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Seasonal Influences of Five Element Chinese Medicine

by Mike Eatough(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 83 - December 2002

The Five Elements

The Chinese medical system of the Five Elements, built round acupuncture, with its network of meridians, along which Ch'I flows, is a model derived from Taoist thought.

The Five Elements or Five Movements System views the microcosm of body, mind and spirit as replicating the macrocosm of the world, heaven, earth, seasons, sun, moon, stars. The model translates the changes into the interplay between energies that can be understood as the qualities of Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood.

Each of the five main organs is represented by an element. Each emotion is connected with an element, each season and each hour. All our functions and tissues have their links. The matrix that is our living can be understood through the rhythm of the five movements.

The Shen Cycle - The Creative Cycle
The Shen Cycle - The Creative Cycle


Winter is the time of Water, the energy that gives us our reserves and our resources. Winter is the time for us to rest and replenish. Time for saving and storing. Time, as the ancients said, 'to stay within the courtyard'. This is a dynamic state. It is not stagnation. The trees in winter appear inactive. Inside is the great preparation for spring. This is our winter style. Upon this depends the thrust of the coming season.


The climate associated with the element is cold. Experience the cold. Dress to be warm, don't get chilled, but go out in the weather. Walk in it, feel it, breathe it. Break away from the central heating. Experience winter. Then come back into warmth.

Water grants the power to emphasize. The great party times and the 'curled up on the sofa times'. Look at your own capacity to emphasize. Lack of emphasis equals 'stuck in the rut'. Think of the sea. The tidal rhythms, high and low, the quiet calms and the surging waves. This is Water. Appreciate how this energy will take you out of a rut. See expansion changing to contraction; yang process moving to yin and back to yang and expansion.

The kidneys and the bladder are the organs governed by the Water element.

Give them all the help you can. Drink more water, an extra pint a day. Like any cleaning job, plenty of water makes it easy. To make it even easier, make use of dandelion.

Dandelion is a herb suited to Winter. In the Five Element system, salt is the taste especially significant in winter. Meet your salt needs with the balance of sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium found in plants. Dandelion, a diuretic, will flush the kidneys and the bladder but at the same time will replace the salts, balanced in the way the body needs. Steam your vegetables. The salts will not be leached into the cooking water. They will stay as flavour in the food.

The bones, the tissue accentuated in winter, need calcium and the other salts for strength and density, but also work, to maintain tone.

What a winter delight! Go skiing! Every bone in the body is loaded. All the winter requirements are met. Outside in the weather. Warmly dressed. Contrasts of vigorous days and comfortable easy nights. Recuperation a holiday brings. The Taoist skill is to flow freely round all obstacles like a leaf on a river. Beware the crash on the piste. Take care of the bones in winter! Easier, simpler, cheaper: go swimming. Use the element of winter in another form.

The wisdom of 'knowing how to' is the virtue granted to Water. Here is the guide to this semester's evening class: "I am going to learn how to".

Wisdom is the virtue, fear is the emotion.

Winter is the time you can face your fear. The intensity of the kidney and bladder energy will give you the resources you need. Give yourself time and space to relax. Visualize the earliest occasion you experienced the fear. Gently, quietly take yourself through the event to a successful outcome. Give yourself the power, the skill, the knowledge, whatever is needed to complete the task. Blueprint yourself free of the fear. Allow yourself the freedom. Now is the time to do it.

Within the energy of winter lies our will, our ability to keep on keeping on. Nourish and nurture the will during the winter months. Feel your reserves and resources building and growing. Experience the natural forces gathering and storing. Spring comes, built on the work of winter.

The cycle of the Five Elements, the Shen Cycle, the creative cycle, is never ending; the ceaseless point of start and ever happening restart. The fountain head at the river's source is the kidney energy. From this, all comes. The first acupuncture point on the Kidney Meridian, on the sole of the foot, is called 'Bubbling Spring'.

Current scientific ideas replicate these Taoist concepts. We now say all life started in the water.

Winter creates spring. Water creates Wood. This is the movement of the Shen Cycle. Wood in its turn will create Fire, as spring will create summer.

The acupuncture system, woven from the Five Element model, derives from the basis that we each have a constitutional type represented by one of the elements. Our state is enhanced as this key factor is helped. The acupuncture practitioner asks: "How do I support this person's constitutional style during this season?"


