Tag Archives: Five Element Theory

Taiji, the calm within the storm


Taiji benefits all ages. You are never too young, or too old, to learn.

Originating in ancient China, Taiji (also written as Taiji Quan, Tai Chi, Tai Chi Chuan) has gained enormous popularity throughout the world as its health benefits have become more recognised.

Taiji, as practiced in the west today, is a usually seen as a slow, choreographed, set of posture that is used for exercise, relaxation and health. It can perhaps best be thought of as a moving meditation.

There are a number of different styles (family styles such as Chen, Yang, Li, Wu & Sun as well as the more recently formalised Beijing styles) and within these styles there are various forms which consist of a sequence of movements and postures. Originally developed as a martial art, each of these movements was formulated with self-defence in mind.

Taiji has its origins in Taoism and Taoist martial arts. The literal translation of Taiji Quan is “Supreme Ultimate Boxing.” This is not a big-headed, boastful, claim to be the supreme martial art as the term “Supreme Ultimate” refers to the Tao. The symbol that is usually referred to as the Yin/Yang symbol is actually called Taiji and it represents the duality of our perception of Tao, of which the universe is only part. Taiji, in this context, can be seen as a microcosm of the Tao (universe) as its movements, shapes and breathing patterns reflect dynamic forces and interactions of the universe.

The concept of Qi is a fundamental part of Chinese medicine and philosophy. Qi is the intrinsic energy that the universe is made of, and it is also the energy that animates the body. The movements of Taiji promote the circulation of Qi within the body creating health and vitality. The Qi circulates through pathways that are known as meridians and the meridian contain the access points that are used by acupuncture, shiatsu, tuina, etc. for their healing properties and by martial arts for their harming properties.

Using these principals, Taiji Quan is a sophisticated method of combat where the Taiji Quan practitioner aims to neutralize his opponent’s use of force (strength – Li) before “borrowing it” and applying a countering force (focus – Jing) of his own. This is the interplay of Yang and Yin.

To the uninformed, it is hard to see how these slow, graceful and fluid movements could be used for defence against someone who is attacking with speed and strength. In any confrontation, the Taiji practitioner will also move faster………… with a speed to match his attacker’s but with the same fluid, relaxed and rooted movement that has been practiced in the form. It is by practicing at a slow pace that perfection in balance, rooting and technique can be gained.

However, for the vast majority of Taiji players, the martial aspect is never really touched on and the emphasis is on the tranquillity of mind and body, along with all the health benefits, that Taiji provides.

Taiji fosters calmness and tranquillity of mind as the focus of the practitioner is solely on the precise execution of the forms. The precision that is required within the postures also helps correct poor postural alignment that can contribute to tension, excess pressure on joints, or injury.

Today we may use Taiji to rid ourselves of the fatigue that stress, overwork, poor posture and the lack of atunement with our own body can bring. It is aid that Taiji increases longevity…………. This is something that modern scientific research is starting to agree with. This longevity does not mean that you will live forever. What it does mean is that daily practice promotes a healthy body, clarity of mind, better balance, denser bones, better circulation, more balanced blood pressure, lower (more efficient) respiration, and a more efficient and active lymphatic system (assisting the immune system. The list goes on! One more thing that Taiji can do for you is that you smile more……… Great big smiles, that
come from deep within.


In the words of Aldous Huxley (from Island):

“No leaps, no high kicks, no running. The feet always firmly on the ground…movements intrinsically beautiful and at the same time charged with symbolic meaning. Thought taking shape in ritual and stylized gesture. The whole body transformed into a hieroglyph, a succession of hieroglyphs, of attitudes modulating from significance to significance, like a poem or a piece of music. Movements of the muscles representing movements of the consciousness…It’s meditation in action; the metaphysics of the Mahayana expressed not in words, but through symbolic movements and gestures.”


Therapist info

Taiji has great health benefits.


