Oliver's BlogWednesday 24th March 2021
The Healing Power Of The Five Elements
In Oriental medicine and philosophy, there are two important theories that help us understand the world and ourselves. Firstly, there is Yin and Yang - the idea that everything is composed of complementary, interacting forces. For example, light and shadow, warmth and cold, rising and sinking. Secondly, there are the Five Elements (also known as Five Transformations or Five Phases) of Water, Tree (Wood), Fire, Earth and Metal where the times of day, seasons and human emotions can be understood in relation to the rhythms and patterns of the natural world.
With the Five Elements, we can see how we are part of nature and by aligning more with these natural changes we can become more healthy and fulfilled. In addition, we can use the Five Elements system to better understand the connections between things that otherwise might go unnoticed. The Five Elements also correspond to paired organs within the body, five flavours in food and five colours.
Five Elements And The Time Of Day
One simple way we can understand the Five Elements is through the different phases of each day. The middle of the night corresponds with the Water Element when things are very quiet and the energy is normally very still. It’s a time for rest and to recharge our natural supply of Kidney energy. Mornings are the time of Tree energy when things get moving and the liver and gallbladder are more energised. Energy moves out through the body after the stillness of the night and we become more active and outward again. Then at the middle of the day we have the Fire Energy time. Our circulation is ideally moving well and it’s the time of most activity where the heart and small intestine are most energised.
In the afternoon our energy begins to sink. This is the time of the Earth energy and the stomach and spleen. We may feel a little bit tired and seek sweet foods or a coffee to pick us up. Sweet foods nourish the stomach, spleen and pancreas but we need to be careful as too many sweet foods are not good for us. Strong cravings for sweet foods show there ismay a weakness in those Earth Element organs. By evening time (Metal Energy) nature is getting cooler and our energy goes downwards and inwards. It’s a good time to read or study as there is more energy coming into the brain and nervous system. We may seek to be at home and often feel like eating foods that are more dense and solid. These types of food nourish our lungs and large intestines.
Five Elements And The Five Seasons
Winter is the season of Water Energy. It’s colder, darker and energy is coming inwards so we need more rest and quiet time. Our kidneys are the foundation of Ki energy in the body, so during winter being more quiet and restful helps them to store up Ki. We might be expected to just keep working as normal during the winter, but this is not good as we need extra rest in the winter and more sleep. We need different things at different times of year and different times of day - this is a natural rhythm we can tune into.
Nature goes deeper and quieter in winter - it’s almost as if things have gone more to sleep. But in reality they are just waiting for the next season, spring, when more energy is around and beginning to move upwards and outwards again, expressing itself in a myriad of different ways. This is the time of Tree Energy.
When spring comes, we might notice we have lots of energy. We get the lift in energy we need and things get more active and creative. There are more lighter foods around which help the Liver and Gallbladder re-energise after the often denser and richer foods of winter. It's a good time to start new projects and get ‘out there’.
Summer time is when Fire Energy is strongest. Naturally we want to be outdoors, socialising, being on holiday, experiencing joy and becoming most active. It’s the season that relates to the Heart and Small Intestine and we need to eat more cooling foods. Being outside is a healthy thing to do at this time of year and coincidentally one of the worst times to do exams! (Much better if these were done in the autumn).
Late summer or Indian Summer is the fifth season and corresponds with the Earth Element. Things are more settled, it’s the time of bringing in the harvest, sweeter fruits become available and it’s the season that relates to the Stomach and Spleen.
Finally, autumn comes. Things begin to die back, the leaves fall and we may begin to miss the summer or even grieve it’s loss. This is the time of the Metal Element, and the Lungs and Large Intestine. We spend more time indoors. It’s a good time to read or study to relax and let go.