Wood is the element of spring. We ask ourselves: "how do I support my system with the surge of Wood energy?"


This is birth and re-birth, the power granted to Wood. Celebrate Easter. Celebrate the universality of the festival, Pagan, Earth Goddess, Christian.

Think about Lent. Honour this tradition. This is de-tox, the responsibility of the liver and gall bladder, the organs of spring. Help these two organs at their most active period. Minimize fats. Pay particular attention to animal fats and dairy products. Eliminate alcohol, cut out recreational drugs and coffee. This is the best spring-clean you could ever have. Onions and sour flavours will help.

During the winter, the greater-yang, of the urinary bladder, changes to lesser-yin of kidney, this now becomes absolute-yin of the liver energy. There can be no more contraction, no greater density. The coil can be wound no tighter. There has to be expansion. There has to be the yang process. Smoothly, easily, the gall bladder, with the status of lesser-yang will bring this into being.

The liver energy is planning. The liver was likened to a military general:

"One who excels in his strategic planning". This is the time to plan.

Enjoy this time of seeing where you are going, of working out how you will accomplish your goals.

"In five years I will be…". " What I plan to do is…". Visualize it. See the stages of your campaign. Anticipate your triumph. From the intensifying yin of planning by the liver, comes the yang movement of the gall bladder, the decisions.

"Today, to gain my five year goal I do this…" Next week I do that…" "This month I change…" Stage by stage, you will come to your goal. Spring is the season to establish the route.

The ligaments and tendons are the tissues associated with spring. Stretch.

Increase joint movements, lengthen your hamstrings, Achilles tendons, extend your spine's rotation, free your shoulder blades. Treat yourself to a massage. Join a Yoga class. Watch the sapling in the wind. Be pliant.

'Bright and Clear' is the acupuncture point that forms a junction between the two meridians. 'Gate of Hope' is the final point of the liver energy, before it goes to the organ. These two points speak of spring.

Anger is the emotion of Wood. What plan is blocked? What decision is frustrated? How do you free the stunted growth of anger? Watch a tree in the wind, the climate of spring. Negotiating, adapting, returning to centre.

The limbs are toughened, the roots grow deeper.

Think of kindness and benevolence, the virtues of Wood. Walk quietly through a wood in the springtime. The soul comes from Wood.


As spring fades, summer quietly grows. Fire comes in, the emotion joy, the sound of laughter, the power to complete and bring to maturity. The plans of spring become reality in summer.


We relate to others through Fire. The intimate bonding of partners comes from the energy of the pericardium, the Heart Protector. This is one of the four Fire aspects. How appropriate that the energy of the sac, which physically encloses the heart muscle, should act as a Samurai to the Supreme Controller, the energy of the heart. This too is under the aegis of Fire. Our safety to form, and be within relationships comes from the energy of the Heart Protector.

The heart is the Supreme Controller. Here is the wisdom of age, compassion, gentleness, insight and integrity: the all seeing all knowing leader. We owe the Supreme Controller total respect. Here, at the centre of Fire, is our spirit.

The small intestine is part of Fire. This is our ability to take in, select and transform and discard what is unwanted. This happens on all levels. Our food, what we see, hear, read, feel, each is processed by the small intestine energy. The essence is retained, the debris passed on.

Through this energy we can change.

Our connection with the external world, the relationship we have with people, rather than one person, and our control of temperature, is governed by the Triple Heater. Not an organ, it represents the Taoist construct of the Three Burning Spheres that were seen to lie in the abdomen.

Summer is the time to enhance all these aspects. Think how we celebrate Fire instinctively. The barbecue, amusingly, symbolizes the whole. It could be taken from a Taoist textbook. The fire itself, friends, the sound of laughter, the protection the ring of people gives, a meal, not prepared before, but one where we have to wait until it is completed.

"The sausages are ready!"

"At last."

Fire process all the way, fuelled by the Wood of spring in the charcoal.

Even to the exercising of the small intestine! All this outside, connected with the rest of the world, not shut away behind the front door. To keep in line, the sauce must be bitter, the flavour of the season. Use olive oil too, the arteries are the tissues influenced by Fire. The value of olive oil to reduce cholesterol levels and heart attack risk is fully authenticated and now a link has also been shown to lessened cancer levels.