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Taiji, Taiji Quan & Neijia, Lanarkshire

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Examples of Five Element Relationships in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Five Element Relationships in Traditional Chinese Medicine

In each example, the circled grey element is the Kyo and is therefore seen as the cause of the illness rather than the symptom.

Mother failing to nourish son.

In this case, treatment would be to: –

Five Element Relationships - Mother failing to nourish son

  1. Providing that the mother is not excessive, tonify the son then the mother.
  2. If the mother is excessive, sedate the mother and tonify the son.
  3. Alternatively, tonify the son and then tonify the controller of the mother.


Son taking too much from mother.

In this case, treatment would be: –Five Element Relationships - Son taking too much from mother

  1.  Sedate the excess (the son).
  2.  Tonify the mother.
  3. Tonify the controller of the son.



Controller exerting too much control.

In this case, treatment would be: –Five Element Relationships - Controller exerting too much control

  1. Sedate the excess element.
  2. Tonify the Controlled element.
  3. Tonify the Controller of the excess element.


Controlled element rebels against/insults the Controller.

In this case, treatment would be: –Five Element Relationships - Controlled element insults the Controller

  1. Sedate the Insulter.
  2. Tonify the Insulted.
  3. Tonify the Insulted’s parent


When using the Five Element theory it must be understood that the Kyo/Jitsu methodology of working is still valid – as Kyo/Jitsu are in an energetic relationship, you can find area of Kyo within an excessive (Jitsu) meridian, and areas of Kyo within a deficient (Kyo) meridian.  To confirm the relationship use palpation, treating and listening, and find the connection.

  • When treating a deficiency problem, look at the Sheng cycle to create/boost energy.  On the Sheng cycle, deficiencies occur when the parent is not feeding the child, or when the child is taking too much from the parent.
  • When treating excess, look at the Ko cycle

Diagnosis and Treatment

  1. Symptoms and observation.
  2. Diagnosis from Hara etc., using kyo and jitsu.
  3. Recognise the relationships between (a) and (b).
  4. Make up a composite diagnosis.
  5. Use Five Element theory to decide what meridians should be treated.
  6. Prepare treatment plan.
  7. Treat.
  8. Conclusions.

Example 1.

LI kyo – Inability to release.treatment plan 1

HT jitsu – Emotional problems.

Causes: –

Internalisation causing emotional problems, with an inability to let go.


Tonify BL (Ko for HT).

Working down the body, tonify ST (Sheng for LI) and LI.


Example 2.

LV kyo – Control, planning, decision making.treatment plan 2

HG jitsu – Emotional protection.

Causes: –

Lack or over control, with an inability to make decisions, leading to emotional problems.

Treatment: –

Sedation of HG.

Tonify Water, KD (Sheng for LV) and BL (Ko for HG).



Comparison of Zen Shiatsu and Five Element Theory

Comparison of Zen Shiatsu and Five Element Theory

The central concept of Oriental Medicine is all physical disease is the result of disruption/obstruction in the flow of Qi (intrinsic energy).

Zen Shiatsu


zen shiatsu - masunaga shiatsu

Zen Shiatsu operates on the theory/concept of Kyo and Jitsu within the meridian system of the body.  The terms Kyo and Jitsu are used to describe the quality of the Qi in the meridians and acupoints.  Kyo means empty, depleted, or hypo and can be associated with the Chinese concept of Yin whereas Jitsu means full, in excess, or hyper and can be associated with Yang.

As with the Yin and Yang theory, Kyo and Jitsu are relative descriptions of Qi and one cannot exist without the other.  Kyo being the underlying cause of the illness and tends to be covert, while Jitsu is manifest as the effect and is generally overt.

When a diagnosis is carried out using Zen techniques (ie. Asking, listening, hearing and observing) on the Hara or the Yu points the object is to find the dynamic between the meridians and this is generally manifest as being between the most Kyo and most Jitsu meridians.  Once the diagnosis is complete the treatment is decided on, normally the Jitsu meridian is sedated and the Kyo meridian tonified.  The exception to this is when the patient is chronically Kyo in which case sedation is not carried out.

