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TCM: Qi and The Five Elements

Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, has been a part of Chinese culture for more than 2,000 years and employs techniques and medicinal practices from times of old to more modern developments. Generally, TCM focuses on the body and mind as a whole in treating illness and maintaining good health. Some factors that are taken into consideration in treating an individual are environment, culture, seasons, diet, emotional state, careers, experiences, weather, etc. With all of these factors believed to play a part in wellness, it is important in TCM for all aspects of the physical body coupled with mind and spirit to be in harmony in order to achieve optimal health. Qi (pronounced chee), also known as “life energy,” is the term used in TCM to express the balanced flow within the body that results in good health. Qi runs through energetic pathways in the body known as “meridians” that flow through each organ and system in the entire body. When Qi is interrupted, or meridians are blocked, it can lead to health issues of all types and severities. There are many methods in Chinese Medicine that are practiced to keep these meridians open and flowing, such as Acupuncture, herbal medicine, or Qi Gong (special movements and mental focus that helps move Qi), and more. Associated with Qi are five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each element is connected to certain meridians in the body tied to respective organs, systems, and emotions. When an imbalance occurs within and element, the associated meridians (and every aspect tied to that meridian) are affected. Below is a guide to the elements, associated meridians/organs, and the possible effects on health.

Wood

Meridians: Liver/Gallbladder 

Color: Green 

Season: Spring 

Flavor: Sour 

Common herbs: Schizandra, Peony 

Balanced: Clear vision and ability to achieve goals, decisive, and opinionated. 

Weak/imbalanced/stagnant: Indecisive and arrogant, negative dispositions. Unable to express anger. Addictive behaviors. Digestive concerns including bloating or gas, diarrhea and/or constipation. Unhealthy nails, migraines, eye problems, sinus issues, PMS and menstrual cramping, etc. 

Recommendations: Lemons, limes, pickled & fermented foods. Reading and physical exercise, avoid drugs and alcohol and other addictive substances or activities.

Fire

Meridians: Heart, small intestines 

Color: Red 

Season: Summer 

Flavor: Bitter 

Common herbs: Gardenia, Scute, Andrographis 

Balanced: Charismatic, social and persuasive. 

Weak/imbalanced/stagnant: Anxiety, insomnia, excessive talking, emotionally numb. High blood pressure, heart problems, mouth and tongue sores. 

Recommendations: Dark leafy greens - asparagus, kale, arugula. Walking.

Earth

Meridians: Stomach and spleen 

Color: Yellow 

Season: Late summer 

Flavor: Sweet 

Common herbs: Astragalus, Licorice root, Ginseng 

Balanced: Nurturing, well-grounded, compassionate, peacemaker. 

Weak/imbalanced/stagnant: Worries too much, works too hard, gets too involved. Digestive concerns and weight gain. Overproduction of mucus in the body. Difficulty with cognitive function, fogginess or lack of focus. 

Recommendations: Limit dairy foods. Eat root vegetables - carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes. Meditate while sitting down.

 Metal

Meridians: Lungs, large intestines, skin 

Color: White/grey 

Season: Fall 

Flavor: Pungent 

Common herbs: Angelica, Cimicifuga, Cinnamon, Ginger, Magnolia 

Balanced: Organized, disciplined, structured, and abides by rules. Deep inner strength.

Weak/imbalanced/stagnant: Experiences grief and sadness easily. Critical. Mentally weak. Lung illnesses of all types. Gets colds and flus often. Rashes, eczema and other skin problems. Chronic constipation or other bowel issues. 

Recommendations: Fresh, cool, crisp autumn air. Ginger, garlic, & onions.

Water

Meridians: Bladder and kidneys 

Color: Blue/black 

Season: Winter 

Flavor: Salty 

Common herbs: Cassia, Isatis, Schizandra 

Balanced: Fearless and determined. Strong will and perseverance. Can endure almost anything to reach their goals.

Weak/imbalanced/stagnant: Water retention, urinary problems, fertility issues, hearing concerns, temperature imbalances, and anxiety. 

Basic Recommendations: Sea vegetables - Kelp.


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