Five Elements Theory

Five element theory is one of the major systems of thought within traditional Chinese medicine. Also referred to as the five phase theory by some practitioners, five element theory has been used for more than 2000 years as a method of diagnosis and treatment.


How does five element theory work?

Essentially, five element theory is used to help explain the cause of particular diseases and to associate signs or symptoms to particular organs and afflictions, in the context of phases, five element theory helps to explain the processes that are occurring the body throughout various stages of disease and healing. This is particularly useful in explaining the processes that take place during the generating and controlling cycles mentioned in five element theory.


Within five element theory are four main cycles, or ways in which the elements (and their associated emotions, colors, sounds, odors, etc,) interact.


generation cycle:  The first of these is generation cycle. In this cycles each element serves as a mother, which promotes the growth the development of the following, or child, element. Each element provides a generating force or foundation for the element that immediately follows it , ie, the fire element provides a foundation for the earth element, the earth element provides a nurturing foundation for the metal element, and so on.


controlling cycle :The second main cycle is called controlling cycle. According to this cycle theory each element is involved in a checks –and-balances relationship that helps keep thing in order; each element both controls and is controlled by another element( water, for example, controls fire, but Is itself controlled by earth.)

sheng_cycle                   ke_cycle

overactive cycle :The third and fourth cycles in five element theory are cycles of imbalance. In the overactive cycle, and element overacts, or exerts too much control, over its subordinate element, damaging the element and causing imbalances in the body, for example the water element may completely put out the fire element, or the earth element may soak up the water element completely.


insulting cycle :In the insulting cycle, forces are actually reversed, the subordinate element returns the controlling force generated by the controlling element, again causing an imbalance in the body. Instead of water suppressing fire, in this cycle fire would actually burn up water。

cheng_cycle                   wu_cycle


Primary Correspondences Within Five Element Theory

The Five Element theory is based on the observation of the natural cycles and interrelationships in both our environment and within ourselves. The foundation of the theory rests in the correspondences of each element to a variety of phenomena. The most common correspondences are listed in the chart below:

Yin Organs Heart &
Spleen Lungs Kidneys Liver
Yang Organs Small Intestine &
Triple Heater
Stomach Large Intestine Urinary Bladder Gall Bladder
Sense Organs Tongue Mouth Nose Ears Eyes
Tissues Vessels Muscles Skin Bone Tendons
Tastes Bitter Sweet Pungent Salty Sour
Colors red yellow white blue/black green
Sounds Laughing Singing Crying Groaning Shouting
Odor scorched fragrant rotten putrid rancid
Emotions Joy Worry/Pensiveness Grief/Sadness Fear Anger
Seasons Summer Late Summer Autumn Winter Spring
Environment Heat Dampness Dryness Cold Wind
Developmental Stages Growth Transformation Harvest Storage Birth
Direction south center west north east
Body Types pointed features
small hands
quick energetic
large features
strong legs
calm generous
triangular features
strong voice
meticulous, strong willed
round features
strong digestion
loyal, enjoy movement
tall slender
strong bones and joints
hard workers