This method of working can also be carried out within a single meridian when, if the overall diagnosis of that meridian is Jitsu, any Kyo points can be tonified and filled by transferring the Qi from the Jitsu to the Kyo.  It a may also be found that there are Jitsu points within a predominantly Kyo meridian and, once again, the Qi can be transferred and balanced within that particular meridian.

Zen Shiatsu also has meridians which are supplementary to the TCM ones and Masunaga’s Shiatsu recognises twelve meridians in the arms and twelve in the legs.


Five Element Theory within Shiatsu

Five Element Theory - shen / ko diagram

Five Element Theory also works with the principal of empty (Yin) and full (Yang) points but expands the concept/theory of Yin and Yang so that there are defined qualities of Qi for each Element and the need to relate one quality with another (Yin needs Yang and vice versa) is gone.

The Five Elements (Qualities) are descriptive of the quality of Qi as it changes from Yin to Yang and then back.  It follows the cycle of Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood……… then back to Fire.  Each meridian is associated with one of these Elements and as such it is placed in the cycle.  For example, the Metal Element is made up of the Lung and Large Intestine meridians.  This is further broken down within the Element and the meridian pair is split into Yin and Yang.  In the case of the Metal Element, Lung meridian is Yin while Large Intestine is Yang.

The Five Element system is made up of the creative, or Shen, cycle which works on a mother to son basis following the previously described cycle.  When using the Five Element Theory for treatment, three meridians are worked on (Triad).  There is also a control, or Ko, cycle in which one of the Elements has a direct controlling influence over the other: Fire – ko – Metal, Earth – ko – Water, Metal – ko – Wood, Water – ko – Fire, Wood – ko – Earth.

On the Shen cycle, Yang feeds Yang and Yin feeds Yin.  On the Ko cycle Yang controls Yin and Yin controls Yang.

Once a diagnosis has been completed the associations between the symptoms/observations and the diagnosis are noted.  A composite diagnosis is then carried out, the meridians that are to be worked are decided, a plan of treatment is decided and, finally, the treatment is carried out.  On the face of it, The Five Element system appears to be much more complex but it is really straight forward.  It also strengthens the treatment by having a third meridian assist in the rebalancing of the other two.


  1. If you took the example of someone who was found to be LU Jitsu and KD Kyo, using Zen Theory you would simply sedate LU and tonify KD.  However, using Five Element Theory you could sedate LU, tonify KD and tonify SI, or TH, using the Ko cycle to control LU.
  2. Another example could be of a client who showed KD Jitsu and LU Kyo (the opposite of the previous example).  Using Zen Theory it would be a case of sedating KD and tonifying LU.  If Five Element Theory was used you could sedate KD, tonify LU and tonify ST, utilising the Ko cycle to control KD.If, for example, the client was chronically Kyo and alternative treatment plan (using the Five Element Theory) would be to leave KD, tonify ST to control KD, tonify LU and, lastly, tonify SP to bolster LU through the Shen cycle.

There is compatibility between the two systems that can be seen when using the Five Element treatment method.  If you find Jitsu within a Kyo meridian you can simply use Zen Theory to move Qi from one part of the meridian to another.

Yin Yang and the Five Element Theory

Yin Yang and the Five Element Theory

The theories of Yin -Yang and the Five Elements were the discovered and developed by the ancient Chinese sages through empirical means by their prolonged observations of nature’s cycles and changes. The theory states that wood, fire, earth, metal, and water were the basic substances of the material world. These five basic substances were recognised as being an indispensable part of daily life. They also realised that the material world is in a constant state of flux due to the dynamic movement and mutual conflict of Yin and Yang.
The ancient Chinese sages applied these two theories in the medical field (as well as to the arts of war, poetry, etc.) to explain the physiological activities and pathological changes of the human body, and to serve as a guide to the clinical treatment.

