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"Balancing the Elements: Understanding the Foundations of 5 Element Acupuncture"

5 element acupuncture, originating in ancient China over two millennia ago, remains vibrant in modern practice. In the 1960s, pioneers like the late Professor J.R. Worsley and Jacques Lavier introduced this distinctive medical system to Europe. John and Angie Hicks studied five-element acupuncture from J.R. Worsley and opened The College of Integrated Chinese Medicine (more on what the integrated part means in the next post). I studied my degree in 5 elements under John and Angie Hicks at the college.

Central to 5 element acupuncture is the theory that many physical ailments stem not only from physical causes but also from emotional or spiritual distress. Unlike other forms of acupuncture, the focus of a 5 element practitioner isn't solely on the patient's symptoms. Instead, it involves identifying and treating the root cause of all symptoms by considering the patient holistically. This approach teaches that all symptoms originate from a single root cause unique to each patient. Treating the deficient element of nature within the individual, known as their causative factor, will not only bring that element back into balance but also balance the other four elements, whether it be physical, mental, or spiritual.

The diagram shows the 5 elements in the "sheng cycle." This is the flow of energy within us, just as the flow of the seasons: spring (wood) into summer (fire), earth (late summer), metal (autumn), water (winter). In this cycle, we can see wood creating fire by burning, fire creating earth by ashes, earth creating metal by hardening (as in rock ore), metal creates water by containment, and water creates wood by nourishing.

We can also see from the arrows in the inner section the flow of the "ker cycle." This cycle is also sometimes called the controlling cycle as the energy is going backward, and the elements begin to control or insult one another. For instance, we see Fire controlling metal by melting, metal controlling wood by cutting, wood controlling earth by covering, earth controlling water by damming, and water controlling fire by extinguishing.

The 5 element practitioner uses this diagram along with colour, sound, odour, and emotion testing, symptoms, diagnosis, pulse-taking, listening, and palpation to determine which element is out of balance. For instance, if someone finds it hard to find joy, there may be a block in their wood element from internal frustration creating stagnant qi. Clearing this block will allow the qi to flow smoothly from the wood element back into the fire element, creating a connection to the energy of joy. Or if someone is stuck in fear and their water element, they may find it hard to move forward in life and flourish into their wood element; we may also see outbursts of anger as the wood element gets flooded with an excess of energy from the water element.

All patients possess all elements, but the goal is to address the one lacking sufficient energy to function properly. Achieving balance among the elements is crucial for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, as each element contributes essential functions supporting organ health and overall vitality. In Chinese medicine, the deficiency of one element can strain others, leading to symptomatic manifestations as the body struggles to compensate.

Once the 5 element acupuncturist has determined which element is out of balance, they will then treat you on the organ meridians of that element, each element has two organ meridians, one yin and one yang. For instance, the Fire element has the heart meridian (yin) and the small intestine meridian (yang).

How do you know what element you are?

Each element pertains to a specific emotion. Of course, there is much more to diagnosing than just the emotion, but this may open a window for you into the world of five-element theory.

Wood: Anger or frustration

Fire: Joy

Earth: Sympathy

Metal: Grief

Water: Fear

Do you resonate with one of these emotions more than the other? Do you find yourself lost in circles of worry or find it harder to deal with grief than others? Are you always aware of danger and safety, fearful of what the future may hold? Or are you continually frustrated with the slow pace of others or your own growth, or maybe you are always creating social gatherings, the last to leave the party needing as much joy as possible?

Finding a 5 element practitioner

If you are living in London or can travel to London and would like to book an appointment for 5 element acupuncture in Hackney, or if you would like to discuss more about it, please send me a message on the contact form.

If you are outside of London, below are a few links to other trusted find other five-element practitioners who have also trained at The College of Integrated Chinese Medicine.

Jude Massey based in Brighton

Sara Lacey based in Exminster and Topsham

Jo Lenny based in Dorset

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