Tag Archives: five elements

Emotions of the Five Elements

The Chinese have a saying, “Ailment of the heart, requires medicine of the heart”. To the Chinese people, the term heart and mind is interchangeable. Therefore the saying can be expressed as, “Ailment of the mind, requires medicine of the mind”. It implies that psychological or mental illnesses and can be cured by psychological means!


To the ancient Chinese there are seven human emotions. They are joy, anger, anxiety, melancholy, sorrow, fear and fright. These emotions are human being’s response to the external environment. In small doses, they are harmless but in large quantity and over prolonged periods, they can be detrimental not just to a person’s emotional well being but can affect the internal organs as well.

In Chinese medicine, the emotion of joy and fright is related to the heart which in turn related to the element fire. The emotion of melancholy is related to the spleen and the earth element, while the emotion of anxiety and sorrow with the lungs and the element metal. Finally the emotion of fear is related to the kidneys and water, while the emotion of anger with the liver and the element of wood.

Hence, excessive and prolonged joy can affect the heart while excessive and prolonged anger can hurt the liver. Too much of a melancholy feeling can harm the spleen while too much anxiety or sorrow can hurt the lungs. Finally too much fear and nervousness can be detrimental to the kidneys.

According to the ancient Chinese, the too much of one human emotion can be curbed using another emotion based on the controlling cycle of the Five Elements. For example joy (five) can overcome anxiety/sorrow (metal), which in turn can over anger (wood). Anger (wood) can overcome melancholy (earth) which in turn can overcome fear (water). By the same token, the producing cycle can be use to weaken another emotion. For example anger (wood) can weaken anxiety (metal) since Metal (anxiety) is weaken when producing wood (anger).

But the same rule, you can use one human emotion to correct another.

I would like to tell you a popular story about physician Wen Zhi who lived during the Spring and Summer period. He was summoned to the palace to treat the King who was suffering from extreme headaches. The prince was extremely distressed by his father’s ailment and begged Wen Zhi to cure him.

Wen Zhi told the prince that he will cure his father but in the course he will lose his life. The prince could not understand what Wen Zhi said but did not pursue as he was more concerned with his father’ ailment.

The next time the king had one of his headaches he summoned Wen Zhi but this time Wen Zhi ignored him. This happened a few times and the king was extremely upset. He sent his troops to drag Wen Zhi to the palace. On seeing the king, instead of help him, he insulted the king. In extreme anger and with fire raging in his eyes, the king ordered that Wen Zhi be cooked in a pot.

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A few days later, the king made a surprising recovery. It was only then that he understood why Wen Zhi acted in such a strange way. You see the king’s headaches were caused by anxiety. By deliberately making the king angry, he help the king release his anxiety and hence cured his headaches, at the lost of his life!

The Music of the Five Elements

A lesser known alternative treatment in Chinese Medicine is music therapy. The ancient Chinese did a considerable amount of research in it and with the growing acceptance of alternative treatment traditional Chinese music therapy has gained much exposure.

There are five notes in ancient Chinese music namely Gong, Shang, Jiao, Zhi and Yu. They roughly match with the tones of do, re, mi, la and so respectively.

Each of these notes is also match with an element from the Five Elements and an organ (zang) in the body.

The note Gong (do) is associated with the earth element and the spleen. It is mediating in nature and gives a sense of calm and seriousness. The notes can be used to treat someone who has been given a fright.

The note Shang (re) is associated with the metal element and the lungs. It is clearing in nature and gives a sense of quietness. The notes can be used to treat someone suffering from anxiety and irritability.

The note Jiao (mi) is associated with the wood element and the liver. It is soothing in nature and gives a sense of comfort and relaxation. The notes can be used to dispel anger.

The note Zhi (sol) is associated with the element fire and the heart. It is invigorating in nature and gives a sense of excitement and passion. The note can be use to treat someone suffering from depression.

Chinese Musical Instrument
Chinese Musical Instrument

Finally the note Yu (la) is associated with the element water and the kidneys. It is cooling and moistening in nature and has a sedative effect. The note can be use to treat insomnia caused by excessive joy or sorrow.

Try playing the notes above and see if it gives you the senses described above. You may be pleasantly surprises.

The ancient Chinese also believe that music can shape a man. Conversely, it is possible to read a person’s character based on the music that he plays or listen to!

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What is the Five Elements?

The ancient Chinese divide energy or “qi” into five types namely Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth “qi”. They are collectively known as “Wu Xing” or more commonly in the English speaking circle as the Five Elements.

The ancient Chinese believe that qi and matter are interchangeable. Hence a wooden table is essentially wood qi at rest while steam is water qi in an agitated or unstable state.

“Wu Xing” roughly translates to the Five Ways or Five Transformations which suggest some kind of relationship between them.

Five Element Productive Cycle
Five Element Productive Cycle

In fact there exist a productive and controlling relationships between these elements.

In the productive relationship, Wood produce Fire which in turn produce Earth. Earth then produce Metal which produce Water. Water produce Wood and the cycles repeats itself. This productive relationship is commonly known as the Productive Cycle.

Five Elements Controlling Cycle
Five Elements Controlling Cycle

In the controlling relationship, Wood control Earth which in turn control Water. Water then control Fire which control Metal. Metal control wood and the cycle repeats itself. This controlling relationship is commonly known as the Controlling Cycle.

Tips to remembering the relationships.

First the productive relationship.

Wood produce Fire – Picture an old fashion wood fire stove.
Fire produce Earth – Picture fire burning leaving ash behind.
Earth produce Metal – Picture an mining iron ore from the ground.
Metal produce Water – Picture water condensing on a cold metal cup.
Water produce Wood. Picture water nourishing a plant.

Next the controlling relationship.

Wood control earth – Picture trees extracting nutrients from the earth.
Earth control water – Picture bags of sand holding back flood water.
Water control fire – Picture firemen putting out fire with water hoses.
Fire control metal – Picture an iron foundry and molten metal.
Metal control wood – Picture an axe cutting down a tree.

The concept of the Five Elements is pervasive in Chinese metaphysics and is the founding principles in many disciplines such as Feng Shui, Astrology, Chinese Medicine, Face Reading, Martial Arts and even in Chinese Music.

For example, in Chinese Medicine, the heart is Fire while the liver is Wood. As you have learnt earlier, Wood produces Fire. Therefore if the heart is weak you can strengthen it by strengthening the liver!

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Aside from associations with the organs in the body, the Fire Elements has association with direction, colour, the seasons, emotion, flavour etc.

For example, for colours, fire is red, pink, orange or purple while wood is green and water is blue or black. And for seasons, winter is north, spring is east, summer is south while autumn is west.