It is important, before going into the theories of Yin/Yang or the Five Elements, to view Chinese cosmology and how those theories and beliefs that developed through the millennia compare with those now held by the great scientific minds of the West.

“The Tao begets the one,
The one begets the two,
The two beget the three and
The three beget the ten thousand things.
All things are backed by the shade,
Faced by the light
And harmonised by the immaterial breath.”

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching.

The source of all things is the Tao, which some interpret as God or Godhead. From this, the quotation from Lao Tzu may be interpreted as:

In the beginning there was God and when God became self-aware, this act of self-awareness created matter.
Matter was then sub divided into two main qualities, matter and energy (Yin and Yang).
These two qualities are held together in balance by a subtle energy (Qi).
The combination of matter and energy created what we perceive as the universe.
The second quotation explains that all nature is either Yin or Yang and that it is Qi, “the immaterial breath” that balances the two.

Yin / Yang

This is the Chinese concept of two complimentary yet opposing qualities of Qi and therefore everything in the universe can be described in terms of Yin or Yang. The literal translation of Yin is “The shaded side of the valley” and Yang is “The sunny side of the valley”.
Yin/Yang is both a way of thinking and a description of the way in which Qi works. For each there is an opposite: Hot/cold, up/down, hard/soft, material/spiritual, etc. The continuous flux of Yin and Yang give impetus to the development of everything, “Yin and Yang are the law of Heaven and Earth, the outline of everything, the parents of change, the origin of birth and destruction….”

Yin and Yang cannot exist independently as they are mutually dependent. There can be no extreme, within Yin there is Yang and within Yang there is Yin. Each can be further sub-divide as within Yin there is also Yin; they are used to provide a reference point for description of phenomena- low, lower, and lowest. Yin within Yin within Yin. When one reaches an extreme it becomes the other.
The now world famous Taiji symbol shows the two aspects of Yin and Yang as though they were two fish swimming round in a tight circle, chasing each other. This shows the relationship between the two – balancing each other, opposing each other, and becoming each other. If observed closely it can be seen that the white fish has a black eye and vice versa, showing that each contains a seed of the other. However if the eye of the fish were magnified it would become another Taiji symbol ad infinitum.
A martial arts instructor who I hold in the highest regard gave the best description I have come across of the inter-dependency of Yin, Yang and Qi. He posed his students many questions, one of which was “How many sides does a coin have?” The usual answer he received was “Two”. He would then send his student away to ponder on the deeper meaning. After a while he would laugh and explain that the coin has three sides, the Yin and Yang were the two faces, and the Qi, which holds both together, was the edge. Yin and Yang are but perceptions of the quality of the Qi.
Yin and Yang represent the two opposite aspects of everything and the implicit conflict and interdependence of these aspects. Generally, anything that is moving, ascending, bright, hot, hyperactive, including functional disease of the body, relate to Yang. The characteristics of stillness, descending, darkness, degeneration, hypoactivity, including organic disease, are related to Yin.

Qi, Chi or Ki

When Qi is used to describe the energy flowing through the meridians it is defined as “life force”, “life energy”, the driving force which makes us “alive”. When that particular quality if Qi has gone, our physical body is deemed to be dead. Qi is the Chinese word used to describe the energy known world-wide as Prana by the Indians, Pneuma by the ancient Greeks, Psychic energy, etc. Qi also refers to energy in the largest sense, it is the stuff of creation, it is both matter and energy and that which holds both together. Qi transcends and is not bounded by time or space it; it is time and space it is the WHOLE.

How does this relate to modern scientific thought?

