Oriental medicine is based on patterns of health – information accumulated over thousands of years of observation of the human condition and its relationship with the world in which we live. Those patterns are as true today as ever, despite the fact that modern Western society commonly fails to acknowledge the importance of living appropriately with the seasons, climate, time of day and each stage of our life.

As modern life develops, most of us no longer live close to Nature. For example, living a simple, pre-industrial revolution, country life, people were obliged to live more in harmony with their surroundings and the natural cycles of day and night and the coming and going of the seasons. The advances and technology of modern, western life take us further and further away from those natural cycles. Electricity has given us the ability to continue to work after the sun has set. Thanks to preservatives, transportation and irradiation, we can buy virtually any foods, at any time of the year, from anywhere in the world. We can travel and experience different climates in very short spaces of time. There is an expectation that we should be constantly active throughout the year, to work long hours and even shift work. We can shop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Some might see this as mankind’s ability to override the natural laws. However, despite the speed of technological advances, nature and biology do not change that quickly. Our systems have developed over millions of years of the evolutionary process. Why should we expect that all to be overridden by a mere 100 years of rapid change?

Many modern diseases and stress derive from the unnatural lifestyle, which is increasingly imposed upon us. In the Traditional Chinese Medicine model, our energetic system and, therefore, our health are mirrored in the environment in which we live. Mankind is just one manifestation of the myriad of expressions of energy (Qi) and follows the same universal laws of Yin and Yang and the consequent movement of energy between these polarities.

One model for explaining this movement of Qi is that of the Five Elements or Phases (Wu Xing). “Elements” is the most common English translation for “Xing” but fails to convey the vital concept of movement. “Phases” comes closer but, in fact, the model describes a constantly moving dynamic of energy, where each Element/Phase is continually nourishing and controlling others in the cycle.

The Five Elements in oriental thinking are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Each one represents every aspect of the environment in which we live, the functioning of our body, mind and spirit and a direction and movement of energy. By living in harmony with these processes, we can use the natural energies of our environment to enhance and strengthen us. When we work against them, we are creating a deep stress in our systems, using our resources inappropriately to work against the natural order.

We can use the knowledge of the Five Elements model to understand how to live more effectively and to stay healthy. They also form the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is not only effective in dealing with established conditions but gives us a means of spotting imbalances at an early stage, thereby preventing more serious illnesses from developing. Additionally, much can be achieved by understanding how to make useful changes to how we live, what we eat and living in tune with the rising and falling energy of the cycles of the day and the seasons.

In other articles, we will examine the qualities and effects of each phase of movement, their related seasons and how we can use their strengths positively.

© Liz Welch 2023