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Balancing Your Internal Climate

by Liz Koch(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 132 - February 2007


This article is co-authored with Licensed Acupuncturist Martin Grasby L Ac. See further information and contact information about Martin Grasby at the end of the article.


All of us are caught up in a torrent of social, political and ecological flux occurring simultaneously around the globe. Sustaining your personal balance may be your only key to health and harmony – both within and without.

Finding internal balance however, is not to be confused with ridding yourself of unwanted emotions. It is not a static state of mind. Balance is a perpetual process of becoming; ever resilient, adaptable and capable of experiencing a variety and range of emotions. The Chinese expression that ‘one should feel all the emotions at least twice a day’ suggests that, like the weather, emotions shift and change with the time of day, season and passing year. Change reflects the dynamic expression of life right now in the moment, and self-awareness provides the balm for healing.

The Five Elements

Have you checked your emotional climate today? Just as it is possible to observe ocean tides, calculate hurricanes, or check your basal temperature, it is possible to read the internally fluctuating climate of your emotional world. Oriental medical traditions have been doing it for over 3,000 years. Observing the five basic elements is one of the wisdoms of old that today sheds light on emotional patterns, physical expressions, tendencies, or what is often referred to as a predisposition for health or dis-ease. Observing the elemental energies of fire, earth, water, metal (air) and wood helps to make sense of the movement called life.

Gaining even a basic understanding of the inner and outer interactions of the five elements can help make your moment-to-moment choices in favour of balance and harmony. For example, just look at the cycle in the Five Elements Chart, you will notice that it is a circle with no beginning and no end. Whereas our personal history often feels like a linear road headed towards death or a steep mountain climb, the five elements symbol visually expresses a continuous flow of energy. The five elements relate to every season, every emotion, every sound, taste, sense, colour, body part, organ and function of life and death. They represent literally the timelessness of existence.

The season of spring (wood) associated with youth and new growth does eventually lead to winter (water), a time of return and death. Yet birth and death are part of a dynamic and continuous cycle happening every second of every day. Within each cell of your being, the elements are playing out this cyclical dance over and over. Like the whirling dervish, it is being in the timeless swirl that allows for stillness, wholeness and balance.

The Five Elements Chart offers many gems of wisdom. Moving around the outer cycle, each element gives birth or is considered the mother of the next element. Within winter lies the fertile soil absolutely necessary for the seeds of birth and renewal. Water/Winter is the mother of Wood/Spring; just as the womb is mother to the foetus. The child in utero grows in the watery dark oceans of embryonic fluid: a passageway we call birth moves water/foetus towards wood/ young child.

Wood is the mother of fire, because wood feeds the flame of passion and creativity made manifest. Green spring sprouts blossom into rich voluptuous colour and form only in the warmth of the hot summer sun. The spirit of creativity and strength supports the passions of life.

The inner cycle represented by the arrows within the circle is the balancing or control cycle. The continuous interaction of each element maintains balance within. Water controls fire just as winter rain quenches the heat of summer’s parching heat. Metal (air)/Fall, a time of letting go, balances the forceful thrust of growing wood. The metal element controls wood just as hard rock contains and limits the growth of a tree.

Applying the five element theory to your personal life is a powerful tool that simplifies the world into energetic patterns, yet brings a wealth of complexity and subtly into focus. I have applied the five element system to healing early childhood trauma and learning new ways to support personal health.

The Psoas Muscles

My professional expertise is the psoas muscle. Located behind the abdominals, deep within the belly core, it plays a vital role in balance. As Guardian of the core, the psoas, associated with both emotional and physical trauma, is a primal messenger, expressing deep emotional turmoil or inner tranquility. Dynamically responsive and expressive, the psoas is part of the fight or flight response identified with the reptilian old brain stem or central nervous system, which communicates from deep within the organism. What we commonly call gut feeling conveys basic emotions of internal safety or threat.

When frightened, it is your psoas that propels you to jump high, run fast, or stand and fight. Like all the internal organs, tissue, glands and skeletal-muscular aspects, the psoas registers the fluctuations of inner perceptions and external stimuli. When tight, the psoas can disturb digestion, cause back pain and disrupt breathing. These basic emotions of safety or threat are instinctual. Using the lens of five elements offers a simple map for making sense of many of these inner signals. It is here where movement, muscles and bones interface with emotions, expression and energy.

When your psoas or core belly senses tight and restricted, a message is being felt. No matter where you are, who you are with, or what you are doing or thinking; in fact no matter what is happening around you, life is being coloured, felt and experienced through the filter of fear. For some people, fear becomes an outward expression of panic attacks, illness or debilitating back pain. But even when the constant fear is very subtle, it reflects a need for nourishment, support or balance on some deeper level.

Element and Emotion

Fear, as just one example, is the emotion associated with the element of water. Taking a warm bath, adding mineral salts or essential oils, immediately nourishes the water element. Water is always nourished by more of itself, just as heavy rains stimulate underground springs to flow. Water can also move debris, even mountains out of the way, so it helps move stuck emotions. Feelings of overwhelm benefit from curling up into a foetal position on one’s side and gently rocking. The curling shape is associated with the element of water, spirals, sound, and even the shape of the ear. Gently rocking while making a soft shushing sound like a mother soothing a distraught baby, allows the feelings to move within the safety of the position. Movement may free up tears. Or the creative juice of wood energy may give birth to feelings of anger expressed through a shout or strong words, pounding a pillow or stomping feet.