Max Planck developed quantum physics at the beginning of the twentieth century when he discovered that radiant heat was not emitted continuously, but in small defined units, which he named quanta. This discovery was elaborated on by Albert Einstein when he theorised that this quantum effect applied to all electromagnetic radiation. When Einstein was producing his Special Theory of Relativity, he came to realise that matter and energy were one and the same, that matter is energy at a lower frequency. He further surmised that our cosmos is not three-dimensional, that time was inseparable from space, and from this he produced the space-time Continuum – Qi is both matter and energy!
According to Bell’s Theorem, which was formulated in 1964, he postulates the existence of sub-atomic particles, which are connected in such a way that anything, which affects one of these particles simultaneously, affects them all. As these particles permeate the entire universe it can therefore be seen that Einstein was mistaken when he theorised that nothing could travel faster than the speed of light. Bell’s mathematical proof has since been proved experimentally, proving that superluminal speed is possible and concurring with the experience of the Chinese sages, Indian yogis, and modern day psychics in their claims that the universe is totally accessible.
Until this century scientists view the universe in a Newtonian manner where existence /nature consisted of basic building blocks and operated in a rather mechanical way. As the present day scientists push back the boundaries of knowledge they are rediscovering the knowledge of our forebears. The ancient Chinese concept of the universe (the Tao) is a holistic/holographic one. Everything within the universe is made of the same thing (Qi) and therefore each part is a holograph of every other part. It is therefore impossible to fragment the universe into individual segments.

It is extremely difficult to explain the holographic nature of the universe as it cannot truly be described only experienced. Tibetan Buddhist teachings state that when we observe what we perceive to be a solid object we are actually seeing a stream of constantly changing images because the item under observation is constantly moving (atomic and sub-atomic structure), we ourselves are constantly changing/vibrating, and both the observer and the observed interact with each other. It is our senses, which make this constantly changing universe appear solid.
This is YOUR universe, you are its centre, and you are the screen upon which events unfold. You influence it, change it. If we accept our universe as holographic, that all is made of the same stuff, then we come to realise that everything is interconnected and interdependent.

Our concept of the world around us is dualistic; it is the easiest way of describing things. Even the ancient Chinese Taoists who recognised the holistic nature of the Tao chose to explain it in a dualistic manner through the symbolic concept of Yin/Yang reflecting the paradox of matter and energy. However we must not lose sight of the most important factor of their cosmology “In the beginning there was the Tao”, the one holistic/holographic. The rest of the cosmology goes on to describe how our limited senses perceive the ONE, the TAO. “The tao which can be described is not the true Tao”.

Types of Qi

The character Qi denotes a dynamic essence characterised by both substance and function. For example, substantial Qi relates to; clean Qi, turbid Qi, and the Qi transformed from the essence of food. Functional Qi relates to the Qi of the heart, liver, spleen, kidney, stomach, and the Qi of the channels and collaterals.
The various classifications of Qi in the human body are dependent on distribution, origin, and function.
Original Qi – also known as Pre-natal Qi, Primary Qi, or Ancestral Qi. This is the Qi that is inherited from our parents – genetic make-up. Original Qi is nourished and replenished by food (Grain Qi) after birth, however it is ever diminishing and although it can be replenished it can never reach its original levels. Original Qi is also known as the Qi of the kidney and is stored at the centre of the Hara in the “Gate of Vitality”. It is distributed to the whole body through the function of the Triple Heater and it arouses and promotes the activities of the zang-fu organs and tissues. Original Qi moulds our Constitution.
Air Qi – derived through respiration.
Grain Qi – also known as Food Qi, it is derived from food.
Gathering Qi – also known as Chest Qi or Aggregate Qi. This is the combination of Air Qi through the lung and Food Qi from food digested and absorbed by the stomach and spleen. It is a finer form of Qi than Food Qi and is therefor more readily utilised by the body. Gathering Qi is accumulated in the chest and has the function of nourishing the lung and the heart, thus promoting respiration and blood circulation. Being a combination of Air Qi and Grain Qi, Gathering Qi moulds our Condition. It is housed in the “Upper Sea of Qi” at CV17.
Nutritive Qi – originating from the essential substance of food transformed by the spleen and stomach and is a component part of blood. “Nutrient Qi is actually the essential Qi transformed from food and water. Nutritive Qi is secreted by the body fluid, circulates in the blood vessels, and is transformed into blood to nourish the four extremities, the five zang and six fu organs”
Protective Qi – the barrier against external pathogens, or external pernicious influences. It is mainly derived from the essential substances of food and water, which form a part of the human body’s Yang Qi. It circulates outside the meridians and collaterals mainly spreading through the muscles and skin. Its physiological functions are (1) defending the body surface against the invasion of external pernicious influences, (2) warming and nourishing the organs and tissues, and (3) adjusting the opening and closing of the pores.