Take a new perspective on smoking in this season. Barbecues, along with their smoke can be an analogy for celebrating Fire time. Cigarettes however show something different. That fire drawn into the lungs is maybe a striving to augment internal Fire, and make good a lack of joy, of love, of confidence, of control, of connection. Stop smoking in summer. Establish a natural source of Fire energy.

The virtue of Fire lies in ceremony, and ritual. Choose your festival, Glynebourne, or Glastonbury.

March to July, July to August. The intent of spring has become completion of summer, we move to the ripening of Late Summer. This is Earth.

Late Summer

The season of late summer: Growth is completed. This is the time when quality develops. Taste an English plum, ripened on the branch, falling as the hand closes to pick it.

Late Summer
Late Summer

Stomach and spleen are the organs. 'Abundant Splendour' is the name of a point that joins their energies and 'People Welcome', a point on the stomach meridian. Another point, 'Heavenly Pivot', lies on the abdomen.

The muscles are the tissues of Earth. Again, growth is complete, now is the time for the gym to fulfil the potential.

Earth is mother, being mother. The emotion is sympathy, the virtues, of loyalty, trust and faithfulness.

Late summer is a time for patience, for trusting. Trusting the ground we walk on. Trusting the security of home. We show our trust by the compassion and sympathy we give to others.

The spleen energy is the source of ideas. Now you can use mind maps to brainstorm answers. Write the question in the centre of an A2 sheet of paper and every possible solution as it pops up, written down surrounding around it.

Brainstorming harnesses the power of Earth. This is the power to decrease, to concentrate, the ability to change the abstraction of thought into reality.

This is the power the Taoists saw in their model of creation. The expanding Yang process of Heaven changed to Yin contraction, to bring the earth into material being. The modern view, unchanged, looks at the condensing gasses at the beginning of the world solidifying to form the outer crust. As the molten and gaseous centre cools, so the yin process continues.

Within the earth's crust, created in its cooling, lie the minerals, the ores, the metals. Fire creates Earth, Earth creates Metal. Late summer becomes autumn.


The organs of autumn are the lungs and the colon. These energies connect us to the purest of our needs, and allow us to eliminate the detritus. This applies to the three levels, body, mind and spirit.


The lungs are our connection with the finest, the father, and the governing authority of the universe, and with authority, in whatever form we meet it.

The purity of metal is maintained with the function of the colon. The refining of metal leaves the dross.

Balance is the power of Metal. You can see this in the functions of the two organs. Within the ability to balance lies the virtue of the element, justice and correctness.

Respect your lungs. The autumn is the time to consider your breathing. Empty your lungs, slowly so that the ribs drop and the abdomen squeezes in. Empty. Then allow the lungs to fill, easily, in their own time. Naturally the abdomen expands, slowly the expansion rises, the rib cage opens and finally, the top of the lungs fill. Here is the breath of Yoga, the breath of meditations. Here is our connection with the highest.

Respect your lungs. Stopping smoking, started in summer, confirmed now. This is the season of cleansing. A time to consider colonic irrigation. The tissues of Metal are skin and hair. Brush both.

The trees shed their leaves. The wounds from broken branches heal. The emotion is grief. We have another opportunity to heal our scars and gain more understanding of our experience of being cut-off.

Our animal spirit lives in the energy of metal. Here is our instinctive nature to survive, our immediate, direct responses, here our gut feelings. Honour these in the autumn.

Honour too, the slowing to winter and rest, and the recreation of Water from Metal. Be at one with the cold, the dark and the rain. Live this season and the other four.

The Tai Ch'i, the Supreme Ultimate, symbolizing Yin Yang
The Tai Ch'i, the Supreme Ultimate, symbolizing Yin Yang

Further Information

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC), 63 Jeddo Road, London, W12 9HQ; Tel: 020-8735 0400;
College of Traditional Acupuncture, Tao House, Queensway, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire CV31 3AE.
Visualization Techniques: ANLP Administration Officer, PO Box 5, Haverfordwest, Wales SA63 4YA.
Nei Ching. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine


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About Mike Eatough

Mike Eatough is an acupuncturist. He trained under Professor Worsley at The College of Traditional Acupuncture, Leamington Spa. He graduated in 1978 with a Licentiate of Acupuncture and in 1982 with a Bachelor of Acupuncture. He is a member of the British Acupuncture Council. He has been in practice in Cheltenham for 25 years. As a Buddhist, he has a particular interest in the Zen traditions. He can be contacted on Tel/Fax: 01242 581751; E:

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