Five Element Associations

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The relationships between the Five Elements

Generation (Sheng) cycle

The Generation, or Sheng cycle, describes how each element nourishes, or creates, another. This is commonly referred to as a Mother-Child relationship. Each element is Mother to one element and Child to another.

This cycle describes how the elements tend to support, feed and create each other. They work together in harmony to produce everything in this world

Therapeutically this means that an important method to strengthen an element is to nourish its mother.

This sequence is circular, ie it returns to its own beginning. From the stillness of Water is born Wood, giving birth to Fire and so on until we return to Water.

  • Wood generates (is the mother of) Fire
  • Fire generates (is the mother of) Earth
  • Earth generates (is the mother of) Metal
  • Metal generates (is the mother of) Water
  • Water generates (is the mother of) Wood

This process can be described as:

  • Wood burns to create Fire
  • Fire creates ash (Earth)
  • From Earth we extract Metal
  • Metal can be heated to create liquid (Water)
  • Water poured on a seedling grows into Wood


Controlling (Ke) cycle

The Controlling, or Ke cycle, describes how each element keeps another in check, controlling its behaviour. This is commonly referred to as a Grandmother-Grandchild relationship.

Each element exerts control over another, restraining its growth. In turn, it is controlled by another.

Therapeutically this means that to control an excess of an element’s behaviour, one can strengthen or empower its grandmother.

Being an intertwined system, means a dynamic balance is maintained between all Five Elements.

  • Wood controls Earth
  • Earth controls Water
  • Water controls Fire
  • Fire controls Metal
  • Metal controls Wood

This process can be described as:

  • Wood can grow through / covers Earth
  • Earth can Absorb / dams Water
  • Water puts out Fire
  • Fire can melt Metal
  • Metal tools cut through Wood


Imbalances of the Control (Ke) cycle

Overacting (Cheng) cycle

In this circumstance, the Grandmother element overacts on its Child element. This means that it exerts too much control, stifling the natural growth and expression of the child.

This results in an abnormal condition where the Child Element is deficient in its expression.

Counteracting (Wu) cycle
Here the will of the Child Element is too strong, and it counteracts (rebels) against its Grandmother Element. This is also known as the insulting sequence.

  • Earth insults Wood
  • Wood insults Metal
  • Metal insults Fire
  • Fire insults Water
  • Water insults Earth

This is an adverse condition as the direction of control is against the natural flow.

  • Earth smothers the growing shoots (Wood)
  • Wood is too hard and breaks the axe (Metal)
  • Metal absorbs the heat, putting out the Fire
  • Fire flares, drying up the Water
  • Water washes away the banks of the river (Earth)


How to balance the Five Elements

Deficiency or excess of any element tends to disrupt the dynamic balance. This, in turn, influences the other elements due to their dynamic, intertwined relationship.

Illness can be corrected by restoring the dynamic of the Element that is too strong/weak. The way to balance the Five Elements is by:

  • Treating the Element directly
  • Treating the Mother / Child Element
  • Treating the Controlling (Grandmother) Element

Constitutional (Causative) Factor

In Constitutional Five Element acupuncture, also known as Worsley acupuncture, it is viewed that one imbalanced element is at the core of all dysfunction in a person. Somewhere early in life, whether in birth or early childhood, we develop a constitutional weakness in a particular element.

This arose from our physical and emotional experiences that led to our habituations and patterns. Ultimately it becomes the weak link in the dynamic balance of our elements.

Earth may become the Constitutional Element for someone that was raised in an environment of being over parented or conversely abandoned. Their relationship with nourishment is affected, manifesting in their relationship with food or neediness in their life.

Water may become the Constitutional Element for someone that was raised in an environment where fear was used as a tool of control. They feel unsure that they are doing the right thing and try to accomplish everything, displaying determination and persistence. This often covers a deep sense of fear

Metal may become the Constitutional Element for someone that was raised in an environment where they were not honoured or respected. They may hold high standards for themselves, striving to earn that respect and honour. This may sit above a deep sense of grief.

Wood may become the Constitutional Element for someone that was raised in an environment where excessive rules and disciplinary actions were the norms. They may have issues with their boundaries, and the ability to set limits.

Fire may become the Constitutional Element for someone that was raised in an environment where there was a lot of hurt and lack of connection. Relationships become of utmost importance, a craving for connection existing. Sadness or a lack of joy may sit with them internally.

The result of this is poor health which may manifest physically or emotionally, preventing us from truly living our full potential.

Reprinted with permission of the author:
Dr Jason Chong (Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbal Medicine Practitioner)
Dantian Health