The many branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM, include therapies of herbal medicine, acupuncture, cupping, and many other techniques including body therapies. All of these therapies all branch from the same philosophical system, commonly called the five elements system.
The five elements system is based in a simple philosophy that you have probably heard of, the relationship of yin and yang. This relationship follows the relationship of the light and dark pieces of the symbol you have seen before. It is based off two sides of a mountain, the light and dark, and the areas of transition between them. There is always some light in the darkness and always some darkness in the light. The transition between light and dark is always occurring and this transition is the movement of the world that keeps it functioning. All other components of the five elements system is based in this interconnectedness. All components have two ends of a spectrum which you can move between at any point in time.
The main components of the five elements system, are the elements themselves. The five elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water (note the capitalization to distinguish) are connected to each other through two different cycles, the Shen and Ko cycles. The Shen cycle is often called the creation cycle: wood is needed to create fire, fire is needed to create earth (burning), earth is needed to create metal (forging), metal melts to create a fluid, and water is needed to grow wood. The Ko cycle follows the star shape and is called the destruction cycle. Fire melts metal, metal chops wood, wood takes nutrients from earth, earth absorbs water, water puts out fire.
Each of these elements have additional correspondences that all interact in similar ways with each other. Each element has associated organs, both yin and yang organs. Each element has a different taste, emotion, color, sounds, movements, and more. Together each of these pieces form a complete system that can be used by herbalists to determine what imbalances need to be addressed to support the individual.
Herbalists us a variety of diagnostic techniques to determine where the imbalances of this system are in their clients. Traditional Chinese doctors would just take the pulse, using 3 different pulse points on each wrist, to determine the imbalances. Now we use this information in addition to through discussion with our clients for a more through picture of their challenges. Some TCM practitioners will use additional tools but these are the basics.
We will be discussing this system in greater detail in our home herbalist courses so be sure to sign up for learn it live if you would like to learn more. We will continue to discuss a variety of other herbal philosophical systems over the next few weeks so be sure to subscribe to The Dancing Herbalist’s blog today.
Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. Join her for live classes and and to learn more about herbal philosophy in The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online for more learning opportunities.