Using The Five Elements To Understand Our Health
We can learn to use the Five Elements to understand our own health. How we hold ourselves physically, the quality of our voice, how our face appears and what we say all reveal Five Element information. For example if someone tells me that they can’t stand heat, then I know there is a Fire Element imbalance causing them to experience this. This might be caused by too many fiery foods in their diet and this too much Fire Energy in their bodies causing them to feel uncomfortable when the weather is hot. They will need to eat more cooling foods such as salads and avoid spices to help their systems come into balance again. There may also be underlying emotional issues relating to too many ‘hot’ emotions.
Another example would be people who feel very cold and depressed in the winter which would be connected to an imbalance of the Water Element (nourishing the kidneys and bladder). They will need to eat more deeply warming and nourishing foods, keep their lower back and kidneys warm, conserve their energy by doing less, and get extra sleep and rest to help heal this imbalance.
Even how people respond to ventilation and drafts can indicate something important about the state of the Five Elements within them. Some people love the wind and being outside in a breeze, but others can’t tolerate these due to their Tree Energy being stuck. This may also be related to keeping their feelings inside and in particular keeping a lid on their emotions such as anger, which in turn causes their liver energy to stay stagnant and an intolerance to wind and drafts.
The Five Elements And Food
Five Elements is also an excellent method for understanding the impact of food on our physical and emotional health. When we look at what foods are locally available seasonally and their effects on our inner health then you start to see connections and patterns. For example in winter we tend to see more root vegetables, dark green vegetables, dried foods and stored food being naturally available. These types of foods tend to be strengthening for our Water Energy, deeply nourishing and helping us ward off the cold and worst effects of the coldest time of year. This also shows us that eating a lot of food imported from hot climates is not going to have a great affect on our bodies. Cooling foods such as tomatoes, bananas and other tropical fruits are available all year round but if we eat a lot of these types of food in the winter we’ll weaken our Water Energy instead of strengthening it.
By the spring we get more variety of food becoming available such as some salads and lighter, less dense vegetables like purple sprouting broccoli and asparagus. These lighter foods help our Tree Energy and Liver and Gallbladder energy to move outwards - so we feel able to embrace the springtime with renewed vitality and move into action.
The summer brings us more salad, fruits and vegetables that help us cool our Fire Energy such as lettuce, cucumbers, courgettes and strawberries. It feels appropriate to eat these fresh cooling foods, and our Heart and Small Intestines will like them too. We don’t want to eat too many of these foods in the winter as they will tend to make us feel cold and depressed..
Late summer brings more squashes and sweeter, slightly denser foods and we need to shift our focus to these types of ingredients in our cooking. These will help nourish our Stomach and Spleen, keeping us grounded, balanced and nourished as the season settles.
In the autumn things change again - with more leafy vegetables and roots becoming available that help us create warmth, oppose too much dampness within the body and support our Metal Energy organs the Lungs and Large Intestine. We can let go, relax into the autumn and feel more balanced emotionally and physically when we eat more of these seasonal foods.
The other things to recognise with food is that how we prepare and cook each ingredient will dictate how it interacts with the Five Elements. For example a raw grated carrot will support our Tree Energy (Liver and Gallbladder) - giving us more light, upward and outward energy. If we roast the same carrot, it will become sweeter and therefore more nourishing and supportive ofour Earth Energy (Stomach and Spleen).
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Balance With Ourselves And Every Season
Following these natural rhythms we can feel balanced in each season. Heat in the summer is no problem, cold in the winter - no problem! In the spring we have recharged our Kidney Ki over the winter and now are all ready to become active with new plans and actions. In this way we can go with the flow and stay tuned into the natural changes with each season. Modern trends of growing under polytunnels and excessive airmiles on food is not so great. Our energy doesn’t need cucumbers and vine tomatoes in the depths of winter. We need deep warming and Kidney Ki supporting foods, not food designed to keep us balanced in the summer.
Every issue with our health or emotions can be understood through the lense of the Five Elements, which then leads us onto practical remediesto restore balance. It’s common sense, based on observations of nature for millenia. As our industrial processes have developed we have to a large degree lost the connection we’ve had for thousands of years with nature and the Five Elements helps us to reconnect with entirely natural and supportive rhythms.
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