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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).



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