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The Five Elemental Energies




Excerpted from
The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs
By Ron Teeguarden

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Yin and yang describe the primary polar aspects (or forces) of an entity or process. However, yin and yang can be defined even more subtly in order to understand the exact degree or stage of yin or yang in a cyclical process. The Chinese thus further defined yin and yang so as to refine the Great Principle. In so doing they developed the Principle of the Transformation of the Five Elemental Energies.

Again, yin and yang can be seen as the two poles of a cycle. The yin is the withdrawing, storing, nutritive stage, and the yang is the expanding, exuberant, active stage. The yin phase can be further described as consisting of two major segments: the early yin phase and the late (or full-blown) yin phase. Yang can likewise be divided into early and late phases.

The seasons provide an example of this. The year can be divided into two main phases: the months during which the days become longer, lighter, and warmer (yang) and the months during which the days become shorter, darker, and colder (yin). Thus the half of the year starting at the autumnal equinox and running through the winter is yin, and the six months from spring through summer are yang. Fall is the beginning of yin, and winter is full-blown yin. The yang phase is likewise clearly divisible into spring and summer, spring being the beginning of the yang phase and summer being full-blown yang. Thus there are four cardinal phases to the yearly cycle. The same four phases can be seen in all cycles.

The early Chinese masters gave each phase a name. The early yin phase was called Metal, the late yin phase Water, the early yang phase Wood, and the late yang phase Fire. In a daily cycle, the morning (early yang) would be the Wood phase, the afternoon (late yang) would be the Fire phase, evening (early yin) would be the Metal phase, and late night (late yin) would be the Water phase.

These four are the cardinal phases, but there is another aspect that in Eastern philosophy is absolutely essential to the understanding of the system, and that is balance. Without balance in a system, it would soon fall apart. Thus the great sages described a fifth element, balance, and called it Earth. The Earth element represents the balance and harmony within a system that is actually responsible for the integrity of the system as a whole. Earth is in the center, representing the pivotal, balancing, unifying factor of the whole system. Earth should thus be present at all times, because the system should always be balanced, albeit dynamically.

The five elemental energies are traditionally diagrammed like this:

The Five Elemental Energies and Human Energetics

The five elemental energies also correspond to the various aspects of a human being, including specific organ systems, emotions, and sense organs. The following descriptions may provide some insight into the nature of each elemental energy as it influences the human condition.


Wood is new yang-the first stage of a new cycle. It is an aggressive, vigorous energy that bursts forth from the depths of substance, expanding, invigorating all in its field of influence, bringing forth creation and life. Wood is the elemental energy of spring. It is associated with the "Liver," one of the primary organ systems.

The Wood element initiates activity. It is the creative urge and the procreative drive. It is the "will to become," the urge to grow and develop, to create our own existence. It is that which provokes and drives us. We experience it as the urge to express ourselves, to manifest, to break bonds, to metamorphose. We sense it as "spring fever." It is our will to open up, to expand. So when Wood is abundant, we develop, we create and procreate.


Fire is the energy of growth to fullness, of full expansion, of warm, all-embracing love and compassion. Fire is the elemental energy of summer and is associated with the Heart. It is warm and full and has a fully developed yang nature.

When true Fire is unimpeded, life is joyous, exuberant, and loving, supported by courage, strength, and wisdom. Contentment, enduring vigor, a cooperative approach to life, clarity of understanding, and a free-giving spirit are signs of one whose Fire element is in proper harmony with the external being (the world and universe) and the internal being (the body-mind), which are in fact one. Feeling compassion, love, and joy without becoming overly excited, and giving of ourselves, are the natural ways to develop the Fire element.


The Earth element is the energy of balance, of the center, and is thus always present. It is the pivot, or balancing point, of yin and yang. Earth is said to dominate at the change of seasons, during Indian summer, and during periods of atmospheric balance. It rules the Spleen energy system and directs the digestive system. It is experienced as a sensation of balance, centeredness, non-striving, nonjudgmental contemplation, and sympathetic understanding. It is a mature energy, the energy of the ripening, well-adjusted soul.

Earth provides the energy of thought and reflection. It nourishes the flesh and builds strong muscles. Always seeing life from a broad perspective while remaining physically and emotionally centered will nurture the Earth element.


The Metal element is the energy of fall, and is thus the energy of retreat and withdrawal. It represents the transition of yang energy to yin energy. Metal controls the Lungs.



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