The Three Treasures (San Bao)

The Three Treasures are three qualities or forms of energy – Qi, Jing and Shen – with Jing being seen as Yin, Qi seen as neutral, and Shen seen as Yang. Jing (Willpower) has an earthy quality that is closely associated with the sexual act, while Shen (Consciousness) has the quality of spirit and is recognised as our connection with the divine.


Jing is the most refined form of Qi; it is life essence, sexual essence. It is Yin in relation to other forms of energy and has a tendency to flow downward towards the genitalia and is related closely with the fluids associated with reproduction (sperm, semen, vaginal excretions, menstrual blood, etc.). Even though Jing is recognised as being Yin in relation to the other forms of Qi, like all else it has both Yin and Yang aspects – the Yin being the reproductive fluids and the Yang being the saliva.
Jing has the qualities of growth and development that gradually increase during childhood, reaching its zenith between the ages of 20 and 25, and then decreasing. This gradual loss of Jing is associated with the ageing process, particularly with osteoporosis, reduced immune system, grey hair, loss of libido, and memory loss.
Although the Jing cannot be raised above its original level practising Qigong and living a balanced and healthy lifestyle can augment it, slowing down its decrease.
In Chinese Medicine it is said that the Jing creates the marrow, this includes the grey matter of the brain “the sea of marrow”
There are three external sources of Jing: It is inherited from our parents (genetic strength or weakness); it is extracted from the refined qualities of food (Grain Qi); and it can be absorbed from one’s sexual partner when practising Taoist sexual yoga.
The Jing is stored in the kidneys, the Lower Dan Tien, and the Exceptional Vessels.


Shen is the least tangible, yet most spiritual of the three Vital Treasures, it is a very subtle energy. Yang in nature, it flows upward with a fire-like quality. As with its partners in the San Bao, Shen can be cultivated, this time through meditation and the tranquil forms of Qigong. It is associated with the Liver and the Heart, and when the Qi from these two sources combines (providing that they are healthy) they produce Shen. When these organs are out of balance the Shen becomes unsettled, leading to restlessness and agitation of the Mind.
It is said that the Shen is the sparkle in the eye of the wise, the substance of sentience, intuition and wisdom.
As already stated, the Shen is increased through meditation in any form of introspective exercise. However, it is lost when we spend too much time and energy looking outside to the materialistic world – the ego destroys the Shen. All mental health illnesses are seen as diseases or imbalances of the Shen.
The Shen is stored in the Upper Dan Tien (Yin Tang), flows through the Exceptional Vessels, and unless stopped through meditation and introspection it is lost through the eyes.

Qi Jing Shen
Energy Life Sexual Spirit
Organ Spleen Kidney & Lungs Liver & Heart
Element Air Water Fire
Form Breath Sexual fluids & saliva Light & Spirit
Movement Down, up Down Up
Aspect Yin, Yang, neutral Yin Yang
Reservoir Middle Dan Tien Lower Dan Tien Upper Dan Tien
Circulatory System Meridians Bones Exceptional Vessels
Associated System Respiratory Reproductive & Endocrine Nervous
Gate Nose & mouth Genitals Eyes
Cultivated through Qigong Sexual Meditation