Chinese Five Element Theory

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the five elements are central to both assessing your general state of health and to correcting any imbalances in the elements in order to achieve a better state of well-being. There are many levels to Five Element healing and it is possible to go into great detail if this what you wish to do. The practice of applying Five Element theory is relevant in different healing modalities such as Acupuncture, Acupressure and Medicinal Qigong. The Five Elements Cycles also form a part of both assessment and treatment. The generating cycle works on the initial premise that each element plays a part in generating another element within the system, whereas the controlling cycle focuses on the way in which one element can decrease an excess of another element. The nearest Western idea would be the 16th Century idea of the different humors that make up the physical and emotional body, although the TCM theory and practice is very much more sophisticated (and effective).

What are the Five Elements?

The five elements are: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element has a series of “correspondences” both with the human body and with nature.

The Five Element Theory is also integrated with Yin/Yang theory in TCM. Together these theories can provide a very comprehensive understanding of how our bodies are functioning. An excess or lack of a particular element can also have an effect on the emotional, mental and spiritual bodies so it is important that the assessment performed by a practitioner is both practical and energetic in nature. Intuition and Third Eye insights are as important as the more pragmatic manipulation or palpation of the area of the body known as the Hara. The Hara is located in the center of the body, the abdomen, and extends from beneath the ribs to the top if the pubic bone.

The Five Elements and “Correspondences”

As indicated above, a lack or an excess of any one element has an effect on the other elements. So, for example, if a Hara assessment discovers that Fire is weak then Water, instead of balancing Fire, may be in excess and could lead to extinguishing Fire altogether. As Fire is associated with joy, growth, activity and upward movement we would need to look at balancing the excess of Water so that a person could rediscover their zest for life. Water is associated with the will, with drive and also with fear so it is easy to see that if these two elements are not in balance with each other conditions such as anxiety or depression may manifest. This is an illustrative example of how the use of Hara assessment and subsequent advice or treatment to address the imbalance can benefit the recipient. Physically, Fire has the correspondences of the heart and the small intestine. Water has kidneys and bladder under its governance and in the example given here it may be that the advice given is to treat the meridians of these four organs with Shiatsu or Qigong exercises, with foods that are known to increase Fire or with sounds associated with each element.

The Sounds of The Five Elements

In an initial assessment your practitioner will be interested in the sounds that you make, and may suggest using sounds to bring your system back in to balance.


Wood is shouting. Wood people tend to put a lot of energy into the beginning of their words and to raise their voices in excitement more than is usual. An excess of wood may mean that it sounds as if the person is shouting. A depletion in wood can make a person sound as if they lack the energy to finish their sentences.


Fire is laughing. Fire people tend to exhibit either sadness or joy in their voice, and this can manifest as over excitement, excess laughter, or its opposite, a sad drone in the voice.


Earth is singing, or the sounds of sympathy and understanding. The tonal variations in an Earth person may well manifest as excessive rising and falling, as if the person is either singing or telling a story.


The sound of metal is grief. Sometimes reminiscent of weeping, as if a person is close to tears. There may be a slight catch in the throat in the middle of a word. An excess of metal may make a person prone to stuttering or swallowing more than is usual, whereas a lack of metal can bring a note of despair or hopelessness to even the most mundane of utterances.


Water is groaning and is the sound of fear. A Water person may sound habitually anxious and be given to sighing and groaning even when this is not really an appropriate response.

These correspondences can sometimes be very subtle, so you may not notice them in yourself. A Hara diagnosis by an experienced practitioner can discover imbalances in the elements through sounds, and can also recommend counter measures to correct and harmonize such imbalances.

It may be that you are encouraged to shout or express your anger if, for example, your Wood energy is depleted. You may also receive treatments with sound, either in person or during a virtual consultation that are tailor made to suit your constitution at that time. The soothing, sing song sounds associated with Earth may be what you need if your prone to worry, or perhaps you would benefit from some laughter to increase your Fire energy.

As you can see, the concept of Five Element Healing is vast and fairly complex, as each element has many correspondences within the body and mind. Addressing any imbalances can involve different foods, different forms of exercise, and taking into account external circumstances such as climate and season. The whole picture of correspondences, along with the consideration of Yin/Yang channels in the meridians and organs of the body will all be relevant in both the assessment and healing program to help you on your journey to improved health and well-being.