitioners will utilise knowledge of the Five elements to treat symptoms the client presents at the clinic with to get to the root cause of the problem. My goal in a treatment is to treat the whole person. This requires understanding the nature of working in harmony with that person and the energies that affect them.
Returning to balance truly come from within but we can learn a lot from the influences of our outside environment. The Five Elements Theory reminds us of that.