Water element houses the emotion of fear, the season of winter, the building of blood, bone, adrenal and immune health. Making a choice to go to bed early, rest more often or slow down, especially during the winter months helps nourish and rebuild balance, just as hibernation or a field laying fallow allows for rejuvenation and regeneration. Eating high quality proteins, dark greens and foods associated with rebuilding the adrenal organs, such as broth soups, seaweeds, root vegetables and beans, all contribute to building healthy bones, blood and the immune system.

It is not one movement, food or feeling that destroys balance, it is the excesses and congestion of stuck emotions that backs up and creates the destructive cycle. When you always feel angry, fearful, or sad, it may point to congested or held emotions. The control and balancing cycle can both help lead you out of the confusion. To nourish the immune system associated with protection it may be important, for example, to nourish the element of Fire, one’s internal passion. Associated with summer, sunshine and joy, the fire element helps give courage needed to stimulate the flow of creativity, fun, Eros and love.

Humans are like the tides; we are influenced by the earth’s rhythm and cosmic forces. Our internal climate is created by not only where we live, the food we eat, but the people we spend time with, the air we breathe and the microbial critters that share our personal space; we are part of a much larger dynamic living system, our task unknown. The five element system provides one simple tool for recognizing ourselves as the sustainable bio-intelligent ecosystem that we are. Dependent upon all other systems within a larger web of life, we dance life’s paradox of desiring homeostasis and innovation – simultaneously.

The Law of Five Elements

Ancient Chinese philosophy describes Man as a microcosm of the Universe. The outside is reflected within and vice versa. Peace spreads if we engender it in ourselves. We affect and are affected by our surroundings.

The foundation of Life is The Dao, or The Way. From this comes the fundamental principal that all living things are an exchange of energy and created between Heaven and Earth, thereby giving credence to the Laws of Nature.

These Laws work interdependently and are based on principles of Yin and Yang, i.e. the dynamics of the flow of energy. Within this flow are polarities or opposites. For cold to exist there has to be heat, for rest, activity; for fear, anger. The ancient Text Nei Ching explains:

“The principle of Yin and Yang is the basis of the entire universe. Yang ascends to heaven; Yin descends to Earth. Hence the universe (Heaven and Earth) represents motion and rest, controlled by the wisdom of nature. Nature grants the power to beget and to grow, to harvest and to store, to finish and to begin anew.”

At any given time there will be a predominance of Yin or Yang energy, though at a particular moment there will be a point of balance either side of which the emphasis changes. Yin or Yang is a matter of relativity. Flowing water is Yin compared to steam but Yang compared to ice. Shade is Yin to sunlight but Yang to darkness. There is always the potential of one in the other, of Yin within Yang, of Yang within Yin. A seed is Yin, inanimate, but within it lays the prospect of life.

Following The Dao enables us to move with the ebb and flow, to follow the ups and downs of life; to trust in order to engage fully with its variations.

Suggested Reading

Ted J. Kaptchuk. The Web that Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. McGraw Hill. ISBN 0809228408. 2000.
Jason Elias and Katherine Ketcham. Chinese Medicine for Maximum Immunity. Three Rivers Press ISBN 0609802739. 1999.
Elson M Haas MD. Staying Healthy with the Seasons. Celestrial Arts. ISBN 1587611422. 2003.
JR Worsley. Acupuncture. Is it For You? Element Books. ISBN 1852300477. 1991.
Dianne M Connelly PhD. Traditional Acupuncture: The Law of the Five Elements. Traditional Acupuncture Institute. ISBN 0912381035. 1994.
Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Valle' The Seven Emotions. Redwing Books ISBN 187246808X. 1996.
Angela and John Hicks. Healing Your Emotions. Thorsons. ISBN 072253728X. 1999.


About Co-Author Martin Grasby L Ac

Martin Grasby LAc is a licensed Acupuncture and Bowen therapist, trained in Five Element Acupuncture. He has completed Liz Koch’s Psoas Muscle Application Course for Professionals. Married to a Medical Physician and Homeopath, Grasby shares a clinic with his wife and partner. He may be contacted at Shipston Natural Health Centre, Shipston on Stour, Warwickshire, UK. Tel: 01608 664664;


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About Liz Koch

Liz Koch is an international somatic educator, and creator of Core Awareness ( focusing on awareness for developing human potential. With 30 years experience working with and specializing in the iliopsoas, she is recognized in the somatic, bodywork and fitness professions as an authority on the core muscle. Liz is a nationally and internationally published writer and the author of The Psoas Book, Unraveling Scoliosis CD, Core Awareness; Enhancing Yoga, Pilates, Exercise & Dance, and her new release Psoas & Back Pain CD. Approved by the USA National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB), as a continuing education provider, Liz Koch is a member of the International Movement Educators Assoc. (IMA).  She may be contacted via

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